On one day next week, around family tables, many residents of this country will do something that traditional Jews do as soon as they wake up every day — give thanks.
The first words that a Jew is supposed to recite every morning are “modeh ani l’fanecha” (I thank you), the beginning of a 12-word Hebrew prayer that praises God for returning one’s soul.
Thankfulness is an intrinsic part of Judaism; the Hebrew word for Jews, Yehudim, literally means those who thank.
It is always good, for the sake of humility, to give thanks, and Thanksgiving, first announced by George Washington in 1789 and celebrated as a federal holiday since an 1864 proclamation by Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War, is a good reminder.
As Thanksgiving approaches, we, as members of the Jewish community, can consider some of the things for which we can be thankful this year:
- First of all, peace — despite an increasingly fractious political atmosphere in this country; and in Israel, where always-bellicose enemies threaten the security of the Jewish state;
- For supporters of Israel, a U.S. administration which, despite other faults, has spoken out forcibly in favor of Israel, particularly at the United Nations;
- The increasing marginalization of attempts to weaken and isolate Israel, in the marketplace and on the college campus;
- For the artistic-minded, the awarding of the Nobel Prize in Literature a year ago to Bob Dylan;
- For the cinema-minded, the emergence of Israel’s Gal Gadot, not only as a movie superstar, but as a proud Israeli and a voice for justice during the current controversy over sexual assault and harassment allegedly committed by predatory men in her business;
- For progressives, the declaration by Jonathan Greenblatt, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, that he would register as a Muslim were the Trump administration to institute a nationwide Muslim registry;
- The heart-warming response of the Jewish community to Jewish institutions in Texas and Florida that sustained heavy damage in hurricanes earlier this year; and of UJA-Federation of New York for aid to Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria;
- An increase in enrollment in Jewish educational institutions, including day schools and outreach-oriented Chabad Houses, as well as Jewish publishing houses that bring the beauty of Judaism to people of various ages;
- The ongoing success of the PJ Library and Birthright Israel programs, reaching large numbers of young families and 18-to-26-year-olds;
- Despite surveys that indicate an increase in anti-Semitic acts (and acts against Muslims and members of other minority groups), Jews continue to openly identify as Jewish in the U.S. without fear.
The list goes on; many of the things for which we can offer thanks this year are personal and prosaic: family and friends.
One more communal item on our list:
The ability to freely practice our faith in the United States. This is a freedom that history has shown cannot be taken for granted. We can teach and pray as we wish. And live our faiths in the privacy of our homes, beginning with “modeh ani” each morning.
For that alone we should be thankful.