January 17, 2019

November 29: The Jewish Thanksgiving Day

For several years now, I have been campaigning to declare Nov. 29 as the Jewish Thanksgiving Day, a day to give thanks to Lady History and to the many heroic players who stood behind the historic United Nations vote on Nov. 29, 1947, an event that has changed so dramatically the physical, spiritual and political life of every Jew of our time. 

I have argued that Jewish communities in every major city in the United States should invite the consuls general of the 33 countries that voted yes on that fateful day to thank them publicly for their fellow leaders who listened to their consciences and, defying the pressures of the time, voted 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, 33 bands representing their respective countries, and the word “yes” repeated in 33 languages in a staged re-enactment of that miraculous and fateful vote in 1947.

The idea came to partial fruition in 2012, when a marvelous production of “The Vote” took place in the Gindi Auditorium at American Jewish University, featuring clergy, speakers, actors, musicians, singers and dancers commemorating the day when, 65 years earlier, the United Nations voted 33-13 to partition Palestine into a Jewish and an Arab state. 

Efforts to turn this into an annual event nationwide have so far not borne fruit, perhaps because we have become overly fragmented, or perhaps because we need 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 hesitation.

I will celebrate this day by myself, if necessary, and if you care to join me, it would make the celebration so much more meaningful.

Let us give thanks to the 33 countries that voted yes on the spectacular turn that Jewish history took in November 1947, and for the dignity, pride and self-image that every Jewish soul has enjoyed since.

Let us give thanks to Eddie Jacobson, President Harry S. 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, days before the vote, used his personal influence in Latin American countries, urging them to vote yes.

Let us thank the many ordinary yet courageous people, 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 influence their governments to vote yes.

Let us thank 33 ethnic communities in Los Angeles 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 remind ourselves and others of a few basic facts.

• Let us remind the world that Israel is there 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 month, when, in Orwellian mockery, Sudan and Iran win UNESCO leadership roles.

• Let us refresh our memories with all the arguments, pro and con, regarding the idea of a Jewish state; arguments that 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 express ceremonially what we have tacitly understood for quite some time: that Israel constitutes 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 for a Jewish state only, as their spokesmen claim, and that the optiontion of Palestinian statehood is still on the table, waiting for them to internalize the meaning of the word “coexistence” and to learn to utter the words:

“equally legitimate and equally indigenous.”

It is hard to end this celebration of a Jewish thanksgiving day without reflecting on the tragedy of the Palestinian people and on how they must view the U.N. vote and the missed opportunity for independence. 

Anyone who studied the difficulties Israel faced in its first decade of existence understands that she would not have survived had the Arab leadership accepted the U.N. partition plan. 

A society of one million Arabs and 600,000 Jews sharing a state that the former vows to destroy (assisted by a hostile and sovereign neighbor) has zero chance of survival.

Why then didn’t the Arabs accept the U.N. partition plan?

The main reason was that the Arab leadership was too deeply invested in an ideology that it could not easily disavow. To accept the U.N. plan would have meant accepting the historical legitimacy of a Jewish homeland, hence the Zionist narrative, which they had fought for almost half a century. It would have meant betraying the anthem of their collective identity and admitting to waging an unjust war.

Nov. 29 reminds all of us that it’s time for a new anthem.

Happy Thanksgiving Day.

Judea Pearl is a professor at UCLA and president of the Daniel Pearl Foundation (