Thanksgiving

At Central Synagogue

Psalm 100

A Psalm of Thanksgiving

Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth.
Worship the Lord with gladness; come into God’s presence with singing.
Know that the Lord is God. It is he that made us, and we are his;
we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.
Enter her gates with thanksgiving, and her courts with praise.
Give thanks to her, bless her name.
For the Lord is good;
God’s steadfast love and faithfulness endure forever,
to all generations.


A Thanksgiving Seder

Lighting the Candles

Light two or more candles as is done on Shabbat or on various Jewish holidays. After the candles are lit, recite the following prayer:

With the lighting of these candles we are making a statement about the special-ness of this moment in time. We are trying to bring light into a world that all too often is very dark. We are raising our consciousness about what Thanksgiving is really about and we are trying to see how Thanksgiving can bring together our Jewish, American and Human identities.

Kiddush

בָרוּך אַתָה יְהוָה אֱלהֵינוּ מֶלֶך הָעוֹלָם בּוֹרֵא פְרִי הַגָפֶן.
Baruch atah Adonai Elohaynu Melech ha’olam, Borei pri hagafen.
Blessed are You Lord our God, Sovereign of the Universe, Creator of the fruit of the vine.

Four Questions

מַה נִּשְׁתַּנָּה הַלַּיֲלָה הַזֶּה מִכָּל הַלֵּילוֹת?
Mah nishtana halaila hazeh mikol halaylot?

  1. Why is this night different from all other nights? What makes Thanksgiving different from other nights of the year?
  2. What are we thankful for on this Thanksgiving?
  3. On Thanksgiving, we eat different types of foods than we do during the year.  Take a look at the table, why are you eating the foods that you are eating?  How do they help you connect to the holiday?  Are there any new dishes this year? Some families might combine traditional Thanksgiving foods with traditional Jewish cooking. Some families may have food of other ethnicities. What are we trying to say by bringing together different types of cuisine?
  4. As much as this holiday is about what we should be thankful for, we should also be thinking about those who are not as fortunate as us, and what our responsibilities are towards them.  On this Thanksgiving, who is in need of our help, and how can we help them?

Netilat Yadayim (ceremonial washing of hands before a meal)

Fill a cup with water and pour twice on your right hand. Repeat on the left.

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, אֲשֶׁר קִדְּשָׁנוּ בְּמִצְווֹתָיו, וְצִוָּנוּ עַל נְטִילַת יָדָיִם.
Baruch atah Adonai Elohaynu Melech ha’olam, asher kid’shanu b’mitsvotav vetsivanu al netilat yadayim.
Blessed are You Adonai our God Sovereign of the world, who sanctifies us with commandments and commands us to wash the hands.

Try not to speak until the bread is eaten.

Motzi

Hold a challah and a loaf of cornbread with one piece of flat bread in between them.  The challah represents our Jewish identity, and the cornbread represents our American identity. The piece of flat bread demonstrates how we often separate these two parts of our identities. Before reciting the blessing, pull out the flat bread. We do this to symbolize bringing together our Jewish and American identities. Hold the challah and the loaf of cornbread together over a picture or map of the world. This represents our identities as human beings and our commitment to Universalism. Sprinkle some salt on top of the bread and recite the brachah (blessing) below.

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ אֱלֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם הָמּוֹצִיא לֶחֶם מִן הָאָרֶץ.
Baruch atah Adonai Elohaynu Melech ha’olam, hamotzi lechem min haaretz.
Blessed are You Adonai our God Sovereign of the world, who brings forth bread from the earth.

Cut or rip off a piece of bread, eat it, and then pass out pieces of bread to everyone at the table.

Maggid

The film Avalon, by Barry Levinson, tells the story of the Krichinsky family, a Jewish family in Baltimore consisting of immigrant grandparents, first-generation American parents, and second-generation American grandchildren. The film follows the family from the late 1940s to the early 1970s. It is interesting to note that while it is obvious that this is a Jewish family, the family never refers to itself as Jewish, nor does it celebrate any Jewish holidays, rituals, or life cycle events—with one exception, the funeral of the grandmother. At the funeral, the deceased woman is referred to as “a Woman of Valor.” This is a quote from the Bible in Mishlei/Proverbs 31:10 (often recited at funerals for Jewish women; it is also sung in some communities at Shabbat dinner as a tribute to the women of the home). Also, a Jewish star is visible in the background on a tombstone.

The annual holiday that is featured is Thanksgiving, and it takes place throughout the life (and movie) of this family. When the family has its Thanksgiving dinner, the relatives talk about how they came to America from Eastern Europe and how after establishing themselves, they were able to bring the next relative over. The Thanksgiving meal is turned into a Thanksgiving “Seder” of sorts, to tell the story of their Exodus from Eastern Europe to America. They even remark on how they eat different foods on this holiday, such as turkey. In other words, “Why is this night different from all other nights?” That same question is asked at the Passover Seder which references the differences between the everyday meal and the unusual qualities of the Seder.

With this is mind, tell the story of how you or a relative of yours came to America.

Eat and enjoy your meal.

Conclude with the Birkat Hamazon (the grace after meals)—you can find numerous versions online.

 

Our Thanksgiving Seder was written by Rabbi David Kalb.