Rabbi Hoffman has provided a fascinating detailed analysis of the halachic and cultural implications of Thanksgiving. Think of this blog entry as a sort of complement to that.
As a baal teshuvah, I believe Thanksgiving holds more meaning for me than perhaps the frum from birth set. Sad but true, it was actually the most meaningful holiday, growing up. My parents did not celebrate most Jewish holidays – although I do remember lighting the menorah with my mother, but that’s about it. Baruch Hashem, they never reached the point of celebrating gentile holidays. But Thanksgiving was always somewhere in the middle.
My mother did not cook but we had a tradition of going out to eat with family. Our family started off a little larger, including my grandmother and uncle and some of my parents’ friends, and unfortunately shrunk over the years to just my parents. I cherished the time with my parents as I grew older, knowing that they are also growing older and these times won’t last forever. And now I miss them. The first Thanksgiving including my husband was nice and the first one including my growing family was a bit crazy.
I remember driving to Queens to pick up my father from his rehab facility, to Brooklyn to pick up my mother from her home, to Cedarhurst to pick up our food, to Woodmere to my home to eat it, then repeating the whole process in reverse to get everyone back home. That was the last Thanksgiving with my father so it was worth all the trouble. The first Thanksgiving with my husband and children felt aimless. I just didn’t know what to do with myself to make it a meaningful time. Over the years, that feeling hasn’t changed much but we’ve come to expect eating out at a deli, hopefully finishing before the big crowd to avoid the embarrassment of my children’s restaurant behavior, and watching a family movie together. My husband likes the parade but I feel there are too many pop tart singers and dancers out there to make it G rated anymore.
There’s also another component to the day now that our children are older—school. I just do not understand the school’s point of view on the holidays. Actual conversation with my 8 yr old daughter:
Daughter: Why do we have school on Thanksgiving?
Me: Well, your school doesn’t believe it’s really a holiday for Jews.
Daughter: Then why did my English teacher teach us all about it today?
Me: [cricket cricket]
Ok, so if schools hold by the more yeshivish view as presented by Rabbi Hoffman, I can understand that. Thursday and Friday should be normal school days. Right? Wrong! Thursday is a half day with no busing. So, I can understand that since it is a government holiday, there is no funding for busing or secular studies. Though I don’t understand how the crossing guard works that day. In any event, there is also no school on Friday. On Friday, which is not even Thanksgiving, not any sort of holiday, except erev Shabbos but that never stops anyone from having school anyway, there is no school. It’s listed as “Thanksgiving Vacation” on the school calendars. I don’t think I’ll ever understand that one. My son’s school also doesn’t have school on Sunday, but any excuse to not have school on Sunday is a good excuse so I’m fine with that.
Well, I’m feeling hungry for some turkey smothered in gravy and stuffing. It may or may not be related to celebrating one of America’s great traditions and remembering an important element from this country’s history. Happy T Day (Note, the “T” may or may not stand for Thurs-Day). Depends which side of the debate you fall on.