Prior to moving to Israel, when I used to live in Ohio, my curious non-Jewish friends would ask me at this time of year whether I, an Orthodox Jewish rabbi, celebrate Thanksgiving?
The mere question reminds me that Jews and Christians still have much to learn about one another. The answer is so obvious once you understand what Thanksgiving is all about.
Every American Kindergartner knows the story of how the Pilgrims on the Mayflower landed at Plymouth Rock in 1620, and how they gave thanks to God for their survival — and successes. What most people don’t know, however, was that the pilgrims looked deeply to the Bible for inspiration.
Unlike any other group before them, the Pilgrims were fleeing from religious oppression in Europe. They looked to the Bible for inspiration and guidance and even studied Biblical Hebrew in order to read the Bible in its original language.
The Pilgrims saw themselves as the "chosen people" fleeing from the "brutal king" James the First, whom they referred to as "Pharaoh," thereby casting off their "yoke of bondage" and oppression. They referred their Mayflower voyage as passing through the "Red Sea" into the wilderness. When they arrived in their "promised land," they offered thanksgiving prayers to God, like the biblical Feast of Tabernacles. The Bible, of course, is full of verses about thanksgiving which highlight the important theme of gratitude to God.
No other group in history had ever felt that they were reenacting and fulfilling the experience of the ancient Israelites as did America’s first settlers, who even thought that the Native Americans might be from the 10 Lost Tribes of Israel. For centuries, European explorers had set sail for new lands without making reference to the Bible, seeing themselves as God’s chosen people, or searching for the promised land.
The Jewish people have always claimed to have a divine mission to promote the universal values of peace, freedom and hope, but unfortunately, for the last 2,000 years, no one was listening. From its inception, however, America was different. Despite pockets of anti-Semitism, there has always been a distinct appreciation for the Jewish people in the United States. The "American Dream" was built upon a Biblical foundation, and we refer regularly to America’s "Judeo-Christian values," which is one of the principle reasons for America’s strong support for the Jewish State.
Even now that my family lives in Israel, we celebrate Thanksgiving because it is the day that celebrates a proud fact, that the lessons from the Hebrew Bible have been ingrained into the American soul from its very inception.
As a Jew, I am thankful that when America was discovered, America discovered the Bible.
Rabbi Weisz is the director of Israel365, which connects 2 million people to Israel every month. He founded the I365 newsletter, is publisher of Breaking Israel News, and editor of The Israel Bible. He lives with his family in Ramat Beit Shemesh. To read more of his reports, Click Here Now.
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