“Bendigamos al Altísimo,
Al Señor que nos crió,
Por los bienes que nos dió” (“Let us bless the Most High/ The Lord who created us,/ Let us give Him thanks/ For the good things He has given us.”) Happy Thanksgiving from your friends at The American Sephardi Federation
In honor of Thanksgiving, the ASF’s Sephardi World Weekly is pleased to offer the following “Letter from the Land of Israel”:
Professor Daniel J. Elazar (1934-1999) served as the first President of The American Sephardi Federation from 1973-75 and enjoyed a highly successful career as a political scientist, specializing in the Jewish political tradition and Federalism. A proponent of Classic Sephardic Judaism, Prof. Elazar also studied various issues connected to Israel and world Jewry before making aliyah to Israel, where he founded and served as President of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.
Prof. Elazar thought deeply about the American experience and its connection to the Bible. A fascinating example of the connection between the two emerges in his thoughts on Thanksgiving.
One of the central ideas of Prof. Elazar's thought was the concept of “covenant.” He even devoted a monumental four-volume series, The Covenant Tradition in Politics, to investigating the meaning and historical impact of the concept. While the idea of covenant was born in ancient Israel, Prof. Elazar argued that it still exerted a deep influence down through modern times, especially in the founding of the United States: “The idea of separation of powers, especially among equals… is a product of covenantal political culture.”
In the third volume of his series, Covenant and the American Founding, Prof. Elazar treated the holiday of Thanksgiving. Together with Independence Day, he called the November holiday, one of “two major covenantal celebrations that persist into the postmodern epoch.”
What makes Thanksgiving so special? According to Prof. Elazar, Thanksgiving “is the premier national holiday because of what it combines and what it excludes. It combines both religious and patriotic sentiments in proper proportion.” This blending of religious and national dimensions characterized Biblical Israel, and it likewise characterized the original American point of departure when the Puritans arrived in their New Israel.
What’s more, Prof. Elazar points out how the religious dimension of Thanksgiving possesses its own uniquely American character: Thanksgiving “celebrates not only the American civil religion but the religious character of the American people, yet it is not identified with any specific religion or religious denomination.” The religious content of Thanksgiving is universal, not particular, i.e., Jewish, Christian, or Muslim. Anyone and everyone desiring to give thanks to the mysterious source of the American bounty is invited to participate in the holiday as an American. One does not even need to be religious to participate in the holiday, simply thankful: “Thanksgiving is not strictly religious just as it is certainly not strictly civil.” Ultimately, writes Prof. Elazar, “Each generation can develop its own combination of the two.”
Prof. Elazar’s thoughts on Thanksgiving stimulate the reader to a deeper appreciation of the unique character of Thanksgiving and, in a sense, the unique character of the American project. This Thanksgiving Holiday, we invite you to join us in giving thanks to the mysterious Providential power responsible for the improbable flourishing of Sephardic communities in the United States from 1654 to the present.
We are grateful for the opportunity to serve you and ask for your special support to accelerate the saving and sharing of Sephardi history, ideas, and culture. Together, we can succeed in revitalizing the Classic Sephardic way, a tradition “seriously Jewish, yet worldly and cosmopolitan,” as an integral, indeed essential, part of the Jewish experience.
“!תקבל ברחמים וברצון תפלתנו” “May our prayer be accepted with loving favor!”* The American Sephardi Federation
Sephardic Songs of Praise by Rev. Abraham Lopes Cardozo (Cover photo courtesy ofJewishMusic)
Believed to have come to the United States from France via Curaçao and Jamaica, Bendigamos (translation) is a traditional Sephardic song of thanksgiving after a meal. In this recording, Rev. Abraham Lopes Cardozo, A”H, Hazzan of Congregation Shearith Israel: The Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue from 1946-1986, sings the hymn according to the Western Sephardic tradition.
At this time of thanksgiving, we thank you for your most generous tax-deductible contribution in support of The American Sephardi Federation!
Contact us by email or phone (212) 294-8350 to learn about giving opportunities in honor or memory of loved ones.
Image credit: The historical and contemporary cornucopia or “horns of plenty” as represented by a Maccabeean coin of Yoḥanan Hurqanos, a vintage Thanksgiving greeting card, and a modern Israel shekel coin.