Thanksgiving In Perspective – The Observer November 2023

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It’s the Thankful Season. 

It’s on coffee mugs, t-shirts, wall plaques – Thankful & Grateful. Blessed. Giving Thanks. We have seen all the slogans everywhere. The fall art is out before the summer ends. Being thankful can seem more of an expectation than an attitude. 

“I’m supposed to be thankful because it’s Thanksgiving.” 

But are we? Do we stop and think of what we are thankful for, who are thankful to be with and the reasons why we should give thanks?  

To transition, consider the month of October in Israel and Palestine. There’s so many things I want to say, so many things I want to write. This isn’t a political column, so let’s keep it at this: Being thankful turns our eyes on others. When I give thanks, I view the needs of others as my own. I’m so thankful for this life, that I can’t turn away from the lives of others in need. 

Thanksgiving turns our hearts outward instead of inward. It’s this inside-out kind of thing happening. Because when we give thanks, we are saying we don’t deserve this life – this goodness, this grace – but it’s been freely given, so I’m thankful. 

The pictures of mothers and children ripped from their homes are haunting. The pictures of the bombings, terrifying. The pictures of the people behind the terrorist madness, beyond frightening. The pictures of the scarred land are devastating. The young soldiers, including our own, being sent to lands far away is gut wrenching. 

I’m thankful for our safety here. We gather with friends and family, protected. I’ve never lived in a war-torn country. It’s the only thing Israel has known – people on every end of their country vying to come in and obliterate and take over. And here I am, planning what perfect dish to create for a Thanksgiving meal.  

What the world sometimes misses in the big picture of the big stories is the smallness and ordinariness of the people in this fight. They’re normal families, with normal children. They want a normal life. But the violence and eradication of people from a land is anything but normal. They’re trapped inside a centuries-old conflict that has intensified beyond imagination over the past month. They’re fighting a war generations of their relatives have also fought. This isn’t a conflict. This is an all-out war. 

So I look at my little family – one off at college, others in high school, one in middle school – and think. They’re safe. They’re well. They’re not getting called to fight in a war that would take their lives and never look back. I’m so thankful for this space. Being together. Living in freedom and not fear. Living in hope and not despair. 

We visited Israel earlier this year, my husband and I. We saw the people. We met Israelis – Jews and Arabs. This land is holy to both, contested fiercely by both sides. But whatever side you see, all I can see are the people. We toured a kibbutz not far from the one so violently attacked by terrorists at early dawn – families were awakened to guns and violence and death. It’s hard to understand a kibbutz when you’re American – it’s a protected, safe neighborhood, where you live in because it’s your heritage, not bought. It’s families guarding families. A safe place turned terrifying in the early morning hours of last month. 

This month, thankfulness comes with tears in my eyes and a full heart, as I consider the things I often take for granted that people a world away would do anything to have. People a world away, but similar in so many ways. Mothers who simply want safety for their children. Men who want to work a job to provide for their family. Communities who want beautiful areas to play and live, instead of war-scarred property. A land weeping and mourning for unimaginable loss of beauty and life. 

The story of the Israeli nation has been about landedness and landlessness. God bringing them to a land of “milk and honey” and it being taken and fighting to get it back. Land. Then no land. It’s always been a fight for this sacred ground.

This conflict is not new, but the grief is fresh.

So this month, it’s with true thankfulness that I consider our lives: the safety, the availability of education, the freedom to live. It almost feels inexpressible in its goodness. I could have been born in so many places where this would not be my story. But I’m here, and I’m so thankful.