Thanksgiving was. Well in America it was, here in Israel we of course don’t have Thanksgiving (you know no pilgrims, no Indians, and certainly no peace treaties with shared dinners.) (Not that it helped the Indians too much).
Some Americans in Israel have a Thanksgiving meal. I’m sure they had positive memories of family gatherings and want to pass it on to their American (but Israeli) born children. (We just stick to the Jewish holidays – there are a lot of them besides Shabbes itself – besides it is not a day off.)
It is one of the few holidays that is purely American and not religious based. Of course it is religious, since one assumes the Thanks is being given to G-d. Though even in the original dinner; it was a shared meal with pagans and Christians, so I’m not sure which G-d they were referring to.
Jews of course are very connected to giving thanks. The word “Jew” in Hebrew is Yehudi from the tribe of Yehuda. And Yehuda means thanks. When Leah named Yehuda, he was her 4th son. She knew instinctively (that is the modern way of saying prophetically) that Yaacov would have 12 sons and doing the math 4 wives 12 boys she had more than her quota. Leah was appreciative that G-d (Hashem) rewarded her with Yehuda and thus it became his name.
Yehuda was chosen to be the King of Klal Yisrael (the entire people of Israel) even though he was the fourth son. Reuven sinned (invaded his father’s bedroom) by moving his father’s things out of the house of the lesser wives to his mother’s tent for her honor, Shimon and Levi also lost the kingship because they killed off the city of Shechem. So that brought us to Yehuda who was chosen King. The Meshiach will be from the seed of Dovid who came from Yehuda.
Even if we are not from the tribe of Yehuda, (which our family is not – we are Levim) we are still all called Yehudim because of the deeper understanding of thankfulness. The trait of being thankful and appreciative is the essence of the Jewish people.
When I was cooking for yeshivas, each Rosh HaYeshiva had their own approach to Thanksgiving. I always worked for English speaking and thus mostly American Yeshivas (and seminaries) thus, Thanksgiving had to be addressed.
At Toras Moshe, it was forbidden to serve turkey on that Thursday. Never mind turkey is eaten by Israelis more per person than any other country in the world, and at the yeshiva no less.
At Shapell’s I was sometimes asked to go all out. One year I did. I served whole turkeys with stuffing, sweet potato and even made parve pumpkin pie for all 140 students and staff. Yet there was one voice of complaint of the missing cranberry sauce.
Yet the Americans are right about one thing. Turkey is the way to go for Thanksgiving. Turkey in Hebrew is hodu which means thanks. Turkey means Thanksgiving.
Hodu l’hashem Thank you G-d. Hope you had a great Turkey day!