An Edah Editorial
By Rabbi Chaim Steinmetz
Rabbi Chaim Steinmetz is the spiritual leader of Tifereth Beth David Jerusalem
in Montreal, Quebec, and is a member of Edah's editorial board.
Why Israel Needs a Thanksgiving
As an American living in Canada, I get pretty
homesick on Thanksgiving. Yes, Canada has a Thanksgiving too, but its
a pretty tepid affair, basically an October rerun of Labor Day.
To Americans, Thanksgiving is serious business. Yes, the rituals
are pretty simple: turkey, cranberry sauce and football. But it feels like a
national holiday. In fact, Thanksgiving has a unique message that makes it the
most popular national holiday in the U.S., even more popular than Americas
Independence Day, the fourth of July.
The genius of Thanksgiving is that it bases patriotism on gratitude. Other national
holidays around the world are grandiose, flag waving affairs, intended to glorify
the country and inspire loyalty in the citizenry. These holidays feature public
events, military parades and fireworks displays. Thanksgiving is a far simpler
affair: it is always celebrated at home. It is about gratitude for a home, a
happy family, a harvest, and at the same time, gratitude for a safe country.
This minimalist approach to patriotism resonates with everyone, because countries
dont have to be great to be appreciated; they just have to be a place
we can call home. The Rabbis of the Mishnah understood this, and said one must
even pray on behalf of inferior governments, because without them one
person would devour the other alive. Patriotism rooted in simple gratitude
will have the widest appeal.
Gratitude is more than a popular argument for patriotism, the very foundation
of any society. The Sefer Hachinuch, a 13th century theological work, sees gratitude
as the foundation of all relationships, including belief in God. Indeed, in
a gratitude free world, pessimism reigns. And pessimism is a harsh corrosive,
with negativity about life in general infiltrating into, and undermining, all
relationships. A marriage, a family or a community devoid of gratitude will
certainly fall apart. Of course, this is true of a country as well
Perhaps the one thing that the noisier ideologues of the right
and left in Israel agree upon is pessimism. Both believe the country is falling
apart; they simply quibble over who is to blame. Extremists on the left invoke
the assassination of the Yitzchak Rabin to demonstrate that the right are a
bunch of bloodthirsty extremists who hate democracy. Extremists on the right
invoke the disengagement from Gaza to demonstrate that the left are a bunch
of appeasing, heartless people who throw their fellow Jews out of their homes.
However, if you remove the political particulars, all of these arguments are
essentially the same: The country is falling apart. And you, you (leftist
idiot or rightist fanatic or religious dinosaur or soulless secularist) are
the traitor who is to blame."
Ironically, this pessimism is self-fulfilling. The greatest
danger to Israel is not the right or the left or the religious or the secular,
but rather the way all segments of society relate to each other. These nasty
divides are the product of sincere, but pessimistic ideologues, who are doing
their best to prevent the destruction of Israel. But their pessimism adds a
dangerously bitter edge to their rhetoric, transforming political opponents
into personal enemies, and democratically elected Prime Ministers into dangerous
pursuers of innocent blood.
Yes, as an American expatriate in Canada, I should not be giving
sermons to people who have invested their lives in the Jewish homeland. But
any casual observer of the Israeli scene is aware that in political and public
discourse, pessimism prevails over gratitude.
This is why Israel needs a Thanksgiving. A day to remember all the blessings
we can be grateful for: for freedom and prosperity, for being able to live in
the country of our ancestors, for a democracy, which, with all of its flaws,
is still a true democracy. (Anyone whos forgotten what a dictatorship
looks like should visit one of Israels neighbors). And most importantly,
we need to thank God for the miracle of the State of Israel. One hundred and
fifty years ago, the probability of a state of Israel existing was less likely
than a Martians invasion. Our ghetto dwelling ancestors, had they been able
to see movies of contemporary Israel, would have assumed the Messiah had arrived.
An Israeli Thanksgiving would allow reclaiming the sense of wonder previous
generations had about the State of Israel.
Perhaps, if we get intoxicated with gratitude, we may begin to appreciate our
brothers and sisters. Maybe the supporters of the left will show gratitude for
the rights intense love for this country. And supporters of the right
will show gratitude for lefts intense concern for social justice. Maybe
the Haredim will appreciate how secular Jews have built a safe and prosperous
country; maybe the secularists will appreciate the profound Jewish spirituality
the Haredim bring this
country. Maybe well learn to appreciate each other.
On Israeli Thanksgiving, we could thank God for nourishing food and loving families,
for our homeland and our country. And we could thank God for each other, for
making us part of the wild and wonderful family known as the Jewish people.