How to Bring Jewish Values Into Your Thanksgiving Celebration

At Thanksgiving, family and friends around the US traditionally gather to feast. It is a time where we pause from some of our responsibilities and savor the time to be together in gratitude. While many of us may not be able to celebrate the holiday in person with our extended families, we have found ways to creatively adapt and come together even when we are physically apart.

The holiday of Thanksgiving is also profoundly Jewish. By this, I mean that the values we honor on Thanksgiving – thankfulness and gratitude, celebration, love, and service – are closely connected to Jewish values.

So, what are these Jewish values?

Hakarat Hatov: A Grateful Perspective

The Jewish value of Hakarat Hatov guides us to have a grateful perspective in life. In this Bimbam video, Bay Area mom Margot offers practical ideas for teaching kids this value. This Jewish concept is also playfully explained in the episode of Shaboom! below. Pirke Avot, the ancient collection of Jewish wisdom teaches us “Who is rich? Those who rejoice in their own portion.” Hakarat Hatov encourages us to be kind, yet it is difficult to explain to young children. Talking about kindness, what it looks like in action, and what it feels like to receive can help uncover the meaning and intent of this value. Creating projects and participating in kind acts are powerful ways to learn through action (Avodah, the Jewish value for service).

Here are four activities demonstrating kindness that families can do anytime, and may feel extra meaningful in the lead up to Thanksgiving:

  1. Paper Kindness Chains are a collaborative and open-ended activity that children can co-create with family or friends. With basic supplies including markers, scissors, a stapler, and construction paper, you can make paper chains with messages of appreciation printed on each link. Chains can be draped anywhere and visually present a ‘culture of kindness’ that is created along with the chains.
  2. Kindness Rocks are simply rocks decorated with an inspirational message to sprinkle positivity in communities. Children can leave these rocks for another person to find and enjoy. Inspire Kindness provides a supply list and instructions you can use to create your own kindness rocks, as well as suggested messages you can write on them.
  3. Chalk Art is a fun way to spread community cheer. If you are looking for inspirational messages to write or draw, Crafting Kind Kids is a one-stop resource.
  4. Kindness baskets are a delightful way to show appreciation for family, friends, and neighbors. This gesture may be particularly appreciated while we are social distancing. These can be personalized for anyone of any age and packaged with care. DIY & Crafts provides many inspiring options. Children often enjoy choosing what items to put in a basket, wrapping the gift, and writing or drawing a card for the recipient.

Simcha: Joy and Celebration

Sharing a bountiful meal with family or friends is a Thanksgiving ritual. Food is a central experience in many Jewish holidays, including Shabbat, welcomed by Jewish families across the globe each week. Since your Thanksgiving gathering may be more intimate this year, you can spark joy with children in your home by creating items along with meaningful memories before the holiday. You may focus on ways to beautify your table with homemade napkins, placements, or centerpieces. Baking and cooking together can also be a fun learning experience for both children and their adults.

  1. Wobble gobble crafts: Kids Craft Room is a haven for any adult seeking crafty inspiration, as well as a destination where older children can explore independently. These colorful handprint and paper cup turkey crafts make sweet keepsakes.
  2. Table decorations: We love this selection of eight playful and colorful tabletop crafts. You can even create many of them with materials you already have at home.
  3. Turkeys galore: has an abundant selection of Thanksgiving crafts for little and big kids.
  4. Recipes for kids: Spending time with kids in the kitchen can be extra joyful when you make Thanksgiving-themed snacks and desserts. This fruit and veggie turkey can be assembled by even the littlest of hands. To add whimsical fun to your table, make these pumpkin pie cheese appetizers. And, these easy pecan clusters can be made with microwave melted chocolate for a bite-sized dessert.
  5. Thanksgiving Challah: If you are feeling brave and playful, try your hand at crafting this emblematic bread bird.
Pinecone Turkey via

Hachnasat Orchim: Welcoming Guests

Welcoming guests is a mitzvah (good deed) in Judaism. If your usual Thanksgiving dinner feels crowded, this Jewish folktale will help you feel grateful for a full house, which this year may include family and friends joining you for a virtual celebration. PJ Library lists Jewish folktales and Thanksgiving titles including Not This Turkey and Rivka’s First Thanksgiving which explore how communities come together to celebrate this holiday. Hachnasat Orchim extends to making people feel honored, relaxed, and valued, and this is something we can all do whether we are together or together apart.

Whatever way you spend Thanksgiving this year, may your heart and stomach feel full!


October 27, 2020