A Thanksgiving Seder

Last night, my son had trouble sleeping, while I was messaging with a friend. He (my 9 year old) told me to get off my phone and meditate. He was right, that’s what I needed to do. I sat down next to him and closed my eyes, and tried to think of something calming. Probably because I have been concerned about the people protesting the DAPL (Dakota Access Pipeline), what sprang into my mind’s eye: the vision of a young Native American girl in a brown tunic, standing amid the trees on the shore of the Hudson River, catching her first glimpse of Europeans, perhaps Henry Hudson himself.

Sounds a bit like Pocahantus right? Well, that image is one I had years ago before I ever saw the movie, while doing a hypnotic regression. Kind of crazy, I know. My husband is into New Age spirituality, life after death, reincarnation. I’m agnostic about these things, but found it fascinating and was reading some of his books on doing past life regression. Really not surprising, since I have a thing for Native American culture that I would conjure this image. For our anniversary one year, we visited the Smithsonian National Museum of the Native American and I bought and devoured a book on the history of indigenous Americans. I don’t claim to have had a past live as a Native American, but who knows.

Then my mind drifted to the #noDapl movement and this upcoming Thanksgiving. My husband and I had decided we would again host my extended family. Since going off the derech, we are the non-religious ones, so it makes sense for us to be responsible for this secular holiday celebration. But what I really want to do is be in North Dakota standing with Standing Rock. Can you imagine doing a Thanksgiving celebration with actual Native Americans, European americans dressing up as a pilgrim, and together we recreate the “original” Thanksgiving feast? I don’t know if that would go over well, not sure how Native Americans feel about this holiday, and is the story really accurate or an idyllic reinventing of history? I’m going to have to do some research, I think.

Now, I figured I will not be able to drag my family across the country (or would I?), but maybe we can do something more than stuff ourselves with a dead bird and pumpkin pie this year. Thanksgiving has always been one of my favorite holidays, because of it’s name, reminding us to be thankful for all we have. But there’s more to it, perhaps Thanksgiving can instill an appreciation for Native american culture and a desire to right the wrongs of the past four hundred years.  

One year, actually it was the year of Thanksgivukkah, the big cousins organized a Thanksgiving play, about the pilgrims and Indians. The little cousins, my kids included, were given little parts to play and the big cousins made hats and headresses to wear. It was a spectacular performance, followed by the oldest cousin doing a tap dance solo. Now, what about doing something like that, but incorporating the real history of Thanksgiving, the actual native american experience, and what about including the storytelling and lessons of their earth based spirituality, that us Europeans really need to learn, before we destroy our planet.

I began to think of this as a Thanksgiving Seder, similar to our Passover Freedom Seder, where we learn and remind ourselves of the oppression that still exists in our world. I once thought that Jews, with their moral teachings of being kind to the stranger and seeking justice for the downtrodden, were meant to be a “light unto the nations.” I’m starting to think that we need to turn to our Native brothers and sisters to shine their light and guide us back to harmony with nature and each other. I see their peaceful struggle and the solidarity of tribes from all over our country joining to protect our water, our future.

I don’t mean to misappropriate Native American culture, but I would love to begin a discussion of how we can organize to bring these inspiring people into the limelight, because it is their turn to shine.

DIY Judaism for the Days of Awe

I’m sure this has been done before, but thinking about what I will be doing for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, I start to wonder if there isn’t a better way to introspect and celebrate, without forking over $200 for a ticket to a religious institution. How about create your own High Holiday service? How about a bunch of people rent a room in a school or community center and bring our own prayer books, poems, instruments, chairs, cushions, toys for the kids, snacks, lechayims. How much would that cost? One of us could be the facilitator and we’d take turns to either choose from the liturgy or some other related poems, meditations, comments. The kids could run around in the same room with the adults, so we wouldn’t need to hire a babysitter. We could even stop every now and then to include them in a kid-friendly song or activity. I know there’s the small problem of a torah. I know it’s a sacred scroll. But what are the high holidays really about? Expensive ritual items or a chance to get in touch with what you really hold sacred? What about people holding different beliefs or non-beliefs? Well, how about for a short time, we just withold judgement and try to learn from each other. Okay, so God is supposed to be judging us, but really it’s an inner court that we are holding. My guess is that God whoever, whatever that may be, if it is, has less need to judge us than we do ourselves. The question we need to ask ourselves is: How can I live up to my values? Because that is what really matters. I may not hold to certain doctrines as taught in the torah and oral torah, but what kind of commitment am I making to the causes I hold dear? I know this doesn’t sound so kosher, but I think it is in the spirit of the Jewish high holidays, more so than following the minutae of ritual and prayer. We have become automatons, reciting words we do not even understand, standing and sitting, bending and bowing. Maybe it would be a big flop, but then again, it might just lead to lasting memories and communal bonding. What do you think?