Counting our Blessings

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Thanksgiving 2014

From the Desk of Stephen H. Hoffman

Thanksgiving is the ignition of the great American holiday season. We will be subjected to the most creative commercial motivation that Madison Avenue can devise, using all of its social media and broadcasting skills. And there will be almost an equal effort to get us to think charitably about those among us who we can help celebrate the season, if we contribute.

So it’s a good time of year, in a secular sense, to count our blessings and contemplate the world around us – literally the definition of Thanksgiving.

But what a world we face in doing so.

The minorities of America are questioning whether the majority, at least in terms of political power, see them as fellow human beings – not as a subspecies that can be shot down at will because race is threatening. Regardless of the facts in each individual case, that is the real question worrying them. We are proudly a nation of laws, but justice needs to be perceived as real, not only technically administered. We are great enough to accomplish this.

And we need to be a nation that is compassionate to those who seek to have a chance in life by coming here to participate in our bounty, just as millions of our ancestors did over the last 165 years. Yes, we need to have laws to regulate our borders and allow us to absorb immigrants at a sustainable pace. But when millions are fearfully living in the shadows or are in danger of having their families torn apart, we should not just stand by. We must urge our Congress to act – actually I think we need to demand it. The President shouldn’t have to use executive orders to express our compassion as a nation. Our legislators should join him.

Overseas we face an even more bewildering array of questions. Ukraine, Iran, Russia, ISIS, European anti-Semitism, China, Iraq, Afghanistan – it’s truly enough to give anyone an “Excedrin headache,” let alone our leaders. But it’s Israel that has me really concerned. Let me be clear – I am not worried about Israel’s physical strength. She has the capacity to handle the security of her borders, any current external threats and the peace of her streets. I do worry that its people may be adopting a siege mentality – “us against the world.” The attacks by unorganized self-styled terrorist zealots are worrisome. Talk among European nations about sanctions on Israel is more so. But equally worrisome is legislation before the Knesset that will tell Israel’s Arab minority it’s being reduced to second class citizens before the law because the right wing in Israel is insecure with its image of Israel as a Jewish State. In short, we American Jews have a lot of issues on our plates – because we care what kind of country America can be and what kind of nation Israel can be.

The concerns on either side of all these issues are legitimate and merit consideration, but let us confront these decisions from confidence that we are strong enough to acknowledge the perceptions of the “other” as real and need to be addressed, even as we preserve what is essential for us. We, as proud and confident Jews, don’t need to live in any bunkers.

Let us all give thanks that the vast majority of Jews today live in two great democratic countries, two strong countries that can and do make the world better day by day.

Enjoy the Thanksgiving holiday. Hesitate on the second helping of stuffing.

Stephen H. Hoffman

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