Monday, November 21, 2011

Giving Thanks or Thanks for Giving?

Giving Thanks or Thanks for Giving?
Commentary by Sanford D. Horn
November 21, 2011

As we traverse the trail from Thanksgiving to the winter holidays of Chanukah and Christmas to New Years, I am particularly thankful to be an American living in the United States – the greatest country in the world.

I am thankful to have friends and family, freedom of speech and expression to allow me the opportunity to write the columns I pen on a regular basis and freedom of religion to worship as I choose and not as the state may enforce or deny.

The first Thanksgiving celebrated a successful harvest shared amongst Pilgrims from England and Indians at Plymouth in 1621, sans football and the ongoing debate of how early is too early to commence holiday shopping. More on that debate shortly.

In Judaism the observance and celebration of Sukkot is akin to Thanksgiving. Sukkot, observed just days following the conclusion of the High Holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, also celebrates a successful harvest, as well as religious freedom. And in both celebrations, we as Jews and as Americans give thanks to G-d for bestowing upon us the gifts and blessings of life and freedom.

In his annual Thanksgiving message, the Reverend Billy Graham referenced “six things we can learn from the Pilgrims.” I find five of those points appropriate for all faiths.

Be strong in your faith. While Graham encourages a Christ-centered belief system for obvious reasons, there is no reason why people of any faith cannot maintain strength in their particular religion.

Practice discipline. Maintaining strong discipline is vital in one’s personal, professional, religious and economic life. If personal discipline were practiced more often, the issue of teen pregnancy or single parenthood would not be as rampant. If fiscal discipline were practiced people would not be underwater with their mortgages and the government would not be $15 trillion in debt.

Enjoy freedom under the law. While we are people of faith, we are still human beings subject to human failings and frailties, and thus the need for the rule of law. Following those laws keeps us free and failure to do so – there are provisions to protect those who do from those who don’t.

Care about others. Via a treaty, the Pilgrims and Indians lived side by side for years knowing they were different on so many levels, but at the same time, “showing a deep concern for the social, political and spiritual needs of neighbors. In Judaism, tikun olam defines this point as repairing or perfecting the world. The Indians have a similar concept of leaving the world better than they found it.

Dream great dreams. “Where there is no vision, the people perish,” Graham quoted scripture. Pilgrims dreamed of religious freedom and a Christ-centered life. In Judaism there is the Torah – a gift from G-d that kept His chosen people together during the darkest of pogroms and the Holocaust as well as a gift celebrated through its daily teachings. In both cases, in the American society in which we live by Judeo-Christian edicts we dream great dreams and enjoy a freedom for which we are thankful to see those dreams to fruition.

Sadly, the flip side to the faith, family and friends aspect of Thanksgiving is the economic aspect that is tearing apart the true meaning of the day for giving thanks. Before the gluttonous meal scarfed down between parade and touchdown has had an opportunity to digest, there is now the mad dash to whichever retail big box can open first on Thanksgiving. This not only ruins the meaning of the holiday, but the time spent with friends and family by those who must leave to run off to work.

While in the present lackluster economy employees should be thankful they have jobs, the employers should likewise be thankful they will have customers. People’s spending is finite, despite government actions to the contrary. If they rush to spend on Thanksgiving night, they won’t be spending a week or a month later as the Sword of Damocles hovers over their heads as the clock strikes 13. Either way, corporate America, or more likely, China, will make their sales.

I will not shop on Thanksgiving day or night. Nor will I patronize stores whose CEOs and boards of directors feel compelled to deny their employees the same Thanksgiving they themselves will enjoy by attempting to squeeze an additional 16 hours of sales out off already financially strapped consumers. I like the message sent by Nordstrom, a store that will be closed on Thanksgiving. It said it believes in celebrating one holiday at a time and will reopen on Friday at 9 a.m.

No non-essential retail store needs to be open on Thanksgiving, but this is the United States – they have the right to open and I have the right to shop at stores who respects Thanksgiving and their employees.

Have a happy, meaningful and Blessed Thanksgiving.

Sanford D. Horn is a writer and educator living in Westfield, IN.

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