Turkey, turkey, and turkeys: A Thanksgiving Letter from a Rabbi

Rabbi Larry Seidman Rabbi Linda Seidman

Nov 29, 2013

A Thanksgiving Letter from a Rabbi

Dear Friends;

At this holiday season, our thoughts are focused on the various meanings of the word "Turkey."

Rabbi Larry was blessed a few weeks ago with the opportunity to spend a week in Istanbul, Turkey. This came about through a special invitation from The Fountain, a journal centered on "Life, Knowledge, and Belief". It was a wonderful opportunity to learn from and talk with a variety of people from different religions, who are serious about their religion, and serious about improving the world. The Hebrew phrase is "Tikkun Olam" -repairing the world. It reflects that we all share the mission to use our ability in service to others and to leave the world a better place. Many of our Muslim friends use the term Hizmet (service) as the banner for their service to others.

In the USA, the turkey, the bird descended from a species native to North America, is the symbol of the Thanksgiving holiday. It reminds us of the celebration in 1621 when the Pilgrims (recently arrived from Europe) and the Wampanoag (the indigenous American Indian tribe) came together to celebrate the bounty they had received from the earth. It reminds us of the plenty that we all can share when we come together to span our differences and to acknowledge and share the blessings that we receive from God. Indeed, the Pilgrims were motivated in large part by the Biblical instructions to give thanks after the fall harvest. This practice continues in Jewish tradition as the festival of Sukkot, a harvest festival that continue from Biblical times. The later history of relations between the European immigrants and the Native American "Indians" is a tragic story that reminds us of how easy it is to lose the spirit of cooperation and replace it by a focus on our differences and our greed.

This year we have the unusual concurrence of the Jewish holiday of Chanukah and the national holiday of Thanksgiving. Chanukah - from the Hebrew word for dedication-recalls the time more than two millennia ago, when our ancestors in Jerusalem drove the Greek invaders out of the Jewish Temple, purified it, and rededicated it to the worship of God as described in the Bible. Today, we focus not on the war but on the need for personal rededication to our Jewish values and practices.

We light Chanukah candles to remind us of the spark of God that shines inside each of us. We light one candle the first day, and increase the number to eight by the eighth day- to symbolize that we can strengthen our spiritual resolve, our connection with the Divine, as we do the right things. The growing light reminds us the need for each of us to be a "lamp unto the nations" as it says several times in the Book of Isaiah. It is wonderful to celebrate these two traditions -giving thanks for God's bounty in the holiday of Thanksgiving, and rededicating ourselves for the future in Chanukah. From this we remind ourselves to share our blessings with those around us both near and far.

The Jewish connection with Thanksgiving is also imbedded in the language. The Hebrew word hodu means "give thanks". It is also the Hebrew word for turkey -the bird which symbolizes our giving thanks for the bounty and blessings we have received this year. How appropriate!

And that brings us to turkeys. In American slang, a turkey is someone who is stupid and incompetent. Someone who loses sight of the goal and bungles the task. Sadly, the world today is full of these turkeys. Far too many people around the world have forgotten what their religion teaches about the need to love each other and to do God's work on earth. Rather they focus on the differences between the details of our religious practices, the language we pray in, how we dress and how we live, and how we perceive God. They use these as excuses for violence. We must remember how easily North America went from the sweet sharing of the first Thanksgiving to hundreds of years of violence and abuse of the Indian-a story that is still not fully resolved. The rededication of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem in 164 BCE, 2300 years ago, set the stage for the continuation of Judaism, the emergence of Christianity, and a few hundred years later, of Islam. All of these teach the need to love one another, to serve as God's hands on earth, and to work for Tikkun Olam, to preserve and to repair, and to share this world full of God's bounty.

We pray that just as the Chanukah lights grow for eight days, the Divine light in each of us will grow in our awareness and gratitude for God's blessings and our dedication to do God's work here on earth. We hope that all peoples can learn to overcome the differences in how we speak and how we live, so that all the different peoples, cultures, beliefs, traditions and lifestyles that constitute our nation and our world, will work together to repair the world and to share what we have with those in need.

We wish you a wonderful day of Thanksgiving, a blessed Chanukah season, and a year of peace, love, and service to our fellow residents of the Earth.

Rabbi Larry Seidman and Rabbi Linda Seidman

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