Thanksgiving 2014/5775

It’s been a rough week or so here in the U.S. And it hasn’t been a banner time in Israel over the last few weeks, either.

I don’t mean to downplay the problems out there. There will be no end to problems, which is perhaps a nice subtext for reading (very much out of context and its original meaning) the statement Pirke Avot attributes to Rabbi Tarfon: it is incumbent upon you to finish the work, but neither are you a free person so as to be able to cease from it (Avot 2:16). (By the way, if you aren’t using Sefaria to access Jewish texts online, you’re really, really missing out.)

That said, there are things I think it is important for me to express sincere thanks for. Some of these are the work of myself or others; some of these are the results of chance, circumstance, or one or another type of privilege of birth or context or status or upbringing. It is because of those externalities that I must express how thankful I am for them–even if there is no one to thank. (I am, too, aware of the horrifying negative externalities of Thanksgiving, and I’m no bearer of nostalgia for the old story. But I’m in a sentimental mood, so you’re stuck with this goop from me now. I recognize up front my thoughts will be inadequate.)

Giving Thanks

I am thankful for my family–not merely for their love and support, but simply for them. (Yes, family, this extends to all of you. Yes, you too, over there. I see you hiding in the corner. Just because you’re in another state and not reading this doesn’t mean you’re exempt.)

I am especially thankful that Secular Jew Jr. has improved so much since May. And so, I am thankful as well for his caregivers.

I am thankful for a job that allows me to provide for my family. We have what we need, and much of what we want. I am also thankful that my job is able to provide me with some sense of meaning; many do not have such occupations.

I am thankful that Mrs. Secular Jew has found something that engages her. I am also thankful, speaking of occupations, to have been able to get her something she’s wanted for quite some time now; she should use it in good health.

I am thankful for Mrs. Secular Jew’s patience during the long trek that is and will be rabbinical training. I’m sure she’s skeptical at times, but it will be worth it.

I am thankful to have found a Jewish home with the Society for Humanistic Judaism, and mentors and teachers with and through the International Institute for Secular Humanistic Judaism and the Association of Humanistic Rabbis. And I am thankful for the opportunities to be part of the Jewish lives of others as a result of the SHJ, IISHJ, and AHR.

I am thankful for friends near and far.

I am thankful that there are people out there doing work I cannot.

I am thankful that I have had opportunities to educate others about Jewish life so that, maybe, it can be a little easier to be a secular Jew in Indianapolis.

I am thankful for the opportunities I have had to learn more about the law. And I am grateful for my coworkers, who make going to work a genuinely positive experience.

I am thankful for an office with a bricked-up fireplace and beautiful mantle. On it, we have the best holiday decorations in our building, I think.

I am thankful for you, reader.

I am, finally, thankful to have benefited from the things outside of anyone’s control that have put me in a place better than what I might have had in other circumstances. I recognize that I cannot know what those might have been.


A bissel midrash.

Thanksgiving means giving thanks. But we could also split the word–thanks and giving–to require not only that we be grateful, but that we also do something about it. That is, we must thank, and we must give, lest our thanks be empty platitudes.

So, what will I give?

To the extent I can, I will continue to give of my time. But much of the time I’ve given has come at the expense of my family, particularly on some weekends. I am giving some of that time back to my family; I will still give time to others in the areas that have occupied my time, but will find less disruptive ways to do so. I will also try to strengthen bonds with family for whom I am grateful, but with whom contact has been limited.

Having found a Jewish home, I want to make that home bigger for others. I will be showing thanks by giving time to growing Secular Humanistic Judaism where and when I can, and I will look for more opportunities for that work here in Indianapolis. I already have a plan; with some freed-up time, I can take steps forward.

There are those who do work I cannot, and whose work I am thankful for. I will give encouragement where I can, and tangible support where I can. I wish there were more to give in some of these cases, but I will give what I can.

I will, of course, continue writing. But I’ll give a bit more effort to adding interesting media, etc., to posts, so that they aren’t all text. Since it’s coming on Thanksgiving, and this is a reliably funny Thanksgiving video, we’ll start with the WKRP Turkey Drop:

I’m sure I’m missing things, and I’m sure I’ll miss things I hope to do. But one has to start somewhere. And I’m aware that all of this is terribly bourgeois, but we have to be aware of our circumstances before we change them.

There are many who will not be celebrating Thanksgiving for any number of reasons; they have good reasons. If you are celebrating Thanksgiving this year, I hope you have a meaningful one, and that you keep in mind those who need help–without regard to Thanksgiving, without regard to privilege, without regard to any noblesse oblige–and the reasons for which they need help independent of your own reasons for celebrating Thanksgiving. (I guess that’s a “check your privilege” thing.)

We have a duty as persons to help. Give your thanks.

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