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Thanksgiving Even During A Pandemic

This coming week, we will celebrate Thanksgiving. My sense is that it will be unlike any most of us have experienced in our lifetimes, even during times of war and other natural disasters. Many of our political leaders are beseeching us to cancel any travel plans we might have this year. All over social media, I am seeing memes imploring us to abandon plans to get together with family and friends and to stay home and enjoy this Thanksgiving on our own. My hope is that whatever we each choose to do this year for Thanksgiving, the messages of the holiday do not get lost in the tumult of how people are celebrating.

For me, one of the most important messages of Thanksgiving goes to the heart of what it means to be a Jew in America. Despite ebbs and flows of anti-Semitism that inevitably arise in the U.S., we are truly blessed to live in a place where we are free to observe our faith freely. Despite the turmoil that racks our country, from the pandemic and the election results, I still feel blessed to live in a country whose system of government can withstand the shake-up.

That blessing goes back to the very founding of the country. By that time the Jewish community, though small, was already well established. Since that time, we have grown in both numbers and influence while enjoying the unfettered ability to observe our faith, customs, and rituals. This Thanksgiving, let us focus on the things for which we are truly thankful.

Below is a response the then President George Washington wrote to the Jewish community of Newport, RI, thanking them for their well wishes upon his inauguration. The president’s sentiments about the essence of the American government still reverberate in our hearts and minds and give us pause for gratitude.

c. August 17,1790


While I received with much satisfaction your address replete with expressions of esteem, I rejoice in the opportunity of assuring you that I shall always retain grateful remembrance of the cordial welcome I experienced on my visit to Newport from all classes of citizens.

The reflection on the days of difficulty and danger which are past is rendered the more sweet from a consciousness that they are succeeded by days of uncommon prosperity and security.

If we have wisdom to make the best use of the advantages with which we are now favored, we cannot fail, under the just administration of a good government, to become a great and happy people.

The citizens of the United States of America have a right to applaud themselves for having given to mankind examples of an enlarged and liberal policy — a policy worthy of imitation. All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship.

It is now no more that toleration is spoken of as if it were the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights, for, happily, the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.

It would be inconsistent with the frankness of my character not to avow that I am pleased with your favorable opinion of my administration and fervent wishes for my felicity.

May the children of the stock of Abraham who dwell in this land continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other inhabitants — while every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree and there shall be none to make him afraid.

May the father of all mercies scatter light, and not darkness, upon our paths, and make us all in our several vocations useful here, and in His own due time and way everlastingly happy.

G. Washington


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