President's Column: Giving Thanks

Columns & Departments

President's Column: Giving Thanks

Marcie Natan

Every year at this time we read stories about how the Pilgrims likely used their knowledge of Sukkot, the harvest festival of ancient Israel, as a model for the first Thanksgiving. They were certainly knowledgeable about the Bible and also saw themselves as a breed of new Israelites in a new Promised Land.

It’s not always easy to separate truth from myth, but this much is clear: Regardless of what motivated the Pilgrims, Thanksgiving is a day on which American Jews feel the twin parts of their identity speaking to them in perfect harmony.

Every Thanksgiving Day is a welcome opportunity to eat well in good company. But why is this Thanksgiving Day different from all others? As Hadassah’s Centennial year draws to a conclusion, I am even more keenly aware of all that we have to be thankful for, as Americans, as Jews and as Zionists.

Among the more recent causes for thanks are the dedication last month of the Sarah Wetsman Davidson Hospital Tower, our biggest building project in 50 years, in Jerusalem. The dedication took place during our wonderful Centennial Convention. We are also thankful for Hadassah’s recent growth; our Centennial campaign boosted membership by more than 10 percent in a single year, bringing the Hadassah family of members and associates to 330,000. We begin our second century in a position of strength.

But we have so much more to be thankful for. Just think of what has changed during the 100 years of Hadassah’s history: Jews were stateless, but a Jewish state was born and has thrived. Women were mostly relegated to the home and could not vote, but we emerged as a force in every facet of Jewish life.

Hadassah played a pivotal role in both of these revolutions—as a central player in the building of Israel and as a pioneer in empowering women in the Jewish community and in American civic life. As reflected in our record of achievement, our mission is as relevant today as it was in 1912.

All of these advances that we have been a part of stand atop a foundation stone that is difficult to split into Jewish and American segments. Freedom, self-reliance, community, generosity and a thirst for knowledge may come to us in different quantities from each of our traditions, but within us they are whole.

That America and the Jewish people would both reach the 21st century with so much vitality was by no means guaranteed—not at Mount Sinai, not in Philadelphia in 1776, not in Jerusalem in 1948. Struggle is part of our dual history. Nor was Hadassah’s success ever a given. Over the course of a century we been challenged by wars, waves of terror, the Great Depression and many recessions. We have emerged from each crisis with greater agility.

For all of these tests we had to rely on one more thing for which we give thanks: Our resilience. We are thankful for our God-given capacity to adapt, create, recover, renew and move forward.

One of the most unlikely elements of the Thanksgiving story is that we owe the Pilgrims as much as they owed our ancestors. They came to Plymouth fleeing discrimination and revering the Hebrew Bible, but they could barely tolerate other Protestants in their midst.

And yet, the tradition the Pilgrims planted wound up uniting a diverse nation. As we sit with family and friends around the dinner table, this year and every year, we also celebrate with millions who are different from us in many ways but share the blessings of a land that embraces us all.

A happy Thanksgiving to you all.

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