Thanksgiving 5777

Thanksgiving 2016


We give thanks for the opportunity to retell the narrative of this American holyday. It is argued that Columbus went to his grave convinced that he had discovered a new world on the shores of Asia. Columbus thought he had landed near India. This is the reason we named the native inhabitants “Indians.”

If you would like to relive history I recommend a Thanksgiving Day visit to Plymouth Plantation in Massachusetts. The day I visited I worked side by side with the pilgrims, helped split wood, and observed the daily life of our Puritan ancestors, and shared in the traditional feast. At the end of the day my wife and I entered the tent of the original
Native inhabitants we call “Indians” and listened to their story. They observed Thanksgiving as a day of mourning.

To rethink the narrative or Haggaddah of Thanksgiving I suggest beginning with a book by Charles C. Mann, 1491-New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus, Vintage, New York, 2005. Chapter Two is must reading to understand the story from the viewpoint of the Wampanoag “Indians”.

Next we turn to the original Seder I wrote a number of years ago. Kindly e mail me if you need a copy. Similar to the many editions of the Passover Seder I have a dream of many editions of the Thanksgiving Seder. The story you learned in school, Mann argues, is not wrong, but it is misleading. Obviously the story is told differently from the Puritans
versus the natives point of view. In a note the historian who wrote 1491 reminds us that the Puritans did not like to be called “Puritans.” They thought of themselves as separatists, saints, and “Pilgrims”.

They had a point. To this day the term “Puritan” has negative connotations, as Webster defines, as “a person as extremely or excessively strict in matters of morals and religion. They preferred to think of themselves as saints in search of the Promised Land. The Bible being their map in hand, these saints came marching in with a sense of manifest destiny and holy war. Mann explains that the natives were willing to massacre whole villages of other natives, but not the settlements of the pilgrims. In other words, native animosity was more inter-tribal than against the new settlers. In the end, the Pilgrims triumphed not because of ideology, or technology, but because so many natives died in the epidemics brought by the Europeans in 1616 and 1632.

Temple Shabbat Shalom is dedicated to creating a platform for the many editions of the Thanksgiving Seder. The resources above are just a beginning. I would love to post your edition, songs, recipes etc. over the next few years.