BY RABBI BARRY COHEN
An anecdote: During my sophomore year at the University of Michigan, I went home for Thanksgiving break. That Saturday morning, I had settled down with family to watch the Michigan-Ohio State game. At kickoff, with the ball flying through the air, the upstairs phone rang. This was back in the day when phones plugged into walls, and the handset was attached to the unit by a cord. All four of the Cohen children shared the upstairs line.
As I ran upstairs, I yelled out, “Who would have the nerve to call during kickoff!”
Out of breath, I picked up the phone. “Hello?”
“Barry, how’s it going?”
On the line was Todd, one of my friends from the dorm.
“I’m good. How are you?”
“I know it’s game time, but I just wanted to wish you a Happy Thanksgiving and thank you for your friendship.”
To say I was simultaneously embarrassed, humbled and grateful is an understatement.
This year’s Thanksgiving holiday is not the Thanksgiving we could ever have anticipated. I can only imagine the hopes and expectations we had of how we would celebrate with family and friends. But we can brush aside the dark cloud hovering over the holiday and embrace the value of gratitude.
Years ago, my friend Todd taught me to recalibrate my sense of gratitude. He reminded me to cherish what I often take for granted and to remember to express gratitude to those closest in my life.
Another anecdote: During my recent annual physical, my doctor asked me if I had any particular concerns. I started complaining that because of shoulder discomfort, I could not play tennis or basketball anymore.
My doctor is not one to mince words. He responded, “Our bodies are designed to work well for about 40-45 years, and then things inevitably begin to break down.”
“But I love playing tennis and basketball,” I said.
“What else can you do?”
In effect, my doctor was asking me to face reality and make a decision. I could complain about things I can no longer do and allow my body to deteriorate further, or I could focus on what I can still do and make the most of it.
I moved to the right place, because I enjoy hiking and mountain bike riding. I also know I have to work on core exercises. I can do all of these things while respecting COVID restrictions.
During this time of Thanksgiving, let us ask ourselves: What are we grateful for? What blessings exist in our lives that we often take for granted?
Rabbi Samuel Karff (z’l) taught: “Why is it important to pause and count our blessings? Because of the human temptations to pray only prayers of asking for something at those times when we are aware of the pain and the unfulfilled yearnings in our life. We can only begin to accept the all of life, and affirm that life is worth its price, if we lift to consciousness all the good in our lives.” (Mishkan T’filah: A Reform Siddur, p. 33)
We can make a part of our bedtime routine asking ourselves: “What I am grateful for about something that happened today? What blessing did I share or experience today?” This is an easy way to brush aside the stresses, strains and negative emotions that may have built up during the day. Through our answers, we prepare for sleep in a positive and constructive manner. And depending on our responses, we can give ourselves something to look forward to in the coming days and weeks.
I hope you have a Happy Thanksgiving. Though it will not be the Thanksgiving we hoped for, I am confident that, on reflection, we will realize we experienced a blessing with something or someone that makes us happy and grateful.
Rabbi Barry Cohen is the Jewish community chaplain if the greater Portland area.
In addition to the Chaplain's Corner, the Jewish Review offers space for our community's rabbis to share their thoughts on the week's parsha or current events. The Oregon Board of Rabbis coordinates the Rabbi's Corner.
To schedule a date to submit a 500-word piece, email OBR President Rabbi Eve Posen, firstname.lastname@example.org.