Earlier this week, there was a debate on a rabbinic listserv. Should one recite Hallel (special joyful psalms) in honor of the new moon when the new moon falls on Thanksgiving, as it did this year? The concern behind this question is that it could appear as though we are reciting Hallel in honor of Thanksgiving itself. And while there is joy to be found in the rituals of family, food, and gratitude, the violent context that this federal holiday conceals is not worthy of celebration. So much so, that each year in Plymouth, MA Indigenous communities gather for a National Day of Mourning.
While not every year Rosh Hodesh falls on Thanksgiving, the tensions are nonetheless present. Last night before my family ate, a series of spontaneous toasts ensued. My brother got choked up, so grateful to be able to host 40+ members across four generations of my family. Then I nervously shared the names of the Indigenous people of Westchester County, including the Lenape tribes that also claim the territory of Philadelphia. And then my father spoke, sharing that his mother's family immigrated to the United States 79 years ago on Thanksgiving Day. Those two minutes worth of emotions and history were in and of themselves a lot to hold.
This week we read parshat Toldot, which chronicles the life of Isaac.
וְאֵ֛לֶּה תּוֹלְדֹ֥ת יִצְחָ֖ק
"And these are the generations of Isaac" (Genesis 25:19).
For me, family gatherings have a way of echoing the dynamics also present in our mythic stories. Stories of sibling rivalry, inheritance disputes, and family favoritism. Family is complicated, says the Torah. That is not new.
Last night, amidst the loud banter of a house full of New York Jews, I looked around and thought to myself, "These are the generations..." I found myself asking, what stories do I want to teach my children about how and why my family came to live on Turtle Island? What are we transmitting from generation to generation about the Thanksgiving? In what new ways can we learn to relate to the land we live on?
My favorite image from this week's parsha is that of Isaac digging wells on his new land. For which we learn that he re-dug the wells of his father Abraham. And he also dug his own new wells.
This year at Thanksgiving dinner, I felt a lot like Isaac, digger for a deeper truth; at once trying to connect to members of my family I rarely see and also trying to invoke the wisdom of Indigenous leaders who understand more fully how to live in sacred relationship to the earth.
Most of the rabbis agreed on Facebook, we should in fact recite Hallel. We live on Jewish time. And while we live in relationship to American holidays, we need not concede our sacred rhythms.
As we enter Shabbat and embrace the new moon of Kislev, I'm sitting with these words from Ohlone leader and activist Corrina Gould: "...Come onto this land in a humble way; this land is alive, there were people before you and there will be people after you. What does it mean for us, humans, to be the bridge between the past and present?"
L'dor v'dor, from generation to generation, may we have the courage to both pass on family traditions and instigate new ones. And may the stories we tell connect us more fully to each other, to the Earth, and to a deeper truth.
Hodesh Tov and Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Ari Lev
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Rabbi Ari Lev Fornari brings Torat Hayyim, a living tradition, to Kol Tzedek through thoughts about prayer, justice, and community.