Though my grandmother lived her entire adult life of more than 50 years in this country, in many respects, her worldview was that of a pious woman whose days were determined by the Jewish calendar. Every Thursday morning, for example, the newspapers were taken off the floor so that she could wash and wax the linoleum to be spotlessly clean for Shabbat. As if! You get the picture.
However, there was one American holiday my bubbe Esther loved—Thanksgiving (which she pronounced “Danksgiving”). Back then I suspected it was because it gave her an excuse to cook a turkey for the family, something she loved to do. But as I got older I realized that being grateful for life was at the very core of my bubbe’s existence. And besides, I learned, an “attitude of gratitude” is a primary Jewish value. We Jews do not need a special day in our yearly calendar to give thanks; saying “thank you” is supposed to be the first words out of our mouths each and every morning. *Modeh/modah ah-knee l’fah-neh-cha/thank you God for this day of life! While each of us generally goes to bed at night hoping to wake up in the morning, Judaism teaches us not to expect it or feel entitled; rather, to fully appreciate that life is a gift from the Source of Life, doled out only one day at a time. Our morning wake-up prayer is meant to remind us of the preciousness of life. It goes on to say that our Creator has entrusted us with this day b’chem-lah/mercifully, because rabbah eh-moo-nah-the-cha/so great are we trusted. In a way, modeh/modah is supposed to be said with a tone of pleasant surprise, challenging us to make the most of the next twenty four hours, making the world a better place through my words and my actions.
No matter the circumstances of our lives, life itself is a gift, an opportunity, a hope, a dream. On this Thanksgiving Day may we each pause to say thank you to God and to all of those loved ones, even the ones who are gone, who make life truly worth living.
*modeh/masculine form, and modah/feminine form are verbs that both mean “thank you.” Todah is another way to say thanks in Hebrew. Todah rabbah means “thanks a lot.”