We have celebrated Thanksgiving with Westminster Presbyterian Church and Trinity United Methodist Church for so many years we have all lost count. Whatever else goes on in the lives of these three congregations, no matter how far out of each other's orbits we spin, on the Wednesday night before this quintessential American holiday we gather together to ask the Lord's blessing as Americans of many kinds of faith.
This year it is again the privilege of Agudas Achim to host the interfaith service, and we will all participate once again in "We the People Give Thanks," a "seder" for Thanksgiving that includes material from our common national heritage and our individual religious traditions. Somehow the cycle of preaching also landed on me, and I look forward to reflecting on the extraordinary blessings that have been ours because of the friendships among our congregations.
As you know, that night is also the first night of Chanukkah, the only time the common celebration has occurred since dinosaurs roamed the earth and the last time until Captain Picard turns over the bridge of the Enterprise to Spock's grandson. One candle burning very bright will accompany our appreciation of the bounty we enjoy, as sweet as sufganiyot, the jelly doughnuts popular in Mediterranean countries, and as tied to the land as the tubers from which lathes are made for European Jews.
The first Thanksgiving meal, as American midrash presents it, was an organic recognition of arrival at a moment of gratitude. There was no sense among the Pilgrims and Indians that they were starting a tradition that would be instituted as a hallmark of a nation as-yet uninvented. It is the history that followed that placed the somewhat miraculous meal in context. Between that first feast and the legal holiday, the descendants of the original actors played out a fractious relationship, complicated by global politics, war, slavery, immigration. expansion and the dawn of the American Century. With neither Pilgrims nor Indians well-represented among Americans today, we still find the promise of the original Thanksgiving to transcend the roller coaster that puts three faith communities in the same room each year and their members around a table of plenty.
Likewise, the first candle of Chanukkah is not a candle of miracle. The oil that took center stage in the story was supposed to burn for one day; that first candle represents the confidence of the victorious Maccabees that the story had just begun. We know, of course, that the cruse-of-oil story appears nowhere in the historical records of the revolt we celebrate. We also know that the victorious Hasmoneans took only a few decades to descend into the corruption against which they rebelled. But the facts of human imperfection do not diminish the hope of the human heart. We light that candle each year knowing that no miracle awaits us on the second day, but that remembering that first shining moment is more important than the dark days of corruption that followed.
What a great and once-in-a-civilization opportunity: to celebrate gratitude and hope among friends whose lives diverge every other day of the year. Please join us on November 27, at 7:30 p.m. in the Cohen Sanctuary.