We at Temple Beth Israel are celebrating the 60th joint interfaith Thanksgiving service with the Federated Church of Christ of Brooklyn.
At this time of Thanksgiving it is fitting to reflect on the arrival of forty Jewish immigrant families, – Holocaust survivors – my parents among them, in this quiet corner of Connecticut some 65 years ago. They fled persecution, arrived on these shores traumatized and bereft and were warmly received in the United States and in this community with generosity and compassion—a welcoming gesture for which we will be forever grateful.
Like the Pilgrims before them, and like so many other individuals and groups who have come to this country since the Pilgrims’ arrival, those forty families came here to seek religious freedom. To escape persecution and hatred. And to build new lives. And they were blessed with children, opportunities, jobs, harvests and most important – they were blessed with friends.
The early settlers called their Plymouth Colony “Little Israel,” and they even compared Governor Bradford to Moses. They felt that they had fled lands of oppression and had found a new home, just as the Israelites had once fled Egyptian slavery and settled in the Holy Land.
So it is with deep gratitude we join together in celebrating our long standing tradition of giving thanks for God’s protection, for a harvest, for freedom and especially – for friendship.
And as we reflect on the original Pilgrims in Plymouth, and we remember the refugees who built our beautiful building in Danielson, its hard not to think about the modern day Pilgrims – migrants who undertake difficult and dangerous journeys, on trains, on foot and in rubber boats. They are motivated by the same urges to flee oppression and violence and to improve their quality of their lives, provide for their children and find gainful employment as the earlier Pilgrims. And when they arrive at their destinations, they encounter further challenges that may prove insurmountable, including making a home with their families in unfamiliar, perhaps unfriendly surroundings and suffer the pain of exile.
It has been said that today’s migrants are not a new phenomenon but rather a continuation of an ages old human impulse to move, from farm to city, from country to country, from continent to continent. People have migrated for millennia. These movements have shaped all of human history and culture. It is at the heart of how America – where the Plymouth Pilgrims’ sacrifices and perseverance has become a much treasured national holiday – has become the great nation that it is today.
Pope Francis recently wrote that the “Church is a pilgrim in the world.” He reminded Catholics and others around the world of the centrality of the journey. And it is true. We are all pilgrims, implicated in each other’s’ journeys and called to make a migration that is at once personal and collective, literal and spiritual.
And in this season, we are invited to participate in that grand tradition of movement –- on the road, in our hearts, perhaps outside of our comfort zones –- and to gather around a table that seats us all.
So today, we evoke both aspects of the Thanksgiving celebration: gratitude for the richness and abundance of the earth, and awareness of our obligations to take care of the earth and of each other. And let us remember that of all the gifts for which we give thanks – the greatest gift – the most beautiful- is our friendship – this best of all blessings. Because if we’re on the move, it is best to journey together.
I am grateful and proud to celebrate sixty years of interfaith friendship – and I look forward to many more years of sharing this blessed journey with cherished friends.