Giving Thanks Jewishly During Thanksgiving

The staff of the Early Childhood Education Initiative want to wish you a wonderful Thanksgiving! In light of the season, we decided to re-post a blog from a couple years ago that our Director, Janet Harris wrote on the topic. Please read, and enjoy! Preparing a festive meal, gathering the family around, and sharing family could be Passover, Hanukkah or even Thanksgiving! Thanksgiving is a holiday that many of us, both adults and children, look forward to. Gratitude for the blessings in our lives is something that all Americans share, no matter how great or how small. Is there such a thing as a "Jewish" way to celebrate Thanksgiving? According to popular historical interpretation, Thanksgiving is modeled on the biblical harvest of Sukkot. The story goes that the Pilgrims, seeing themselves as new Israelites in a new "promised land," drew on a model well-known to them from the Bible. In the 16th chapter of the Book of Leviticus, God commands the Israelites to observe the Feast of Booths (In Hebrew, Sukkot), "to rejoice before Adonai your God" at the time of the fall harvest. In that light, here are a few ideas to make Thanksgiving even more special for your family:

  1. Say blessings! Jewish tradition teaches us that we are to say 100 blessings a day. Young children experience the world through the lens of wonder. They are fascinated with things we think are quite ordinary. Time for a blessing! The shehechianu blessing is a wonderful reminder for us to express gratitude for having arrived at this space and time. We say it at "milestone" moments, such as birthdays, the first day of school, eating the first fruit of the season and family gatherings.  Here is the Shehechianu blessing: Baruch Atah Adonai Eloheinu Melech HaOlam, She-he-chi-anu V'kimanu V'higi-anu L'zman Ha-zeh. We praise the Source of Life who has revived and sustained us.
  2. Tell stories of Thanksgiving in your families' past. You could use this opportunity to retell your own family saga of how they came to the United States.
  3. Involve your children in preparation for the feast. They can help in the kitchen, or they can set the table and make decorations.
  4. Incorporate the Jewish value of hachnassat orchim, welcoming strangers, and consider inviting someone new to your Thanksgiving table.

As parents, we know that children learn much more from what we do than what we say. Take time for yourself to count your blessings, and your children will count theirs, as well.

By Janet Harris, Director of the Early Childhood Education Initiative


November 12, 2008


The Federation