Last night as my family gathered around, my father shared that his mother's family arrived in New York by ship, fleeing Nazi Italy, on Thanksgiving Day in 1940. For him, this day marks a certain survival. My own relationship to Thanksgiving is fraught, and this piece of my family history only adds to the complex emotions that I feel. We explicitly don't talk politics together, but the political context is still very present for me personally.
In my twenties I organized for the protection of sacred burial ground in Oakland that had been turned into a shopping mall. Every Black Friday, I organized a protest in honor of "Buy Nothing Day."
For a few years while living in Boston, I marked Thanksgiving by attending the National Day of Mourning at Plymouth Rock. This Indigenous-led gathering commemorates Native history and bears witness to resilience and resistance. Their slogan says a lot: "We Are Not Vanishing. We Are Not Conquered. We Are As Strong As Ever."
Over the past year, I have learned so much from the Water Protectors at Standing Rock. I truly believe that our survival and liberation will be led by Indigenous communities and guided by their connection to the sacred.
In many ways, what Thanksgiving represents to many Americans, I experience in Shabbat each week. Gathering around a table with family and community. Taking time to cook a special meal. Marking time as dedicated to being together and being grateful. In the words of Psalm 92, "A psalm for shabbat. It is good to express gratitude..."
This year, I felt a heaviness in our my heart as we gathered. In part because I don't want to dishonor native genocide. And in part because of this tenuous political moment, that feels at times too close to the history that brought my family here 77 Thanksgiving's ago. My growing edge, is learning how to have more of this conversation with my family of origin. I offer you two resources that I plan to share with my family over email, in case you too share in this journey. The first is an article just published by Stosh Cotler, CEO of Bend the Arc, entitled: Are Jews Avoiding anti-Trump Activism Out of Fear, or Moral Failure?. And in light of the food scarcity that so many Native Americans face, I plan to donate to Seeding Sovereignty to support this youth-led movement and the Indigenous Environmental Network.
I know there are people in our community who themselves have Native ancestry, and I pray that these reflections cause no further harm. I also know that holidays can so painful for many of us who have complicated or no relationships with our family's of origin. If you are feeling the holiday blues, I encourage you to come to services tonight.
Minyan Ometz Lev Tonight at 6:30pm!
Come take refuge with the Angels of Shabbat and of this week's Torah portion, Vayeitzei. I am grateful to be in community with you and building towards a just and transformed world.
Rabbi Ari Lev