THE BLOG
11/24/2010 09:20 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Questioning the Jewishness of Thanksgiving

After reviewing a book in which an author mentioned "that goyish holiday" Thanksgiving and then noting that one of my Jewish friends in New York was not celebrating, I took an informal poll.
 I was told by many Jewish friends that they did indeed consider the holiday "goyish". The more up in the ladder from reform to Orthodox, the more "goyish" the holiday was considered. I was also told by a Christian friend to stop using the term "goyish," which she viewed as derogatory.
This prompted a huge debate. As the saying goes, there were two jews and three opinions, and lots of other faiths jumped in, included interfaith and atheists. Some said "Goyish" just means nation, but it is generally known to mean outsider in Yiddish. One Chassidic friend said she was eating turkey on the sabbath, and other secular Jews pointed out that anything that isn't in the talmud is considered Jewish thus it's "goyish" or the less offesive term, "secular." A recent Orthodox convert posted this satirical video on the thread, and then I got offended!
http://www.frumsatire.net/2010/11/21/why-frum-jews-dont-celebrate-thanksgiving/
"I personally always found Thanksgiving to be flat out weird, it just doesn't feel Jewish. I mean how many times do Jews have a big meal with everyone wearing sweaters and khakis, without making Kiddush, having lechem mishna or singing zemiros, to me it feels plain old goyishe. It almost feels too comfortable, sitting in your jeans and sweatshirt eating great food, with no shull obligations," wrote Heshey Fried, owner of the website Frum Satire.
This is a holiday that I thought escaped religious demarcation and could safely wish happily to everyone. Did I need cultural sensitivity training? I started to cringe when I accidentally wished others "Happy Thanksgiving" and almost wanted to tell my supermarket checkout lady and toll both collector, that "not everyone celebrates". I gave it some more thought.
The topic is so controversial that it extends into Frums v. Modern Orthodox v. Goys and I've seen religious infighting be taken from 770 Lubavitch Synagogue to Park Slope Temple in Brooklyn. This is when I start to see my parent's point of view.
I was raised by a Yeshiva fleeing Bronx bred Jewish father and zen-loving anti-religious Ukrainian Catholic mother to literally be able to choose our own religions. My sister is a practicing Tibetan Buddhist, my other is secular Christian lite, and I am simply spiritual. I celebrate my Jewish heritage, my family traditions and I teach yoga; I prefer the term seeker, but I am Jewish too. But, in the new America, many people are of far more mixed heritage and it may be time to embrace a pluralistic view.
After recently living in India for six months and studying yoga and Hinduism, I rediscovered what I'd seen as a child with my rainbow of religious friends, the paths are many but the truth is one. This is a theistic view, and it's mine. As a spiritual semi-shiksa, I can accept whatever world view but some others don't have that liberty.
One of the perks of being half and half is that I am a member of both teams. One of the downfalls is that I am accepted by neither. In the end, though my Jewish friends continue to invite me to all major holiday functions this is because I met them through an organization
that accepted me as a Paternal Jew. I am forever grateful to the crucial and amazing Livnot U'Lehibanot program because they allowed me to explore my roots as a 27 year old seeker who'd always begged her parents for a Bat Mitzvah.
A catch 22 is that the organization encourages, "baal teshuvah", back to the faith,(or born again Jewishness in Christian parlance) so like converts, the more zealous I became in embracing Judaism, my maternally Jewish friends become more as well. And they have to draw the line at accepting me as a Jew, not as a friend.  I've been disinvited from functions where I would be not Jewish enough. Reform, reconstructionist, even liberal Conservatives consider me Heeb. I seriously considered conversion years ago, but came to an understanding that was the same one I'd had as a child. All faiths lead to the same beautiful place and there is such thing as non-dualistic post-modern religion.
As for my Mom's Ukrainian Catholic side, I will go to church if a friend invites me and I'd been known to beg my mother to visit our gorgeous golden onion steepled cathedral in Philadelphia for Easter.
I pray with my Baptist friends if they ask me to, and I attend Shabbos with my Jewish friends. I encouraged my ex-boyfriend to attend Mosque for himself when he needed it most. I am a pick and choose seeker, but at least I'm not an atheist. I'm just kidding, atheists are Americans too, and they definitely can celebrate Thanksgiving without controversy.
Back to which, is Thanksgiving a religious holiday? It was founded by Christian settlers. And, many forward thinkers, myself included, have chosen to protest the holiday because of its roots in genocide of Native Americans. But, then like many,  I started to think it could be
reclaimed as a holiday of thanks. Thanks for the ability to choose our religions, or none, and the means to gather family and celebrate our success or-in these times-at least our survival. Thanks for living in a global world, and even for being an American, since when I lived abroad I was the lone turkey eater in Japan, India and France. Being an expat makes you a little patriotic.
So although I was invited to one "Farbrangen", I choose to celebrate Thanksgiving with my big mixed family and give thanks for the freedom to choose to celebrate or not, for the freedom to be ourselves in America, to be Jewish, or Christian or nothing or even something in between.
UPDATE: A representative of Livnot asked me if it was their doing that creates the Catch 22 for Patrilineal Jews. Not at all. It is the "halacha." The catch 22 is a result of me attending this amazing program in Israel a patrilineal Jew attending with matrilineal Jews. When I came back for a second time (that's how much I loved it!), many of my friends had gotten more and more baal teshuvah or Orthodox-all of a sudden while we had been friends since 2006, I was now considered goyish and was scolded for not being orthodox enough or flat out told I was "not Jewish." My status as a patrilineal Jew is what places me in the catch-22 category because unless I convert I will still be not Jewish enough. I am deeply offended each time, especially a secular Jew, tells me I am simply not Jewish. The issues for Patrilineal Jews who want to participate in their birthright is very complex and there is no solution except accepting Patrilineal Jews as Jews and noting that the halacha has some very interesting exceptions to things that not all Jews embrace in restricting including forbidding homosexuality and dietary laws.