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If you don’t give thanks when thanks is due…you might not be Jewish!

The modern Thanksgiving holiday is generally traced to a 1621 celebration in Plymouth, Massachusetts which was prompted by a good harvest that year. George Washington proclaimed the first nationwide thanksgiving celebration in America, marking November 26, 1789, “as a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God.” On December 26, 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed a joint resolution of Congress changing the national Thanksgiving Day from the last Thursday in November to the fourth Thursday.

Living Torah

By Rabbi Ari Enkin, rabbinic director, United with Israel

Thanksgiving in Canada did not have a fixed date until the late 19th century. Prior to Canadian Confederation, many of the individual colonial governors of the Canadian provinces had declared their own days of Thanksgiving. The first official Canadian Thanksgiving occurred on April 15, 1872, when the nation was celebrating the Prince of Wales’ recovery from a serious illness. By the end of the 19th century, Thanksgiving Day was normally celebrated on November 6. On Thursday, January 31, 1957, the Parliament of Canada proclaimed: “A Day of General Thanksgiving to Almighty God for the bountiful harvest with which Canada has been blessed – to be observed on the 2nd Monday in October.”

The Biblical Origins of “Thanksgiving”

Thankfully, there is an “attitude” of thankfulness in the United States and Canada. In these countries, the calendar is dotted with different days to give thanks for different occurrences, in addition to the general Thanksgiving Day.

For example:

On Veterans Day, we thank the members of the Armed Forces for their dedicated service.

On Memorial Day, we show our gratitude to those courageous men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice while defending our liberties and democratic lifestyle.

On Labor Day, we express our appreciation to the industrious American workforce, the people who keep the wheels of our economy turning.

On other selected days, we pause to thank different historic individuals who have made valuable contributions to our nation.

The reason we are called “Jews” is because most of us are descended from Judah. (Of the 12 children who came from Jacob, 10 of the tribes of Israel were “lost”).

Why did the tribe of Judah survive more than all the other tribes?

One of the answers offered, is that the secret to the tribe of Judah’s survival is alluded to in its name: When Leah, his mother, gave birth to him she said, “This time I will give thanksgiving to the Lord; therefore she called his name Judah” (Genesis 29:35) – from the Hebrew hodah, giving thanks.

Jews may very well be the people who gave the concept of gratitude to the world.

Aldous Huxley noted a profound truth when he wrote, “Most human beings have an almost infinite capacity for taking things for granted.” Jewish life actively fights against this. Every single day, the first words out of a Jewish mouth upon awakening are the “MODEN ANI” – “I give thanks before you, eternal King, for having restored to me my soul.”  So too, every single day there are one hundred blessings to be recited…one hundred times to say thank you to God. Get this: If someone lacks this trait of thankfulness, the Talmud boldly says there is grave suspicion that this person may in fact not be a Jew!