Thanksgivukkah. We’ve been hearing a lot about it lately. From yam latkes to cranberry filled sufganiot, this historic confluence of holidays has created a lot of playful buzz these last few weeks. Now I like a good menurkey as much as the next guy, but I believe there’s a poignant message behind this mash up of festivities which we Jews should be considering too.
Chanukah commemorates a time when the Jewish people overcame a regime that prohibited studying Torah and observing Jewish law. Jewish history is, of course, replete with similar bans and persecutions for the crime of being an observant Jew. From the Greeks to the Romans to the Crusades, from the Spanish Inquisition, to the Cossak Massacres and Soviet Russia. There haven’t been many countries in our long, tear-soaked history that afforded us the luxury to live our lives as practicing Jews, without fear of interference.
Thanksgiving, on the other hand, offers us the chance to acknowledge that this great country of ours is such a rare, treasured safe haven. It commemorates a celebration held by a people who fled their homeland seeking religious freedom–a freedom that was enshrined in our Bill of Rights upon America’s establishment, some 150 years later.
Yet despite the historic freedoms in America today, we are plagued by an epidemic just as dangerous as anti-Semitism – Jewish apathy. According to the recent Pew Study on American Jewry, 81% of Jews don’t believe that Torah is an essential part of their Judaism. In fact, a larger percentage of Jews in the U.S. today believe that having a good sense of humor is more essential to being Jewish than observing Jewish law. We are finally free – after all this time(!) – to study and practice Judaism to our heart’s content, but most of us couldn’t care less.
Unfortunately, the majority of American Jews don’t just suffer from Jewish apathy, but also from Jewish ignorance. It’s not that they partook of Torah learning and rejected it. It’s not that they lived a life of mitzvos, but decided it wasn’t for them. They have simply discarded their heritage sight unseen.
And that is why this Thanksgivikkuh I have one simple wish: that American Jewry take advantage of the freedoms which we have been granted and attempt to understand what about our Torah is so profound that our ancestors were willing to sacrifice everything in order to maintain it and pass it on to us.