America's Table: A Thanksgiving Haggadah

Prayers, activities, and more to share at the Thanksgiving table.

 
The American Jewish Committee published this short Haggadah in 2001. The reader combines themes of mourning and giving thanks, to commemorate the first Thanksgiving after September 11, but the readings are still appropriate. A haggadah, which literally means "telling," is traditionally read during the Passover seder.

This Thanksgiving is different.
Our joy is mixed with profound sorrow because there are more than 5,000 empty places at America's table. We are grieved. We are angry. We are united. As family. As Jews. As Americans. We want to understand. We struggle to respond. While words may elude us, rituals comfort us.

Spread over us the shelter of Your peace... Remove the adversary from before us and from behind us, and in the shadow of Your wings shelter us.


Strange is our situation here upon earth. Each of us comes for a short visit, not knowing why, yet sometimes seeming to divine a purpose. From the standpoint of daily life, however, there is one thing we do know: that we are here for the sake of each other, above all, for those upon whose smile and well-being our own happiness depends, and also for the countless unknown souls with whose fate we are connected by a bond of sympathy.


Alas!
Lonely sits the city
Once great with people!
She that was great among nations
Is become like a widow.
...But this I do call to mind,
Therefore I have hope:
The kindness of God has not ended,
God's mercies are not spent.
They are renewed every morning...



God cannot have sent us this terror. But we can see that God has given us a world that is a very narrow, precious bridge--so narrow, so precarious, that one would logically. fear falling into the abyss and simply choose not to cross the bridge. But we must not fear to cross. We must believe that this bridge of life becomes ever wider and safer when thousands of us gather, across all the lines and definitions that divide us, to become the agents of God's goodness.

Let us light one candle in memory of the innocents and the heroes of September 11th, and in empathy with the families and friends who ache for them.



And let us light a second candle to symbolize hope. Hope for the safety of America and Israel, of Jews everywhere, indeed, of the entire world. In the warmth of these two flames, let us pray for peace.



Thanksgiving links American and Jewish values that enrich our lives. This holiday commemorates the Pilgrims' first New World harvest. Its inspiration comes from the Hebrew Bible and the festival of Sukkot.



Echoes of Sukkot resonate this year. Simple, temporary huts, open to the sky, recall the shelters that protected desert wanderers. They remind us how fragile is even the sturdiest building, indeed, life itself.



Protected under God's canopy, the sukkat shalom, and inspired by acts of courage and glimpses of our common humanity, we are prepared to face the future's uncertainty with renewed confidence.



The story of Jews fleeing persecution and seeking religious freedom is an American story. No country in history has so enabled us to flourish, create, and contribute to the national life as citizens and as Jews.



This autumn of memorials and obituaries has sharpened our appreciation for the blessings of our lives and connected us to the lives of others:



... to the aspiring actress whose passions were caring for animals and teaching children through theater;


... to the 28-year-old rookie firefighter who was covering for someone else at his ladder company;


... to the stock trader whose last moments on earth were spent calling home to say, "I love you and tell the kids I love them, too."



These are but a few of the people we honor now as we pause in silence.



Night fell suddenly on that warm September morning, obliterating the azure blue sky in turbulent clouds of dust and ash.



Our landscape dimmed. Sturdy columns of steel, which seemed as solid and invincible as America itself, were destroyed. Stunned, we mourn the loss of people and place.



New York, Washington, Pennsylvania. Not here. Not in America! This is the promised land of our pilgrim fathers and mothers. Terror, long endured in Jerusalem, has invaded our shores. All the landmarks of our lives seemed to collapse, and in this flattened terrain we felt again like wanderers.

Continued on page 2: »

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