Thursday, November 23, 2006

Is it Jewish?

Is Thanksgiving Jewish?

That's the question that millions of Jewish Americans have been asking themselves this week as they go through the rituals of the turkey offering, cranberry sauce libations and football exegesis.

Or not.

In case you're more practical, and would prefer a discussion of "something that matters" instead of trivia, try this historical question:

If you were one of the fist Europeans to visit America and you saw this strange, chicken-like bird for the first time, what would you call it?

Since you think you're in India, you would probably call it an "Indian chcken."

Are you with me so far?

So French explorers dubbed this new bird "poulet d'Inde" (Indian chicken) later shortened to "dinde".

English settlers and Continentals called the bird "turkey" because it looked like another type of fowl that was imported from Turkey.

Jewish explorers (in a remarkable agreement with the French) called it tarnegol hodu which means "Indian chicken" and was later shortened it to simply hodu (as in Hindu).

What's interesting for us is that the Hebrew word HODU also happens to mean "give thanks."

Similarly, we ourselves are called "Jews" because most of us (aside from the Cohen and Levi clans) descend from the remnant of the 12 Tribes who survived the repeated pounding from Assyria and Babylon 2,500 years ago. The one remaining landed tribe was Yehuda or Judah. And that name - Judah - means "thankful".

Wait a second (I know you're thinking this)... Did you say "Jewish explorers"??

I did.

In fact - and this is a juicy one for your table - when Columbus famously came to the New World, who among his crew was the very first to spot land? Obviously, it must have been the man working in the upper mast on the front ship, right? And we know who this was: Roderigo De Triana, a Jewish sailor.

Shabbat Shalom.