September 27, 2023 /
The last Jewish holiday we celebrated was Sukkot/Simchat Torah. Sukkot is our people’s thanksgiving holiday, and up ahead on the horizon is our American civil holiday of Thanksgiving. Beyond the Macy’s Day Parade or eating turkey at a large family gathering, one of the other great traditions of Thanksgiving is the Interfaith Thanksgiving Service when multiple faith traditions come together to have a service to celebrate this moment in time. In almost every town and city in America, you will find an Interfaith Thanksgiving Service at some point around the holiday. Last year, when we were living through far darker days of the pandemic, all our interfaith services were done on Zoom and streamed to your homes. Thanksgiving celebrations were also made smaller, if they happened at all, and there was a general malaise in the air about how one could even find the ability to be grateful when things felt so dark.
However, it wasn’t all doom and gloom. I can’t tell you how many times last year people told me about how excited they were to not have to deal with Black Friday as stores were closed or not letting in that many people. The “defeat” of Black Friday (which of late seems to begin on Thursday or even late Wednesday night) helped people remember what the moment was about: being with friends and family, finding gratitude for what you have, and (at least in our house) using that gratitude as a way of helping those who have less.
This Thanksgiving we are seeing a greater opening of the world around us and it may mean larger gatherings and celebrations. I think our Interfaith Services are a nice reflection of the semi-pandemic world we are living in. Our New Brunswick Interfaith Thanksgiving Service will be completely virtual, whereas the Interfaith Service we participate in with Highland Park will be in-person, but outdoors.
As Jews, it is nice to be part of these celebrations, especially in New Brunswick and Highland Park, where the bulk of who shows up or “tunes in” reflect the diverse and multicultural society that is America. Through our worship at these services we reconfirm the truth that America is stronger as a country when we come together to express gratitude, support one another, and reconfirm that we are all part of this great land and all have a right to it.
On this Thanksgiving, as our tables may expand slightly larger than last year, may we hold tight to the lessons of diversity and gratitude, which helps us all move forward as a nation.
Philip N. Bazeley