Editor’s note: This article is a slight departure from the standard Main Street articles you might be used to. We normally don’t talk too much about politics or religion on these pages. However, in conversing with Whitney about an article for this month, thinking about all that is going on in the world, and then also thinking about all that we are thankful for ahead of Thanksgiving, she asked if it would be okay for her to get a bit personal and political. In doing so, she shares her own personal thoughts, fears, and hopes as they relate to the war that broke out in early October in Israel and Palestine. I tell you this here in case this might be triggering for some readers. But as Whitney winds us through this article, she highlights that this might be the exact time that we should all think long and hard about what we are thankful for. It is also an opportune time for us to consider our lives as a society and a world, and how kindness can make all the difference.
Here we are once again, flipping the calendar page to November. It’s a magical time of year – especially here in the Hudson Valley, Litchfield Hills, and Berkshire foothills – where people flock to witness our lovely leaves turn from green to gold. As the foliage melds into fall’s kaleidoscope of colors, leaf peepers delight in the sienna-hued scrubland and the crimson flora that’s sure to light the landscape ablaze.
The first Thanksgiving
In addition to admiring the explosion of color found in our forests, many people are beginning to prepare for the holidays. One of America’s most traditional holidays, Thanksgiving, harkens back to shortly after the Pilgrims arrived at Plymouth Rock. According to the history books, because the Native Americans and the Pilgrims established a congenial relationship, they were able to sit down and share a Thanksgiving feast together. That tradition has sustained itself for hundreds of years, even prior to what is often referred to as “The First Thanksgiving” in October of 1621.
The Smithsonian claims the actual first Thanksgiving was conducted by Europeans in North America on May 27, 1578, in Newfoundland, though www.si.edu/spotlight/thanksgiving/history noted that “earlier Church-type services were probably held by Spaniards in La Florida.”
It was the Pilgrims’ 1621 three-day, non-religious Thanksgiving feast, which included feasting, playing games, “and even drinking liquor” that the Smithsonian credits for making Thanksgiving so popular. Known mainly as a secular holiday – often as an autumn harvest celebration – some celebrants also associate prayers and thanks with Thanksgiving.
According to the Smithsonian, it wasn’t until 1789 that Massachusetts US Rep. Elias Boudinot moved that the nation create a day of Thanksgiving to “thank God for giving the American people the opportunity to create a Constitution, to preserve their hard won freedoms.” A Congressional Joint Committee gave its approval, and informed President George Washington. Washington created “a day of public thanksgiving and prayer” for all citizens to observe on Thursday, November 26.
It took years for the holiday to stick, with various presidents encouraging two days for its observance. President Thomas Jefferson didn’t approve of the church mandating a day of prayer for the country to give thanks. President James Madison declared Thanksgiving should be observed on April 13, 1815. It took 36 years of lobbying by Ladies Magazine and Godey’s Ladies Book editor Sarah Josepha Hale, who printed scores of articles, stories, and recipe, and wrote countless letters and petitions to lawmakers, for the holiday to take root.
Hale’s campaign, buttressed by the Union Army’s victory at Gettysburg, was rewarded on November 26, 1863, when President Abraham Lincoln announced Thanksgiving would become a national annual holiday, to be celebrated on the fourth Thursday each November.
That for which we are thankful
Thanksgiving is about assessing what’s most important and taking the time to thank the universe; to thank our families, friends, and loved ones; to thank God or a higher power if we’re so inclined; and to simply express our gratitude.
As we prepare for this year’s holiday, many of us may take stock of the things in our lives for which we’re most thankful. This year, with all the violence and turmoil in the world right now, I feel as if it’s an especially poignant time to express my appreciation for all I have in my life – despite any challenges or obstacles I may be dealing with presently. It’s the perfect time to reflect on my life with what I feel is vital global perspective.
Thanksgiving hopefully reminds all of us why it’s important to give thanks for what we do have and to think about what others don’t have. It’s an important exercise – to think outside of ourselves of others who may be struggling or suffering. Sadly, there’s plenty of pain in the world. Ideally, people will harness their collective positive energy and work to make change.
Praying for peace
Considering what’s happened with the deadly October 7, 2023, surprise attack on Israel by the militant group Hamas, that’s exactly what I will be doing this Thanksgiving: I will be praying for peace.
Hamas’ attack aligned with the 50th anniversary of the 1973 Yom Kippur War in which Israel fought against Egypt and Syria. In the hours following Hamas’ attack, Israel found itself at war once again.
ABC News reported the coordinated attack by Hamas had air sirens blaring throughout southern and central Israel at 6:30am local time on October 7. According to the Israel Defense Forces, an estimated 2,200 rockets were aimed at cities including Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Hamas took credit for firing 5,000 or more rockets, which they claimed landed in southern and central Israel, cited ABC.
Armed Hamas militants were reported to have stormed the Gaza Strip, shooting and killing Jewish settlers and taking others hostage – including mothers, children, and the elderly.
Mohammed Deif, commander-in-chief of the Hamas’ military arm, Al Qassam Brigades, said via video soon after the initial attack that “The Zionist colonial occupation … displaced our people, destroyed our towns and villages [and] committed hundreds of massacres against our people.”
That’s how Deif justified Hamas murdering roughly 250 people and wounding at least 1,500 others in Israel that day, according to Israel’s national emergency services agency, reported CBS, which cited another 232 killed and 1,697 wounded in Gaza during Israel’s counterattack.
People, young and old alike, civilians and soldiers, have been killed, kidnapped, raped, and tortured. War is ugly, brutal, and savage. Religion historically fuels the fiercest of fighting.
Fearing for my loved ones
When war breaks out in Israel it’s scary for everyone, but especially for Jews. In the weeks since that political and religious hotbed destabilized, the situation has only worsened. It’s been terrifying for people of all faiths to witness the carnage via the seemingly nonstop news cycle from the Middle East.
As someone of the Jewish faith, with family in Israel (when I began penning this article, my family in Israel was safe), the world situation petrifies me. Ever since the October 7 attacks I have been glued to the news coverage, fearful that my nine- and thirteen-year-old cousins, their father, and the rest of their family and friends could be snatched at any moment. I’m also terrified that my other, adult cousin’s family (practically his entire family is in Israel except for him) could fall victim to the savage brutality of Hamas or its sympathizers. and I’ve kept in constant contact through email, texts, and calls to keep track of their safety. I can only imagine their fear and terror and the worry of others who have children, parents, siblings, and other immediate family members in Israel.
A “dark day”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded immediately after the multi-prong attacks, calling it a “dark day” for Israel and likening the assaults to his nation’s “own 9/11.”
What’s scariest as a Jew is that so many people around the world, and right here in the US, seem to be siding with Hamas – or at least with the Palestinian sentiment. Certainly, I would never want to deny innocent Palestinians who condemn Hamas and their actions life-sustaining essentials. I also condemn the rocket attack on the hospital in Gaza on Tuesday, October 17.
Yet anger with Israel is only mounting. What makes Jewish people around the world so nervous is that what’s often portrayed as “supporting Palestinians,” somehow gets translated into “condemning Jews” or worse.
Take a stand against brutality
Following the Holocaust, the mantra was “never again.” Yet anywhere you point to on the map, anti-Semitism seems to be on the rise, and it is getting louder, more violent, and more real – and that is very, very worrisome.
In the days and weeks since the war broke out in Israel, the world has witnessed more brutality and pogrom at the hands of Hamas and other like-minded terrorist organizations. It’s been horrific, all-too reminiscent of the Holocaust that took place between 1933 and 1945, during which six million European Jews were exterminated by Hitler’s Nazi German regime, its allies, and collaborators. Also killed during that time were homosexuals; Afro-Germans; Soviet officials and Soviet POWs; Poles; Roma Gypsies; those with disabilities or hereditary conditions; those accused of being criminals, vagabonds, prostitutes, and alcoholics; and those who were destitute.
History has a way of repeating itself. We must, as an informed, educated, and hopefully humane society, take a stand against such brutality. Both Palestine and Israel are fighting at this point; there is violence all around. However, Israel prides itself on being a “moral army.” Hamas is not a moral terrorist group. Yes, I am Jewish, so I am not claiming to be neutral here, but I do think I am fair. For humanity’s sake, this war simply must end soon. Other players are itching to get involved, and I don’t even want to begin to consider the consequences of where things could progress from there.
A silent thank you
It’s understandable that not everyone will have Israel or Palestine foremost on their minds this Thanksgiving. After all, it’s a time to spend with close family and friends. I’m simply hoping those who gather round their tables this holiday will take a moment to think of those around the world dealing with such extreme violence and fighting for their lives and their democracies, before giving thanks for the blessings in their lives. I often say a silent “thank you” for all that I have even if I’m struggling. I learned early on that it’s important to give thanks for what I do have and to think outside of myself, because no matter how tough times may get, I understand things could always be worse.
So here we are, focusing on Thanksgiving in a rather depressing way, for which I must apologize, but alas, that’s the way of the world these days. However, I would like to wrap up this article in a more positive and promising tone, hoping to inspire everyone to enjoy those who mean the most to them as they gather to celebrate a time synonymous with family and friends.
As I’ve admitted above, I do use Thanksgiving as a time to assess and evaluate, to take stock and to express gratitude, but I’m still human. That means I also very much look forward to preparing and enjoying a meal of delicious roast turkey with all the trimmings, ideally with my very favorite people (and pets!) in the world. I truly relish the opportunity to celebrate with those I love and for everyone to take a moment to give thanks, to pray for peace, and to spread some kindness (to learn more about spreading kindness, you can read an article on the topic on Main Street’s website), not to mention to enjoy some very delicious homemade Joseph family cooking! •