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Judaism 101: Thanksgiving

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As Thanksgiving approaches, we wanted to share with all of you a short drash, or reflection, on thinking about Thanksgiving from a Jewish perspective by Daniel Warshawsky, one of Springboard's Teen Engagement Specialists:  

Thanksgiving is the American holiday where we take a step back and expression our appreciation for our loved ones, our community and our good fortune. We travel near and far, visit with friends and family, and eat our fill. We spend a full day telling people what they mean to us and often demonstrate our thanks by giving back to our own communities. But, did you know that Judaism has the idea of expressing thanks built into every day?    

Here are some times when, through prayer, we have an opportunity to say 'thanks' every day:  

  1. When we open our eyes in the morning, we say "Modeh Ani Lefanecha..." And recognize that we are blessed that our nefesh (soul) has been restored to us after a night of sleep. Even though waking up every morning can be frustrating and difficult, we still can be thankful for the ability to get out of bed every day.  

  1. After waking up, there are 10 blessings (called Birkot Hashachar or The Morning Blessings) when we give thanks for the ability to wake up, be clothed, fed and more.  

  1. In the Amidah we praise in the first section, thank in the second section, and ask in the third section of this prayer. The lesson here is the order in which we give thanks. First we appreciate and then we ask, not the other way around.  

  1. Before we eat we can say the Hamotzi and acknowledge that it isn't a given that we have the ability to put food on our plates.  

  1. After we eat one could say Birkat HaMazon to be grateful for the ability to eat and for being fed and sustained. During this time, we think about the people involved in getting our food to our plates and those who made it for us.  

After thinking through the daily practice Judaism has created for us to be thankful, I found myself wondering how I make Thanksgiving meaningful when there already is a set routine of thanking god throughout the day, everyday?  

I decided that Thanksgiving can function as a reset button for our thankfulness. Sometimes when you do something too frequently, it becomes rote and loses its meaning.  Taking a full day to focus on the many things we are thankful for and to participate in activities that express our gratitude can recharge our "thanking" batteries. This Thanksgiving let's turn our focus away from the many ways Jewish prayer allows us to routinely express our thanks and challenge ourselves to create new, personalized prayers of thanks that allow us to be truly present as we express our appreciation for all that we have.