In the past, I celebrated Thanksgiving without giving it much thought. In school, I learned the “traditional story” of Thanksgiving: The Pilgrims were so thankful they survived a winter and were able to produce a harvest that they celebrated with a special feast. The story of Thanksgiving often overlooks the reality of the what happened when Europeans arrived in America, it leaves out the Native American perspective. There is a lot of controversy, bias and harmful stereotypes surrounding Thanksgiving. In the past, to me, Thanksgiving really only meant a long weekend and a lot of food and family. As I have gotten older and had children, I tried to take a closer look at the holiday and what it represents. Instead of discounting the holiday completely, I decided to focus on the gratitude element and integrated important ideas from my religion. As a Jew, gratitude is a central component of Jewish life and many Jewish routines and rituals are based around gratitude.
From the moment Jews wake up they are supposed to be filled with a sense of gratitude, and verbalize this through the Modeh Ani. This prayer is recited every morning to show gratitude for waking up. Before Jews do anything else, before planning the day, thinking about the million and one things that have to be done, Jews are supposed to take a moment of gratitude. Another common recognition of gratitude is the shehecheyanu. Jews recite this prayer every time they do something new in a given year. Jews recognize that this moment is special and are thankful for being able to partake in it, …[You] who has granted us life, sustained us and enabled us to reach this occasion. When I work with schools, educators and families I emphasize the power and importance of the shehecheyanu.
As a parent of a two year old, I have a whole new sense of gratitude. Like any parent of a young child, I find myself being grateful for many things: the incredible hugs and kisses, two extra minutes of sleep, when my daughter happily sits in the carseat without a struggle, the sweet brown eyes and smile that wake me up every morning by announcing “it’s breakfast time” (this one, I admit is sometimes harder than others to be grateful for, especially when it’s 5:00 am), the new word my daughter said that day, when my daughter offers a hug to a crying child. The list could go on and on. But like any busy parent I get lost in the everyday moments of life and lose some of the critical elements and benefits of gratitude. I find it important to recenter and refocus myself and for me, this can be done by saying the shehecheyanu. Taking a moment to stop and reflect on the moment is crucial for building gratitude and appreciation. Children, especially young children, are experiencing and doing something new all the time and are often extremely proud and excited about it. Parents can take these wonderful moments to pause from their busy lives and say the shehecheyanu to express and celebrate their gratitude for reaching this moment. If the shehecheyanu isn’t meaningful to you, create your own tradition, something that is meaningful to you and your family to celebrate a moment of gratitude. Whether or not you believe in G-d, the value of gratitude and being thankful for arriving at a moment is a universal value. Create something that allows you to take a moment to pause and reflect.
My in-laws have a tradition at Thanksgiving in which everyone at the table shares what they are thankful for that year. This year I encourage families to not only share what they are thankful for during the past year, but to also continue the Jewish tradition of gratitude and celebrate moments from your month, week, and day on a regular basis to reflect on and express gratitude.
*Modeh Ani: I offer thanks to You, living and eternal King, for You have mercifully restored my soul within me; Your faithfulness is great.
Modeh anee lefanecha melech chai vekayam, she-he-chezarta bee nishmatee b’chemla, raba emunatecha.
*Shehecheyanu: Blessed are You, L-rd our G-d, King of the Universe, who has granted us life, sustained us and enabled us to reach this occasion.
Ba-ruch A-tah A-do-noi E-loi-hei-nu Me-lech ha-o-lam she-he-chee-ya-nu v’ki-yi-ma-nu vi-hi-gi-ya-nu liz-man ha-zeh.