Opportunities to express gratitude on secular, nationalist days of thanksgiving demand acknowledgement of an almost unfathomably deep history of trauma — not only the suffering and striving of my immigrant ancestors, but the sacrifice of all those who endured suffering dealt by their struggle to survive, and often failure to survive, the oppressions dealt by colonization, conquest, hegemony, natural disaster. Only the Earth (from which we, earthlings were born, Bnei Adam from Adamah) has witnessed the constancy of the violent deprivations we inflict upon each other. The privilege I’ve inherited from these sacrifices has come at a cost, and it must be honestly acknowledged, especially on secular/national days of thanksgiving, independence, and freedom. I insert this prayer after Al Hanissim in the Amidah and in the Birkat Hamazon on national days of independence and thanksgiving. . . .
This prayer is based on the personal prayer said on holidays before Torah reading. The grammar has been adapted as plural rather than singular, so that the couple says the prayer together before their ritual of Kiddushin (betrothal). . . .
We THANK YOU for the miracles, for the redemption, for the mighty deeds and saving acts, brought about by You, and for the wars which You waged for US in this time. On the 5th day of the month of Iyar 5708, at the moment of declaration of the establishment of the State of Israel, the People of Israel gained sovereignty on its land and control over its destiny. The miracle of the establishment of a Jewish State is the first flowering of our redemption. The State arrives through a strong historical and traditional connection as the Jews through each generation strived to return and stand firm on their ancient homeland. In the recent generations they have returned to their land en masse as pioneers, clandestine immigrants, and defenders, they made the deserts bloom, revived their ancient Hebrew language, built towns and cities, and established a growing community in control over its own culture and economy. Born is a nation that seeks peace, defends itself, and brings the blessing of progress to all of its citizens. This is the day which the Lord has made; we will rejoice and be glad in it! As it is written: “For I will take you from among the nations, and gather you out of all the countries, and will bring you into your own land.” (Ezekiel 36:24). And to your people Israel who you provided salvation and relief to this day, You helped us to overcome nations and marched us over peoples, and delivered our inheritance which is now the State of Israel. In its accordance this State will be open for Jewish immigration and for the Ingathering of the Exiles; it will foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; it will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture; it will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions. “Peace be within your walls, and prosperity within your palaces” (Psalms 122:7). . . .
Last year around this time, I was sitting with Ya’qub ibn Yusuf in his bookstore, Olam Qatan (54 Emek Refaim in South Jerusalem), asking if he might share some useful practice that I might share through the Open Siddur Project. He offered this thought which he had heard from someone else:
I have difficulty with the idea of thanking G!d for “returning my soul to me” sheheḥezarta bi nishmati while I’m still endeavoring to remain in touch with my dreams. So I much prefer what someone else suggested, that instead of saying nishmati (my soul), to say instead han’shamati (the embodiment of my soul). I thank G!d for returning me to my body — my soul was never missing.
. . .
In these still, quiet moments I am not asleep, and not yet awake. In the threshold of day and night, with the mixture of darkness and light, my body is once again coming to life. I am reborn, each day, from the womb of your compassion. May all of my actions be worthy of the faith you’ve placed in me. With words of thanks I’ll greet the dawn. . . .
With this in mind, I want to invite all Jews in North America that celebrate the secular/national holiday of Thanksgiving to consider what might be a thoughtful prayer on this day. For the few hundred years that our people have been here, as refugees fleeing the Spanish Inquisition and as immigrants simply seeking better fortunes in a safer land, this Land has been a sanctuary. At the same time, even through the storied travails of our immediate ancestors, we cannot ignore the suffering endured by the indigenous peoples of this land who, first by devastating plague, and later through intentional acts of dispossession were murdered, massacred, forcibly displaced, and assimilated (forbidden to speak their language, separated from their families, made ignorant of their traditions) — experiences that must resonate with our own historical experience in the Diaspora. It seems immoral and obscene to me to be thankful without also being mindful of this complexity — how the fruits we enjoy in this Land have a rotten and dramatic history that we, now as residents of this continent, must at least consider in our prayers of thanksgiving. . . .
An original liturgical poem inspired by the Modah|Modeh Ani prayer. . . .
Thankful am I in your Presence, Spirit who lives and endures, for You’ve returned to me my soul with compassion. Abundant is your faith! . . .