On November 24, 2016, many Jewish American families enjoyed Thanksgiving turkey with a side of schism and a few heaping spoonfuls of “Uncle Artie is never invited here again because he voted for [Donald] Trump.”
Today, seven years later, and in light of the horrific massacre on October 7, it’s safe to say that those schisms may have been mostly forgotten, and American Jews feel the need to be together more than ever.
That’s something to be truly thankful for.
But I believe this year, most American Jews will enjoy Thanksgiving dinner with a small lump in their throats. Perhaps some won’t even have the bandwidth to partake in Thanksgiving traditions, especially if they have loved ones in Israel who are on the front lines. Personally, I feel so anxious and isolated that I’m not even in the mood for my patented turkey with a side of kabob.
The last message many of us want to hear right now is that we should be grateful. But Judaism is obsessed with two eternal tenets: Choosing life, and being enveloped in reality-based gratitude. The root of the Hebrew word for a Jew, “Yehudi,” is derived from “Hoda’ah,” or “to thank,” as well as “to admit.” In essence, admission and gratitude are interchangeable, if we admit that our reality still has sparks of good. On a more endearing note, the Hebrew word for turkey, “hodu,” means to “give thanks.”
The amazing aspect of all this is that on many levels, we would be entitled to forgo gratitude this year. What Jew on earth would be grateful that 1,200 of our brothers and sisters were massacred, and another 240 are still in captivity, including a woman who just gave birth in captivity? Yes, in 2023, Jews are being held in captivity. Sometimes, I can’t believe the veracity of that statement.
To access gratitude at this terrible time, we may choose to focus on the micro: Those two minutes that we carved out to read a chapter of Tehillim during a work break; that five-minute phone call from a friend who simply wanted to know how we’re doing; an uplifting video from Israel that illuminated a previously dark and anxious day. From children who return home safely from Jewish schools each day, to IDF soldiers who end another day safe and alive, to Jewish organizations, such as Chabad, who help more students affix mezuzot on their doorposts (including at my graduate school alma mater, USC), we’re witnessing a flood of small miracles each moment of the day.
Today, we should take a step back and, sadness and anxiety withstanding, immerse ourselves in wonder over the following macro miracles we are currently witnessing.
But we’re also living in a time of macro miracles, especially during this month, Kislev, which is famous for miracles, most notably the triumph of Hanukkah, which ensured the future of the Jewish people over 2,000 years ago. Today, we should take a step back and, sadness and anxiety withstanding, immerse ourselves in wonder over the following macro miracles we are currently witnessing:
Hamas Will be Eradicated in Our Lifetime
If you’re under the age of 36, Hamas has existed during your entire lifetime. The terrorist organization was founded in 1987 as an offshoot of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, during the First Intifada. Since then, it has murdered, maimed, tortured and raped thousands — Israelis as well as Palestinians.
Will Hamas ever be fully vanquished? If ISIS and Al Qaeda are any examples, possibly not. But hopefully, Hamas will never again gain footing on a big level, not even in the West Bank, especially if Iran undergoes a successful revolution against the current regime.
There Will Be Peace Between Israel and Saudi Arabia in Our Lifetime
As I mentioned in last week’s column, titled, “It’s the Intifada, Stupid,” it would seem that it’s currently safer for Jews to attend Shabbat services in Riyadh than in London. In the latter city, Saudi Arabia and eight other countries recently blocked a proposal by the Arab League and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) to cut all diplomatic and economic ties with Israel (the other countries were the UAE, Bahrain, Morocco, Egypt, Jordan, Sudan, Mauritania and Djibouti). Saudi-Israeli peace may be put on hold, but like that Thanksgiving turkey, it’s still on the table. And once it’s announced, no one will be angrier than the clerics in Iran. No one, with the possible exception of Hezbollah. Once Israel makes peace with Saudi Arabia, I’ll finally understand how my parents felt when, just six years after the Yom Kippur War, Israel and Egypt declared peace.
The Biggest Gathering of Jews in American History Occurred in Our Lifetime (and No One Was Hurt)
Not only was no one hurt, but no one hid behind a keffiyeh-turned-incognito mask and, unlike the previous anti-Israel march, the historic November 14 rally for Israel in Washington D.C., was filled with American, as well as Israeli, flags and bipartisan speakers. And instead of chanting, “Globalize the intifada” and “From the river to the sea …,” the biggest chant of the day, “Bring them home,” sanctified human life, rather than calling for its destruction. What a difference.
We Have Never Had More Clarity About Ourselves and Others
Many Jews have never had more clarity about ourselves and others, including those we believed to be our friends but who now believe a terrorist organization more than they believe us. Even some universities, whose decades of wokeness and appeasement have enabled the unprecedented tidal wave of violence and incitement against Jewish students we see today, have shown hints of clarity by banning racist student groups, if only temporarily.
Our leaders and allies also have more clarity than ever, including those in Congress as well as world leaders, including those in Berlin who recently criminalized chants of “From the river to the sea …” A few weeks ago, I would not have hesitated to include President Biden among those leaders, but I’m still trying to understand why his administration recently unfroze $10 billion that Iraq owes Iran, which was previously blocked by U.S. sanctions. Biden aides are arguing that these funds won’t fall into the hands of the regime, but will be applied to humanitarian causes in Iran, such as food and medicine. But that’s like asking a wolf to deliver a package of meat.
It Took a Horrific Tragedy, But Jews Have Become United in Our Lifetime
Among many of my Jewish friends, most of those who are secular and self-admittedly assimilated have told me they now feel they have more in common with Jews worldwide than ever before. In many ways, we’ve finally realized that it no longer matters whether we’re secular or religious, Polish, Moroccan or American Jews, whether experts on the Middle East or, prior to October 7, unable to identify Gaza on a map.
Will Jewish unity last, especially in America? That question will have to wait until next November, after the results of another presidential election. But something tells me that after the shock, horror, hope and unity we’re experiencing now, Jewish Thanksgiving tables in 2024 will be bigger (and more inclusive) than ever.
Tabby Refael is an award-winning writer, speaker and weekly columnist for The Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles. Follow her on X/Twitter and Instagram @TabbyRefael