Dr. Gereboff's Head Notes
Thanksgiving In Spite of Growing Terror
As the threat of terrorism grows, as a political campaign whips up blatantly racist sentiments and daily news reports are so bleak, there seems to be so many reasons that challenge a celebratory holiday like Thanksgiving. Yet the markets are crowded, everyone talks about where and with whom they are celebrating the holiday.
Thanksgiving is a big deal for me. I grew up in Southeastern Massachusetts, about 40 miles from Plimouth Plantation where we assume the first Thanksgiving took place. Cranberry bogs were nearby and cranberry ice cream, cranberry crumbles, and cranberry sauces figured prominently in our cuisine.
As a child, I really enjoyed visiting Plimouth plantation – a 17th Century reconstructed farming and maritime community along the shore of Plymouth Harbor. At the Plantation, we could see reconstructed homes from that period, and we met costumed role players who portrayed actual residents of Plymouth Colony. They had adopted names and viewpoints and life histories of the people who lived and worked in the Colony.
A few years ago, I returned to Plimouth Plantation with my daughter. The Plantation had added another experience – the Wampanoag Village. Within walking distance to the recreated English Village, along the banks of a river, a Wampanoag village had been constructed. The village represents the Native community that preceded the Pilgrims on this land. Unlike the actors in the English Village, the staff in the Wapanoag village are Native people. On this visit, the people on the Wapanoag side as well as those on the English site speak about the disagreements between the two groups. They challenge visitors to see their conflicting perspectives. As I sat in one of the Wapanoag’s matt-covered wetu (house), one of the Native facilitators described his home and shook his head as he questioned the wisdom of the stuffy, dark narrow houses of his English neighbors.
As an adult, I know that Plimoth Plantation really tells a story of two competing views of America and of American history: the American past as an heroic account of the birth of freedom and democracy and the nation’s past as a tale of conflict and racism. The traditional picture of a peaceful Pilgrim and Indian Thanksgiving that emerges from this experience glosses over the strife between these two competing interests. I know this intellectually, and I also know that history is a dynamic process where new meanings are layered on previous interpretations.
I reconcile my desire to commemorate the noble intentions of democracy with a history of racism by celebrating the former and working toward eradicating the latter. As I hold this idea in tension, one of my dreams is that one day the racists and terrorists of today will sit together at a Thanksgiving type event – celebrating the best of human intentions while knowing that there is still work to be done to achieve mutual understanding.
I wish you all a restful and peaceful Thanksgiving and a Shabbat Shalom,
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