The following is an email from my colleague at The Jewish Education Project about Thanksgiving.  It touches on some specifics to her position in the Early Childhood and Family Engagement department, but I loved the sentiment and the ideas she articulated so well, so I thought I would pass it on... 

Hello Colleagues,

I would like to take a minute a wish you all a very meaningful and relaxing holiday & long weekend; and to share a new perspective about Thanksgiving that I have come to see through G2E. 
Personally, I have never been that keen into what I was taught Thanksgiving is about- even as a child I don’t think I bought that everything happened so peacefully and magically between the Pilgrims and Native Americans.  As I got older, I became more and more frustrated with the way our country portrays the events and how I feel we “sell” that story to our children.  Now, I understand that it is a tough decision as we want our children to understand the meaning behind the holiday, and without a context that is a hard message to share.  Especially now that I have my own three year old, I am struggling between my moral integrity to share the real story of how we overtook this land versus the more age appropriate “version” we are told from an early age.  Since my son was born I have been apprehensive about how I was going to explain Thanksgiving.  This year, through G2E, I believe I have found the answer.   

 As I participated in the Westchester Professional Learning two weeks ago at Westchester Jewish Center, and engaged in the session led by Storahtelling, I realized that that there are many age-appropriate and developmentally appropriate ways to not only share out the meaning behind Thanksgiving, but to also connect it to our Jewish history, tradition, and values.  I realized that there are many truths and messages behind Thanksgiving that so clearly line up with our tradition of harvesting the land during Sukkot, and giving thanks for things we have in our lives through the daily prayer (often said in our Early Childhood Centers)- Modeh Ani .  It occurred to me that although we set aside one day of Thanks in America, in Judaism this is a very consistent theme in our daily prayers and activities.  I thought why not introduce the concept of giving thanks through the lens of what it means to be a good, decent person and how to do that in a Jewish way, as well.  So, I took out the prayer Modeh Ani and I showed it to my son.  I sang it and explained it in 3 year old terms, and connected it for him to Thanksgiving.  We have been talking about  what being thankful means for a little over a week now, and it wasn’t until I could integrate the Modeh Ani into my “mini-lesson plan” that I truly felt like I was passing on a substantive, meaningful message to my son about I hope he can live his daily life.  I plan to continue to reinforce this message throughout the year, because what I really want for my son is that he know that being thankful doesn’t happen once a year, but that to be a good, decent person in this world, we must be aware of being thankful all the time.  This isn’t to say that I want my son to be so consumed with this that he can’t understand what feeling thankful is, but rather to begin teaching him that having an aware mindset is an important part of being Jewish and being an American. 

I’d like to share the text that Storahtelling presented to us about the Declaration of Thanksgiving as a holiday by George Washington in 1789.  While reading this text, I saw many similarities between this and Jewish prayers and texts, and all of a sudden felt much more connected to Thanksgiving than I have in decades.  I plan on sharing this text at my Thanksgiving meal tomorrow and I am curious and excited to see what kind of conversation this sparks.  Personally, I finally feel a little more comfortable with celebrating Thanksgiving, but more importantly, I finally feel armed with enough information to be able to educate my son on the “the true meaning” behind Thanksgiving and to be able to connect that to our Jewish roots, values, and identity.  As a relatively new mom with a strong connection to justice and Judaism, this is something I’ve been searching for for a long time.  Because after all, I am a Jew, but I am also an American. 

I hope you each find your connection to this holiday, and that it is peaceful, relaxing, and festive. 

With many thanks,