Category Archives: Thanksgiving

Some Thanksgiving Thoughts for America

Some reading material for you this Thanksgiving. Feel free to read excerpts around the table tonight:

A powerful meditation on lost opportunity by journalist Robert Scheer, writing in Truthdig:

How many folks from my generation are honestly sanguine about the economic future of their children and grandchildren? What I have heard constantly, and just this week from a former top investment banker addressing a college class I teach, is that our offspring probably will face a decade of lost opportunity. I thought back to my college days and how shocked any of us, even those from the most impoverished of circumstances, would have been to hear such a prediction.

As The New York Times editorialized this Thanksgiving, “One in three Americans—100 million people—is either poor or perilously close to it.”

A bummer of a message, I know, until I think of those pepper-sprayed college students linking arms, and of all the Americans, young, old and between, who have occupied their minds with a challenge—that it doesn’t have to be this way. For their brave spirit of resistance we should be most grateful this Thanksgiving.

Retired Air Force lieutenant colonel William J. Astore expresses some Thanksgiving gratitude for our nation’s public servants:

As we sit down to our Thanksgiving dinners, we should reflect on the true roots of our national greatness: Our enshrinement of individual freedoms and liberties exercised within communal settings that are consistent with principles of human dignity and decency. True public servants support such ideals, to include our troops, our police – and our protesters, who dare to confront us with reminders of democratic ideals that we as a country are failing to meet.

Yes, protesters are public servants too, deserving of a fair hearing and a measure of respect. Yet the more we deploy armed forces to suppress such protesters, the more our democracy withers from within, even as we claim to be spreading it from without.

A nation simply cannot sow the seeds of democracy in other lands while poisoning the seedlings of democracy in its own land.

This Thanksgiving, let us reflect on the dangers of using one group of public servants (the police) to suppress another group of public servants (the protesters).  Let us ponder the dangers of putting armed forces empowered by noble oaths to ignoble purposes. And let us ponder as well what suffers most when our public servants are turned against one another – and who profits most.

And finally, Aisha Ali’s excellent and important survey of the real history of Thanksgiving:

Americans should know the history behind Thanksgiving. The images of Pilgrims continually celebrating Thanksgiving, and Native Americans being invited out of goodwill is false. As tension mounted, and wars erupted between Native Americans and Pilgrims, there were no future Thanksgivings.  Native American history involves successive colonization, intrusion of colonists’ beliefs, sacrilege of lands and sacred burial sites, and the unjust force of Native Americans further west. However, this was not always the story of Native Americans.  Native Americans used to live in a harmonious society.  “Earth Mother” or “Mother Earth” was respected and she in return, blessed Native Americans with bountiful crops, peace, and health. Since then, America has become a place of corruption, racism, segregation, and capitalism– all due to the foundation on which America was built.  As Abigail Adams once questioned how could any good come from a White House that was built by half-hungry slaves, how can America be a place of good will, liberty, and welfare without acknowledging the bloodshed and tragedy of its native peoples?

What many of us eat today, including our Thanksgiving menu, comes from the harvest crop initially cultivated by Natives, which accounts for nearly 70 percent of all crops, including corn, potatoes, and tomatoes.  It is important that we teach our children the truth on which America was founded.  The images, the story, the history of Native Americans must be changed.  What we have all learned is based on both truth and myth.  It is our duty as parents to educate our children and teach them the real story of not only Thanksgiving, but also America, wholly.  How can races/ethnicities ever heal unless we are able to address the problems and move on together to face them?

Yet, the true theme existing behind Thanksgiving should not be ignored, as everyone should be thankful for his or her blessings and this is something we must instill in all children: the acknowledgment of your blessings and being grateful for them.   But most importantly, we must instill in them, the truth.

South Hebron Tragedy: Blogosphere Reactions

Two posts from today’s blogosphere offer spot-on responses to yesterday’s tragic killings in Hebron:

From Mitchell Plitnick’s “The Third Way:”

I very much appreciate President Obama condemning yesterday’s murders of four settlers in the South Hebron Hills.

But that condemnation would be an awful lot more meaningful, to myself and to many others I’m sure, if we saw similar outrage in Washington when Israel killed over 700 Palestinian non-combatants in Operation Cast Lead. Or when a border policeman killed Bassem Abu Rahmeh by firing a gas cannister directly and intentionally at him. Or for any of the 100 Palestinians killed since the end of Operation Cast Lead (many of whom were killed as combatants, to be sure, but 32 of whom were not taking part in hostilities nor were counted as “targeted assassinations”).

From Paul Woodward’s “War in Context:”

Whether or not Hamas had a role in yesterday’s attack it is too soon to tell. And even if some or all of the gunmen turn out to belong to the movement does not necessarily reveal a great deal about the level of command and control or political motives for the attack.

Whatever the motives, the outcome itself has opened political opportunities to each constituency that now portrays itself as a victim.

Given that the attack took place in an area controlled by the IDF, President Abbas could have taken the opportunity to point out that the attack underlines the fact that there can ultimately be no security solution to the political conflict. Instead, Palestinian security services have been quick to launch what is being described as one of the largest arrest waves of all time in the West Bank.

At the funerals of the four Israelis killed, settler leaders took the opportunity to push for settlement expansion, call for vengeance (a call which has already been acted upon), deny the existence of the Palestinian people and made a thinly-veiled appeal for ethnic cleansing…

When President Obama tries to press Benjamin Netanyahu to extend the so-called settlement freeze, the Israeli prime minister will no doubt tell him solemnly that in light of recent events, his hands are well and truly tied.

They shoot and we build has become the settlers’ slogan — one that is almost certainly to Netanyahu’s liking.

Current Findings in Gratitude Theory

In honor of Thanksgiving, here’s a rundown on the latest findings in the science of gratitude:

Several years ago, Dr. Michael McCollough of the University of Miami and Dr. Robert Emmons of the University of California at Davis conducted a scientific study that charted the benefits of regular, mindful thankfulness. Their research concluded:

– Those who kept gratitude journals on a weekly basis exercised more regularly, reported fewer physical symptoms, felt better about their lives as a whole, and were more optimistic about the upcoming week compared to those who recorded hassles or neutral life events.

– Participants who kept gratitude lists were more likely to have made progress toward important personal goals (academic, interpersonal and health-based) over a two-month period compared to subjects in other experimental conditions.

– A daily gratitude intervention (self-guided exercises) with young adults resulted in higher reported levels of the positive states of alertness, enthusiasm, determination, attentiveness and energy.

– Participants in the daily gratitude condition were more likely to report having helped someone with a personal problem or having offered emotional support to another.

– In a sample of adults with neuromuscular disease, those who kept gratitude journals resulted in greater amounts of high energy positive moods, a greater sense of feeling connected to others, more optimistic ratings of one’s life, and better sleep duration and sleep quality.

– Children who practice grateful thinking have more positive attitudes toward school and their families.

Interestingly (but perhaps not surprisingly), the study also concluded that gratitude is not religiously dependent:

McCullough says these results also seem to show that gratitude works independently of faith. Though gratitude is a substantial part of most religions, he says the benefits extend to the general population, regardless of faith or lack thereof. In light of his research, McCullough suggests that anyone can increase their sense of well-being and create positive social effects just from counting their blessings. (The Osgood File).

So put that spiral notebook on your nightstand and give thanks.

Thanksgiving and the Farm Bill

farm_1116.jpgThis Thanksgiving season, I’ve been thinking more and more about the complicated ways in which our food reaches our tables. In particular, I’ve been paying increasing attention to the torturous course of the 2007 Farm Bill – a critical piece of legislation that has important implications for our nation and the world.

Like most Americans, my eyelids tend to droop when I hear words like “Farm Bill,” but I have slowly come to understand that it will have a profound and wide ranging impact upon us all. In the words of Time Magazine‘s Michael Grunwald, “If you eat, drink or pay taxes – or care about the economy, the environment or our global reputation – U.S. agricultural policy is a big deal.”

For its part, Jewish tradition teaches that the means by which we sustain ourselves is a mindful and sacred process. The Torah reminds us over and over laws that the land which produces its bounty (not to mention the bounty itself) is not a commodity that belongs to the farmer. God is the source of all sustenance and accordingly, the food we collect and consume must be understood to be a part of a greater, more transcendent good.

This past week it was reported that the Farm Bill stalled in the Senate for strictly political reasons. (What else is new?) This legislation is not likely to resurface for another year – in the meantime, anyone who eats food in this country would do well to educate themselves about the impact this bill will have on their lives.

So here’s a reading list for you this Thanksgiving. In addition to the fine, thorough Grunwald article linked above (“Why Our Farm Policy is Failing”), I recommend “Farm Bill 101,” from Food and Water Watch and this editorial by Michael Pollan, author of the GREAT book “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” and one of the most eloquent food advocates in our country.

Oh, and Happy Day to one and all…

Thanksgiving in the American Land

Here’s my recommendation for a Thankgiving anthem for 2006: “American Land,” by Bruce Springsteen.

It’s a contemporary American folk song Bruce recently composed for the new edition of “We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions.” Upon first hearing, it sounds like a garden-variety Irish-inflected immigrant song, extolling the joys of the American dream (“There’s treasures for the taking, for any hard working man/Who makes his home in the American land.”) But true to form, Bruce folds a deeper and more complex message into his vision of America, proving once again why he is among the most powerful – if misunderstood – songwriters of our time. Listen carefully and you’ll catch his inclusion of illegal immigrants and even (gasp!) Arabs among those who reach our shores, hoping for a better life and future.

Every Thanksgiving, I’m mindful that like most Americans, my ancestors didn’t come over on the Mayflower. My paternal grandfather, Yitzhak (later Irving) Rosen up and left his home town of Kamen-Kashirsk in the northwest Ukraine when he was a teenager, certain that a better life must certainly await him somewhere else. After wending his way through Europe (among other things, serving as a soldier in WW I) he ended up in the American Land supporting a wife and two sons by driving a candy truck in City Terrace, Los Angeles. His two sons grew up to be a doctor and a lawyer – every Jewish parent’s dream come true.

As we debate immigration policy in our country today, I can’t help but think of the myriad of immense challeges my own grandparents faced when they immigrated here not so long ago – and how this hard fought dream continues even now. In the words of the song: “They died to get here a hundred years ago, they’re dyin’ now.”

Anyhow, Happy Thanksgiving. And sing this one around the table this year:

“American Land” by Bruce Springsteen

What is this land of America, so many travel there
I’m going now while I’m still young, my darling meet me there
Wish me luck my lovely, I’ll send for you when I can
And we’ll make our home in the American land

Over there all the woman wear silk and satin to their knees
And children dear, the sweets, I hear, are growing on the trees
Gold comes rushing out the river straight into your hands
If you make your home in the American land

There’s diamonds in the sidewalks, there’s gutters lined in song
Dear I hear that beer flows through the faucets all night long
There’s treasure for the taking, for any hard working man
Who will make his home in the American land

I docked at Ellis Island in a city of light and spire
I wandered to the valley of red-hot steel and fire
We made the steel that built the cities with the sweat of our two hands
And I made my home in the American land

The McNicholas, the Posalski’s, the Smiths, Zerillis too
The Blacks, the Irish, the Italians, the Germans and the Jews
The Puerto Ricans, illegals, the Asians, Arabs miles from home
Come across the water with a fire down below

They died building the railroads, worked to bones and skin
They died in the fields and factories, names scattered in the wind
They died to get here a hundred years ago, they’re dyin’ now
The hands that built the country were all trying to keep down