Thanksgiving: 3 Ways to Add Jewish Insights

For many of us, Thanksgiving is the quintessential American holiday. How can we customize and enrich our Thanksgiving celebrations with Jewish insights and traditions? Here are some ideas based on the one-of-a-kind resources at

1. Freedom’s Feast

Enhance your holiday meal by including a short ceremony with readings about what it means to enjoy freedom in America.

Click HERE for the Freedom’s Feast ceremony. 

Jewish Insight
The Israelites, the Torah teaches, wandered in the wilderness for forty years after fleeing slavery in Egypt, living in huts called sukkot. The Jewish holiday of Sukkot celebrates the fall harvest and reminds us of the importance of religious freedom to our ancestors. The Pilgrims, too, sought religious freedom, and some believe the first Thanksgiving was modeled on the Jewish harvest festival.

We invite guests to dine with us on Thanksgiving, just as some do on Sukkot, and just as the Pilgrims did on the first Thanksgiving. Give each guest at your table an opportunity to talk about their own family’s story of freedom and why their ancestors came to America. 

Click HERE for interview questions to tell your family’s American journey.

2. Gratitude Plate

Create a plate highlighting what you are thankful for this Thanksgiving. Display it on your holiday table and talk about all the things for which you and your guests are grateful. You can even invite guests ahead of time to make their own gratitude plates and bring them to display on your table. 

Click HERE for the steps to create a Gratitude Plate. 

Jewish Insight
Our tradition encourages us to show hakarat hatov (gratitude) toward those who help us in our daily interactions. The rabbis in the Talmud teach that each person should say one hundred blessings a day. This practice can help us become more aware of all the things in our lives for which we are grateful. Whom or what would you bless first? What is something you’ve never noticed before for which you are grateful? Write your own words of blessing this Thanksgiving and share them with those gathered around your table.

Watch this video about hakarat hatov

3. Memory Harvest

Invite friends and family members to each bring a small, wrapped or covered object that represents an important person in their lives. At the beginning of the meal, go around the table asking each guest to reveal their object and share a few words about what makes or made that person so special to them. After they tell their stories, place the object in the middle of the table, creating a unique centerpiece. At the end of the evening, guests take their object back home with them.

Click HERE for additional suggestions on creating a Memory Harvest.

Jewish Insight
When we harvest our memories, sharing stories about loved ones and passing them down to our children and grandchildren, we ensure that those memories will live on l’dor vador—from one generation to the next. Our tradition also emphasizes the importance of giving tzedakah. A beautiful way to honor or commemorate those for whom we are thankful at this bountiful time of year is to make a donation in their name to a local food bank.

Photographic Credits: 
Banner and sukkah photographs by Stephanie Fink
Freedom’s Feast Gratitude Plate photograph unnamed
Food bank photograph courtesy of Pexels