Thanksgiving through a Jewish lens

Congregation P’nai Tikvah, Brunch with Brilliants Talk given November 20, 2016 | 5777

As we well know, Thanksgiving is an American holiday. Families and friends get together to enjoy a delicious meal, visit with one another and perhaps watch football. Thanksgiving is not a Jewish holiday and it is not a holiday connected with any one religion. Rather, it is an American holiday with a religious and spiritual feeling into which each family, and each group of friends, may bring their own rituals and special foods.

On Thanksgiving, some religious congregations serve a meal for the poor in their neighborhood, and of course, homeless shelters do the same. So it is fair to say that the American observance of Thanksgiving revolves around having a meal and sharing our meal with others.

Separate from the American tradition of a Thanksgiving meal, there also appears to be a connection between the Jewish festival of Sukkot and the early Thanksgivings celebrated by the Puritans in the New World. I want to begin by telling the story of the Puritans, how they came to settle in the New World, and how they hosted a group of Native Americans for the first Thanksgiving celebration in the year 1621. I also want to talk about the Puritan celebration of Thanksgiving two years later, in 1623, when it had become more of a religious celebration.

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