“… I vow to enter into dialogue with other faiths and their followers to appreciate
and experience more fully the depth of human spirituality, insight, and
 -Rabbi Rami Shapiro

When I was a kid, I thought Thanksgiving was a Jewish holiday. My parents and I would drive from New York City to my Uncle Bill’s house in New Jersey for a large gathering of Jews devouring a holiday feast. To my young mind it fit the quintessential Jewish holiday formula – they tried to kill us, we won, let’s eat! Of course, in the case of Thanksgiving, they hadn’t tried to kill us. But, during early Thanksgivings, Jews did feel excluded.

As we learned in grade school, the first Thanksgiving was celebrated in Plymouth, Massachusetts in 1621, attended by 90 Native Americans and 50 English Pilgrim settlers. That Thanksgiving mirrored many ancient harvest feasts such as the Jewish Sukkot. The Pilgrims’ Thanksgiving was not an annual event, and did not become an American ritual for more than 200 years. For more than two centuries, days of thanksgiving were celebrated by individual colonies and states. It wasn’t until 1863, in the midst of the Civil War, that President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national Thanksgiving Day to be held each November.

As with many things in our country, some ideas are slow to take hold. Acceptance was gradual. Governor John W. Geary of Pennsylvania, in 1868, issued a proclamation to the citizens of his state calling on them to celebrate Thanksgiving. The terms which Geary employed roused a unified protest from Philadelphia’s rabbis because, in the words of America’s first English-language Jewish newspaper, The Occident, Geary “apparently intended to exclude Israelites” from the celebration.

By 1868, Philadelphia’s Jewish population was the nation’s largest, numbering as many as 4,000. According to The Occident, a week after Geary’s proclamation the “Hebrew Ministers” of Philadelphia “deemed it their duty” to draft a powerful petition against it….

The rabbis condemned Geary’s proclamation as “an encroachment upon the immunities we are entitled to share with all the inhabitants thereof; and we appeal to the sense of justice which animates our fellow-citizens…” In other words, theysaid, “Hey, what about us!” 

Thanksgiving is quintessentially American. It is deeply religious without being denominational and it is based entirely on one of the most important, and noble, traits a human being can have — gratitude.

Thanksgiving is the one day of the year in which we Jews celebrate the same religious holiday with the rest of America. By definition, Jews do not share a religion with the non-Jewish majority of Americans. But we do share our God (the God of Creation and the God of Israel) with the Christian majority and with Muslims, alike. This holiday is a clear affirmation of our common beliefs.

Oak Park Temple is a proud member of The Community of Congregations, an interfaith organization serving the greater Oak Park -River Forest, Illinois area. Come and celebrate all that we share as a community at the Annual Interfaith Thanksgiving Service, one of the oldest such programs in the Chicagoland area. 

Interfaith Thanksgiving Service
Sunday, November 18, 2012, 7:00 p.m.
Pilgrim Congregational Church, UCC
460 Lake Street, Oak Park

Modim anchnu lach, We acknowledge with thanks…..


Jeff Blaine

Share This