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Asking the Clergy: What is the value of Thanksgiving as a religious holiday?

Rabbi Mendy Goldberg of Lubavitch of the East

Rabbi Mendy Goldberg of Lubavitch of the East End, the Rev. Marjorie Nunes of Hicksville United Methodist Church and the Rev. William F. Brisotti of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal Roman Catholic Church. Credit: Rabbi Mendy Goldberg; Howard Schnapp; Anthony Cacioppo

As families across Long Island sit down this Thursday to a turkey (or Tofurky) dinner with all the traditional or vegan fixings, many will pause to say a prayer or otherwise give thanks before digging into the annual feast. This week’s clergy discuss why God deserves a place at the Thanksgiving table.

The Rev. William F. Brisotti

Pastor, Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal Roman Catholic Church, Wyandanch

Thanksgiving Day is rooted in both the religious and secular traditions of our nation. It is good to learn the full significance of this holiday, why and how it came to be, and the manner in which it can strengthen families, civic society and faith communities.

Humble thankfulness is the wellspring of a well-grounded human life, in appreciation of the bountiful gift of God’s creation, shared in political freedom with all fellow beings. A thankful attitude can lead us beyond our particular faith communities to a deeper understanding of religion as a means to discover true wisdom and thus solidarity with nature and people of all faiths, with our moment in history and with the one transcendent God, known in common by many names and from many perspectives.

The Trappist monk Thomas Merton, in his collection of meditations titled “Thoughts in Solitude” (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), wrote of gratitude as the recognition of God’s love in everything, in every breath we draw, in every moment of existence, and that gratitude is at the heart of religious life.

Rabbi Mendy Goldberg

Lubavitch of the East End

Thanksgiving is a day when we thank God for all we have and what he continues to do for us.

While there is no doubt that this great country’s historical success and prosperity are credited to the Founding Fathers, they recognized that there is a Supreme Being who provides and cares for every creature. They recognized that God sustains and gives life to every being, the unalienable rights upon which no government can impinge.

In Judaism it is a core belief that we always need to be thankful for everything we have, and that includes thanking God before we eat. Our daily prayers are replete with thanks. Our thankfulness to God, however, cannot and should not remain in emotions, thoughts or even speech, but must also must move us to action, thus in Judaism there are many practices that express just that.

The Rev. Marjorie Nunes

Hicksville United Methodist Church

In Psalm 136:1 we read, “O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever.” Psalm 136 is a liturgy of praise to the Lord as Creator and Provider. To give thanks to God is a Christian directive.

Thanksgiving is definitely a religious holiday rooted in the Christian tradition of our country. Even though the secularism of our present culture may have turned the focus somewhat, we ought not to forget the history and the religious significance of this American holiday.

Actually, the first Thanksgiving Day observance originated in Virginia. On Dec. 4, 1619, 38 English settlers arrived at Berkeley Plantation on the James River. The settlement's charter required that the day of arrival be commemorated with thanksgiving to Almighty God. After they arrived on the shores of the James River, the settlers got on their knees and gave thanks for their safe passage. Hence, America’s first Thanksgiving was about prayer and thanksgiving to God.

DO YOU HAVE QUESTIONS you’d like Newsday to ask the clergy? Email them to LILife@newsday.com. Find more LI Life stories at newsday.com/LILife.

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