In Orthodox Judaism we give thanks all the time. Before we eat, after we eat. We thank God for waking us up in the morning, and for keeping us healthy. Any occasion, any happening – we thank God. Being grateful for what we have shouldn’t be new to us.

Since I am now living in the US of A, I have come to understand that Thanksgiving here is a big deal. Not that in Canada Thanksgiving was nothing, but the Jewish community that I belonged to in Montreal more or less ignored it. Canadian Thanksgiving is in early October and generally falls out over Sukkot anyway, so it gets lost in the shuffle. (This year it didn’t happen like that).

We don’t do Halloween or Valentine’s Day. But Thanksgiving seems to be different. I have heard of a lot of religious folk having big turkey dinners with all the trimmings. I desperately want to go to a Thanksgiving dinner just for the experience of it. Plus I love turkey although I eat it with applesauce.

So, please, weigh in – do religious Jews in your neck of the woods celebrate Thanksgiving? Why? Why not? How does it differ from the other “secular” holidays that we don’t celebrate? What’s your favourite Thanksgiving memory? Is there something you do different to show thanks to God or is it just another excuse for a delicious family meal?

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  1. ysh says:

    Applesauce? That’s for latkes. Turkey is supposed to be with cranberry sauce!

    Next thing you’ll be telling us you put vinegar on your chips :)

  2. sheva says:

    you will not see me make a non-required yom tov style meal here in the Baltimore neckmof the woods.

  3. Kim says:

    Granted–most of my Jewish friends are not Orthodox…so everyone I know celebrates Thanksgiving. To me, it isn’t a religious holiday at all…it is an American holiday–along the same lines as the 4th of July.

  4. mekubal says:

    Yes we do, even here in Israel though now we push it back to Shabbat. The reasoning is much like making the large meals for a Hilula, it is a celebration of what had occurred. Basically Jews have lived in Canada and the US without fear of persecution(especially governmentaly sanctioned) and in fact under the protection of the government since the founding of the Colonies(while Jews were still forbidden to live in England, France or Spain in fact). In the US at least, as long as the Constitution is the law of the land those unprecedented freedoms and protections aren’t going anywhere. That to me seems reason to celebrate.

  5. shoshana Raff says:

    My non-observant brother often makes a beautifull Thanksgiving feast and invites lots of friends. One year we went and brought ourselves a Pizza to eat since his feast was unfortunately not Kosher (unfortunately because he’s practically a gourmet chef!!). He hasn’t invited us back for Thanksgiving after that time we showed up with a Pizza pie, though, come to think of it…..

  6. Noa says:

    Growing up, as the daughter of a BT mother, Thanksgiving was the only “chag” I could celebrate with my relatives. We would drive 6 hours, across the state, to spend thanksgiving with them. My mother would have to make a kosher version of Thanksgiving dinner and we’d all sit at one end of the table wih our kosher food. We all hurried to fill our plates, because inevitably our kosher food would get accidentally mixed in with the non-kosher and we knew that once it left our end of the table we couldn’t rely on the kashrut anymore!

    Now that I live in Israel we still celebrate Thanksgiving every year. I plan it weeks in advance. At first I celebrated it with fellow single olim, and now with my own family and extended family. We always make sure to invite a few non-Americans (Hadassah you’re welcome to come to Efrat) so they can experience Thanksgiving. I make all the traditional foods – large brined turkey, stuffing, cranberry, sweet potatoes, something green, and the pies – of the pies! Pumpkin, apple, chocolate bourbon pecan….

    We always make sure to share what we are thankful for this year. We try to either play or watch American football (when I first made aliyah we used to watch a recorded game from a fewyears back, since there was no American football even on cable).

    I know this seems like so much patchke, especially before Shabbat. But firstly, its only once a year and we get to have friends who don’t live nearby over for a “Shabbat meal”. And secondly, I always make enough extra food that there are leftovers, so I don’t cook much for shabbat. And yes, I know that I should give kavod to Shabbat…but if you celebrate Thanksgiving you’ll see that the best part of the meal is the leftovers…everything is more delicious the next day!

  7. Leah Sarah says:

    I feel like every religious Jew I know celebrates Thanksgiving. It’s an excuse to get together as a family and have a big deal, what can be bad about that?!

  8. G6 says:

    Who me?
    Read my 2008 post on the subject, here.
    Oh, and Happy Thanksgiving ;)

  9. Observant Jews celebrating Thanksgiving goes back to the 1700s. Rev. Gershom Seixas’ Thanksgiving drasha for the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue of NY is a classic work. In our house I look for some suitable short dvar Torah to share at the meal. We have Jewish and non-Jewish participants. Oh, and in place of hazzanut or some such, we play Alice’s Restaurant.

    In Pennsylvania, Rav Akiva Males’ Kesher Israel shul makes a big Thanksgiving dinner and serves it to their local firefighters. A real kiddush Hashem.

  10. sheldan says:

    I see Thanksgiving as a positive thing generally. I see no conflict between celebrating this American holiday and our Jewish religious observance. If anything, probably more religious Jews would celebrate Thanksgiving for that reason. Maybe that’s why I like it so much.

    I always remember the trips home from college and having the four-day weekend. And of course I loved the turkey dinner. The cranberry sauce was served on the side.

    This year, my wife and I might take a short daytrip–just something to get out of town and get away from some stress at home, then we’ll probably have the dinner later.

  11. Nora says:

    Thanksgiving is probably my favourite holiday. Mini-break from school, fantastic food, and everyone is actually nice to eachother. Somehow it’s the only holiday our whole family can get behind. We go to the parade in Detroit and drink hot cocoa all morning. Then we come home, change and head to A’s family’s dinner and then go to my family’s dinner and try to squeeze in some football. It’s generally a day of food and people you love.

    My favourite Thanksgiving memory was the year my Aunts (the cool ones we rarely got to see) came in for the weekend from Boston. They ran across the street to us just as the parade was starting. I still remember how exciting it was to have them home unexpectedly.

  12. loveheals says:

    This might horrify you, Hadassah,but some people make cranberry-apple sauce.
    Thanksgiving is a great excuse to gather, again, as a family and eat specific,ritual, delish food. As a child, we invited extended family and friends. As we got older, it was simply wonderful to all gather, and it was fun to eat “nonJewish” food. Although not “religious” Jews, our TG meals are always kosher as Mom keeps kosher, and we respect her by keeping the meal kosher.

  13. formermonseyite says:

    Now that our family has grown so large and it is difficult for us to get together for yom tovim, we all get together for Thanksgiving. If we didnt get together for thanksgiving it would only be simchas and funerals.

  14. Oh, it never occurred to me that orthodox Jews might not celebrate Thanksgiving! This feels devastating, as I think it’s one of the best holidays American culture has to offer – and one of the only “truly American” American holidays. Sure, it’s based on our history of then forcing the Native Americans from their land, but…. the food is delicious, & it’s a wonderful excuse to spend more time with family.

  15. Brenda Mommy says:

    Having grown up in Texas and now raising our half-Israeli kids here (my amazing husband is of Israeli Sephardic heritage, but rice for Pesach still feels weird), Thanksgiving has always been a big deal for me! The Jewish schools that I have sent my kids to since pre-school all teach about Thanksgiving as part and parcel of the curriculum. The educators view it as another chance to teach about giving thanks to Hashem.
    My mother’s cranberry sauce is one of those amazing food memories that go along with my grandmother’s (z”l) hamentaschen and pesach bagels and knishes. And once when I was living in Israel and fresh cranberries were hard to come by, my mother even sent some frozen packages with a friend who was coming.

  16. loveheals says:

    A Thanksgiving meal needn’t be over the top. Roast turkey, stuffing(which is just a savory bread kugel!), a green veggie, baked squash or sweet potatoes (Mom makes a hideously sweet candied sweet potatoe dish as well–ick), and apple pie for dessert. Perhaps some cranberry-nut bread or corn muffins, a simple green salad if you wish. Simple, not difficult, yet traditional.

  17. Dave says:

    It involves family, food, and maybe a little guilt.
    How could it not be a Jewish holiday?

  18. Tzvi says:

    To answer your question HSM, there is significant debate in the halachic literature about Thanksgiving. Rav Moshe Feinstein has several conflicting responsa and an additional one addressing the conflict of the previous ones. We do acnowledge the great benevolence of the USA – the issue is chukas akum – celebrating a holiday instituted by the nations around us.
    In practice, in the Ultra Orthodox enclaves you won’t see it too much, as you get a little more ‘American’ (for lack of a better word) its more common. in the Philly Yeshiva they do serve Turkey, some people keep it for Shabbos, hence not exactly celebrating the holiday as it was instituted.

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