A Thanksgiving greeting card from 1908
A Thanksgiving greeting card from 1908

From our archives: Newspapers of Thanksgivings past — 1909, 1924, 1958

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“The test of American unity is not that we should all believe, think and act alike, but that with our differences of tradition and outlook, we can still unite for the common cause of American service.”

That’s a quote from a 1924 sermon delivered by Rabbi Louis Newman of San Francisco Congregation Emanu-El, printed in this publication back when it was called the Emanu-El. Rabbi Newman was referring to the holiday of Thanksgiving, and his message of “unity with individuality” is as valid today as when it was first sent to the printing press 97 years ago. Nothing about 2021 suggests we have left behind fractious separation, and American Jews have always been concerned with how to be Americans, even on a holiday that descends from a Puritan tradition.

An ad from an 1895 issue of this newspaper, then called the Emanu-El
An ad from an 1895 issue of this newspaper, then called the Emanu-El

Or does it? Not according to a Sept. 18, 1896, editorial in this publication, which asked, “Where did the Puritans get their idea of Thanksgiving Day, unless it be from the Jewish feast of Tabernacles?” The same idea, that Thanksgiving was a rehash of the Jewish holiday of Sukkot, was reiterated in 1930: “This is but one of the many instances where Israel has set an example which America has profitably followed.”

In other columns, however, the Bay Area’s Jewish newspaper avoided laying claim to this most American of American holidays. Giving, and giving back, is part of both the Jewish and the American ethos, enshrined in the Thanksgiving message. On Nov. 19, 1909, we recommended that “A good way of celebrating Thanksgiving is to give something to the poor or some worthy institution.” And in an article that combined the Jewish value of tzedakah with gratitude for our freedoms in America, on Nov. 7, 1941, just before the U.S. entered World War II, this paper reported on Jewish women planning to invite soldiers stationed at Moffett Field to their family Thanksgiving dinners.


RELATED: How Thanksgiving helped Jews carve out a piece of the American story


Continuing in the same vein and expanding on it, the Torah commentary during the week of Thanksgiving 1958 was written by Congregation Beth Sholom’s Rabbi Saul White, a former columnist for this paper. “When we lick our lips over the tidbits so lavishly served, and loosen our belts for greater comfort in eating, let us be mindful that at that moment two-thirds of the peoples of the earth are hungry for the basic necessities such as rice, bread and potatoes.” (He also went on to suggest that portion sizes at restaurants were too big.)

The venerable rabbi was probably right, but isn’t Thanksgiving also about having fun? And after the last year and a half, we deserve to loosen our belts a little (more). Why not follow the example of this 1897 Thanksgiving party that made our society page, back when that was often the first thing local readers would turn to.

An ad from a 1936 issue of this newspaper, then called Emanu-El and the Jewish Journal
An ad from a 1936 issue of this newspaper, then called Emanu-El and the Jewish Journal

Sounding a little wistful that he had not been invited, the society columnist wrote: “Other friends made their unexpected appearance and soon the spacious parlors resounded with the laughter and merrymaking of a jolly crowd … the amiable host and hostess conducted their guests to the dining hall where a sumptuous repast was awaiting them. The merry party broke up at a late hour.”

This year, let us keep in mind the sumptuous repast — both distant and recent — and celebrate with our families in a sensible, safe way, as experts are recommending. And let us be very, very grateful.

J. Editorial Board

The J. Editorial Board pens editorials as the voice of J.