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Sharing Our Bounty Is Jewish Tradition

To get you in the mood for Thanksgiving, here’s a bit of trivia:
Question: Where did the pilgrims first land?
Answer: Plymouth Rock, which is now Massachusetts.
Question: Who was the first tribe to entertain lavishly—the Wampanoag Indians or the Jewish people?
Answer: The Jews. (That’s a no-brainer).
Question: Did the English settlers and Native Americans eat turkey at the first thanksgiving meal?
Answer: Probably not. Historical documents indicate that they gobbled up venison and wildfowl, but no pumpkin pie with whipped topping.
Question: Which president proclaimed the first national Thanksgiving Day?
Answer: George Washington. (This is a trick question).

Interestingly enough, the origin of Thanksgiving was politics as usual. After a winter of great starvation and suffering, the Plymouth Colony celebrated its first bountiful harvest in October of 1621, thanks to the help of the neighboring Native Americans who taught the Puritans how to grow corn, squash, and other vegetables. They enjoyed a large meal together, and Governor William Bradford proclaimed a day of thanksgiving.

Similar feasts were held sporadically at different dates until George Washington decreed the first national Thanksgiving Day on Nov. 26, 1789, which was after the American Revolution.

Abraham Lincoln revived the custom in 1863, appointing Thanksgiving Day on the last Thursday of November. From 1939 to 1941, Franklin D Roosevelt proclaimed Thanksgiving the third Thursday in November. When Roosevelt and some of the state governors had conflicts in dates, Congress passed a joint resolution in 1941 making Thanksgiving on the fourth Thursday of November.

Thanksgiving has survived for centuries and has become a favorite tradition in the United States. Any holiday that revolves around a meal is something to be thankful for, especially for Jews. Besides, Jewish people have their own way of honoring the Big Bird.

First, we’re accustomed to giving thanks. Like any Jewish observance, we say a Hebrew blessing for wine and bread before the meal. To make the gathering even more meaningful, we can borrow a Hassidic Passover custom, which is for each person at the table to add a drop of wine to the goblet before saying the blessing. Then everyone takes a turn to announce what he or she is thankful for this year. Besides talking about the Thanksgiving story, guests can share their own sagas about their ancestors finding freedom in America.

Next, we can add a Jewish flavor to traditional Thanksgiving cuisine, such as sweet potato latkes topped with marshmallow and turkey stuffing made with savory vegetables and sweet challah to name a few favorite dishes that are found with a Google search or in grandma’s recipe box.
Finally, we say the Birkat Ha-Mazon, the blessing and prayer of thanksgiving after meals.
Baruch Atah Adonai, hazan et hakol. “Thank You, God, Who provides our food. Help us to share what we have, and to care for those who are hungry.”

By adding new traditions each year, Thanksgiving reminds us of our origin, our history, and our mitzvah to share our bounty with those in need. During the holiday season, for example, many Jewish people serve meals at a community Thanksgiving dinner or deliver food to shut-ins, as well as donate money to organizations that fight hunger.

For an added treat on Turkey Day, create a fruit gobbler to keep young ones entertained. Start with a melon, and cut a shallow slice off the side to form a flat base. Use a section of bamboo skewer to attach a Bosc pear for the head of the turkey. Cut a chunk of cheese in a triangle for the beak and a strip of red pepper for the snood, and attach with sections of toothpick. For eyes, use two raisins to complete the funny face. For tall feathers, skewer cheese cubes and red grapes, then insert the skewers into the back of the melon. Using toothpicks, attach peppers for side feathers. Stand the turkey on a platter for an edible Thanksgiving centerpiece.

“Mishegas of Motherhood” is the creation of Ellie S. Grossman, a St. Louis freelance writer and stay-at-home-mom who never stays home. Currently, she is stuffing herself like a turkey. Feel free to send any comments to: ellie@mishegasofmotherhood.com or visit her website at www.mishegasofmotherhood.com.