Growing up in New York City and going to public school there, the children of immigrant families and their parents began to enthusiastically celebrate the American holidays they often discussed in school. We all heard about the Fourth of July celebrating the Independence of the United States and Lincoln’s and Washington’s birthdays.
It was great getting a day off from school and we loved shooting off fireworks on the Fourth of July. We learned a lot about the history of the United States. And of course depending on whether you were Jewish or Christian almost everyone celebrated Christmas even including Jewish kids who loved the story of Santa Claus and the presents he was supposed to deliver. New Years was the holiday for big parties and the often forbidden drinking of alcoholic beverages.
But the really American holiday of Thanksgiving was loved by almost everyone including Americans whose families came here 300 years ago or recent immigrants whose families had just landed from Russia, Poland, Ireland or Italy or many other countries. What is not to love about Thanksgiving? It is just a big turkey dinner where families and friends get together to eat, talk and enjoy being together. We celebrated our lives, our families and friends and our wonderful United States of America which created this holiday.
In my own Jewish family whose parents came from Russia and Romania in the Austrian Empire, Thanksgiving was the first American holiday they all celebrated soon after they landed in New York City. They loved everything about Thanksgiving including the food, especially a kosher Turkey, pumpkin pie and squash. It was the first time, the family and friends could get together after they left Russia.
Thanksgiving was considered by these immigrants as being a real Jewish holiday. The children of the immigrants learned all about the Native American origins of Thanksgiving which made them and their parents feel more strongly attached to this great holiday they discovered in their new country. And of course Thanksgiving was part of the Old Testament of the Hebrew Bible which the Jewish immigrants observed.
President Abraham Lincoln issued one of the first proclamations establishing Thanksgiving Day as a National Holiday. When the Jewish immigrants saw Lincoln’s picture when he had a full beard and they heard he helped free the Black slaves in the Southern Confederacy, they thought of him as a Jewish hero like Moses. They knew they made the right decision when they left the tyranny of Czarist Russia to settle in the free United States.