I hope you were able to celebrate Thanksgiving, yesterday, in good health and happiness. I want to recognize and thank all the volunteers and Social Action leaders who prepared more than 3,500 meals to feed the hungry right here in Westchester. You make us proud to a part of a sacred Jewish community that really makes this world a better place.
On Sunday, we held our annual Interfaith Thanksgiving service. Strengthening friendships with other faith communities in our area is one of the best ways to counter the spread of hate and antisemitism that plagues society today. Below I am attaching a copy of the message I delivered at the Interfaith Thanksgiving service.
Wishing you a Thanksgiving Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wilfond
Gratitude in the Jewish Tradition
I am grateful to represent the Jewish Community of Temple Shaaray Tefila. A day like today, when people of different religions and backgrounds, come together to share our blessings is the best medicine for society to heal us from the spread of polarization, divisiveness and hate. We are living in a challenging time of increasing social turmoil. The message of Thanksgiving is needed today more than ever before. Now is the time to affirm the spirit of friendships between our communities and deepen our relationships to strengthen a society that accepts the rights of people to be diverse, safe and included.
Thanksgiving and gratitude have defined Judaism since its very beginning. In fact, the name Jews comes from the Hebrew word for Thankful. In the Bible there was a woman named Leah. When she was blessed to have a child and she exclaimed “I am thankful for this child. I will name him Judah which means ‘Thankful’ to God.” The name Judah (and Jews) literally means to be thankful.
The Pilgrims, created our American holiday of Thanksgiving in November of 1621, to celebrate their first Fall Harvest in this land. The Pilgrims were inspired by the Hebrew Bible and they wanted to celebrate the Biblical Feast of Tabernacles, the Bible’s Holiday of Thanksgiving, known in Hebrew as Sukkot. The Pilgrims saw themselves like the Hebrews of yore. They had escaped religious persecution in England, which they likened to Egypt. They saw the King of England like a Pharaoh, and just as the children of Israel had escaped through the red sea, the pilgrims journeyed across the Atlantic Ocean to reach a land of Promise, their Promised Land, where they would live in covenant with God.
During the Biblical holiday of Thanksgiving we are asked to share the fruits of our harvest with “Kol Ha’amim,” the Bible says in Hebrew, “the Members of all nations,” with everyone. The Biblical Holiday of Thanksgiving was perhaps the first interfaith ecumenical religious event in human history and was meant to be a time of sharing our bounty, blessings and food with people of every religion, race and nation.
Today I am grateful that the Biblical “Attitude of Gratitude” continues to be an important part of our lives in this time of Thanksgiving. I am grateful that we have come together to learn from each other and to share our prayers and hopes for a better future in which we share all of life’s opportunities.
We have seen a recent spike of hatred, racism and intolerance that threatens to poison society. The antidote to heal us from hate is to practice the biblical teaching “To love our neighbors as ourselves.” We are all here to strengthen that love and that spirit of partnership between people of diverse faiths and backgrounds.
Our goal is to create a world that is a fulfillment of the Biblical vision where everyone shall sit in peace beneath their vine and fig tree and none shall be made afraid. May we beat our swords into plowshares and your spears into pruning hooks. May we bring about a time when nation shall not lift up sword against nation nor learn war anymore.
May we not take for granted that we are able to gather here today in peace and with shared hope.
May our thankfulness for our blessings, lead us to do the holy work of “Lifting up the fallen, healing the sick, freeing the captive and keeping faith with those who sleep in the dust.” Then the world will be one in friendship and in purpose, in caring for others, especially the hungry, the cold, and the lonely.
In the time of the Bible, the peak of the original Thanksgiving holiday, was the singing of Psalms. Psalm 96 is a song of about the oneness of all humanity. In this Psalm all the earth, kol Haaretz, joins in a song of thankfulness to do the source of life.
It is a joy to invite the Cantor and Choir of Shaaray Tefila to lead us in Psalm 96 in the original Hebrew and in English, a Psalm of Thanksgiving, a prayer for all of us.