I have a warm spot in my heart for Thanksgiving that is rooted in my childhood memories of the holiday. It was a special day not just because we would eat a delicious meal. What made Thanksgiving really special was that on this festival we celebrated my grandfather’s birthday.
My paternal grandpa, Clarence Schulman, was not born in the United States. He was born near Riga near the end of the 19th century. Grandpa’s birthday was presumably sometime in the fall but no one knew the precise date in the secular calendar. So years later, with all his children and grandchildren living in Long Beach, we designated Thanksgiving as the date we would celebrate Grandpa’s birthday.
I recall giving him birthday gifts like ties and cardigan sweaters. But what meant more than anything to him was his joy in seeing all of his family gathered together. From a humble childhood in a small town in the Old Country, Grandpa could now see his three children and ten grandchildren living the American Dream.
Thanksgiving is a time when we can reflect about the remarkable journey of our families. Whether we are Native Americans or immigrants, or the children or grandchildren of immigrants, all of us can appreciate the core value of this holiday. It is a day in which we find common ground in giving thanks for living in this land of opportunity.
The United States is far from perfect. Our hearts ache at the gross injustice of millions living in poverty in this land of plenty. We cry out for families who struggle to find shelter when affordable housing is lacking or for those who live in fear of deportation. We condemn the growing gap of inequality that divides our country between those who have and those who have not. Our country has yet to fulfill its potential as a land where all can express their religious faith without fear of harassment and discrimination.
Thanksgiving reminds us of our higher calling as citizens of this still amazing country, to welcome the stranger, shelter the homeless, provide food for the needy, and to reach out to one another with understanding and respect. It compels us to overcome the misunderstandings, heartaches, struggles and disappointments in our nation’s life and still affirm that there is no country on earth we would rather live.
May God bless America.
May we bless one another with warm hearts and outstretched arms; with good deeds and with thanksgiving for all that is good in our lives.