FIRST FEAST SERVES AS INSPIRATION.
I was at that first Thanksgiving, and am a personal witness to its great promise of hope, peace and cooperation.
While obviously I was not physically there, as an American, it is part of my personal historical experience. When I write ``personal experience,'' I mean it in the same way that as a Jew I am told that I, and not simply my ancestors, received the law at Sinai and that I was on the Exodus. These transcendent events are not hand-me-downs or simple traditions, but experiences that define us and are a part of our personal stories.
As Americans, we all need to see Thanksgiving as personal, as a moment that was, and still is, rich with hope. We need to find and be inspired by what the first Thanksgiving promised.
Thanksgiving promised that two peoples, with different religions and different ways of worshipping, could find the means of supporting each other and celebrating the bounties of this shared earth together. Their understanding of ``bounty'' was far different from ours. Many of the Pilgrims who sought freedom and left everything, like the Hebrews on the Exodus, never got to truly live in the Promised Land.
Cold. Hunger. Disease. Over a third died that first year. With the help of the Indians, the survivors learned a lot about how to live in the non-Eden of Massachusetts. When they reaped their first successful harvest and had enough, they celebrated. To them bounty was not extravagance; it was simply having enough.
The Thanksgiving history I learned as a child was a simple story. It was the truth, but not the whole truth. The romantic story of two peoples working and celebrating together is true. But later I learned how the peace was broken and how people who shared that moment turned on each other, and how they and their children and their children's children broke the peace, severed the bonds of friendship, lost their sense of tolerance and learned, all too easily, to hate and kill.
This too is true. Peace was made and peace was lost. People, Pilgrims looking for religious freedom and escape from persecution, became immune to the irony of not being able to sustain an offer of tolerance to others.
This may indeed be one of the most important lessons and challenges of Thanksgiving. How do we remember to practice what we preach, to give to others what we want for ourselves and our families? How can we build a more goodly nation with all our diverse parts, a nation that is made up of pilgrims from every continent, every race, every religion and ethnicity? How can we travel in time and go back to that first iconic Thanksgiving, and this time get it right, this time keep its promise?
In many ways it was a simpler world we faced back at Plymouth. There were the Pilgrims and they were of one faith and ethnicity. There were the Indians of a vastly different faith and ethnicity. ``We'' only had to forge a modus vivendi between two groups. Today, our world and our challenge are so much more complex. We are involved in a great social experiment to see whether we can - to jump a century or so to the American Revolution - fulfill the pledge of e pluribus unum, to make one nation out of many.
Our American genius is in taking, borrowing, adapting and adopting customs, cultures and cuisines as our own. Nothing is as American as chop suey or Thai pizza. Our largest selling condiment is not ketchup but salsa. Bagels are now as American as apple pie.
Our music, too, from jazz to rock to rap, is a Creole gumbo of classical European, African and Eastern European klezmer. And there is more than a trace of the Middle East and North Africa in salsa music.
We learn. We adapt. We take in peoples and customs and make them our own. This started at our first Thanksgiving, that important moment and model rich with so much promise.
Yes, the promise was broken, the vision not maintained, the lessons imperfectly learned and lived. But it is not too late to fulfill the great and inspirational legacies we have received from our personal and national histories.
We may yet live to keep the promise made so long ago when two peoples of two cultures and two religions came together in peace.
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|Publication:||Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)|
|Date:||Nov 24, 2005|
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