Teaching Gratitude (November 2020 KOL)

Teaching Gratitude by Rabbi Amy R. Perlin, Founding Rabbi Emerita

Our family is living in a pod in California.  Our DC son, his wife, and his two girls, five and three are living with us in Los Angeles.  Our four LA grandchildren (two, four, six and eight) live at their house, but come to our house every morning at 7:45 am to go to school.  The three “bigs” go to school online at one of my kitchen counters.  The younger three are in preschool with me every morning.  I never expected to be a preschool teacher in retirement.   Truth be told, I am also the family barber.  None of us planned for the reality we are currently living in.  And yet, even in this alternative universe of a pandemic, we have much to be grateful for.

Today, in my preschool class, we read a book about why wanting to be the best isn’t as important as being grateful for who you are and what you have.  The protagonist in our story wanted to have the biggest Thanksgiving pumpkin in town.  This wish caused him to ignore his family, to treat his friends badly, and to forget how beautiful his surroundings were.  In the end, as he sat at his Thanksgiving table, he came to realize how blessed he really was.  Gratitude doesn’t come naturally.  We have to teach gratitude and we have to find gratitude, especially when we are overcome by the attitude of “I need. I want,” which is not only a child phenomenon, but one that plagues humans young and old.

This Thanksgiving won’t be like any other Thanksgiving.  Responsible people won’t gather in large groups, putting everyone at risk for the virus.  Many people will not be able to share Thanksgiving with the loved ones and friends who usually share their table.  Living our Jewish values demands that we put the well-being of others before our own desires and resentments for being inconvenienced.  This Thanksgiving we will be thankful masks and those who wear them.  This Thanksgiving, we all need to remember to be grateful for blessings large and small.  We will be grateful for Zoom and Facetime.  We should be grateful to be able to have food on our tables, even if we are unable to safely share it with the treasured people who are usually there.  We will be grateful for Instacart deliveries, ever aware that there are too many who food insecure right now.  Many will be grateful for health, but so many will only be able to be grateful for memories, as they mourn loved ones lost to Covid and so many other tragedies.

Our TBS-Abiding Presence Thanksgiving service has been at the center of many of our holiday celebrations.  For over three decades we have “gathered together to ask the Lord’s blessing.”  I am thankful to Rabbi Widzer and Pastor Keseley for leading their congregations through this pandemic with the support and dedication of amazing staff and lay leaders.  We are grateful for the bonds we share, even though we cannot gather in person this year.

I spend many lessons teaching gratitude to my preschoolers.  What I have learned in preschool this fall is that we are constantly learning to be grateful, because complaining and kvetching comes so naturally.  Learning to be grateful is what Thanksgiving is all about.

From our house to yours, I wish you a holiday unlike any other you have had but filled with thanksgiving and gratitude.  Fondly, Rabbi Perlin