Welcoming the stranger a Jewish – and Thanksgiving – ritual

Sara Klein Wagner

It is a time for turkey, pumpkin pie, football and parades, not to mention gathering with family and friends. Thanksgiving has become part of what some refer to as the American civil religion.
This term refers to a sociological theory that nonsectarian traditions exist in the United States with their own symbols and values. Since our Jewish holidays always include rituals, it seems appropriate that Thanksgiving should include the ritual or practice of giving thanks.
There are many ways to give thanks: with words, deeds, actions and prayer.
Imagine choosing two to three topics to be grateful for, making each Thanksgiving a unique moment in time for the nation and the American Jewish community.
This year, I️ would choose honoring our immigrant roots by welcoming the stranger in our midst. Our tradition implores us to “not wrong a stranger, neither shall you oppress them; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”
Our grandparents and great-grandparents were once the newcomers in America. They passed their experiences down to their children, resulting in rich family stories and traditions.
Apart from the family unit, novelists, historians and memoirists have written walls of books about the Jewish immigrant experience.
As Jews, we have been enriched by the immigrant experience, but it wasn’t always easy, and it still isn’t.
Since last Thanksgiving we have witnessed an increase of aggressive, vile rhetoric and actions between different groups.
I am thankful that our Jewish community offers a safe place for civil discourse and dialogue. The Jewish Community Relations Council has modeled this practice by coalition building work and its support for the AlSaid Musafa family – refugees from Syria.
I am also thankful for everyone at The J, where we foster an open and welcoming home for the entire community.
In the days of the first and second temples, farmers would bring bikkurim, or first fruits, as an offering to the high priests. The giving of the first fruits was the mitzvah of action.
Likewise, we are blessed in our community today to have so many individuals and families who also share from their most precious harvest and taking action. Every Federation annual campaign donor and volunteer helps to change and improve lives in Louisville and beyond.
Judaism, like Thanksgiving, is filled with opportunities to say thank you. When we wake up in the morning, when we eat, when we travel or even when we watch football or the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day with our loved ones, we feel fortunate to be Americans and to have a vibrant Jewish community.
Start a new tradition or share your ritual for Thanksgiving with others.

(Sara Klein Wagner is president and CEO of the Jewish Community of Louisville.)

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