Fed up after watching yet another how-to-make-the-perfect-stuffing demo, I posted as my Facebook status, “Thanksgiving. The holiday where the rest of Americans learn what it’s like to make Shabbat every week.”
I must have struck a chord with my cadre of Facebook friends. A chorus of “likes” rapidly appeared on my post. My fellow Shabbat-celebrating moms and I enjoyed a virtual chuckle at all the Thanksgiving fuss, when we know that almost every week, we plan intricate menus, invite hordes of guests, and fuss over every detail from the place settings to the flowers. And we often do it twice(!), investing that level of preparation into TWO meals on the same weekend instead of just one since we have Friday night dinner as well as Saturday lunch to worry about. And somehow we manage this, without every single talk show host and magazine article giving us step-by-step how-to’s and hand-holding along the way. So forgive us if we can’t help but feel that all the stress about cooking the perfect turducken or green bean casserole is a little overblown.
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My Facebook status did get me thinking about the connection between Thanksgiving and Shabbat. In fact, I have found the Thanksgiving analogy very helpful when trying to introduce Shabbat to those who are new to the concept. For instance, a few years back, when our local grocery store installed a kosher deli and bakery, I reassured the supermarket big-wigs at the grand opening that the kosher department was destined to be a financial success. I explained, “You see, it’s like my friends and I shop and cook for Thanksgiving dinner every week. Twice.” While they peered at me skeptically at the time, I have no doubt the store’s profits in the years since have proved me right.
But is there more to the Shabbat-Thanksgiving connection than copious amounts of food and laborious preparations? Digging a little deeper, while Thanksgiving provides Americans with a chance to bond each November, Shabbat provides us with a weekly opportunity for quality time. An observant Shabbat dinner is the ultimate portal to connectedness and has the distinct advantage of focus – no football game on in the background, no teens texting under the table and no early-black-Friday sales at Best Buy to distract us from connecting.
Our family’s Shabbat table feels a lot like a Thanksgiving feast each week, and you will find a mix of faces there – our children bursting with stories about the week’s Torah portion or about what happened at school; the comfortable faces of close friends who feel like family; the new faces of people who recently arrived in our community; the fresh faces of college students seeking refuge from cafeteria food, or the weary faces of business travelers looking for a little taste of home. At the Shabbat table, we have a chance to talk, sing and get to know each other better, savoring the sweetness (and often the sweets) that Shabbat brings. The warmth and connection help me to enjoy instead of resent all the work that it takes to make Shabbat.
Yet perhaps the most important nexus between Thanksgiving and Shabbat is the concept of thankfulness. Shabbat is a gift to a harried mom. For me, keeping Shabbat is a time and a means to give thanks for the blessings in my life, and the escape from the madness of the week’s errands, carpools and homework with five kids is the perfect opportunity for reflection and gratitude. Shabbat is the ultimate “Thank You” card, and we get to sign it every week.
Now, please don’t get me wrong; I am not the Grinch Who Stole Thanksgiving. I adore Thanksgiving dinner and feel blessed to be going to my Bubbe’s for some turkey, stuffing and even a little potato kugel to give it a Jewish twist. As I write this, my pumpkin, apple and chocolate chip pies are cooling on the kitchen counter and I will happily brave traffic to visit with the family a couple of hours away. But I am grateful that I don’t have to wait a whole year for that Thanksgiving feeling and that each week, we can stuff ourselves on Shabbat’s beauty, and never get too full.