Yesterday a friend asked me if I would be posting something in my blog about Thanksgiving, and my immediate response was no. (After all, it’s only about Passover.) But then I got to thinking and realized that not only could I write something that linked the two celebrations together, but that I absolutely should. (See an earlier post about creating a Thanksgiving Seder plate.)
Like Passover, the Thanksgiving festival itself takes place not in a temple of worship, but directly at the dinner table amongst family and friends. One of the nicest things about Thanksgiving is that it is a national holiday (specifically American/Canadian), celebrated by all faiths and backgrounds. While Passover may be a Jewish holiday, it is probably the only one celebrated by all levels of Jewish observance, from the most secular to the most traditional.
Each celebration coincides with the harvest — Passover in the spring, and Thanksgiving in the fall — where special foods available during each particular season are central to the meal. During Thanksgiving we go out of our way to prepare dishes that utilize foods native to the Americas, such as corn, cranberries, turkey, sweet potatoes, pumpkins, and pecans, which over time have become symbols of the holiday itself. During Passover, varying Jewish communities make a special effort to prepare foods using fresh spring produce, such as a variety of greens, herbs, vegetables, and fruits, while matzah (the unleavened bread symbolic of Passover), is often incorporated into dishes as well.
Finally (and most significantly) each of these two holidays is an opportunity for us to teach our children (and remind ourselves) about important moments in our history when people were persecuted for their differences and forced to flee for a better, more open life. For the Pilgrims it meant traveling for two treacherous months by sea from Europe, to an unknown life in the New World, for the chance to to worship freely and live life in a new way. And for the Israelites the Bible tells of how enslavement in Egypt forced them to wander through the “wilderness” or desert for forty years just to escape the wrath of the Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, in hopes of rebuilding their lives in the Promised Land.
In summary, Thanksgiving as well as Passover represents the will to free oneself from an oppressed life, as well as the strength to start anew, despite the many obstacles and difficulties that might be encountered along the way. During this holiday season when we think about what we are thankful for, let us remember not only those in the past who have succeeded in finding and building a freer life,
but for those today who who have only started their journey.