The Seattle Board of Education sent a memo to its staff last week urging they not treat Thanksgiving as a happy holiday, because some students consider it "a day of mourning." This is true. Native American students, the note cautioned, are reminded that day how their ancestors' generosity was "betrayed."
The memo was signed by Caprice D. Hollins, Psy.D., Director of Equity, Race & Learning Support, plus two members of Huchoosedah Indian Education, a federally-funded American Indian support arm of the School District. Huchoosedah Indian Education has six full-time staff to promote the well-being of 800 native American and Islander students (2% of 45,300 total). The staff clearly has too much federally-funded time on its twelve hands.
What is this deconstructing of Thanksgiving????
Thanksgiving is Jewish. I want to set that straight. We call it the mitzvah of "ha karat ha tov," recognizing the good that is done for you. An illustration of it is that Moses did not personally start the plague that turned the Nile to blood, due to his gratitude that the river kept him alive when he was set adrift as an infant in a floating raft. The example may seem a bit extreme, but the fact we even tell that story shows how much gratitude is part of Jewish tradition.
I wanted to clarify the Jewishness of Thansgiving because I was told about an incident last Shabbat where a rabbi, when making his announcements in morning services, said something like, "There will be no class on Thursday. Some people are taking the day off, though I frankly don't understand why."
If he was making a joke, he said it in such a way that listeners believed he was serious. The person who told me about this was a bit upset, because a local pastor had chosen that day to visit the synagogue for the first time, just to be neighborly. The pastor, who lives nearby, is a friend,and honors and reaches out to community Jews. He heard the rabbi's remark about Thanksgiving.
Thanksgiving is important not only for ha karat ha tov, but because it is a uniquely American holiday that expresses the essence of our culture as God-fearing. We are thankful to God, not to the Indians. We remember that the first white settlers were able to join with the inhabitants of the land in humble gratitude. A nation that pauses to gather family to thank God and celebrate our bounty and blessings is one set on a straightened path every year. (Jews enjoy this kind of re-focusing every Sabbath as well.)
Thanksgiving is a national group-hug. It joins Americans across religions, across thousands of miles, and across generations. Unlike Halloween with its pagan origins, deathly symbols and crass commercialism, little about Thanksgiving itself is negative, unless you consider its potential for gluttony. The Seattle School District is rightly the subject of snickering derision. In contrast to every other public holiday, on Thanksgiving, as we watch parades and make stuffing and set the table and hear the doorbell and the laughter of those we love-- we look inward, and upward, to realize the parts of life that truly matter, and contemplate their very generous source. Happy Thanksgiving...from one very grateful lady.