November 18, 2021
What comes to mind when you think about Thanksgiving? Loved ones gathering cheerfully around the table? Yelling at the football game? Sharing a wonderful meal? Giving thanks?
Thanksgiving is deeply embedded in American life. It’s a holiday that many in our country, including Jewish Americans, look forward to and cherish. Thanksgiving seems timeless, but its origins long ago are worth understanding, for reasons that are relevant to issues we wrestle with today.
Let’s unpack what I’m talking about… One of the core focus areas of our JCRC is building relationships with groups beyond the Jewish community so that together, we can build mutual understanding and respect and work more effectively toward shared goals. Community leaders identified deepening our intergroup relations work as one of the top three areas of focus needed from the JCRC. And so, while building relationships is part of the JCRC’s bread and butter, we also have one entity entirely dedicated to this effort – the intergroup relations committee.
One community with which the intergroup relations committee hopes to strengthen relationships and partnerships first is Native Americans. Here, that includes both the Coast Salish peoples and local organizations that serve all Native Americans.
So…now what does this have to do with Thanksgiving? Part of a strong foundation for building authentic relationships is learning about partners’ perspectives and digging deeply to really understand them.
One small step the JCRC can take to help get our work with Native Americans off on the right foot is taking time to learn about the history of Thanksgiving in its full context and move past oversimplified narratives about Thanksgiving that many of us learned in school. Together, we can build an understanding of how the usual, oversimplified narratives form the backdrop for the diverse, intense, and at times mournful feelings about Thanksgiving present within Native communities.
To this end, on behalf of the JCRC’s intergroup relations committee, I’d like to share a list of resources. These articles highlight Native American perspectives and ideas about Thanksgiving, giving thanks, how the Thanksgiving holiday came about, and the histories and cultures of indigenous people in the Pacific Northwest. You can expect many layers— just like the Jewish people, Native American cultures are diverse, and Native perspectives are complex and nuanced. Identity is a coat of many colors.
It’s important to recognize and remember that there are members of the Jewish people who are also Native American. And so, this Thanksgiving learning is additionally in service of creating a more inclusive and welcoming Jewish community that recognizes and celebrates the diversity of our people.
Food is fundamental for bringing people together and enhancing understanding (in almost every culture!). As you plan your Thanksgiving celebration, consider serving a dish or two made from indigenous ingredients. Think about incorporating into your celebration a way of recognizing and honoring the history and living traditions of Coast Salish or other indigenous people. Start a discussion around the table about the stories behind our traditions and the ways we express gratitude – I know I will!
Learning is an essential component of Jewish tradition. Getting to know our Native American neighbors and members of the Jewish community, nurturing these relationships, and learning how native histories and cultures are woven deeply into this place we call home will help us build stronger communities.
Director of JCRC and Government Affairs