Posted on November 1, 2016
I purchased some nice bright orange sugar pie pumpkins. I slice them in half and scoop out their seeds to reserve for roasting later on. As the pumpkin bakes in the oven, I knead flour into cold chunks of butter with my fingertips until I have dough. The pie crust chills in the fridge. Within a couple of hours, I puree the roasted pumpkin with cream, cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla, eggs, and brown sugar and fill my flaky crust with it. As it bakes in the oven, the spices fill the kitchen and house. Later, it becomes my perfect pumpkin pie.
Even though I’m quite busy being a congregational rabbi and mom, I still take time to cook. I like chopping onions, garlic, and kale, mixing flour, almond meal, and sugar, and creating fantastic dinners for my family and friends. It is soothing and very gratifying. I find myself feeling lucky that I can obtain juicy kosher chicken, fresh rainbow chard, and varied ingredients to tantalize my taste buds. How lucky I am. How lucky are all of us.
This month is the holiday of Thanksgiving. We give thanks for the harvest, for the pilgrims finding their way to America, for our luck in being born in a country of relative safety, security, and opportunity. Gratitude is also an inherent Jewish value. Taking time to count our blessings, appreciate what we have, is essential to true spirituality. Our liturgy reminds us to be grateful to God. Our holidays celebrate the gift of our survival. And of course, we are always grateful for food.
My grandmother, I called Graful, because as a young child I combined her first name Ethel with ‘grandma’, told me stories of her mother. Rachel was born in the late 1800’s in Poland and suffered cold and fierce hunger. Rachel would often go to bed without any dinner because there was no food in the house. Sometimes, her mother would collect a few coins owed to her father and procure some stale bread. Rachel would be awakened from sleep, so she could have a slice of bread and glass of watered down milk. Rachel and her siblings scoured the country side for berries in summer and hoped for a better life in America.
Here I am. The great granddaughter of people who left Eastern Europe hoping that their children and grandchildren wouldn’t go to bed hungry. Not only do I not go hungry, I cook and bake with the passion of a gourmet chef. I feel so lucky that my ancestors were willing and able to leave all that they knew for a better future. I am thankful to God that I am alive and have two wonderful children. I am grateful for the easy winters in Southern California and the incredible beauty of the ocean, mountains, and desert. I am grateful to be living in the United States. A place where I could go to college and become a rabbi.
In the Talmud, Ben Zoma in Berakhot looks upon a crowd on the steps of the Temple Mount. “Blessed be God!” He exclaims. “Adam had to go through so many labors just to eat. He ploughed, sowed, reaped, threshed, winnowed, ground, and then sifted flour just so he could have bread. If Adam wanted to wear clothing, he had to shear, wash wool, comb, spin, and weave it. I, on the other hand, rise in the morning and find all these before me.”
How lucky we are to have shelter, clothing, and ample food. This Thanksgiving as we bite into juicy Turkey, savory mashed potatoes, and sweet pumpkin pie, may we take time to count our blessings in America. We can live as proud Jews. We can work, study, and live freely. Thank you God for all that you have given us. I think it’s time to enjoy a slice of pie.