Yesterday was the first time in a long time that we didn't have a real Thanksgiving dinner. Usually, we have my in-laws, parents and siblings over, but because of the fact that we had a six-week old baby in the house, we decided to forgo that tradition this year. Nonetheless, I was reminiscing the other day about my days in Yeshiva and how Thanksgiving was one of the 'Red Flag' absence days.
What are the 'Red Flag Absence Days?' those are days in which the Yeshiva would give you an extra hard time if you were absent, because it presumptively meant that you were doing something on those days that wasn't appropriate in the eyes of the Yeshiva. Thanksgiving was one of those days, the other was the day of the Salute to Israel Parade in NYC (I guess the school was against celebrating any type of government?). Obviously, on Thanksgiving, this meant that you skipped out on learning Torah (there were no secular studies that day, because the secular teachers - usually moonlighting public school teachers - couldn't be persuaded to work) in order to celebrate a 'goyish' holiday. While I understand their dismay in the bittel torah (loss of Torah Learning time), I am dismayed at them for not recognizing the original meaning of Thanksgiving.
It's not about putting money in the hands of Turkey farmers (kosher and otherwise), it's not about football, or about the Wampanoag, or about stores getting ready for their 'Black Friday' deals - it is about giving thanks to G-d for all that has given, is giving, and will give to us, and to thank him for allowing us to live in a place, where our religious freedom is one of the most respected rights granted to us - Jew and non-Jew alike.
People take religious freedom for granted. They either don't know or turn a blind eye to some of the forces that would love to eradicate Jewish practices in this country - Shechita (ritual slaughter of meat) and Milah (circumcision) are two examples of areas where many people are trying to attack our religious life and practices, and thankfully they haven't been successful.
My children wake up every morning, make Brachot (blessings) over Kosher food, wear their Yarmulkas and Tzitzit with pride, and go to Jewish Schools. These are things that were not possible for my in-laws under Soviet rule, and things that were taken away from my grandparents in Hitler's Europe. Something that I and all of my family are grateful for, and a very good reason, IMVHO, for us to eat turkey once a year.
It is for these very reasons that I listen with as much intent to the prayers for the US Government and its soldiers as I do those for the Israeli soldiers. Americans in Uniform in Iraq, Afghanistan or wherever, are serving our nation and protecting our freedom. The least I can do is pay attention in Shul when we collectively ask for their safe return home and answer Amen.
Of course, we don't just say this prayer on the weekend following Thanksgiving, we say it every week - which leads me to share this thought with you - Everyday is Thanksgiving. Everyday is a day where we need to be thankful for what we have, and especially for the freedom to follow our beliefs and serve G-d without and restrictions imposed by the government.
So on that note, please accept my wishes for a Happy Thanksgiving, Yesterday, Today, and Every day.