It seemed, a mere two months ago, that we’d have a totally normal Thanksgiving.
Although the pandemic lasted for years, gripping us in fear the first year, and then allowing us to make our own risk/reward decisions after that, the regular Thanksgiving that most of us have had all our lives — family, friends, good food, too much good food, huge amounts of cooking and cleaning or hideously long rides to and from our feast, more cars than you’d think that entire country could hold jamming up our roads. (I remember being stuck on an expansion joint on the Throggs Neck one year; it kept trembling and shaking underneath us. I still remember imagining what it would feel like when the thing finally gave up and opened. Of course it didn’t — I’m still here — but it was a terrifying ride.)
Then the pandemic’s grip loosened to the point where it’s hard even to remember how careful we’d been. It all seems like another life.
And then, of course, October 7 happened, and our perspective changed again. It’s as if we were looking into a kaleidoscope stocked with leftovers from a charnel house.
The stories of Hamas’ victims, the images that most of us haven’t been able to see — and thank God and the Israeli government for that — but still haunt us, the bleakness of the war in Gaza and the lack of any clear way out of the quagmire, the knowledge of the hostages who remain — maybe alive, maybe dead, maybe tortured, maybe, please God, still sane — and our newfound understanding of how much we as a people are hated all combine to make a Thanksgiving when it’ll be hard for us to find thankfulness.
There are also some good things, of course. Some brightness.
The American government is on Israel’s side. Our law enforcement agencies are on our side; they keep our institutions safe. This is not pre-Nazi Germany. There are many good people in the world.
On Shabbat, Rabbi Naamah Kelman, an American who made aliyah decades ago, when she was 19, and became the first woman ordained by HUC in Jerusalem, spoke at my shul. She talked about horror and also resilience, about how Israelis have overcome division, distrust, and simple dislike to come together to help each other. She talked about many of the people who’d protested most vigorously against Netanyahu’s proposed judicial reform, and many of the reservists who’d said they’d never go back to fight under Bibi’s government, showed up to help, to fight, to protect their country. Like other Israelis who actually live there, she has the gravitas of genuine personal experience to give her theme of hope among the ashes plausibility.
We here in America still have much to be grateful for. As the horrors in Israel unfold and the Israelis’ need to choose life continues to pulse, we can be thankful for their continued survival, and for our lives here in this still-great, still-strong country, the place that welcomed our parents, grandparents, or great grandparents.
And as we are thankful for what we have, we will remember the hostages. We will not let them fade from memory.
We wish all our readers as happy, safe Thanksgiving.