"Giving thanks" has always been an important part of Judaism, from reciting blessings after meals to the pilgrimage festival of Sukkot. Given the importance the Jewish religion places on thanks, do Jewish people celebrate the American harvest holiday, Thanksgiving?
The answer is revealed when you look at the chronological history of the holiday:
- The first Thanksgiving - attended by 90 native Americans and 50 English Pilgrim settlers in 1621- closely mirrored ancient harvest feasts, such as the Jewish holiday of Sukkot.
- More than 200 years later, in 1863, President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed Thanksgiving as a national holiday.
- In 1868, in response to a proclamation to celebrate Thanksgiving issued by Pennsylvania Governor John W. Geary that was viewed as "apparently intended to exclude Israelites" from the celebration, Philadelphia’s rabbis condemned the encroachment on the freedom of religion and expressed the sentiment that national holidays should be devoid of religious content.
- As years have passed, most American Jews have absorbed the holiday into their own traditions. Unlike some other celebrations like Halloween, Jewish people participate in Thanksgiving because the holiday today is secular and is about giving thanks, without religious origins and undertones.
At the JCC of Northern Virginia, we wish our entire community a Happy Thanksgiving! We also would like to take this time to express our gratitude to all of our members, supporters, and staff.
P.S. A few days after celebrating Thanksgiving with family and friends, when the tryptophan wears off, we hope to see you in the fitness room or at a class working off the big feast!