May You Be Blessed with a Peace-filled Thanksgiving

May You Be Blessed with a Peace-filled Thanksgiving

Penny S. Tee Article

Happy Thanksgiving! As the year is ending, many of us take time to think about our life. How we are grateful for family and friends (family we choose), having a roof over our heads, the freedom to worship as we want—the list goes on and on—the fact that we have so many gifts to be grateful for is something else to appreciatively ponder.

Yet, not everyone is so blessed. When we look around and see the homeless on the street, kids with signs reading “I’m hungry” on the corner, so many “tent cities” arising, it gives me pause—where can these unfortunate souls find Peace? There but for the Grace of God go I.

First let me say I am thankful for my life. I seem to be living it with distinct chapter breaks, the corporate world, marriage, motherhood and now the opportunities of an empty nest.

I have been blessed that once we had our son, with the support of my husband, I was able to stay home with my boy and choose my vocation and/or volunteer for different projects. Being a mother has been one of the hardest and most rewarding “jobs” of my life. It’s hard to believe my baby is now in his second year of college. How about you?

Parenting is filled with clichés because they are so true. Yes, where did the time go? That little punim (Yiddish for face) now must shave and I look up to him for more than the fact that he towers over me.

As he got older and I had more time, I tried different side businesses. Most notably, We R’ Moms,

We R' Moms Logo

a personally joyful tributary in my life—filled with Mom-i-nars and fun learning sessions first in person, then on-line. But the lack of financial return made me close the business. I still like this definition of F.A.I.L.: First Attempt At Learning.

Jean Houston would say trying to help others through a creative, educational pursuit is a pattern of mine. This eventually led me to writing and publishing my book, “Blasted from Complacency: A Journey from Terror to Transformation,” building a speaking career, writing articles for and others, and taking care of life in general, it’s been busy.

And since our adventure (read my book if you’re unsure what I’m talking about : ), Peace is always on my mind. Not only for Israel and the Palestinians, but also internally. While writing my book, I realized I had been an advocate for Peace all my life, but the emphasis had been within my own psyche.

This Thanksgiving our temple once again joined in our long-standing interfaith partnership with a church and a mosque to pack food for Families Forward. Families Forward is an organization that feeds struggling families. Their mission is to “help families in need achieve and maintain self-sufficiency through housing, food, counseling, education, and other support services.”

Families Forward serves the “hidden” Orange County. Their website says that “One of the fastest growing segments of the homeless population is working families with children struggling to make ends meet. The high cost of basic living, including rent, transportation and childcare, coupled with the significant lack of affordable housing, puts many families at risk. More than 28,000 school-age children are homeless or housing-insecure.” Oh my. This breaks my heart.

They provide housing for 240 families and serve 7,000 people through their food pantry. The Thanksgiving event was just one of the events held throughout the year. There also is an end of year holiday event and during June’s back to school time they supply 1400 backpacks. Perhaps you’ll consider helping?

The goal prior to the event was to collect food to feed 240 families, with each congregation being responsible for different parts of the Thanksgiving dinner. Our temple collected cranberry sauce, yams and corn bread.

Working together made me think how our people are intertwined and connected. Looking around the room I realized this was Peace working magic with love. As the pastor pointed out, we all believe in one God. Looking further, I realized Abraham was the father of the Jewish people and Islam, and Jesus was Jewish. We are interconnected and we’re family, and as is too often the case, it’s sad that we don’t always get along.

This year we did the packing at the mosque, and it was a new and unique experience for me. I enjoyed joking with friends I’ve known for over twenty years and making new friends. The congregants of the mosque couldn’t have been more welcoming and yet if I was being honest with myself there was still some fear inside of me. It made me ponder…if the trauma of cowering in bomb shelters five years ago was still with me, what about Israelis? What about Palestinians? So much healing is necessary.

What had been planned as a two-hour event only took thirty minutes because there were so many volunteers. Amen. It did my heart good to see kindness in action.

After packing the food, we had the privilege of being invited to watch as our Muslim brethren said their evening prayers. Before we entered the sanctuary we were instructed to take our shoes off and store them in the shoe rack. Just like at our temple, there were extra supplies, although at temple the extras are tallitot (prayer shawls) and yarmulkes (skull caps). I opted to don a hijab for the first time out of respect for the Muslim women. A kind woman wrapped it on my head for me. During prayers the men and women were separated by a light curtain where we could see the men praying as well.

At one point I must admit that I smiled as a little innocent toddler went over to the curtain and began to open it—little kids don’t understand traditions, and for that matter, this was all new to me as well. He was promptly led away, and the curtain was closed. I hoped it wasn’t one of our visiting kids.

I, of course, was in the women’s section. Both men and women would prostrate themselves several times during the service with their heads low to the ground and trying not to be disrespectful, their rears in the air. It seemed so vulnerable, open and trusting. I was glad that was not a Jewish ritual. The physicality of movement alone would have been a stretch, I don’t believe my knees would have lasted very long under the strain. Of course, if you weren’t able, you could sit in a chair.

In 2015, the first year I had attended the Interfaith Thanksgiving project I remember feeling pride, fear and a bit of shame. The pride came from spending time trying to help hungry people, which has always been a project I have cared about. In such a rich country as America, the unfairness to have hungry people has always upset me.

The fear and shame came from the fact it had only been a little over a year since our traumatic experience in Israel with bombs exploding in the air around us, and I’m still ashamed to admit I was scared to be with Muslims. Now these weren’t necessarily Palestinians, but it was possible that at least some were. And even if they were, it didn’t mean they were going to harm me. It was a visceral reaction that was hard to contain, thus the shame.

Shame because these thoughts seemed too close to bigotry — an attitude that seemed anathema to me, especially as a Jew. Our people had suffered centuries of prejudice and even genocide.

Nightly news tells us these evil beliefs are still here. Attacks and hatred toward Jews is worsening once again. OMG, what’s happening in New York as Jews walk down the street, on college campuses and in Britain’s government? Bigotry is insidious and equally as repugnant to me, if used against others.

I’ve always enjoyed being with and discovering the practices of other religions and ethnicities, so it made me feel bad to have fear enter my thoughts. On the other hand, I think it was understandable. The kindness of everyone went a long way then as it did this time to help me heal, but I wondered when if ever, would this initial feeling go away?

And what if I were an Israeli? I could begin to understand how anger, resentment, even hate — could infiltrate otherwise Peace-filled minds. How would we fare if we shared their daily lives of desperation on both sides — probably having lost loved ones and having seen atrocities beyond nightmares.

After the service, the clergy said a few words. Our cantor led us in a type of meditation with our eyes closed, sitting comfortably in a chair, which was much more my speed. I may often work out at Orange Theory Fitness, but my age does show itself now and again : )

When she spoke, it made me feel better and I knew her words were true. “It is the coming together and getting to know one another, that is how communities are strengthened. It is the breaking down of barriers and reaching out to our brothers and sisters that builds community.”

Our rabbi spoke of how prayer calls our attention to being aware of our individual role in the expanse of the world, of being present to the incredible depth that is shining through every moment and every person. He said that prayer offers the opportunity to drop our sense of self-importance, to question our confidence that we’ve gotten “It” all figured out and to be open to a sense of wonder.

The pastor spoke about the Methodist beliefs in the Means of Grace and how our acts that night was one expression of Grace. He pointed out that although we all believe in one God, each of our religions had their own interpretation and even within the Methodist religion, different people had their own understandings.

Finally, the Imam spoke about how questioning opens one up to a better understanding of their faith. How we need God, as a child needs their parents to show them the ways of life including compassion and mercy. I think this project was a direct representation of understanding the need for compassion and mercy in this broken world.

His final gracious thoughts were for people who might have been in a mosque for the first time. He said, “When you enter in someone’s home for the first time, you are our guest. The next time you come, you are a friend, and the third time you come you are family. So, if you have been here multiple visits, you are family, and those that this is the first time, you have some extras coming up next time.”

Afterwards I asked him if it was alright to take pictures, and he assured me it was. The mosque was beautifully decorated. Arabic and Hebrew to me always seem related and given the closeness of our origins it makes sense.

I asked what this fixture on the wall was and it was explained that it was

Call to prayer clock

Call to prayer clock

a clock of when the daily prayers were to be said.

Today is Thanksgiving. A day when most overstuff ourselves with all our favorite foods, lovingly prepared. It’s a day of excess. For us, this is a wonderful, fun time of the year.

The first step in correcting any problem is to become aware there is one. Take a few moments this holiday to consider your blessings. Hug and kiss and hold your kids close.

Thanksgiving is an interesting word. Thanks-giving. It’s a day when we take a moment to be grateful for the blessings in our lives. When we put into the forefront of our minds appreciation for the opportunity to be blessed—we give back.

Everyone can be thankful and give back. Giving isn’t only monetary. Even if all you can afford is a smile and thank you for the clerk at the grocery store. With that simple act, you have strengthened the love in your heart. You have made the world a better place. I know of no other way I would rather have spent my Sunday. L’ Chaim! (To Life!)

As always, I invite you to Join Me on My Journey…

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