How Thanksgiving Can Help Us Cope
Thanksgiving is a uniquely American holiday, and because it is not relegated to any specific culture or faith, it has the capacity to bring our country together in a very special way. It’s theme of gratitude is universal, and as Americans, there is a lot for which to be grateful.
Among the many things we cherish as a nation, few are more sacred than the fundamental freedoms of speech, assembly, and religion. These rights are not just constitutional guarantees; they are central pillars for a just and inclusive society.
Each of these freedoms are enshrined in the First Amendment, and they stand as an eternal testament to America’s commitment to diversity and tolerance. These freedoms are designed to cultivate a society where people can coexist harmoniously despite significant differences in cultural backgrounds, political leanings, and religious beliefs.
When these freedoms are exercised respectfully, they play a vital role in establishing a just and inclusive society. By allowing people to raise their voices against injustice, advocate for a cause, engage in constructive dialogue, and peacefully address grievances, these freedoms provide the framework for civility and informed discourse.
While these freedoms represent the bedrock of our democracy, they are often exploited and used to generate conflict and division. It is not uncommon for mass gatherings, marches, and protests to devolve into irrational, narrow-minded mob scenes which are destructive and sometimes violent. It is also not uncommon to witness the rage, anger, and violence of such protests to eventually turn against the Jews.
This has certainly been the case over the course of the past few months. According to the
Anti-Defamation League, antisemitic incidents across the United States have risen nearly 400 percent since October 7, 2023. This escalation in hate and violence has been felt most intensely on U.S. college campuses where Jewish students have been inundated by mass gatherings and marches protesting the war against HAMAS which often leads to an onslaught of antisemitic incidents, including violent assaults, intimidation, and harassment by fellow students.
As TV and social media coverage continues to broadcast hate-filled chants and slogans against our people and our faith, they spread misinformation about history, promote incorrect definitions of common terminology, and encourage anti-Semitism. These darkened days reflect the dangers that can emerge from the misuses of the freedoms we so cherish.
In response to the misuse of these freedoms, we need to be vigilant, and when it comes to standing up for the Jewish people and for supporting the State of Israel, we need to be unabashedly unified. This does not mean that we need to agree with everything Israel does, but we do need to stand strong as a people if we are going to be able to stand at all in the future.
Here is a truth that is very difficult to hear: this war, and its rippling effects throughout the world, has become an existential threat to all Jews (not just Israeli Jews), and therefore
We need a plan of action. We need concrete ways to respond. To this end, our community has incredible tools and resources from organizations like the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee whose missions include ongoing advocacy for the wellbeing and safety of the Jewish people and the State of Israel.
These resources are great for adults, but what about our youth (who are extremely susceptible to exposure to anti-Jewish content on social media)? What about our college students who currently find themselves ill-prepared to defend themselves against the aggressive anti-Israel and antisemitic forces surrounding them every day?
In examining our curriculum at HCRJ, we have come to recognize that our youth need better tools and vocabulary to address these issues. In response to this growing need, we have implemented lessons and programs for all ages which are designed to expand and strengthen connections to Israel and combat anti-Semitism.
While it may feel like the entire world has turned against us, the truth is that many of our neighbors have never met a Jew. Their misconceptions are often rooted in complete ignorance and perpetuated by absurd stereotypes. They may have no idea what we believe or what we stand for. Therefore, in our ongoing battles against the rising tide of anti-Semitism, we are going to need to be better ambassadors of our faith by using our freedoms of speech and religion to reach out to the world around us.
We are also going to need to build stronger relationships with the faith communities around us. We are a minority, and we need all the help we can get. While anti-Semitism has been around for millennia, the kind of interfaith solidarity we have been able to establish over the past three generations is new.
Previously, when Jews were victims of murderous anti-Semitic attacks, it was rare for anyone to stand with us or around us. Today, we have generated deep and lasting relationships with a wide variety of faiths. This kind of sacred allyship is built on trust. Our commitment to nurturing strong, healthy relationships with people of all faiths is something that we must continue to pursue – especially at times like these.
Finally, our battle against anti-Semitism must include an ongoing assessment of ourselves. We need to monitor our behaviors and impulses. We need to make sure that – as we confront the hatred directed against us – we do not succumb to the pitfalls of prejudice, intolerance, and bigotry against others. We need to make sure that the hate waged against us does not arouse any kind of hatefulness from within, and this is what I love about Thanksgiving.
Thanksgiving serves to reminds us that we are all Americans. Thanksgiving invites everyone, regardless of our cultural backgrounds, political leanings, or religious beliefs to join in the celebration of gratitude. This year, our celebration may be darkened by the war, but when this all passes (and it will) we will still be American Jews with all the freedoms we are afforded – and for that we can be grateful.