November 29, 2019 // 1 Kislev 5780

Dear Haverim,

We are a congregation with many relationships to the land on which we live.  Some of us are indigenous to this landmass, members of its First Nations and tribes.  Some of us are immigrants or refugees, calling a new place home out of choice, circumstance, or necessity.  Some of us are descendants of captives brought here by force and feel outside the settler-indigenous binary.  Some of us are descendants of immigrants, refugees, or colonists, inheritors of the conditions of our ancestors. So we bring to this time in the American calendar many relationships to Thanksgiving Day/National Day of Mourning, and that’s before anyone brings up politics at the dinner table.

As a descendant of passengers on the Mayflower, I feel compelled to know the truth behind the Mayflower and Thanksgiving myths: the real story of how my persecuted Puritan Separatist ancestors fled from England to Holland and then to the land of the Wampanoag (the American Indians indigenous to the area where the Mayflower landed), how they sought a place where they could practice their religion openly and without threat of violence, how the Wampanoag decided to be allied with them, and the violence of successive generations of Wampanoag and English after "the First Thanksgiving."  These stories are important for both my family and American history; they are also complicated and messy.

Some gloss over Thanksgiving’s historical context in favor of imbuing the day or weekend with an intentional gratitude practice divorced from national mythology.  I think this practice further silences accurate tellings of "the First Thanksgiving," especially those that push back against anti-indigenous narratives. Gratitude is, of course, a healthy spiritual practice.  However, we should not allow our gratitude to contribute to the silencing of stories that need to be told.

In 1863, Thanksgiving was established as a national holiday as an attempt to create an American founding mythology not predicated on slavery.  But in choosing the Pilgrims at the First Thanksgiving as the typical proto-Americans, the nationalist myth of Thanksgiving erases and obfuscates the harms of the colonial past of America, especially those of colonization and slavery.  It erases the experiences of American Indians and slaves. Educating ourselves on these issues is a necessary beginning of counteracting harm.

As a community, we can do more to take action to address the historical and ongoing harms of colonization and slavery.  This is why Tzedek Chicago is excited to announce the formation of our Reparations Task Force. Acting on our core values of solidarity and equity, the task force will explore how Tzedek as a community can best participate and support reparative justice efforts, especially regarding the harms of slavery and colonization.

Soon, we will send more information about how to get involved in our reparations work. We hope that you will consider spending your time in this sacred task.

Shabbat Shalom,

Jay Stanton

Assistant Clergy, Tzedek Chicago