One of my favorite pieces of Wilshire Boulevard Temple trivia is that we are older than Thanksgiving! President Abraham Lincoln declared Thanksgiving a national holiday in 1863, one year after the founding of our great congregation. But the truth is, thanksgiving has been part of our people’s lives for thousands of years.
On our way to school in the mornings, our drives are filled with music of In the Heights, Israeli pop, or each of my kids’ latest curated playlist. But when my kids were little, we often listened to the CD, Sunny Days by The Shirettes. One song in particular received a lot of play, a song called Toda. The song opens:
Todah is a very special word.
The nicest word I ever heard!
I say it when I wake up.
I say it every day.
I say it in the morning because it’s the Jewish way.
The word Todah, means “thank you."
Every morning at camp we start the day together as one big community. We gather at the flagpole and our first communal words are Modeh Ani, “I am thankful,” thanking God for this new day and the opportunity to live it to its fullest.
It is Jewish to say thank you, and if you think about it, as a communal people this makes perfect sense. Deceptively simple, these are two little words with big implications. As the one who says thank you, we are acknowledging we are part of something greater than ourselves, that we need to rely on others to make our way through this world, and we appreciate those in our life that make this possible.
As the one who receives the thank you, it lets us know that what we do in this world has meaning and purpose, that we are appreciated, and gives us strength to keep on doing for others rather than just for ourselves.
These simple words connect us to each other, to the ones we love and stranger alike. It shows others and ourselves that we are human and vulnerable and that we are not alone. And in relation to God, when we say thank you for restoring our souls in the morning, for the bread we eat, for the miracles that surround us each day, it humbles us in a way that says we are not totally in control and life is fragile.
When we say Shehechianu, thanking God for giving us life, sustaining us, and bringing us to special moments, we understand just how precious life really is. But words are not enough. Especially for us!
Yes we are the people of the book, but we are also the people of action, the ones who show up.
This coming Sunday is our Wilshire Boulevard Temple community’s The Big Give, our outreach to our Los Angeles neighbors in need. Though our in-person volunteer options are all full (which is fantastic!), we are still looking for people to sign up to help make winter kits, hygiene kits and children's activity kits, which you can actually do at home! For more information, you go can go to https://karshcenter.org/big-give/volunteer2022/. Please consider helping!
To truly show our gratitude for this precious life we live we need to act and there is no better time than right now. Gratitude is not a one day thing. Giving thanks is everyday all year long.
So as we sit around our tables with friends and family in the coming week, let us do it with the intention and understanding of actually giving thanks, knowing, as the song says, it’s the Jewish way!
You can hear the Shirettes and songs that topped the younger Eshel’s playlist here: