Thankfulness is not a once-a-year phenomenon

By now, the house is back in order, the rented tables and chairs returned, the dishes carefully cleaned and stacked in the china cabinet, the visitors (thankfully, many might sigh) gone home.

For many, the yearly community service — helping in a soup kitchen, delivering canned goods to the needy, sick or elderly — has been fulfilled, and they can feel gratified in knowing they’ve done a good deed for others.

We’ve said our thanks, counted our blessings and passed the peas. Thanksgiving is over, and as soon as the holidays are out of the way, we can get back to our lives.

And that’s the problem.

Why do so many of us relegate thoughts of thankfulness and do-good acts to a single day, or a single season?

It’s easy to feel a bit smug after we’ve done our annual mitzvah. And despite the abundance at our tables, it’s also easy to wonder, what’s to be thankful for? Suicide bombings? A rise in anti-Semitism? Iraq? Firestorms? Unemployment? The intifada?

Certainly, as Rabbi Harold Kushner has pointed out, there’s never been a time in which bad things didn’t happen to good people.

The pilgrims experienced enough hardship to leave them demoralized. Yet they sat for three days, feasting, rejoicing and grateful for what they had. Rejuvenated, they made it through that first winter, and another, and another — just as our ancestors who left the Old Country did.

And like our forebears, we are commanded not to dwell on our hardships.

Along with the pilgrims, our ancestors translated their personal suffering into mitzvot, paving the way for those who came later. The early Jewish immigrants created settlement houses, schools, synagogues and social services so that successive generations of “Jewish pilgrims” could enjoy better lives.

But their work isn’t done — and it is up to us to continue their legacy. Judaism is primarily a religion of deeds, not creeds. If we are truly thankful, what actions can we take to heal the world, the community?

If we are grateful, not just thankful, for our education, shouldn’t we show that thanks by supporting teachers who will inspire and instruct future generations, and share what we know with others?

If we are truly thankful for our families, shouldn’t we finally let go of anger, hurts, blame and focus on ways to be more loving, more forgiving, more honest?

If we are truly thankful for our freedoms, shouldn’t we speak out against injustices, championing the freedom of others?

And if we are truly thankful for our faith, what can we do to bring it into our homes, to keep it alive in the world?

Now, the day after Thanksgiving, is as good a time as any to start.