Puritans and Israelites: A Tale of Two Peoples
by Ted Roberts
Just as I'm bending over the helpless Thanksgiving turkey, poised to saw
off a drumstick for my youngest son, I get an uncomfortable feeling that
ceremonially something's amiss. Hey, we're preparing to eat this golden
escapee from our oven and we haven't asked the four questions. And we
haven't recited the plagues or sipped our first glass of wine. Wait a
minute, it's Thanksgiving and not Passover.
Why are these two commemorations entwined in the cramped mind of this aged
patriarch who never gets a letter from his kids on any holiday?
It's a natural confusion. Passover and Thanksgiving, Israelites and
Puritans. Their quest and deliverance, both impossible dreams that came
true. Both were fleeing religious persecution and seeking a "New Zion." And
both peoples took passage over a wasteland--one of sand and rock, the other
of foaming waves.
Unlike earlier migrations of nations, neither was necessarily seeking
material prosperity. Condos and Lincoln Continentals and a high protein
diet were not emblazoned on their pennants. But still the craftsmen, civil
servants and businessmen who crowded the hold of the Mayflower must have
wondered about food and drink from the all powerful Deliverer. Corn, say
the historians, saved them. They ate cornbread like our ancestors ate Matzah.
And can you doubt that the Pilgrim fathers--who read their kids to sleep at
night with a chapter from the Old Testament, weren't gripped by the Spirit
of those earlier Jewish vagabonds. Many a moonlit night they must have
peered from the Mayflower deck at the watery wastes that surrounded them
and seen the sands of Sinai instead of the heaving waves. They were Old
The navigation of both peoples was unfortunate. The English rebels settled
down in the Northeast U.S. -- a land where chicken soup and warm, bubbling
cholent is needed to heat the human body ten months of the year. If only
the Mayflower captain had taken a sharp left and driven down the coast a
couple of days, they would have disembarked at Miami Beach where the living
was easy--where delis and condos crowded the beach instead of wintry woods,
where you could wear sunglasses and underwear instead of smelly bear skin
all year 'round.
Our ancestors made a similar mistake. Even though they wandered around the
Sinai that floated on an underground ocean of oil, they eventually headed
North to the Milk and Honey land of their ancestors. Sure, milk is great as
a natural resource, but to get it you've got to squeeze a wild beast who
wants to keep it. Oil? You make a hole in the ground and with a little help
from a pump, it gushes out and you get rich and you don't get goat hair all
over your High Holiday suit.
No matter. Both wandered found a home. And we American Jews celebrate both
events. On Thanksgiving, remember the Exodus story. You can be sure the
Pilgrims did. But spare me the Matzah, for now.