What prayer will you say at Thanksgiving dinner?

Today is Thanksgiving here in the States.  It is a time for family and friends to gather around a festive holiday meal.  That meal, traditionally of Turkey, cranberries and some kind of potatoes will have hundreds of ethnic variations in addition to Traditional foods so often pictured.  My Vietnamese manicurist told me they prepare wonderful Pho for Thanksgiving in her home.  My Italian neighbors  always have spaghetti and sauce or a lasagna with their meal.  Our Ecuadorian friends serve Pupusas with turkey instead of pork!

At each of these holiday tables words of gratitude and thanks are given for the abundance God has bestowed upon them. It doesn’t matter whether they are persons of means or not.  Whether they are professionals or working class folks, Thanksgiving brings out into our consciousness that opportunity to give thanks for life itself !

So I know at my family’s table we will each take a moment to reflect on what we are grateful for in our lives. But we will also thank God in our ethnic/religious language as we recite the Motzi prayer and bless our children just like we do at the Shabbat table.

Give thanks-for whatever it is you have.  And let me know what prayer you will say at your Thanksgiving dinner.

How do we feel God’s Presence?

Parshat Vayetze

Genesis 28:10–32:3

Jacob is on the run.  He is on the run from his brother Esau who is upset with him because he “stole” their father’s blessing.  At their mother’s urging, Jacob is to go to Haran to her brother’s home.  Jacob begins his journey with a dream.  The dream he has is as vivid as life itself.  He dreams of a ladder that connects heaven and earth and he encounters God!  Upon his awakening he knows he has had more than a dream –he has had a prophetic vision.  It changes him.  The feelings linger with him.  And he marks the very spot with a monument of stones calling the place Beth-El.  This spot does become important in subsequent generations as a holy place of connection between God and the Israelites. It becomes a worship site much later in Jewish history.  So Jacob is clearly seeing the future of this holy place in his dreams.

Although he began his trip in fear of his brother, his fear is transformed into awe before God.  Ironically, the Hebrew word for fear and awe are the same, trh.  Jacob says, “God was in the place and I did not know it!”  He is changed by his dreams and although he continues on his journey toward his family he believes God’s presence is with him.

And indeed, Jacob receives all kinds of protection on his sojourn in Haran. Not every moment is easy. He tries to marry his cousin Rachel and is deceived by his uncle Laban.  He marries both Leah and Rachel, sisters but has to work more than 14 years for his uncle!

But Jacob’s blessings continue through the birth of children and acquire additional wives and wealth.

“God was in this place but I knew it not!” exclaimed Jacob.  It is a moment of gratitude that continues throughout his sojourn and his return to Canaan.

As we Americans sit down to our Thanksgiving tables, united with family again as Jacob was in this week’s Torah portion, our challenge is to recognize and give thanks for the many ways God’s presence blesses our lives.  The Thanksgiving holiday asks us to reflect on and share aloud the gratitude we have for family, friends, work and life itself.  These are blessings the Jews gives thanks for each and every day.

So as you sit down together, be reminded of Jacob’s dream and his willingness to acknowledge God’s blessing and presence in his life.  And do the same.

Here is a prayer you might share:

As Jacob felt your Presence, O Holy Blessed One, help us around this Thanksgiving table to feel Your nearness.  Bless this home and all who gather at this table. Let us share in the abundance we know flows from You.  Grant us health and wellbeing and peace of mind and world.  O Holy Blessed One let us acknowledge Your Presence in our lives.  Help us make Your Presence manifest in the world by the actions we taken to perfect your creation.  Let us be able to say, “God was in this place and we knew it not.”     Amen.

ppy Thanksgiving

Gratitude Every Day

Thanksgiving Day is here. It brings fond memories of snuggling up with my Dad to watch the Macy’s parade.   I loved to see the balloons pass by; cartoon heroes in 3-D.  Today that isn’t such a big deal as 3-D movies are all the rage. But in the early 1960’s it was magic. Even in black and white.

It is great that we have a day as American’s to focus on gratitude.  But this is a Jewish concept that is not isolated into one holy day.  It is present every day for those of us who pray daily. Modim Anachnu Lach.  We thank you God-for all your gifts.  This modern adaptation of the Modim prayer by Cantor Jeff Klepper captures that prayer.

But the Jewish person is supposed to say 100 brachot, 100 blessings daily. Not because needs our prayers. Not because we pray to a God with a huge ego.  But because we see moments throughout our day when we must focus on gratitude.  We give thanks by praising God’s blessings bestowed on us.  We thank God for food. For our bodies working.  For simply being alive.  We thank God for the beauty of the world and creation.  We thank God for our loved ones.  There is a blessing for everything from seeing a rainbow, to an important government official, to doing an act of social justice.  There is a prayer of gratitude even for study.

Today we will all share around our Thanksgiving table what we are most grateful for.  You will take  a moment to reflect on the many gifts bestowed upon you. But don’t stop today.  Give thanks every day.  Make every day a Thanksgiving Day.  When we are reminded of the many riches we have-perhaps we won’t be in such a frenzy to fill our lives with things we don’t really need.

The Real Turkey

As America prepares for its Feast on Thanksgiving I am struck by the frenzy that is always a part of this week. The rush of cars to the airport to travel far and wide to reunite with friends and family.  The rush at the grocery store to pick up the goods for “The Meal”.   The rush at work to get done everything that needs to happen in a short week.  Oh my goodness the air is electric with hurried lives.

But the real frenzy should be political this week. The failure of the Super Committee to come up with anything at all. Should have all of us in frenzy and in the streets.  It shows how broken our system is.  How entrenched everyone is in their own rhetoric.  And how many diversions political candidates want to create so the attention is not on solving our country’s problems but trying to gain the media spotlight.  This should cause all of us great worry in these fragile times.   This process is the real turkey… and this is the real frenzy.

So many people are scared. So many people are still out of work.  So many people have had their homes foreclosed on.  So many people are on public assistance.  I fear greatly what these automatic cuts will mean.  And what the inattention of Congress to sane and civil discourse and planning will do to what’s left of our economy.

So this Thanksgiving day-amid all your rushing around. Send the Speaker of the House and the Senate Majority Leader your Turkey Gram.   Tell them its time.  Tell them to work together.  Tell them you aren’t going to take this any more.   They are the turkeys and they have created this panic in our nation and in the markets, and in our lives.

Time has come to put them aside and work for the good of our nation and all of the American people.

Do Your Thanksgiving With an Eye toward helping

I can’t believe it-Thanksgiving is just a few days a way. In a little over a week, Americans will be asked to gather with family and friends and eat their way to gratitude. This year in light of so many who have so few, take some real time to give back.  Food pantries are pushed to their limit. More than ever America is hungry-literally.  The unemployed and underemployed because of the economic havoc in this nation and around the globe really need the boost of help because many cannot afford basic food.

Sova, the Jewish Food Pantry run by Los Angeles’ Jewish Family Service is serving more people than ever. One of their locations is just a few doors from our synagogue, Kol Ami.  The lines grow each and every day of people needing assistance.  In speaking with our volunteers who go twice a month to help stock shelves and process the clients I know that Sova has seen a dramatic increase in the last couple of years of those who need assistance.

And this isn’t just here in Los Angeles. It is in every city.

So as you prepare you Thanksgiving Shopping lists.  Please shop and donate to your nearest food pantry.  The gaps grow between rich and poor.  Between the working and those who can’t find work.

Don’t wait to donate food. Do it now.

Family troubles for Joseph

Parshat Vayeshev

Genesis 37:1-40:23

As we Americans prepare for our Thanksgiving holiday on Thursday, family issues always come to the foreground. The Norman Rockwell paintings of happy families sitting around festive holiday tables come to mind.  And for some families that is what this holiday will be about.  Everyone will come together, laugh and enjoy one another’s company.


For others this is a most difficult holiday because family tensions that are put aside all year long by distance and miles must be confronted. The giving thanks for many people happen when they get back on the plane to go home.


This year we read parshat Vayeshev during Thanksgiving week. It is a story of great and difficult family tensions. This week’s portion focuses on Joseph and his brothers.  Joseph is the favorite son of the favorite wife of Jacob.  His father dotes on him in his grief because Joseph’s mother, Rachel has recently died in childbirth.  “Now Israel loved Joseph best of all his sons, for he was the child of his old age; and he had made him an ornamented tunic “(Gen 37:3).  Jacob clearly plays favorites.  He has eleven other sons by four wives-Rachel, Leah, Billhah and Zilpah.   But Joseph at seventeen years of age is given greater privilege and gifts by their father.  Our torah tells us that the other sons hated their brother because of this.  They resented him and they “could not speak a friendly word to him” (Gen. 37:4).  Imagine sitting down at that holiday table!


Sibling rivalry and envy are a bad formula for peaceful and harmonious family ties.


And all of us who have siblings experience it at some moment in our relationships with our brothers and sisters.  It is part of the growing process.  But in Joseph’s case it is added to by their father and by Joseph himself.  According to the rabbis Joseph took it upon himself to lord it over his older brothers as only a teenager can! And our Torah portion also tells us that Joseph had visions and dreams where his sheaf of wheat stood tall but the brothers’ sheaves bowed to his. And then a second dream where the sun, moon and stars bowed low to Joseph.  Joseph had to tell them.  He had to rub their faces in what would become prophecy.  These of course just added fuel to an already growing flame of hatred and jealousy of his brothers.


Joseph hasn’t yet learned the skill of keeping his mouth shut.  He might feel superior to his brothers and as the Torah unfolds Joseph will rise to unparalleled heights in his life over his brothers but he isn’t circumspect or respectful.  At seventeen, who among us possessed those traits?


Joseph’s brothers take care of their problem by throwing him in the cistern and selling him off as a slave.  They take care of a younger, bratty brother that wants to challenge the status quo and the balance of power.  They rid themselves of Joseph.


So as you sit down to your Thanksgiving table with family gathered from near and far, remember the story of Joseph. Try to watch your words and be respectful with your siblings and family members.  Don’t fall into the old traps of sibling rivalries and let old wounds get activated.  Breathe deeply. Stay focused on the present and practice equanimity.

You might not get thrown into a pit by your siblings. But all of us can fall into traps, unintended traps of family tensions and squabbling. Instead this Thanksgiving reach down into your heart and embrace your family and friends and truly give thanks for the role they have played in your life.

It’s not even Thanksgiving yet

Christmas is already here.

It started before Halloween this year. I went into the pharmacy before Halloween and there along side the bags of candy were the Christmas decorations. Now in these few days before Thanksgiving, Christmas is already here with carols playing on loudspeakers in every store.  I find it amazing that my minister friends are unhappy about the holy season’s early arrival.

Advent hasn’t even started!

But especially when the economy is still struggling, retailers are counting on Christmas spending to bail them out of  a lack luster sales year.  So why not start the season’s buying frenzy early goes the logic.

For me I am always torn.  As a Jew in America I expect to be surrounded by Christmas cheer but on the other hand I wish I wasn’t bombarded.  I remember my father worked so hard during the Christmas season in his jewelry store. Extra hours that the store was open took a toll on him and on our family time. During the rest of the year on Friday nights, he would meet us at synagogue for services going directly from the store. But during Christmas time he worked late each night and especially on Friday nights and all day Saturday. I basically didn’t see him from Thanksgiving until miraculously on Christmas morning he was home.  A Jewish Christmas present!

I don’t begrudge my non-Jewish friends their holy celebration at all. I don’t even really begrudge the retailers their need to sell their wares as gifts. After all I have been known to buy a few Chanukah presents as well as Christmas gifts for those who observe!  But I wish there was a better way than to bombard me with the refrains of “Silent Night” for two and half months.

I do like music. I even like to sing “Winter Wonderland” now and again. But I would like to limit it to just a shorter window of time.   Oh yes, the weather outside is frightful…. but having to listen to “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” is just as annoying!

So this week of Thanksgiving I will stay away from the stores. No Black Friday for me.  And I will hold off as long as humanly possible from the rush of the holiday present frenzy.  Maybe this is a year to make donations instead.