(reposted from Rabbi Nina Beth Cardin's blog: http://blog.bjen.org/, dated Nov. 20, 2011)
I love Thanksgiving, perhaps because it is so different from Judaism's standard, classical, biblical holidays.
All our pilgrimage holidays, for example, happen away from home, toward home, longing for home. They teach us how to create a sense of place, of pride, of belonging in the midst of wandering and dislocation. They teach us how to be centered in mobility; how to weave stories into platforms of place; how to celebrate "here" when that is all we have. What they don't speak of is the celebration of home. Understandably.
Passover is about leaving a home of horrors, shedding a past and journeying to a better tomorrow while in the midst of a volatile, meandering road to Home.
Sukkot is about accepting the security of in-betweenness. Neither in Egypt nor Israel, at home or on the road, we nonetheless are bidden to set up a hut to serve as our place of surety in this most unsure world. (Oddly, even the most misanthropic among us turns into a gracious host this holiday, for the liturgy recited before each dinner has us invite our ancestors, among others who might be present, as our honored guests.)
Shavuot, in the Bible, was the holiday marking the homecoming of Israel, yet somewhere in the presence of the long years of exile, it morphed into a celebration of Covenant instead, marking the law-giving in the wilderness of Sinai.
The High Holidays, too, are moments of spirit, not place. Purim and Hanukkah are about survival through wit and force.
We are ready, though, especially 63 years after the establishment of the State of Israel, to have a day that celebrates home. Yes, of course, we have the weekly Shabbat, a day of renewal and family, when the world shrinks down to habitable size and home looms large in the celebration. But perhaps because it comes every week, it does not have the lustre or homebound command of a once-a-year celebration like Thanksgiving.
Like many ethnic Americans, my family has added our particular, Jewish twist: we celebrate the night before, erev Thanksgiving. Everyone comes home Wednesday and that evening we have a boisterous brouhaha dinner with four generations, and a singularly unique combination of guests.
The centerpiece is a sculpted Tofurkey (yup, marinaded tofu molded into a turkey shape) but the real fun is being all together once again.
Thanksgiving is our one shared non-denominational American home holiday. We are not expected to fly to Cancun or the Bahamas on Thanksgiving. Airline commercials are not luring us to exotic places. This holiday's travel is not about adventure but about getting home.
The backlash about Black Friday creep – with stores opening at midnight or even 9:00 pm on Thanksgiving Thursday – reveals that many Americans believe home is where people ought to be and America's commerce can rest for one shared day.
For me, I love the festive, food-filled, flush of family. And then it only hurts a little when they are off on Thursday to their "other" family and friends.
(written beside the warming oven, in between batches of my Bubbe Ema – grandmother's – cookies prepared for the holiday)