Tag: Thanksgiving

10 Ideas for a Spiritual Thanksgiving

(Adapted and expanded from works of Rabbi H. Rafael Goldstein)

Rabbi H. Rafael Goldstein writes: “We do not often think of Thanksgiving as a Jewish holiday – it is an American holiday which we, as Americans observe. Thanksgiving in America was started by Christian pilgrims, and infused by many Christian values. In the media, we are surrounded by images of people sitting down to their Thanksgiving dinner and “saying grace,” celebrating the Christianity of Thanksgiving. There are always special program episodes on TV of all of our favorite shows, in which, for one episode a year, the people in the show actually express some human kindness. Homeless people are visited and fed, others in need are helped, and the heroes of our shows demonstrate that they can be “good people.”

It seems that we have not developed our own specifically Jewish traditions for Thanksgiving. Yet, Thanksgiving is an interpretation of our holiday, Sukkot, the fall festival designated to thank God for the bountiful harvest. As American Jews, we should revel in celebration of an American holiday, and not have any feelings of discomfort about it. Thanking God, after all, is a value we all share.”

  1. Begin with a blessing. A collection of Blessings for Your Thanksgiving Table are found at www.orami.org on the Holidays page.
  2. Light Candles: Light candles at your table. There is no blessing for Thanksgiving candles, which means you get to make your own!!! Start out with the way we start all our blessings, Baruch Atah Adonai, Elohaynu Melech Ha’olam… (Blessed are You, Adonai our God, Guide of the Universe, who we thank for …) Then finish the sentence as you see fit. As you light your candles, invite others at your table to make their own blessings, using the same formula.
  3. Challah and Wine: Have challah (or delicious bread) and wine at your table, and say the blessings for them. Wine: Use the blessing formula above plus: Boray p’ri hagafen (who brings forth fruit of the vine). Challah: Use the blessing formula above plus: Hamotzi lechem min ha’aretz (who brings forth bread from the earth).
  4. Shehecheyanu: Thanksgiving is a great time to say shehechayanu (the blessing for thanking God for keeping us alive to enjoy this moment). Use the formula plus: shehechayanu, v’kiyimanu, v’higianu lazman hazeh (who has kept us alive, sustained us, and enabled us to reach this moment).
  5. Share Symbols of Thankfulness: Ask everyone invited to your dinner to bring something which symbolizes what they are thankful for. After the blessings, before dinner, have everyone talk about what they brought and its significance. Be sure everyone knows to bring something, and has a chance to talk, including children.
  6. Light a Yahrzeit Candle to Remember Deceased Relatives: Make some time for remembering the people who are not with you, either because of distance, family obligations (or preferences) or death. Families change. The people sitting at your table all have other family members with whom they are not sitting (in-laws, cousins, parents and grandparents, children who are with former spouses, etc.) Talk about who else is not physically there. A moment of silence for people who have died, and are missed can be a great way of allowing people to remember. Have people talk about who they miss and special things about them from previous Thanksgivings. You can also light Yahrzeit candles for people who have died as a part of remembering.
  7. Do some random mitzvot (acts of lovingkindness): Collect and deliver food, household and personal supplies to people who need them. There are plenty of food drives at this time of year. Contribute food. Make a donation in honor of the people coming to your dinner (or alternatively, in honor of your hosts) to your congregation, the Jewish Federation, Jewish Family Service, Mazon (Jewish hunger organization) or a local shelter. Invite a single person, or people whose families are distant, to be your special guests. If you are a guest this year for the first time, donate what you would have spent hosting a dinner for others in honor of those you would have invited, or in honor of your hosts.
  8. Teach children about the connections between Thanksgiving and the Bible. Remember, for the Jewish community, Thanksgiving offers a special opportunity to be grateful not only for the bounties and comforts of our lives but especially for the religious freedom we have found in the United States of America. The Bible was very important in the Pilgrims’ lives. When they wanted to give thanks to God for helping them survive, they recalled the harvest festival (Sukkot) they had read about in the Bible (Deuteronomy 16:13-17). They used the Sukkot celebration as their model. In 1702, author Cotton Mather referred to the Plymouth colony as “this little Israel.” He compared William Bradford, Plymouth’s second governor, to “Moses, who led his people out of the wilderness.” More at URJ’s Thanksgiving page.
  9. Read Jewish Perspectives on Thanksgiving Day. Kevin Proffitt writes: “The Pilgrims of Plymouth observed the first American Thanksgiving in 1621, when Governor William Bradford proclaimed a special day of thanks for the colony’s first harvest. To celebrate, the Pilgrims prepared a feast that they shared with their Native American neighbors. Some time later, in the eighteenth century, many of the thirteen colonies observed days of prayer and gratitude during the harvest season. But it was not until 1777 that they agreed to observe a common day of thanksgiving.” Read more
  10. Review Jewish Values about Hunger and Poverty. As we sit down with our family and friends at the Thanksgiving table and offer thanks for the bounty that is ours, we often forget about the thousands of people in America, Canada and around the world who do not share our prosperity. While we gorge ourselves on turkey, stuffing, cranberries, and pumpkin pie, others do not even have the bare necessities to sustain themselves and their families. Jewish tradition teaches us that we are required to feed the hungry. Instead of celebrating this holiday in our own insular family units, Thanksgiving is a perfect time to reach out to the community and serve those who are most in need. Print out these Jewish texts, read them at your table, and then discuss how you can make a difference in the world. More ideas at www.rac.org.

If there is among you a poor person, one of your kin, in any of your towns within your land which God gives you, you shall not harden your heart or shut your hand against them, but you shall open your hand to them, and lend them sufficient for their needs, whatever they may be. –Deuteronomy 15:7-8 

This is the fast I desire: to unlock fetters of wickedness, and untie the cords of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free; to break off every yoke. It is to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh. (Isaiah 58:7-8)
When you are asked in the world to come, “What was your work?” and you answer: “I fed the hungry,” you will be told: “This is the gate of the Eternal, enter into it, you who have fed the hungry.
(Midrash Psalms 118:17) 

When you give food to a hungry person, give your best and sweetest food. (Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Issurei Mizbayach 7:11) 

Hunger is isolating; it may not and cannot be experienced vicariously. He who never felt hunger can never know its real effects, both tangible and intangible. Hunger defies imagination; it even defies memory. Hunger is felt only in the present. (Elie Wiesel)

How will you make your Thanksgiving Spiritual? 

Thanksgivukkah? ChanTHANKSukah? Tur-Lat-Key Day?

We each have moments when we step back and take stock. Opportunities afforded to us because the year has turned one full cycle and we, clay to touched by holiness, are allowed a glimpse into the essence of our lives.

A significant birthday.
An anniversary.
A Yahrzeit.

2 years of sobriety.
25 years since ordination.
3 years since you came out of the closet to your family.

Each of these moments transcend time, allowing us – like Adam haKadmon “in the beginning” – to see clearly the past and our present. They invite us to imagine the future.

Holy Days are for Accounting
Our Jewish holy days, set in the Torah or by rabbinic decree, invite a similar accounting. These holy days cycle back annually, calling us to recall who we were and who we are becoming now.

  • Rosh Hashana, as the new year begins, invites us to count our blessings.
  • Yom Kippur calls us to balance the accounting of our ma’asim (good deeds) and averot (errors/sins).
  • Pesach, a new beginning, invites us to recount the freedom which we once had, then lost, then with God’s help, reclaimed anew.

Each of these holy days turn us inward to the essence of our lives, and then subtly force our gaze and focus outward to the needs and concerns of our people.

The Unique Convergence of Chanukah and Thanksgiving

Even this “once in a lifetime” holiday – Thanksgivukkah… ChanTHANKSukah… Tur-Lat-key Day – moves us through the same eternal cycle.

For many, the beauty of the Chanukah-Thanksgiving pairing is that it leads us away from the prevalent (narcissistic) “gimme-gimme” culture (gimme presents, gimme food) instead turns our focus outward. We find ourselves being especially thankful for the food, the family surrounding us and the blessings that uplift our lives.

Now if only we could harness those warm fuzzy feelings and transform them into a force for tikkun (repair).

#GivingTuesday
That’s why I’m particularly excited about the relatively new venture called #GivingTuesday.

You know about Black Friday and Cyber Monday – two days designated in American retail culture for conspicuous consumption and for getting deals. #GivingTuesday — the Tuesday after Thanksgiving, the Tuesday in the middle of Chanukah — is a day when we are invited to give to others to act to create a better brighter world.

We will light the lights of Chanukah. We will offer our thanks on Thanksgiving. Let’s also transform our warm feelings into real action by supporting organizations which truly transform the world.

Who I Think about for #GivingTuesday
On #GivingTuesday, I will be supporting two favorite “do good” organizations – my own Congregation Or Ami and the CCAR: Central Conference of American Rabbis. I will be donating to them to help Jews and rabbis bring light into the world.

CCAR’s #GivingTuesday and Congregation Or Ami’s #GivingTuesday brighten our world. Please be a force for good. Visit and support them.

Happy Tur-Lat-Key Day!

About Congregation Or Ami
I’m pleased that Congregation Or Ami is inviting you to share your blessings – and tzedakah – on #GivingTuesday. At Or Ami, people matter. Congregation Or Ami is home to a warm and welcoming, innovative, musical Jewish community. We deepen relationships with each other, while immersing in Torah, Israel and the Source of All Life. We travel together down Jewish paths which inspire our hearts and souls, and transform us to seek justice and nurture compassion in the world.

About the CCAR
I am pleased that the Central Conference of American Rabbis is inviting you to share your blessings – and tzedakah – on #GivingTuesday. The CCAR strengthens and enriches the entire Jewish community and plays a critical leadership role in the Reform Movement through its work by fostering excellence in Reform Rabbis, unifying the Reform Jewish community through the publication of liturgy, providing essential support to rabbis – professionally and personally, and offering important resources to congregations and community organizations. Services to the Reform Rabbinate, in-turn, enhance connectedness among Reform Jews by applying Jewish values to the world in which we live and help create a compelling and accessible Judaism for today and the future.

Lies My Brother Told Me

I happen to know a Jew, who is not a fan of the organized religion part of Judaism. He likes the values, most of them.  He appreciates the commitment to family, usually. But the whole religious part – you know, the organized prayer, the specific stories of Torah, various beliefs about God – just turn him off. He can appreciate the Jewish stuff brings meaning to others, but not for himself.  He will use any excuse to stay out of temple, so that his friends give him specific honors so he is forced to attend the family simchas. 

And ritual, he has a special dislike for the “do’s and don’ts” of ritual. Formulaic, ritualistic, primitive, boring. I thought he just didn’t like ritual.  And then, he began to tell me about his Thanksgiving dinner.  And all of a sudden, I realized we had much more in common than I thought.  Turns out that the ritual-disliker was really a ritual-creator, at least in relation to Thanksgiving.

They invite a 25-30 people for dinner, which he, his wife and friends have labored over for a few days. Appetizers galore, main course, fancy wine and beers, delicious desserts. Upon arriving, people nosh and shmooze. Everyone gathers around the tables, sitting and salivating, awaiting the ritual which allows them to dig in.

Each guest speaks about what they are thankful for this year. Although the participants sometimes laugh and at other times shed tears, the ritual is structured and serious.  There’s no eating in this house until everyone – concluding with the host and his wife – has named their blessings, and all give thanks. 

It turns out, that for these Thanksgiving diners, this ritual is meaningful, inspired and for many, their primary connection to the Holy One.  Let us give praise where praise is due, lest we descend into sin by labeling each other as good Jews or bad Jews. There are many paths to the Holy One!

On Sukkot (Judaism’s Thanksgiving), the rabbis connect the four species of the lulav and etrog to four different kinds of Jews: those with Torah learning, those with good deeds, those with both and those with none. Their lesson is that it takes all kinds of Jews to complete the Jewish community.

May Thanksgiving remind us that we Jews are all brothers (and sisters), each approaching tradition, ritual, and belief in unique ways, from different perspectives.

7 Reasons Why Thanksgiving is Deeply Spiritual

There is something very spiritual about Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays because of GRATITUDE. Gratitude is especially spiritual. When we slow down and take the time to articulate the blessings in our lives, we necessarily venture into a higher plane of existence.  We transcend our yetzer harah (our inclination toward lustful neediness) to get in touch with our yetzer hatov (our inclination toward the good).  We discover the holy amongst the regular.

Gratitude is profoundly spiritual. 

As part of a bi-coastal family, I enjoyed the opportunity to twice articulate my gratitude: first, over the phone, to my East Coast family gathered at my brother’s home, and again, at our own California dinner table.

7 Reasons Why I Think Thanksgiving is deeply spiritual:

  1. I spend the week before and after, trying to touch base with members of our congregation who have lost loved ones since last Thanksgiving.  A caring community needs to remember those who have an empty seat at their holiday tables.  (Passover and Rosh Hashana are also great times to reach out.)
  2. Thanksgiving food is universally delicious.  When the senses (taste buds, smell, sight) are heightened, we recognize the beauty and holiness more).
  3. I usually get in a deeply restful nap between the meal and dessert. A rested person is more apt to recognize the spiritual.
  4. We gather family together for a non-rushed, gratitude-filled evening. Spirituality blossoms when we are relaxed.
  5. We try to open an especially good bottle of wine. (See #2.)  The smell of a great wine is as delicious as its taste.
  6. This rabbi has no responsibilities beyond helping prepare the meal.
  7. The family gathers for dinner at a normal time because this rabbi does not have to run out to lead services. (See #4)

In what ways do you find Thanksgiving spiritual (e.g., meaningful, inspired, transcendent)?

Why I Am Thankful This Thanksgiving


From a friend of a friend of a friend:

I am thankful:

For the wife
Who says its hot dogs tonight,
Because she is home with me,
And not out with someone else.

For the husband
Who is on the sofa
Being a couch potato,
Because he is home with me
And not out at the bars.

For the teenager
Who is complaining about doing dishes
Because it means she is at home, not on the streets.

For the taxes I pay
Because it means I am employed.

For the mess to clean after a party
Because it means I have been surrounded by friends.

For the clothes that fit a little too snug
Because it means I have enough to eat.

For my shadow that watches me work
Because it means I am out in the sunshine

For a lawn that needs mowing,
Windows that need cleaning,
And gutters that need fixing
Because it means I have a home.

For all the complaining
I hear about the government
Because it means we have freedom of speech.

For the parking spot
I find at the far end of the parking lot
Because it means I am capable of walking
And I have been blessed with transportation.

For my huge heating bill
Because it means I am warm.

For the lady behind me in temple who sings off key
because it means I can hear.

For the pile of laundry and ironing
Because it means I have clothes to wear.

For weariness and aching muscles at the end of the day
Because it means I have been capable of working hard.

For the alarm that goes off
In the early morning hours
Because it means I am alive.

How to Compose a Thanksgiving prayer: Clergy give tips on writing, leading a group prayer

By MELISSA NANN BURKE (Daily Record/Sunday News)

Thanksgiving can be a time to meditate on all that you are grateful for.

Instead of reciting the same, rote family prayer at the dinner table this year, we asked clergy to share some advice on writing your own:

Some people can pray aloud in front of a group easily and spontaneously. Some will use the standard blessing, such as the “Bless us, o Lord . . .” Other families will have a memorized thing or will have an opportunity for everyone to say what they’re thankful for.

I certainly encourage people to pray spontaneously just to slow them down a bit — sometimes things that we memorize we tend to say it so quickly. And sometimes to do something spontaneously allows for a little more reflection, a little more thought. More

Then for more Thanksgiving ideas, click here.

Counting 100 Blessings

As we sat around the Thanksgiving Dinner Table, taking stock of our blessings, sharing sadness at those who were not with us (either because they were at other Thanksgiving Tables or they had passed on from this life), many of us took comfort in these lean times with a bountiful meal. Our ancient rabbis teach us that we should count 100 blessings per day. For some the rabbis offered the standardized “Baruch Ata Adonai” formula. For others, they just expect us to open our eyes, get out of our heads, and open our hearts to the beauty on even the darkest of days. Was this just their way of pushing people to pray more? Or did they recognize an antidote to depression, coveting and anxiety? I am interested in how you count your blessings. I am interested too in the family Thanksgiving rituals you enjoy which help you take stock of your blessings. Please scroll down to the comments box below to be part of the conversation. Don’t forget to give your name (only if you are comfortable).

Thanksgiving: A Very Jewish Non-Jewish Holiday

Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays. It is one of the few holidays that combine three of my favorite things: great food, family and NO responsibilities for me as rabbi. It is also so familiar, so Jewish. Some thought-provoking scholarship suggests that Thanksgiving is actually an interpretation of our Jewish holy day Sukkot, the fall festival designated to thank God for the bountiful harvest. As American Jews, we should revel in celebration of this American holiday, and infuse it with ahavah (love), ruchaniut (spirituality), tzedakah (giving). Thanking God, after all, is a value we all share. So enjoy these blessings, Thanksgiving Haggadot, and ideas for a meaningful Thanksgiving. Click here to read my complete eLearning Newsletter on Thanksgiving.

To Say Before the Meal: A Prayer for Thanksgiving
As we gather around a table, family and friends, to enjoy the bounty of this Thanksgiving meal, we pause to offer thanks for the blessings we have received. (We read together)

For the expanding grandeur of Creation,
worlds known and unknown, galaxies beyond galaxies,
filling us with awe and challenging our imaginations,
we gratefully give thanks to You
Modim anachnu lach מוֹדִים אֲנַחְנוּ לָךְ

For this fragile planet earth, its times and tides,
its sunsets and seasons,
Modim anachnu lach מוֹדִים אֲנַחְנוּ לָךְ

For the joy of human life, its wonders and surprises,
its hopes and achievements,
Modim anachnu lach מוֹדִים אֲנַחְנוּ לָךְ

For human community, our common past and future hope,
our oneness transcending all separation, our capacity to work
for peace and justice in the midst of hostility and oppression,
Modim anachnu lach מוֹדִים אֲנַחְנוּ לָךְ

For high hopes and noble causes, for faith without fanaticism,
for understanding of views not shared,
Modim anachnu lach מוֹדִים אֲנַחְנוּ לָךְ

For all who have labored and suffered for a fairer world,
who have lived so that others might live in dignity and freedom,
Modim anachnu lach מוֹדִים אֲנַחְנוּ לָךְ

For human liberties and sacred rites:
for opportunities to change and grow, to affirm and choose,
Modim anachnu lach מוֹדִים אֲנַחְנוּ לָךְ

We pray that we may live not by our fears but by our hopes,
Not only by our words but by our deeds.

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ייְָ, הַטּוֹב שִׁמְךָ וּלְךָ נָאֶה לְהוֹדוֹת.
Baruch Atah, Adonai, ha’tov shimcha ul’cha na’eh l’hodot
Praised are You, Adonai, Your Name is Goodness, and You are worthy of thanksgiving.

[Click here for other Thanksgiving Table prayer options.]

Beyond Eating: Investing Thanksgiving with Meaning
America’s Table: A Thanksgiving Haggadah. American Jewish Committee writes: In a world too often threatened by differences, Thanksgiving is a day to appreciate how our various backgrounds make America vibrant, while our democratic values unite us and keep America strong. America’s Table: A Thanksgiving Reader tells this story and helps us express gratitude for being part of it. Download AJC’s Thanksgiving Haggadah.

Rabbi Paul Kipnes’ Making Thanksgiving Spiritually Meaningful: 10 Ideas for Your Thanksgiving Table. Rabbi Kipnes writes: From blessings, to Shehecheyanu moments, to yahrzeit candles to learning, Thanksgiving can be a time of Jewish spiritual inspiration. Download Rabbi Kipnes’ Thanksgiving 10 Thanksgiving Ideas.

Rabbi Phyllis Sommers’ Thanksgiving Seder for Families with Young Children. Much like Passover, this is a holiday whose primary ritual centers on a meal. So here’s a short Haggadah for the Thanksgiving meal. Download Thanksgiving Seder.

Rabbi Paul Kipnes’ Blessings for Your Thanksgiving Table. Words to say before you dig into dinner. Download Rabbi Kipnes’ Blessings.
Precious Preschool People: Our Union for Reform Judaism offers Thanksgiving ideas for Precious Little People, explaining: For the Jewish community, Thanksgiving offers a special opportunity to be grateful not only for the bounties and comforts of our lives but especially for the religious freedom we have found in the United States of America. Download URJ’s Thanksgiving Holiday Happenings 2008 and URJ’s Thanksgiving Holiday Happenings 2007.

Social Justice Guide for National Holidays: Our Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism a guide which explores Jewish and Socially Just celebrations of Thanksgiving, as well as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day. It also includes a section on the Super Bowl, for good measure. Download RAC’s Social Justice Guide for National Holidays.

Click here to read the complete eLearning with Rabbi Kipnes on Making Thanksgiving Meaningful.

A Thanksgiving Seder for Families with Small Children

One of my favorite bloggers, Ima On (and off) the Bimah, offers this posting for Thanksgiving:

A few years ago, our family started to do a Thanksgiving Seder, a retake on the Passover Seder. Much like Passover, this is a holiday whose primary ritual centers on a meal. There isn’t, however, a set liturgy for the Thanksgiving meal…and that’s where I come in. I’ve made some changes and additions to the Seder my family has used for a number of years. My own kids are, as you know, pretty young, so I’ve decided to create 2 different documents. The first is here today, for your viewing and downloading pleasure, for families with small children. Hopefully I will have the second soon, with more readings and opportunities for discussion with a more mature crowd.

Take a look at her Thanksgiving Seder (or Haggadah) here.

Check back in later for my eLearning Newsletter on Making Thanksgiving Meaningful.

10 Ideas for a Spiritual Thanksgiving

Collected by Rabbi Paul J. Kipnes, Congregation Or Ami, Calabasas, CA
(Adapted and expanded from work by Rabbi H. Rafael Goldstein) Rabbi H. Rafael Goldstein writes: “We do not often think of Thanksgiving as a Jewish holiday – it is an American holiday which we, as Americans observe. Thanksgiving in America was started by Christian pilgrims, and infused by many Christian values. In the media, we are surrounded by images of people sitting down to their Thanksgiving dinner and “saying grace,” celebrating the Christianity of Thanksgiving. There are always special program episodes on TV of all of our favorite shows, in which, for one episode a year, the people in the show actually express some human kindness. Homeless people are visited and fed, others in need are helped, and the heroes of our shows demonstrate that they can be “good people.” It seems that we have not developed our own specifically Jewish traditions for Thanksgiving. Yet, Thanksgiving is an interpretation of our holiday, Sukkot, the fall festival designated to thank God for the bountiful harvest. As American Jews, we should revel in celebration of an American holiday, and not have any feelings of discomfort about it. Thanking God, after all, is a value we all share.”

  1. Begin with a blessing. A collection of Blessings for Your Thanksgiving Table are found at www.orami.org on the Holidays page.
  1. Light Candles: Light candles at your table. There is no blessing for Thanksgiving candles, which means you get to make your own!!! Start out with the way we start all our blessings, Baruch Atah Adonai, Elohaynu Melech Ha’olam… (Blessed are You, Adonai our God, Guide of the Universe, who we thank for …) Then finish the sentence as you see fit. As you light your candles, invite others at your table to make their own blessings, using the same formula.
  1. Challah and Wine: Have challah (or delicious bread) and wine at your table, and say the blessings for them. Wine: Use the blessing formula above plus: Boray p’ri hagafen (who brings forth fruit of the vine). Challah: Use the blessing formula above plus: Hamotzi lechem min ha’aretz (who brings forth bread from the earth).

  1. Shehecheyanu: Thanksgiving is a great time to say shehechayanu (the blessing for thanking God for keeping us alive to enjoy this moment). Use the formula plus: shehechayanu, v’kiyimanu, v’higianu lazman hazeh (who has kept us alive, sustained us, and enabled us to reach this moment).
  1. Share Symbols of Thankfulness: Ask everyone invited to your dinner to bring something which symbolizes what they are thankful for. After the blessings, before dinner, have everyone talk about what they brought and its significance. Be sure everyone knows to bring something, and has a chance to talk, including children.
  1. Light a Yahrzeit Candle to Remember Deceased Relatives: Make some time for remembering the people who are not with you, either because of distance, family obligations (or preferences) or death. Families change. The people sitting at your table all have other family members with whom they are not sitting (in-laws, cousins, parents and grandparents, children who are with former spouses, etc.) Talk about who else is not physically there. A moment of silence for people who have died, and are missed can be a great way of allowing people to remember. Have people talk about who they miss and special things about them from previous Thanksgivings. You can also light Yahrzeit candles for people who have died as a part of remembering.
  1. Do some random mitzvot (acts of lovingkindness): Collect and deliver food, household and personal supplies to people who need them. There are plenty of food drives at this time of year. Contribute food. Make a donation in honor of the people coming to your dinner (or alternatively, in honor of your hosts) to your congregation, the Jewish Federation, Jewish Family Service, Mazon (Jewish hunger organization) or a local shelter. Invite a single person, or people whose families are distant, to be your special guests. If you are a guest this year for the first time, donate what you would have spent hosting a dinner for others in honor of those you would have invited, or in honor of your hosts.
  1. Teach children about the connections between Thanksgiving and the Bible. Remember, for the Jewish community, Thanksgiving offers a special opportunity to be grateful not only for the bounties and comforts of our lives but especially for the religious freedom we have found in the United States of America. The Bible was very important in the Pilgrims’ lives. When they wanted to give thanks to God for helping them survive, they recalled the harvest festival (Sukkot) they had read about in the Bible (Deuteronomy 16:13-17). They used the Sukkot celebration as their model. In 1702, author Cotton Mather referred to the Plymouth colony as “this little Israel.” He compared William Bradford, Plymouth’s second governor, to “Moses, who led his people out of the wilderness.” Look up the URJ’s Thanksgiving page at: http://urj.org/_kd/Items/actions.cfm?action=Show&item_id=1704&destination=ShowItem
  1. Review Jewish Values about Hunger and Poverty. As we sit down with our family and friends at the Thanksgiving table and offer thanks for the bounty that is ours, we often forget about the thousands of people in America, Canada and around the world who do not share our prosperity. While we gorge ourselves on turkey, stuffing, cranberries, and pumpkin pie, others do not even have the bare necessities to sustain themselves and their families. Jewish tradition teaches us that we are required to feed the hungry. Instead of celebrating this holiday in our own insular family units, Thanksgiving is a perfect time to reach out to the community and serve those who are most in need. Print out these Jewish texts, read them at your table, and then discuss how you can make a difference in the world. Find more ideas at www.rac.org.

· If there is among you a poor person, one of your kin, in any of your towns within your land which God gives you, you shall not harden your heart or shut your hand against them, but you shall open your hand to them, and lend them sufficient for their needs, whatever they may be. –Deuteronomy 15:7-8 · This is the fast I desire: to unlock fetters of wickedness, and untie the cords of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free; to break off every yoke. It is to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh. (Isaiah 58:7-8) · When you are asked in the world to come, “What was your work?” and you answer: “I fed the hungry,” you will be told: “This is the gate of the Eternal, enter into it, you who have fed the hungry. (Midrash Psalms 118:17) · When you give food to a hungry person, give your best and sweetest food. (Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Issurei Mizbayach 7:11) · Hunger is isolating; it may not and cannot be experienced vicariously. He who never felt hunger can never know its real effects, both tangible and intangible. Hunger defies imagination; it even defies memory. Hunger is felt only in the present. (Elie Wiesel)

  1. Read Jewish Perspectives on Thanksgiving Day. Kevin Proffitt writes: “The Pilgrims of Plymouth observed the first American Thanksgiving in 1621, when Governor William Bradford proclaimed a special day of thanks for the colony’s first harvest. To celebrate, the Pilgrims prepared a feast that they shared with their Native American neighbors. Some time later, in the eighteenth century, many of the thirteen colonies observed days of prayer and gratitude during the harvest season. But it was not until 1777 that they agreed to observe a common day of thanksgiving.” Read more at http://tmt.urj.net/archives/2socialaction/112205.htm

Thanksgiving Vision: Spiritual Lessons Learned during LASIK Surgery

A few days before Thanksgiving, almost 35 years to the day that the world first went blurry for me, I decided to get LASIK surgery. The steady hand of master ophthalmologist Dr. Jonathan Davidorf of the Davidorf Eye Group in West Hills performed LASIK surgery on my eyes, and in the process gave me something else to be thankful for this Thanksgiving. It was truly a spiritual experience. The hours before the procedure passed by in a blur. No need for worry: the dangers of LASIK appear to be miniscule and Dr. J (as Jonathan Davidorf is known), who literally wrote a book on LASIK, has performed thousands upon thousands of these procedures. Still, there is beauty in this world that one should stop to behold. So before shuffling my children off to school, I examined the faces of each of them, pausing to draw a detailed mental picture (freckles and all) of their features. Later I stood silently outside, sweeping my eyes 360 degrees around, taking in the rainbow of colors that make up the fall foliage. Wow, how could I not notice the multiple hues of reds and greens, yellows and gold, peach and pink? Then, precisely at 3:00 pm, after kissing my wife, I walked forth into the Doctor’s office, glancing back one more time just to see her smiling face framed by flaming red hair that I love so… The procedure ended quickly as I expected. I tried out my shapely new eyes by reading successful the clock halfway across the room. At this point I wondered, now that Doctor Davidorf, so patient and calming, finished doing God’s work to open the eyes of the blind, will I merely see better? Or will this make me more appreciative of my life and the world around me?I wrote Thanksgiving Vision: Spiritual Lessons Learned during LASIK Surgery about my spiritual experience of LASIK surgery.

Can There Be Holiness (and a Reason for Thankfulness) in the Midst of Suffering?

It’s so moving in this week’s parasha (Torah portion) Toledot, when Rebecca, in the midst of her pregnancy, cries out to God. We read in Torah: But the children struggled in her womb, and Rebecca cried out,Im ken lama zeh anokhi – If so, why do I exist?’ She went to inquire of the Eternal and the Eternal answered her: ‘Two nations are in your womb, two separate peoples shall issue from your body; one people shall be mightier than the other, And the older shall serve the younger’ (Gen. 25:22-23). We ask, is she complaining? Is she just in pain? Does she wonder if God is punishing her? My teacher Rabbi Jonathan Slater of the Institute for Jewish Spirituality reminds us that Rebecca, as our Sages and teachers hold, is a tzadkanit, a fully righteous woman. It would be unbecoming for her to complain about her lot, to exhibit any sort of doubt of God’s righteous judgment and perfect providence. Her outburst of pain and exasperation does not befit her character. So what is happening here? I ASK: Have you ever found yourself wondering why you suffer in a particular manner? How did you work through your pain? What answers did you find? How did you arrive at them? How did you get through your suffering? Our ancient teacher, Rabbi Levi Yitzhak of Berdichev (1740-1810) illuminates the contradictory emotions welling up inside of a suffering Rebecca – she simultaneously wonders if she is being punished for her sinfulness by God (the Ar”i says that righteous women suffer no pain in childbirth – yeah, right!). Rabbi Jonathan Slater interprets Kedushat Levi’s insights: We can understand it in this way. All people experience suffering, and perhaps women – through childbearing – even more so. That generates the fundamental human inquiry: why do I suffer? We probe and inquire, we analyze and assess, all in the effort of coming to an answer. We try to plumb the nature of suffering and to know its source and meaning. Rebecca did just that, and found herself boxed in a corner. She had two theories to explain her suffering, but they turned out to be contradictory in her own experience. She was stymied, almost to the point of despair, of giving up on life. Levi Yitzhak, through this lesson, offers a response: suffering arises from misunderstanding the nature of existence. It comes from seeing a world divided between holiness and impurity, between good and evil, between nation and nation. Suffering arises from participating in the generation of further conflict and opposition, in setting what is in contention with what we want, expect, fear. The way out of suffering is not through reasoning, through dissecting, through analysis; is not through seeking explanations. Rather, it is indeed through turning to God, where oppositions do not exist, where only good prevails.What do you think?

[Some pre-Shabbat Learning, adapted from SELECTIONS FROM KEDUSHAT LEVI, by Rabbi Jonathan Slater of the Ongoing Text Study Program, of The Institute for Jewish Spirituality]