In the Interim: Families – of Birth and of Choice   

It’s nearly Thanksgiving time. I’m not sure how the days flew so quickly since I arrived at Follen on August 8 but suddenly, we’re into the official winter holiday season. Yikes.

Thanksgiving is a tricky holiday for a lot of people, I think. The Norman Rockwell image of people gathered around a groaning table, smiling, well-washed and happy (all white people, by the way) is not real. And the idea that we all will be happy when we get together is also not real. Neither is the part about having lots to eat, or about finding that this is a heart-warming celebration that we will surely enjoy.

I’ve been relatively lucky in my family around Thanksgiving, in that there were never epic family fights at the table that I can recall. And yet the Thanksgivings we spent with my mother’s family in rural New York dissolved after my mother and her sister (her only sibling) fought, after their parents’ deaths, over their inheritance. Although I can remember spending happy times with my two younger cousins and enjoying Thanksgiving at Gram’s, it all ended when the family feud broke out.

The holidays we celebrated with my father’s family were happier, although not ‘perfect’ by any means. Our Eastern European Jewish family enjoyed chopped liver, herring in cream sauce on crackers, a turkey stuffed with matzah, and gifts after dinner (we called it “Jewish Christmas.”) My aunt, who was a ‘party girl’ of the first order, would get going on the Bullshots (bouillon and vodka) early and by late afternoon there was a haze of cigarette and cigar smoke in the room and a declaration that the “God—– lousy kids (that was my cousin Ellen and me) should finish the cooking” while the adults continued to cocktail. And we did (this is probably where some of my love of cooking came to be). Yet, we also enjoyed our dinner, replete with champagne, and the telling of lots of family stories that helped lift up the American Dream of the children of immigrants who prospered through hard work and sacrifice.

My husband Ben and I have a deeply held commitment that there will be no fighting at our table on holidays (fortunately that is not a challenging promise for us to make, but we also make clear to others that it’s part of our standard of hospitality). We find good things to talk about with whoever’s gathered with us – family and friends. This year we will try hard to stay away from political analysis, and we play board games, enjoy snacks and a little wine, and have a multi-generational celebration that starts in early afternoon and extends into the night.

As the grandchild of immigrants who came to this country in search of a better life, I am keenly aware of the promise of America and the betrayals as well. And I am determined to do what I can to make life better for my family of blood and for those who I choose to connect to, who also seek a life of fulfillment here.

Thanksgiving is probably the one holiday that nearly everyone in the US celebrates in some way. For you and yours – however yours is defined – I pray that it is a time of caring and celebration. And I hope that the connections we make or renew on this holiday can be carried forward into the new year, to strengthen the promise of a good life in this country of promise and challenge.



Deborah Weiner
Interim Director of Religious Education