If it looks like Pesach, and talks like Pesach, it must be Thanksgiving

It’s strange how the human mind, like the thermostat on my den wall, turns itself on and off.

For example, the other day my mind transported me back 50 years, to an afternoon in 1951 when my wide-ranging imagination contemplated supper … probably those egg-battered veal chops my mother made so well.

It was a legitimate topic for contemplation, since it was 5 p.m. and supper was near. But it was somewhat inappropriate, since I was in my American history classroom, and the professor was lecturing about people we used to call “Indians.”

Likely, these noble Native Americans would have hated breaded veal chops. It’s equally likely they could never even have prepared one, because they lacked matzoh meal and iron skillets.

So I mentally dumped my platter of veal chops in the imaginary kitchen garbage can as the professor intoned: “Some historians believe that, after the diaspora, the

Ten Lost Tribes of Israel reappeared out of the mists of North America as the Algonquin, Narragansett and Iroquois Native Americans.”

Can you believe this?

Although he had a doctorate and I only had a bar mitzvah certificate on my bedroom wall, I knew he was wrong. I knew it because I had never heard of a Native American doing up a golden fried, matzoh meal-breaded veal chop like my mama and her sisters used to make. But he was right in that some historians held to this belief. Doesn’t Narragansett sound a little like Naftali?

But — and to my young mind, this was a big but — those friendly New England natives brought corn and turkey to that first Thanksgiving feast — not tzimmes or brisket in dark onion sauce. And that made me suspect they couldn’t have been Jewish.

So, as usual, I consulted my rabbi. I cornered him in his study and asked him straight out, “Since maybe, perhaps, it could be, that the Massapeka tribe of North America is the Manasseh tribe of Israel, why isn’t Thanksgiving a Jewish holiday?”

“Have a chair, Ted,” he said, eying me carefully. “Here, have a nice chocolate chip cookie. Lean back and breathe deeply.”

He was no stranger to my quest for Judaica. But the parallels, he claimed, were more apparent between the Puritans and our ancestors than between Native Americans and our ancestors, he explained.

That’s what he tried to say, but I rushed on to elaborate. I told him I had checked my biblical concordance and found the Hebrew word “todah” 20 times from Leviticus to Jonah — and guess what it meant? Thanksgiving, that’s what!

He nodded in agreement, just like wise King Solomon learned to do when each of his thousand wives complained about the excess jewelry, cosmetics and gold spangled gowns of the other 999. Such a king. A thousand wives and he never paid a cent of alimony. And you can believe he sat down to a hot supper every night.

No wonder he was

smart enough to write Ecclesiastes.

Anyhow, my rabbi and I, after a few more choc- olate chip cookies, decided that yes, it was halachically correct to celebrate Thanksgiving. So many Jewish parallels.

And not coincidentally. Don’t those dark-robed Puritans look like Chassids in the paintings? Not only that, historians say, many were fluent in Hebrew. And they certainly saw their flight from the Church of England as similar to our Egyptian exodus, with the waves of the Atlantic substituiting for the sand dunes of Sinai.

That first Massachusetts Bay Thanksgiving was all about gratitude for a bountiful, nourishing harvest and a successful, watery exodus from England and religious persecution. To our Jewish ears, that sounds a lot like Passover and Shavuot, with maybe a touch of Chanukah’s chauvinism thrown in.

If it doesn’t feel Jewish enough for you, stuff the turkey with matzoh brei and sing “Dayenu.” And crown the evening with a prayer for America and Israel.

Ted Roberts is a humorist based in Huntsville, Ala.