Is there a Jewish way to celebrate Thanksgiving?

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By Hallie Kay
For Mitzpeh
@TheHallieKay

 

Thanksgiving, like other holidays, has traditions dating back many years. Jewish holidays typically have some sort of family or togetherness component, whether it be breaking the fast with family on Yom Kippur, or having a large family seder meal on Passover.

Many Jewish students celebrate Thanksgiving in various ways.

“My extended and immediate family all come to my house. We have a big dinner that starts pretty early,” said Lexi Sugar, a sophomore journalism major and former Mitzpeh staff writer. “It’s nice to come home from school and be surrounded by loved ones, especially to come together and be able to truly see everything that I have to be grateful for.”

Lexi Sugar, a sophomore journalism major, helps prepare for the Thanksgiving meal at her home in Miami, Florida. Lexi Sugar/Mitzpeh.

Keren Pickholz, a sophomore government and politics major, also hosts her extended family for the holiday. “My family always celebrated Thanksgiving by getting together at my aunt’s house with the whole extended family,” she said. “We do a potluck of all the traditional Thanksgiving foods. My mom’s stuffing is always the best thing there.”

There is some debate over whether or not Thanksgiving relates to Jewish values, and whether or not there is a truly “Jewish” way to celebrate it.

“We don’t really incorporate any Jewish components in our celebration but I’m sure that it’s possible, maybe by making the meal a combination of the classic American Thanksgiving dishes and customary Jewish dishes,” said Pickholz.

“I don’t really think there is a Jewish way to celebrate Thanksgiving, even though it originated as a Judeo-Christian holiday,” said Aaron Robinson, a sophomore psychology major. “It has become so secularized that it doesn’t really seem necessary or even fitting to put a religious spin on it.”

Jewish culture often emphasizes family and community, wherever it may be however it may be celebrated.

“From my experience, Jews use [Thanksgiving] as an opportunity to come together and enjoy each other’s company while showing gratitude for all the great things in life,” Robinson said.

“…values like ‘community’ and ‘humility’ are definitely relevant, as we take a step back and think about all the things around us that make us whole. Nothing wrong with celebrating as a Jew; we can all be thankful,” he added.

“Thanksgiving is not a Jewish holiday; however, it aligns pretty nicely with Jewish values,” Sugar added.

She noted that although there is no particular way Jews celebrate Thanksgiving, Jewish traditions can be incorporated into the celebration of Thanksgiving.

“Judaism places a lot of emphasis on gratitude and that is a main aspect of Thanksgiving…while there is no specific way to celebrate Thanksgiving as a Jew, it is important to know that the two [being Jewish and celebrating Thanksgiving] do not conflict and in fact can be intertwined,” Sugar said.

Thanksgiving marks the beginning of a holiday season that, at least in the U.S., also signifies the beginning of a time to give thanks and be grateful for what we have.

Sugar echoed this sentiment. “A Jewish value that has been instilled in me all of my life is giving back. Thanksgiving, and the holiday season in general, is not only a time to take a step back and reflect, but is also a great opportunity to give back to the community either by giving a donation of time or money” she said.

“A main facet of Judaism is understanding that everything that we have comes from a higher power…Thanksgiving is a time to reflect, appreciate everything you have, and eat great food – two things that most Jews enjoy,” Sugar added.

“I think that Thanksgiving, not just the holiday but the concept in general of giving thanks, is a very inherent Jewish value, as the idea of recognizing the good that you have and that people do for you is very prevalent throughout the Torah and Jewish customs,” Pickholz said.

Lexi Sugar, a former Mitzpeh staff writer, was quoted for this story. Normally, we do not quote current or former staff members for sake of credibility, but for this article, we felt that her insight was essential to the story.

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