David R. Stokes: This Thanksgiving, Please Pass The Brisket





[David R. Stokes is a minister, columnist, author, and broadcaster. He lives in Fairfax, Virginia.]

Ever hear of Gershom Mendes Seixas? Well, he might just be the forgotten hero of Thanksgiving.

Our national Thanksgiving narrative is rich with stories about proclamations, gatherings, meals, traditions, football, and of course, the obligatory pardoning of a turkey by the president of the United States. Schoolchildren rehearse that day long ago when the Plymouth pilgrims broke bread. We note things Lincoln said.

And doubtless you have heard about what our first president, George Washington, declared while proclaiming the first official national day of Thanksgiving in 1789:

I do recommend and assign Thursday, the 26th day of November next, to be devoted by the people of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be; that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection of the people of this country previous to their becoming a nation; for the signal and manifold mercies and the favorable interpositions of His providence in the course and conclusion of the late war; for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty which we have since enjoyed; for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enable to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national one now lately instituted for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed, and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and, in general, for all the great and various favors which He has been pleased to confer upon us.

We hear much these days about our "Judeo-Christian" heritage and its early and enduring influence on our culture. A look back at the founding era of our nation reminds us, however, that only about 2,500 Jews actually lived in the colonies in 1776. Usually those of us who speak of that early dual influence are referring to the Christian Bible with its Jewish roots.

But pointing this out is not to say that Jews were not active and represented during the colonial and founding periods. Quite the contrary - there are some fascinating and often overlooked stories...


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