November 18, 2018

Torah Portion

In 1620, our Pilgrim ancestors escapedthe tyranny and religious persecution of the Old World and braved atreacherous journey to find freedom on this continent. They landed atPlymouth Rock, Mass. Settling at the edge of a vast wilderness, theynearly perished. They were rescued by generous natives who broughtfood and taught them to survive in this land. A year later, thePilgrims sat down to a feast of thanksgiving in gratitude to thenatives who welcomed them and in gratitude to a providential God whoprotected them. And, so, we gather each year to share ourappreciation for our freedom, our blessing and our bounty.

My ancestors weren’t here in 1620. But this is mystory, and this is my holiday nonetheless. My people also knewtyranny. They lived in fear of the knock at the door in the middle ofthe night. They too dreamed of freedom for their children, endured aharrowing journey, and found here a New World, open to theircontributions of talent and energy. For a Jew with a sense ofhistory, America is a miracle. Other lands of the Diaspora affordeddegrees of security and opportunity. But only America has offered agenuine sense of belonging.

It is not just the Bill of Rights that openedAmerica to us. It is this remarkable congruence of the American storyand the Jewish story that gives us a sense of being at home here. Weshare the experience of exodus, of journey, of God’s protection, ofreaching the promised land. We share the imperative to protectliberty, to express our gratitude, and to share with those in need.Thanksgiving, the sacred festival of American civic religion,uniquely captures the miracle of homecoming that Jews share with allother Americans.

One year, as we began our Thanksgiving feast, myson became very upset: “You forgot to make ‘Kiddush’!” he cried. Fora Jew raised in the rich symbolism of Jewish tradition, there issomething wanting in Thanksgiving. We need a Thanksgivingseder.

As a beginning, I offer the following prayer,composed by Ina J. Hughes, as a kavannah, a meditation, for yourThanksgiving table:

We pray for children

who sneak popsicles before supper,

who erase holes in math work books,

who can never find their shoes.

And we pray for those

who stare at photographers from behind barbedwire,

who can’t bound down the street in a new pair ofsneakers,

who never “count potatoes,”

who are born in places we wouldn’t be caughtdead,

who never go to the circus,

who live in an X-rated world.

We pray for children

who bring us sticky kisses and fistfuls ofdandelions,

who hug us in a hurry and forget their lunchmoney.

And we pray for those

who never get dessert,

who have no safe blanket to drag behindthem,

who watch their parents watch them die,

who can’t find any bread to steal,

who don’t have any rooms to clean up,

whose pictures aren’t on any body’sdresser,

whose monsters are real.

We pray for children

who spend all their allowance beforeTuesday,

who throw tantrums in the grocery store and pickat their food,

who like ghost stories,

who shove dirty clothes under the bed and neverrinse out the tub,

who get visits from the tooth fairy,

who don’t like to be kissed in front of thecarpool,

who squirm in church or temple and scream in thephone,

whose tears we sometimes laugh at and whose smilescan make us cry.

And we pray for those

whose nightmares come in the daytime,

who will eat anything,

who have never seen a dentist,

who aren’t spoiled by anybody,

who go to bed hungry and cry themselves tosleep,

who lie and move but have no being.

We pray for children who want to be carried

and for those who must,

for those we never give up on

and for those who don’t get a secondchance.

For those we smother

and for those who will grab the hand of anybodykind enough to offer it.

Ed Feinstein is rabbi at Valley Beth Shalom in Encino.

Read a past week’s torah portion!

Parashat Chaye Sarah (Genesis23:1-25:18)

Parashat Va-Yera(Genesis 18:1-22:24)

Parashat LechLecha (Genesis 12:1-17:27)

ParashatNoah (Genesis 6:9-11:32)

Bereshit,Genesis 1:1-6:8