Many Americans place Thanksgiving in the pantheon of family holiday celebrations—Jews included. It is one of the few culturally organized opportunities we have to step back and simply enjoy the bounty of our lives: loved ones, food, our many blessings, and football. For many, it is also a time for reflection on what is missing from the lives of many individuals. These thoughts inspire countless acts of compassion and caring for the homeless and hungry on Thanksgiving and into the holidays that follow.
A familiar refrain generally follows: why is there so much concern during these holidays, and why not through the year? And I wonder: what can we actually do to encourage this generosity, and keep people with challenges in the mainstream of our collective concern, year in and year out?
Physical, mental, economic, social: all kinds of vulnerabilities have implications for the individual and/or family. As Director of Special Needs Services at the JCC, I have devoted my life’s work to inclusion of people with special needs. These are primarily people with psychological, physical or developmental challenges; this is how our society understands the term. The JCC serves more than 1,000 children, teens and adults with these challenges every year and I’m proud of that. Nevertheless, the abiding generosity we see during this time of year always prompts me to remember that the fundamental Jewish value of Kavod Atzmi, the dignity of every person, encourages us to reach out and support all people who are marginalized.
May we hold this value close to our hearts on Thanksgiving and always.