How can Jews bring Judaism into celebrating Thanksgiving?
Thanksgiving is a wonderful holiday because it focuses us on the things in life we have to be thankful for. Take a moment to think of those things for yourself. If you are like me, you may think of family, friends, a safe house to live in, and having plenty of food to eat. Many families have a Thanksgiving tradition of going around the table and having each person say something that they are thankful for before eating the festive meal. I find this tradition moving each year.
It is not a stretch to bring Judaism in to your Thanksgiving celebration since being grateful for what you have and saying thanks is a core value in the Jewish tradition. The prayer “Modeh ani Lifanecha” a prayer recited by religious Jews every morning upon waking up thanks God for the ability to wake up. Another prayer thanks God for allowing our bodies to function, and another thanks God for restoring our souls to us each morning. In fact, almost every blessing we utter is in fact a way so saying thank you to God.
Lets look at the Motzei, the prayer for eating bread “ Baruch ata adonai, melech ha olam, hamotzei lechem nim ha’aretz.” Blessed are you Adonai our God, ruler of the world, for bringing forth bread from the earth. We bless God and thank God for giving us bread. Therefore an easy way to bring Jewish traditions to your Thanksgiving table is to add some traditional Jewish blessings. I would recommend saying the blessing over the bread above. You can also bless wine, “Baruch ata adonai , melach haolam, boreh pri hagafen” Blessed are you Adonai our God, ruler of the world, for creating the fruit of the vine.
I would also recommend reciting the Shehechianu prayer. Which is “Blessed are you Adonai our God, ruler of the world, for sustaining us, and keeping us, and bringing us to this time.” I can’t think of a better Jewish prayer to recite in the spirit of Thanksgiving. Thank you God for bring us here, for allowing us to celebrate with friends and family, and for putting food on the table.
If none of these traditional prayers feels quite right to you, then by all means make up your own prayer. Judaism values prayers of thanksgiving said from your heart as much as the prayers we find in the prayer book.
I pray that you have a meaningful Thanksgiving!