November brings chilling winds, thinning foliage and heavier clothing, but falling temperatures have never kept humankind from striving. Just as our ancestors kindled fires, we turn up the thermostat or venture out with extra layers—and carry on. The Jewish people in particular have developed strategies for facing not only cold weather but for every kind of climate.
If you look at the dates we commemorate in November, it looks like one of the most consequential months in Jewish history. Some of the benchmarks reflect happy occasions while others recall our darkest moments. This is the month that gave us the Balfour Declaration in 1917 and the 1947 United Nations Partition Resolution, paving the way for Israel’s creation. November brought Anwar Sadat to Jerusalem in 1977 to make peace between Egypt and Israel.
It also brought Kristallnacht in 1938 and a more troubling United Nations resolution, in 1975, equating Zionism with racism. That infamous resolution was thankfully repealed in December 1991, but the campaign against Zionism—more often than not a thinly veiled form of anti-Semitism—persists. Hadassah is proud to be a pillar of the Zionist movement and to continue its century-plus record of engagement with our current renowned speaker series, “Defining Zionism in the 21st Century.”
November is also a key month on America’s civic calendar. We celebrate Thanksgiving with family and friends and express thanks—whether in words or in actions—for the liberty, equality and prosperity we have found in this great nation. And though this is a secular holiday, we are cognizant of its origins in the Pilgrims’ knowledge of the Hebrew Bible and Sukkot.
But what is most on my mind as I write—and I am sure the same is true for many Americans—is our great American exercise in democracy. November is the month in which We the People freely decide who will govern us. While we don’t magically reach agreement after Election Day, we do traditionally come together in our shared love of country.
This is true even after the most bitterly contested elections. In the early hours after this year’s race was decided, the conciliatory words of President-elect Trump and Secretary of State Clinton seemed to point us in the right direction. I also find solace in the passage that appears in many siddurim, calling on God to “Accept with mercy our prayer for our land and its government,” to bless “the President, judges, officers and officials, who work faithfully for the public good… and enlighten them with the rules of Your justice, so that peace, tranquility, happiness and freedom will never depart from our land.”
I am thankful that generations of my family have been able to grow up as part of a society in which they are full-fledged members and can also practice Judaism in any way they choose, or not practice it. I am grateful that I can participate in the democratic process and in the choosing of our leaders; that I have a voice, and can exercise my rights not only on Election Day but whenever an issue arises that affects me, my community, America’s standing in the world or its relations with Israel.
Just like every season, all nations have positives and negatives, joys and struggles. American Jews have every reason to celebrate a dual heritage of belonging to a nation and a people at the high end of human dignity, accomplishment and bounty—even as both traditions allow us, even remind us, to learn from the worst chapters of history.
So let’s be thankful, too, for the cold wind and bare trees. They won’t last, but they are part of us, and among our most faithful teachers.
A happy and joyous Thanksgiving to all!