I have the nicest, warmest memories of Thanksgiving when I was a little boy. For as long as she lived, my grandmother made Thanksgiving dinner in her apartment in Bensonhurst and our family gathered there each year in the early afternoon. Since my grandmother kept the temperature in her apartment hot enough to melt steel, my dad would always take me out to walk along
There was usually some ice cream involved too, as I recall. When we'd come back to my grandmother's apartment, dinner would be ready. We'd make ourselves as comfortable as possible, whereupon my grandmother, a widow of many, many years, would speak for a few minutes about what she was feeling thankful about. It didn't last long. She'd say whatever it was she had to say, then we'd eat. I don't recall thinking about it much at the time. But as I've grown older, I find that I wish I could remember in more detail what she said before all those Thanksgiving dinners. And I also find myself wondering if she felt as I feel now, if the process of growing older led her to the same conclusions I myself have come to over these many years of thinking about what precisely it is that I am the most thankful for. (We're not in the same boat just quite yet—when I was ten years old, my grandmother was almost thirty years older than I am now. But still...I wonder if we would be on the same wave length if she were still alive, still making dinner for us all.)
I suppose I'm most grateful of all for my family. I have no "first family"—no parents or grandparents, no aunts or uncles, no siblings—but I somehow ended up part of a great family nonetheless. Somehow, I found my bescherte. And between that incredible stroke of good fortune and the family with which God has blessed us, I feel fortunate beyond the telling of it. My children may make me slightly crazy now and then, but I try never to lose sight of just how grateful I must be for my wonderful family. And my family is not only made up of Joan and our children, but also of my parents-in-law and brothers-in-law, and their families, and many others in
I'm also grateful for my friends. We live in an amazing age in many ways, but I think the single most amazing one of all those amazing ways is the way technology has come to serve the cause of interpersonal relationships and friendships. Aside from all the friends Joan and I have made at Shelter Rock, I find it possible to be in regular, satisfying contact with colleagues and friends all over the world—in London and Paris, and in Berlin, in Jerusalem and Beersheva, in Los Angeles and Boston, Pittsburgh and Tampa, just to name the locations that appear the most often in my in-box. We live in the day of free long distance, of cell phones, of e-mail, of instant messaging. There are many times when it's all a bit too much—like when I come to the office and it takes several hours to sift through the various messages, letters, e-letters and voice mails that have accumulated in the course of a single night! But there is way more good here than bad—and I feel deeply thankful for the sense of interconnectedness that I have with so many interesting, supportive people, all of them friends, in so many places.
And I'm also grateful, beyond the telling of it, for my work. When young people ask me how to decide what profession to pursue, I usually think to myself that it's an excellent question...and that I wish I had some sort of cogent answer. I think back to my own decision to pursue a life in the rabbinate—which I would make again, in a heartbeat, by the way—and I'm at a bit of a loss. I had no real idea what I was getting into, no clear conception of what it actually meant to serve a community as its rabbi. I was possessed of a vague set of hopes, even a few dreams (and most of what I thought turned out to be all wrong, some of it absurdly so), but it still worked out exactly right for me. I love what I do! And I feel privileged and indescribably fortunate to serve my community as its rabbi. As I walk to the synagogue each morning, I feel very thankful, and very grateful, to live where I do, to serve whom I serve, and to teach as many people as I teach in the course of a year. So there's that too.
There are many other things on my list. I love to write, and I have somehow invented a life that features writing—not just these postings (which start out as e-letters sent out to a list of 300 or so subscribers), but also my bulletin articles, and more scholarly essays, and books of fiction and non-fiction, including (of course) Siddur Tzur Yisrael and my edition of the Psalms, and also several other books due out in the next few years—and for that too I feel grateful and fortunate.
My grandmother would never (ever!) approve of anyone inviting the evil eye by referring to his own good health, even casually, so I won't pursue that line of thinking...but I'm grateful for it all, and I look forward to Thanksgiving every year so I can have the opportunity to review my list, to edit it slightly, to move some things up or down the ladder...but, basically, to feel beholden to God for all the good in my life, and to allow myself to express my gratitude formally and openly, rather than just through the medium of introspective prayer.
I wish you all a very happy Thanksgiving. We are all so lucky to live in this country (that's also on my list) and to live in an age of so many different kinds of miracles. May God bless you all with all the best things this year and every year, and may you all be filled with a deep sense of thankfulness for all of it! (November 21, 2007)