Thanksgiving is truly a national celebration


I recall very vividly an interfaith “Thanksgiving Day Service” conducted at Joliet Jewish Congregation during my first year as the rabbi. At the service were two Presbyterian ministers, the Catholic Bishop of the Joliet Diocese, myself as rabbi and a representative from the Muslim community. I also invited the local police department to participate with an honor guard at the opening of the program. It was important that all clergy wear their religious vestments, a means to impress all in attendance; though wearing different shrouds of different persuasions, we can still impart a message common to all. Thanks be to God that we are citizens and members of a great country guaranteeing freedom of expression and most importantly freedom of religion. I am content to report that the sanctuary of 500 was fully packed with additional attendance seated in the lobby in front of open doors to the service.
You may well ask, why so many in attendance? The only reasonable explanation, yes — perhaps curiosity, or perhaps a need of the general populace to cross not boundaries, but barriers, preventing one from truly knowing his/her neighbor without guilt or personal discrimination, yes, even to the point of not only respecting your neighbor but also to even like one another.
Another episode reflecting a similar experience and not “germane” to the topic was an invitation to sing the Schubert, “Ave Maria” at St. Raymond’s Catholic Cathedral. In the cathedral were close to a thousand, comprising mostly priests and nuns. Before I finished, I looked out upon all and said, “I know you are all thinking the same question, what’s a rabbi from the Jewish community doing here in a church singing the ‘Ave Maria?’” I answered succinctly, “As I look around, I see many people with different faces and different clothes, but underneath, we are all the same, just people; if I can do it, so can you.”
At the conclusion, almost in unison everyone stood up and applauded for almost 50 seconds.
As I mentioned in my prospectus, much of what I have learned has been experientially reinforced. All people have much in common. Simply, to give and receive simple kindness. “Thanksgiving” provides the opportunity to relax our defenses and do what Jesus often taught, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Hillel, a great Hebrew sage and a contemporary of Jesus, said similarly, “Do not do what is hateful to you unto others.” Given both axioms, it is safe, and we have all bases covered.
It may be interesting to mention that the first acknowledged “Thanksgiving” celebration took place in 1621, whereby the Plymouth colonists who came here precisely to escape religious intolerance, together with Wampanoag Native Americans, shared an autumn harvest feast, and yes, turkey was part of the menu, along with fruit and vegetables, clearly addressing “Thanksgiving” as a national event celebrated by all regardless of religious orientation.
I was troubled by an article suggesting that without a specific religious orientation, we have nothing to be thankful for. Obviously, this negates all the aforementioned and particularly the true meaning of “Thanksgiving.”
In the true spirit of “Thanksgiving,” I thank God for surviving as a member of the military, the Vietnam War, a near-fatal accident, the veterans hospital for treating and controlling my cancer. I am thankful that my grandparents together with their children, one of whom was my mother, escaped the pogroms of Poland and later realized that the remainder of that family were consumed by the Holocaust.
Scripture itself should help to support the essence of true fellowship.

Hebrews 13:1-2
Vs. 1 Let brotherly love continue.
Vs. 2 Be not forgetful to entertain strangers; for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.

Matthew 7:12
Therefore all things whatsoever ye would men should do to you, do ye even so to them; for this is the law and the prophets.

Leviticus 19:33-34
Vs. 33 And if a stranger sojourn with thee in your land, ye shall not vex him.
Vs. 34 But the stranger that dwelleth with you shall be unto you as one born among you, and thou shalt love him as thyself, for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.
Scriptures taken from the Scofield Study Bible
We are all living in troubled times. Political and religious leaders, teachers and people of all walks of life have a tremendous responsibility to bear. How to disseminate information accurately and with sensitivity which will bring people closer together. This is the greatest country, guaranteeing freedom to pursue one’s chosen craft. Freedom to disagree peacefully, to express one’s opinion without threat or discrimination. As a veteran, at no time during my service did I suffer any experience which questioned my religion or political persuasion. The military teaches what a true American is, the one standing next to you might be the one to pull you from a burning military vehicle or from a foxhole. There is a lot to be thankful for in this country; do we really have to wait an entire year to really be thankful?

Rabbi Josef Germaine is a professional lyric tenor who has been a concert recitalist, cantor, vocal coach and rabbi. He received his bachelor's in music and masters degree in Hebrew education. He lives in Sumter and is a member of Temple Sinai. Reach him at