March 26, 2019

Nov. 29: The Jewish Thanksgiving Day

Please join me in celebrating the Jewish Thanksgiving Day, a day when we give thanks to Lady History and to the many heroic players who stood behind the historic United Nations vote of Nov. 29, 1947, an event that dramatically changed the physical, spiritual and political life of every Jew in our generation.

I have aspired to see Jewish communities in every major U.S. city invite the consuls general of the 33 countries that voted yes on that fateful day to thank them publicly for listening to their conscience and, defying the pressures of the time, voting to grant the Jewish nation what other nations take for granted — a state of its own. Imagine 33 flags hanging from The Jewish Federation building, the names of 33 countries called out with pride and each affirmed with the word “Yes!” in a staged re-enactment of the 33-13 vote that led to the partitioning of Palestine into a Jewish state and an Arab state.

That idea came to partial fruition in 2012, when a spectacular production of “The Vote” was performed at American Jewish University in Los Angeles, featuring clergy, speakers, actors, musicians, singers and dancers commemorating that miraculous and fateful day 65 years earlier.

Efforts to turn the commemoration into an annual nationwide event have so far not borne fruit, perhaps because we have become overly fragmented or have needed time to digest our debt to history to appreciate the impact that such a ceremony would have on strengthening the spines of our children and grandchildren.

But I am not one to be deterred by shortsightedness. This year, I celebrated the 71st anniversary by myself, unaware of any public celebration planned in Los Angeles. But there are many ways you and I can give thanks where thanks are due.

Let us give thanks to the 33 countries that voted yes and for the dignity, pride and self-image that every Jewish soul has since enjoyed because of them.

Let us give thanks to Eddie Jacobson, President Harry Truman’s friend and former business partner from Kansas City, Mo., who risked that friendship and wrote to Truman on Oct. 3, 1947: “Harry, my people need help and I am appealing to you to help them.”

Let us give thanks to Albert Einstein, who pleaded, albeit unsuccessfully, with Jawaharlal Nehru, then prime minister of India, to vote for “the august scale of justice.”

Let us thank Cardinal Francis Spellman, head of the Catholic Church in New York City, who used his personal influence in Latin American countries to urge their leaders to vote yes.

“We have witnessed worse degradations of mankind before the birth of Israel, and we will endure this tantrum too. Israel has made us 10 feet taller.”

Let us thank the many ordinary yet courageous folks, from Peru to the Philippines, who understood the collective responsibility that history bestowed upon them in 1947, and used everything in their power, from personal pleading to arm twisting, to get their governments to vote yes.

Let us thank the communities of people in Los Angeles whose native countries voted yes and remind them that we Jews do not forget friends who stood with us on the side of justice. We give thanks and ask for nothing in return.

And while we thank history for its miracles, let us issue reminders of a few basic facts:

• Let us remind the world that Israel exists by historical right, not by force, nor by favor.

• Let us remind the U.N. what kind of institution it once was, and let us do it this year while, in Orwellian mockery, Saudi Arabia, Congo, Qatar and Pakistan are members of the U.N. Human Rights Council — the annointed guardians of human rights.

• Let us remind ourselves of all the arguments, pro and con, regarding the idea of a Jewish state — arguments our enemies have mastered to perfection and that we have naively assumed to be no longer necessary, to the point of delinquent forgetfulness.

• Let us remind ourselves to express ceremonially what we have tacitly understood for quite some time: Despite all the talk about rifts and cracks, Israel remains the only uniting force among world Jewry, without which collective Jewish identity would cease to exist.

• Finally, let us remind the Arab world that the U.N. voted for two states, not only for a Jewish state as opponents of Israel claim, and that the option of Palestinian statehood is still on the table, waiting for Palestinians to internalize the meaning of the word “coexistence” and to learn to utter the words “equally legitimate and equally indigenous” that were contained in the U.N. resolution.

True, the music of these words sounds terribly outdated as we watch Palestinian intellectuals flock to UCLA under the banner “Make Israel Palestine Again,” proudly imitating the “Make America White Again” banners of Charlottesville. Still, Nov. 29 is history’s way of assuring us: “We have witnessed worse degradations of mankind before the birth of Israel, and we will endure this tantrum too. Israel has made us 10 feet taller.”

Happy Thanksgiving Day!


Judea Pearl is chancellor’s professor of computer science and statistics at UCLA and president of the Daniel Pearl Foundation.