Song of Peace
Yes, this is a baby lying on the Torah! Isn’t she beautiful!! Her name is Brielle and she is two months old in this picture. She recently attended her first Friday evening service, (outside her mother’s tummy that is!) and we were all blessed to welcome her into our Shirat Shalom family!
Rabbi David and I knew that we would be calling up the baby and parents for a special blessing but we didn’t have a plan to place her on the Torah. Our tradition dictates that we don’t even touch the Hebrew letters with our hands. So to put a baby on the sacred scroll?
But it seems G-d had other ideas. You see several times throughout the day I was shown the same vision. You probably can guess what it is! Yes, the baby on the Torah! Each time I thought I would speak to Rabbi David about this. But you know how these things go… I would get involved with my activities and would forget.
In the evening when the parents brought Baby Brielle into the sanctuary I could feel the energy in the whole room change. “Wow!” I thought! “This baby is pretty powerful!” I was again shown the vision of the baby on the Torah. I knew I needed to give this message to Rabbi David but we were just about to begin the service.
When we called up the parents and the baby for a special blessing it seems G-d gave Rabbi David the same message! As soon as he put the baby on the Torah, I began to cry.... I looked out in the room and it felt as though time had stopped.... There were tears streaming down faces, smiles of love, looks of wonder…I could feel the power of this baby, that every heart was being pierced open!
Afterwards there were a couple of people with questions such as, “Weren’t you worried that the baby would soil her diaper while on the Torah!” I just smiled and answered, “No, I knew G-d wanted us to do this. I had absolutely no worries!”
I asked Rabbi David later why he put the baby on the Torah. He answered, “We have talked about this many times. You know I am often told to say or do things…”
Baby Brielle will be receiving her Hebrew name soon, Shoshana Bracha. Shoshana means Rose and Bracha means Blessing. Her English name, Brielle is actually a shortened form of Gabrielle, who is one of the archangels. Gabrielle in Hebrew means G-d is my strength. Perhaps that explains the power Baby Brielle has.
What a gift for all of us to have this beautiful Rose as a Blessing in our lives! And now in Shirat Shalom we also have a new tradition for welcoming babies!
May we all be strengthened by the power of our traditions, and may we continue to create new ones…
Bidding farewell to the holiday of Passover is always followed by a very special week which is between the 27th day of the Hebrew month of Nisan, Holocaust Memorial Day (April 23rd this year) and the 4th day of Iyar, Israel Memorial Day (April 30th this year.) The 4th of Iyar is a designated memorial day for Israeli soldiers who gave their lives in all the wars waged against Israel since the War of Independence. As expected it is a solemn week. This special memorial day for the Israeli soldiers is commemorated one day before the countrywide joyful 5th day of Iyar, Yom Ha'atzmaut, Israel Independence Day. (May 1st this year)
The fact that the sorrow of the Memorial Day is immediately followed by the celebration of Israel's independence is very important. It is done by design.
There is an important phrase used in every circumcision ceremony for thousands of years: "Beh-Dama-ich Cha-ii", "you shall live through your blood."
Israelis, more than anyone, know that freedom has its price and in Israel's case, it is a very high price. Israelis live paying for their independence with blood almost every day of the year. Through their blood they live and, as we all know, prosper and thrive in all aspects of their lives on a national level as well as the individual level.
These two days are designated to be back to back to remind all of us that guarding our beloved Israel can never cease, that the state of Israel is the world's Peace Canary. Protecting it on the world stage is protecting liberty and freedom throughout the entire planet.
May G-D bless the state of Israel , the IDF and the Jewish people all over the world.
May these blessings radiate out to ALL People in the world.
May our children only know Peace.
Several of our Shirat Shalom children are participating in a pilot program that expands children's minds helping them to become more empowered, balanced and do better in school. We are thrilled with the results so far - more information to come!
After the first session, one student, an adorable 3rd grader was done early so I took her outside. She was quite excited about this which didn't surprise me as all children love going into our backyard! It is filled with ponds and hidden places, perfect for a child to explore.
As we went onto the side deck which is within a hidden enclave she excitedly called out, "Look there are two butterflies!" They began circling around her which delighted her even more! As I stood watching from a distance a swarm of butterflies came and began circling around her! There were so many - I didn't even know we had that many butterflies in our backyard! I continued to just stand where I was, mesmerized as the child began dancing with Joy within their circle! I am not sure how long I stood there watching this Dance of Joy, on both sides, of the butterflies and the child!
Two weeks later I finally had a chance to post pictures on facebook of our students planting for Tu B'Shvat, the holiday honoring Trees and Nature. In honor of Mother Earth, the children planted milkweed seeds to help propagate monarch butterflies who are presently in danger of their population diminishing.
Something made me think the butterfly dance two weeks earlier was connected to this so I checked the date the child had come for that first session. It was the day after Tu B'Shvat on a Sunday. The Wednesday before was when the children planted the milkweed seeds in Hebrew School!
We all have those times when we receive confirmation deeply within that yes, something is true. This little girl was one of the children who planted the milkweed seeds that week.....
At that moment I knew without a doubt the butterflies had come to tell her Thank You!
Read how we can help monarch butterflies
Dedicated to: JWRP (Jewish Women’s Renaissance Project) and the JEC (Jewish Education Center) – without whom I wouldn’t have had this great journey home and a greater sense of what being Jewish truly is.
As my eyes fluttered open after a long flight over from the US to Israel, I still didn’t have a clue what I was truly embarking on. I left the comfort of the plane (oxymoron, I know) to enter the land of Israel. As I walked towards the meeting spot, I was greeted with cheers, bursts of laughter, and singing. The flag was proudly raised as 250 women met up in the Tel Aviv airport. Before I could say hi to anyone, I was enclosed in a circle of arms - - people hugging me, people I have never met, nor will I ever forget.
After getting our sim cards and phones set up for Israel, we all wandered our way through the street to fill the waiting bus. Our group leaders introduced us to the other trip leaders on our bus. The 14 members of my specific group were sharing a bus with girls from PGA, Stuart, and Israel. We were all strangers including the members of my own group as we had only met a handful of times prior to the hot July day. As if this wasn’t surreal enough, we begin the drive from Tel Aviv to Tiberias. Our tour guide spouting out historical facts as we take in the scenery surrounding us. One of the first historical stories we were told was about something that took place on Mt. Carmel, near Mt. Sinai, between Elijah and the priests of Ba-al. The significance being that just a few short months before, my son was called to the Torah in honor of his Bar Mitzvah. His Haftarah portion was this story. I read about it, heard my child speak about it, and here I was looking at the same mountain Elijah had visited long ago.
Once we arrived at our hotel, we went to our first welcome meeting. Here, Lori Palatnik introduced herself and gave a brief overview of a few things to expect. Lori is a dynamic speaker. She hooks you from the moment she begins talking. Throughout the next 8 days, we met with her and learned. We learned about parenting, how to treat our spouses, how to read and understand ourselves and the people we love. Each day the lesson was tied to something we would be learning about that day as we toured the ancient towns. First Jaffa and Tsfat, then onward to Tel Aviv for a few short hours, and Jerusalem. We went to Negev and ate where Abraham ate. We engaged in a drum circle and rode camels and danced the night away. We traveled up Masada. We visited with IDF soldiers and brought them packages filled with things from home – toiletries, shirts, socks, etc. . . We went to a Mikva, and of course to The Wall. We toured the tunnels, and spent time wandering the streets of the Old City and shopped on Ben Yehuda. We even went to a Shuk on the busiest day of the week - - Friday before Shabbat. While each and every one of these places is incredible and spiritual, and amazing, it doesn’t even begin to touch the surface of what we were doing here. It is only natural to begin to think deeper, and I found that something was awakening inside.
What was it about this place that touched my heart and soul? I am not sure I can explain it, but I will try. First of all, let me explain something. There wasn’t a day that went by that I didn’t shed tears. Sometimes they were quick tears, and other times they were sobs. Of course,
Yad V’shem automatically brings tears to one’s eyes. Jut the sheer madness and craziness of Hitler and what he did to the Jews. The stories that were shared of those that survived. The children that perished, the moms and dads, the grandparents - - my family, your family, all a part of our ancestors - - it’s unfathomable, yet it happened. Again, I expected to shed tears here. However, one particular place that hit me hard was this place called Nalaga’at Center. This is a cultural arts center. Everyone here is blind and/or deaf. These men and women perform shows. There is a food bar as well. The waiters are all deaf. The performance we saw was a one woman show. The people who are deaf and blind were born with a condition. They were born deaf, but they went blind as they hit puberty. They remember seeing, and they remember losing their sight. The show was a memoir of this woman’s life. It showed us how at 13, she remembers losing her sight and going home to her mom as she sobbed. It was heartfelt, and I was especially struck and overcome with uncontrollable tears, as I am slowly losing my sight. Remember, this is all acted out through a blind and deaf person. No talking, she can’t see, yet the audience felt her pain, her anguish, her fears. After the show, I had the opportunity to “speak” with the actress. I found out she has a few kids and new grandbaby. This woman’s strength, perseverance, her outlook on life is incredibly strong. And for the first time, I didn’t feel so sorry for myself or feel as though my lack of sight would diminish me. I had hope.
Later on, we spent the afternoon at One Family. The mission of One Family is overcoming terror together. This is a group that helps rehabilitate broken families as a result of acts of terrorism. The men, women, and children who come here for support have lost loved ones in the wars, terrorist attacks in the cities, and in some cases the children have lost both parents. Here we met a few women who lost their boys in the recent wars. While they are certainly sad, the light in their eyes, the way they spoke of their loved ones, was so endearing. Talking about them helps to keep them in the present. While not all people are able to do this, these women we met were inspirational. And of course, the tears kept flowing from all of us in the room. And, there was a feeling of hope.
The day before Shabbat, we went to the wall. We prayed at the wall, we cried at the wall, we held each other at the wall. It was quite melancholy. The last time I was at the wall was when I was 12. I was here with my family including my own Grandma and Grandpa, and a woman whom I always considered a grandmother, Grandma Alice. (my cousin’s grandma). I felt them here with me. I remembered their wet eyes, and I remembered the many Jews who are no longer with us who fought for the land of Israel. Again, a bittersweet end to many days of crying.
Everything in Jerusalem closes between 3 and 4 o’clock. Even the Arab Quarter shuts down. This is a time that families are preparing for the next 25 hours. Shabbat quickly approached. As day turned into night, we welcomed the Shabbos Queen at the wall. We danced, we sang, we laughed. It was completely different from the day before. Shabbat was here! Shabbat was all around us. It was truly a festive evening. Growing up Conservative, I was always taught that Shabbat is a weekly holiday. It never felt like a holiday. Here, in Jerusalem,
Shabbat is as festive as it comes. Men, women, children, young, old, and everything in between is celebrating.
Funny, celebrating was a weird way to end the week, a week of crying, of learning, of listening to the stories of our ancestors fighting for rights, fighting for religion, fighting for survival. Here, in America, while it isn’t perfect, we haven’t had the same trials and tribulations, at least not in my lifetime. I started thinking back to the days of WWII. The Jews fought to stay alive. People risked their lives just to be Jewish. Jews are 2% of the population. I kept thinking about my own history. Growing up, my grandparents were Orthodox, my parents were Conservative Orthodox, and my brother and I were raised Conservative for most of our lives until our parents turned towards Conservative Reform. My family now is Reform. Do you see the pattern? We are assimilating and losing our identity that our ancestors fought so hard to keep. I know why. It is easier to fit in. Being religious is difficult in our world where we are only 2%. The activities our kids enjoy are on Shabbat - - soccer, baseball, football, hockey, etc. . . It was on Shabbat that I decided that I needed to make a change in my life for my children. While I have been slowly coming to this realization over the past year or so (when I realized my kids didn’t know there was an order to the service - -oh my, I really dropped the religion ball!), it resonated with me in Jerusalem. If I want any of the customs I grew up with to be passed down to my children and their children, I need to do something now, before they are all grown up and set in their ways.
Back in the USA, Shabbat rolls around. I wish I had the time to bake fresh challah, but I don’t. I run to Publix after work, grab two loaves of challah, put out my candlesticks, wash off my Kiddush cup (I am embarrassed to admit how much dust was on it as it is only used at Passover for the prophet Elijah), and print out the weekly Torah portion from the website www.myjewishlearning.com. We read the portion at dinner. We discuss it and figure out how it applies or doesn’t apply to our world today. We have had a few really good discussions. After the discussions, we have family game night. We all plug out and tune in. We treat the evening as if it were special because it is special. It is Shabbat. I would be lying if I told you everyone in the family loves this, but they don’t. I get push back. I know that we are too assimilated to go beyond six hours on Friday night. But, it is important to me, and I hope that one day everyone will look back and say, “Wow, Friday night Shabbat was a night I looked forward to.”
My trip to Israel was way more than a trip. It was a journey. It was about finding me, and what’s important. Israel is a home to all Jews. Israel is home to me. I feel a connection with Israel that I have never felt before. I see why people visit and end up staying. Israel is a country of hope.
Gayle is a member of Congregation Shirat Shalom.
Shortly we will finish reading the first Book of Beresheet (Genesis,) and begin the second book of the Torah, Sh'mot (Exodus.) While each book of the Torah carries important messages, the Book of Exodus is of utmost importance as it talks about the events that led the family of Jacob and his twelve sons to become the nation of Israel. This transformation took place over the course of 400 years.
But the way G-D chose to create the Israelite nation is a little peculiar. The original idea of coming to Egypt to begin with was to ride out the seven years of famine in a place where food was still available.
Why didn't Jacob's family return back to Canaan, their homeland after the seven years of famine had passed? Why be strangers unnecessarily in a foreign land?
No doubt G-D had a plan. He wanted the Israelites to become a multitude in Egypt. Their sheer numbers threatened Pharaoh so much he saw no other alternative but enslavement.
But why did the plan include having us suffer through slavery on our way to becoming the nation of Israel?
Perhaps the answer is that national attitudes are forged through common experiences. Suffering together through a long, cruel period of slavery caused the Israelites to understand and internalize deep in their souls the enormous value of liberty and justice. This became one of the most important parts of our spiritual makeup, always worth fighting for throughout our long history.
However, because of other nations' influences the institute of slavery did exist in ancient Israel. Nevertheless, there were very strict laws protecting the slaves. Foreign slaves were acquired through victories over enemies whereas Hebrew slaves were acquired because of debt that had to be repaid. Hebrew slaves had to be set free after seven years no matter how large the sum still owed.
While foreign slaves remained slaves forever, the concept of slavery was much different in Israel than in the rest of the Biblical world.
To begin with, there is no Hebrew word for slave, not the way we understand the term. The closest word is "Eved," a derivative of the word "Oved, a worker. Eved translates as one who works without getting paid. The statues of an Eved, Hebrew or foreigner, was like that of a regular worker with all the legal protection from cruelty and inhumane treatment. Especially since the Jewish people were designated by G-D as carriers of the Light of Freedom, the Eved was never considered to be property and had to be treated as a regular worker. Therefore, the Torah issued a stern warning against mistreatment of slaves.
Consequently, slaves were considered as part of the maintenance crew of the household or working crew out in the field. Many slaves most likely had a better life as "slaves" than as free people. An echo of this fact can be seen in a biblical law stating that if a Hebrew slave refuses to go free after seven years because he feels comfortable in his slave status, the owner of the house must shame him by cutting his ear lobe...
As the Israelites gained an even deeper understanding of the sacredness of freedom, the practice of owning slaves became quite rare. This is true especially during the second Temple. Slavery was eventually abolished altogether many centuries before the rest of the world caught up. (or is still catching up...)
Looking back over history, perhaps the reason for creating the Jewish nation through hundreds of years of slavery was necessary to create a unique people who would be able to always carry the ideals of liberty and justice no matter the circumstances. This we have done for thousands of years even during some extremely cruel centuries.
May we continue to do so...
It is over three years now since the mother first called but only now that I publicly share the story....
She began by telling me she would just speak from her heart. Her family was very active in a non denominational church in Kentucky which very much honored the Jewish people as Jesus was Jewish. She and her husband wanted their son to learn Hebrew and become a Bar Mitzvah, the rite of passage for Jewish teenagers. This would help them all as Christians to understand the roots of Jesus.
As you can imagine, she was quite nervous telling me all this. I replied by sharing what we teach our children in Hebrew School, "There are many paths to climb a mountain, we all reach the top and are together there. All Sacred Paths are to be respected. " I also told her that Rabbi David and I are instruments of G-d. If her family was brought to us, it was for a reason.
We began teaching the boy Hebrew and the Jewish perspective of the Torah through our online tutoring program which uses a form of video chat. As with all our students we developed a bond with the entire family. As we progressed I wasn't quite sure how a Bar Mitzvah ceremony would be performed for at that time it wasn't in the plans to have Rabbi David and me there. I thought we would work with the pastor and have him conduct some kind of brief ceremony for the church members which would include the boy reading his Torah portion from a child's size Torah. We have one of these replica Torahs in Hebrew School and it is easy to purchase.
But one thing led to another and the family decided they would like us to come to Kentucky to perform the service. It was going to be very expensive to fly both of us to perform the ceremony so we decided only Rabbi David would go. This was somewhat disappointing as I felt very close to the family and as many know, we are a team, used to doing services together. But I also kept getting the message, the inner knowingness that I was to go also.
One morning before another Bar Mitzvah service I prayed and said, "Okay, if I am supposed to be there, please give me the financial means to do so." After the service, the father of the Bar Mitzvah boy, put cash in my hands, enough to pay for 2/3rds of a ticket! The next week I received money I wasn't expecting which paid for the rest of the ticket!
Once we arrived in Kentucky we were welcomed as such honored guests! Even the invitations said our names with the words "honored guests!" Everyone was just thrilled we were there including the pastor and his wife.
We set up a sanctuary in a Fire Hall meeting room. One option was to have the service in their church but they didn't want us to feel uncomfortable. The Fire Hall became a beautiful sanctuary which I thought was so appropriate since the mystical teachings tell us the Hebrew letters of the Torah are written by black fire on white fire. The boy and his grandfather even built an ark for the Torah!
We conducted a Friday evening service and explained all the prayers as we went along. The congregation of about 100 was mostly made up of the church members who participated in every part of the service by singing along with the Hebrew transliteration and English as well! There was actually one Jewish couple there but most of the people had never even met a Jewish person before, including the grandparents of the boy!
When Rabbi David spoke to the boy he told him that he is a bridge between two sister religions. At the end of the service, we invited the pastor of the church to give his blessing over the challah after the boy did the Hebrew blessing.
The pastor broke apart the bread and said, "We have been broken." He then put the bread back together again and said, "May this now be the beginning of our people coming back together."
There was something so profound that happened at that moment! I can only describe it as Waves of Love that came into the room deepening and expanding the Sacredness that was already there. Each person's heart was truly touched that day....
But that is not the end... For each time I have retold the story of the Pastor's Bar Mitzvah Prayer people share how their hearts are so touched by this! I have come to understand that with each heart touched, there is further healing of a broken past....
And so I share this story now with you.... Perhaps your heart will be touched too....
It was on Thanksgiving last year when my family for the first time watched the videos of my nephew, Jason, taken 23 years ago. My brother in law had just bought a video camera but he didn't have a chance to take too many videos of Jason for in another month he would die. He was 4 1/2 years old.
For those of us who remember, the video cameras then were quite large and to view a video the camera had to be connected to the TV. When my sister found the stored videos all these years later but no camera, she had them transferred to a DVD.
As we all watched the DVD I looked at my older nephew, Kevin, and contemplated how he was shaped by his younger brother's death. He was only eight years old at the time. I then turned my attention to my younger nephew Corey, now a college student, who would not have been born if Jason hadn't died. I could see how intently he was watching the brother he never met. I wondered what was going through his mind.
Afterwards I saw that someone had called my cell phone three separate times. Since there weren't any messages I decided it must be a robot call. After all, who would call on Thanksgiving!
When I returned home, I saw the phone had rung again but this time there was a message. A twenty-three year old boy, the older brother of one of our seventh grade students, had died! My first thought was how Thanksgiving for this family would be forever changed! My second thought was that just like my nephews, my student's life would now be shaped by the loss of his brother.
I had spoken with my student's mother a few weeks earlier when she picked a date for his Bar Mitzvah. The day before the funeral she shared that when she was riding in the car to identify her son, she realized that the month and day of her younger son's Bar Mitzvah was the same as her older son's!
"I didn't even realize they had the same date until that moment!" she exclaimed. "Will they have the same Torah portion? It was Vayishlach and had something to do with brothers." I answered it was doubtful as the Torah portion goes by the Hebrew calendar which is based on the moon and not the secular date which is based on the sun.
A few days later I remembered our conversation and looked up the Torah portion. That evening during the Minyan service (service in house of morning) I first shared the story of how the secular date was the same. And then that the Torah portion was the same as well! It was Vayishlach, a story of two brothers, Jacob and Esau, a story of struggle and forgiveness. All of us at the service that night can attest to the Divine Presence that came into the room at that moment.
This year on Thanksgiving I again thought about the Workings of the Universe. Of how last Thanksgiving we were able to "see" my nephew Jason due to my brother in law buying the camera when he did. Of how I received the phone calls the same time I was watching the video and thinking about my nephews losing their brother. Of how the secular date of the Bar Mitzvah and Torah portion were the same for my student and his older brother.....
During his recent Bar Mitzvah ceremony my student spoke about his older brother, of how just like Jacob in Vayishlach, the leadership role of the family has been passed to him, the younger brother. He spoke of how "11 years ago today, my brother had his ceremony on this exact day and we have the same Torah portion, so this is not a coincidence."
It seems that within the Workings of the Universe, the messages are always there....
I believe they are Messages of Love....
My Student Austin and his older brother Alex.
Through so many years of teaching B'nai Mitzvah students, I have come to understand that the Torah portion a child receives is never by accident. There is always a hidden message that so resonates with the child! Recently, this was reconfirmed for me with my student, Yaffa, during her Bat Mitzvah lesson.
I knew Yaffa was one of the "Intuitive Children" as soon as I met her in third grade. Of course by nature every child is intuitive but I recognized the deep compassion and sensitivity within her being, how she was so drawn to all that is Sacred. As a seventh grader this is still who she is.
As we were concluding her weekly Bat Mitzvah lesson I asked if she had heard about her friend's accident. The friend had fallen off a horse three days earlier and was in the hospital. Being so sensitive she was quite upset! No, she hadn't heard!
I assured Yaffa that her friend was healing and reminded her she could help with prayer, with sending Healing Light. Her whole face lit up with Joy that she could help in this manner as she is a child who understands and sees energy!
At that point her internet went down and our online meeting was cut off. As I waited for her to sign back on I glanced through her Torah portion. A set of Hebrew words immediately jumped out at me!
As soon as Yaffa was back I excitedly pointed the words out to her! "El Nah, Refah Na La!" These were the words that Moses called out to G-d to heal his sister Miriam when she was struck with leprosy! Please G-d, Please Heal her!
"These Hebrew words are so powerful, Yaffa! They are used to help people heal! They are the same words on my healing tambourine! You can use these words with your friend!"
Yaffa shut her eyes to see the words. "Yes," she smiled with her eyes still closed, "I see them! They have a glowing light around them!" I answered still excited, "Use them, Yaffa! Put them on your friend's body!"
She kept smiling and nodded her head, for she had already done so....
I sat in awe afterwards understanding that this child's prayer was truly helping her friend. If the internet hadn't gone off, I wouldn't have seen the healing words to give her. And what are the chances she would even have this specific Torah portion, Beha'alotecha, containing the healing words which she instinctively knows how to use!
No, it is never an accident which Torah portion a child receives....
Once again Rabbi David put up the Holiday Lights for our neighborhood's entrance. Last year when he did it for the first time we thought it was so funny! The Rabbi of the neighborhood was putting up the Christmas lights! He had no idea what it would entail but took it very seriously. After all it was a mitzvah! (good deed)
He called a Christian friend and asked, "How do the lights stay on the trees? " She thought the question was pretty hysterical. "Just start doing it," she said "and you will figure it out! " He enlisted some help from the neighbors as to what kind of lights to buy and also later on to help him with placing the lights on the higher trees.
He did figure out how the lights stay on the trees and the display turned out beautiful! In fact, he enjoyed the process so much he decided to get blue and white lights and decorate our back yard deck for Chanukah!
This year at the very end of creating the display, I was enlisted to help hold the ladder for the high trees. It was such a beautiful day and so much fun to be inside all the bushes and trees! When we got back home, I called out, "Here we are! The neighborhood light decorators!" Rabbi David laughed and answered with a better description, "We are the Light Workers!" We both stopped and just looked at each other understanding the significance of his words. "I guess we really are, aren't we?" Rabbi David answered, I guess we really are...."
Many Blessings for All during this Season of Light...
Thanksgiving is as genuine American apple pie. I don't think that any other nation sets aside a dedicated holiday to show such an appreciation for our life. Yet we Jews can take a little credit for influencing the creation of this holiday. It is commonly assumed that the Pilgrims modeled their original Thanksgiving celebration after the holiday of Succot. According to the biblical explanation, Succot was a holiday of Thanksgiving to celebrate the end of agricultural year. There were many celebratory activities, especially in Jerusalem, thanking G-d for the spring, summer and fall crops.
In our modern American Thanksgiving version we also express gratitude for everything in our life, for who we are and what we have. In the Jewish tradition we are actually encouraged to be in an appreciative mode every day of the year. It is our obligation to try to recite 100 blessings of thanksgiving every day, always starting with "Baruch Ata Adonai", Blessed are you Adonai. How is that for an endless daily thanksgiving celebration! These blessings cover all aspects of our life. They range from our smallest daily needs and functions to seeing majestic views, to experiencing new things etc.
I believe that this year's Thanksgiving celebration is even more significant for us. We have just gone through a painful election which has torn us into a deeply divided nation, complete with lower emotions of hate and ill wishes. So deep is the division that in many families, certain topics are still avoided in order to prevent quarrels.
Appreciating what we have is a powerful way for us to begin to heal and come together again as a nation. We as Americans and Jews have so much for which we can be thankful. Whatever our political affiliation, we are and always will be one nation. For the sake of all of us and future generations let us begin working together and start with our own family members and friends. All of us are the guardians of liberty and freedom.
Indeed, things are not perfect and there is much to be done socially and economically and on the world stage in order to keep the United state what it has always been, a Beacon of Hope. But despite the political turmoil, our country is strong and safe and we have the freedom to evaluate our economy and social issues. And as we gather together at our Thanksgiving tables let us also remember and appreciate how many lives have been given so we may even have the privilege of enjoying the Thanksgiving holiday.
Yes, we have much to be thankful for this year. May we continue to be blessed with much to be thankful for every day of our lives. And in doing so, may we Jewish people continue to not only share our blessings with those in need but also follow our teachings that ask us to model respect, understanding and compassion for all.
More about Gratitude
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