By Rabbi Rick Jacobs
Thanksgiving used to be a day unto itself; now we have a whole Thanksgiving season! Americans’ shopping habits brought us catchily-named, add-on “holidays” like Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, and Cyber Monday. In the last couple of years, we’ve thankfully (no pun intended) added a new day to the mix: #GivingTuesday.
As we gather for the Thanksgiving feast with family and friends, some of us find it difficult to be as thankful as we ought to be. We may be troubled that the prosperity we enjoy has passed over the homes of those who suffer from hunger. Feelings of gratitude are complicated for those for whom having too little is not a personal concern; for them it is a matter of either having too much or way, way too much.
To recapture the true meaning of Thanksgiving, which the Pilgrims fashioned after the Jewish holiday of Sukkot, we might wish to borrow from another ancient Jewish harvest festival, Pesach, by incorporating elements of the seder into our holiday feast. Combining food and narrative can awaken in us the deeper meaning and purpose of our lives. At the core of that narrative are the words, “Our ancestor was a wandering Aramean,” which remind us of humbler times.
The festive meal and colorful parade may delight us, but the essence of Thanksgiving is to show gratitude. A great way to put the thanks back in the holiday is #GivingTuesday, which takes place the first Tuesday after Thanksgiving. Established in 2011 by a consortium of philanthropists to push back against our consumer-driven culture, #GivingTuesday has since grown into a global initiative focusing Thanksgiving on philanthropy rather than consumerism.
This Tuesday, December 2, for the third year in a row, people all over the world will join together virtually to give to the charities of their choice, donating their money, time, and other assets. In doing so, participants help raise awareness about the causes that matter most to them as individuals – and about the importance of philanthropic giving as a whole.
This year on Thanksgiving, let us appreciate not only the gifts we have, but also the gifts we can give to help repair our broken world. Discuss the importance of giving and tzedakah at your Thanksgiving gathering. And, of course, please give generously, volunteer your time, or add your voice to an important cause.
Rabbi Rick Jacobs is president of the Union for Reform Judaism, the congregational arm of the Reform Jewish Movement in North America.