Growing up, I was taught that Thanksgiving was a Jewish holiday. It was a fact! While our family Thanksgiving meals are remembered for the preference of my Bubbe’s brisket over a Turkey, we were still sure to always add ritual. My grandfather — my Pop-Pop — always made sure that there was a challah to say the motzi over, even though it was just a regular Thursday on the Hebrew calendar. Most importantly though, in addition to sharing what we were thankful for, we always recited the Shehechiyanu blessing, the blessing which thanks God for sustaining us and allowing us to reach this day and this moment. To this day, my family makes sure that the turkey is not sliced until we say the Shehechiyanu!
There truly is so much for us to be thankful for and nothing reminded me of that more than the day before Thanksgiving, when I went with the Middle School students of our Martin J. Gottlieb Day School to help deliver food to those in need. Students — along with staff, alumni, and parents — worked with dozens of other volunteers at the MaliVai Washington Kids Foundation to sort, bag, pack, load, and deliver food to Jacksonville residents.
We delivered 61 turkeys, 75 bags of groceries, and 31 gift cards to those in need! Kol Hakavod – a special thanks – to Edith Horovitz, our Middle School Vice Principal, for arranging this and all of our weekly Mitzvah programs that are an essential reminder to our students that Judaism is not just about learning. It is about action!
We are obviously so grateful for all that we have, but sometimes we focus too much on what we are missing. We complain because our peers and co-workers have what is new and “in” while we are still stuck using last year’s outdated model.
Not only did we bring thanksgiving cheer to families — and more importantly, food to hungry children — but we were also reminded that we need to stop complaining about what we lack and instead be thankful for what we have. Students were surprised when one house we delivered food to did not have a working phone number to call to let them know that we were on our way to deliver groceries. Another did not have kitchen counters for us to put the bags of food on. The kitchen was an empty room with an oven. Yet, these families who have so little were so grateful. This one act of hesed, of kindness, brought a smile to their faces. In one instance, a student said “Happy Thanksgiving” as we left a family’s residence. The family members responded, “it will be now!”
The ride back toward our community and our homes was silent. Reflecting on the great mitzvah we just participated in, experiencing values in action, was a great reminder of how thankful I am for the food on my table and the roof over my head, for my loving family and friends, and such a warm and supportive community.
Pirkei Avot, the Ethics of our Sages, teaches: “Who is rich? One who is happy with his portion” (4:1). We all left feeling like the richest people in the world, being so thankful and grateful for what we have, and knowing that it is our responsibility to care for others as well.
Baruch Atah Adonai, Eloheinu Melech HaOlam, Shehechiyanu, v’Kiyamanu, v’Higiyanu lazman haZeh.
Praised are You, Lord our God, Ruler of the Universe, who gave us life, sustained us, and gave us to the opportunity to reach — and appreciate — this moment.
May we all take a moment to forget about what is missing in our lives and truly be thankful for all that we have.
-Rabbi Jesse Olitzky