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God Squad: Weird Thanksgiving things to be thankful for

Herewith I present my annual essay about things we don't ever include in our formulaic list of Thanksgiving blessings — things like family, food, home and football games. In the past I have given thanks for workers who repair high-voltage lines, nursing home staff and squirrels.

Of course, I encourage all of you, dear readers, to send me your off-the-grid Thanksgiving thanks so that the scope of our thankfulness and the depth of our blessings can become evident to each of us.

This Thanksgiving I am thankful for:

Olives. I have turned into an olive-holic in my old age. Specifically, I love big green Cerignola olives. I have read that they are the largest olives in the world, and I just love them. They are firm and buttery and they remind me that great olives are not grown with pimentos or blue cheese in them and that they are not here on Earth merely to provide a garnish for martinis.

The great truth of olive trees is that they live for centuries. The best of them are all bent and weathered but still bear fruit year after year. They remind us that great things take a long time. Olive trees take years to bear their first fruit, but they make up for that on the back end.

There is a Jewish legend that an old man named Honi was planting a carob tree (if I ate carobs, I would be thankful for them as well). A young man stopped him and chided him. He asked Honi why he was planting a tree that would not bear fruit until years after he was dead. Honi replied that other people had planted carob trees before him and they never ate the fruit he was eating now.

Let us remember and give thanks for all the people who planted things and ideas, children and inventions that they never enjoyed in their lifetimes. Planting for the future may be our most noble pursuit. Olive trees also remind me of very old people who still bear and bestow their wisdom after years of being rooted in our lives.

Olive oil is also one of the healthiest foods on the planet. I can trace my eating habits from completely unhealthy to semi-healthy by recalling the time I switched from cooking with solid white cooking stuff to cooking with olive oil. Olive trees are also hardy and can live in dry climates and can survive broken limbs and trunks.

In the Bible, the endurance of olive trees is a metaphor for human hope in the face of tough times. In a passage from the Book of Job (14:7), which I quote often, we read, "For there is hope of a tree, if it be cut down, that at the first scent of water it will sprout again, and that the tender branch thereof will not cease."

May the truth of olives be the truth of all humankind this Thanksgiving.

Beekeepers. If olive oil is not the perfect food, then honey surely is. Honey does not need to be refrigerated, and it never rots. It is the perfect sweetener. And, of course, the bees who make honey also pollinate the fruits and flowers of the planet.

The Bible teaches that "the blood is the life," but I disagree. To me the bees are the life. The highest praise for the land of Israel in the Bible is that it is eretz zavat halav u'devash, "A land flowing with milk and honey." I celebrate the coming of the Jewish New Year by eating apples dipped into honey. Bees and honey are amazing and yet we do not give thanks for them enough, and particularly, we do not give thanks enough for the beekeepers who care for them and protect them and harvest their golden goodness for all of us to enjoy.

When I was a child, my dad used to take us to visit his friend Wally, who owned a bee farm called Honey Acres. Wally was a dedicated beekeeper and he taught me my favorite way to enjoy honey — chew on a piece of a honeycomb spread on toast with butter. Wally understood and explained to me often how fragile a beehive was and how many obstacles bees had to overcome to make honey. Those obstacles include starvation, killer bees, wasps, mites and, now, colony collapse disorder, in which for mostly unknown reasons worker bees disappear from a hive, leaving the queen bee and a few nurse bees behind.

So let us pray extra hard this Thanksgiving for the beekeepers and their little hardworking charges, and let us never take the sweetness of the Earth for granted.

Happy Thanksgiving to one and all!

SEND QUESTIONS AND COMMENTS to The God Squad at godsquadquestion@aol.com or Rabbi Marc Gellman, Temple Beth Torah, 35 Bagatelle Rd., Melville, NY 11747.

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