JTA looks at their American Jewish Thanksgiving archives, starting at the first half of the 20th century
When refugees arrived in America fresh from the horrors of the Holocaust, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society helped them get acclimated. Part of their acclimation process was learning about a quintessentially American holiday. In November 1947, JTA reported on Thanksgiving dinners organized for displaced persons:
Some 400 DP’s who recently arrived in this country as immigrants will celebrate their first Thanksgiving dinners Thursday at the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society and the United Service for New Americans.
Secretary of Commerce W. Averell Harriman will be the guest of honor and the principal speaker at the USNA dinner. At the HIAS, Isaac Asofsky, executive director, will explain the significance of the holiday. Among the 200 persons at the HIAS celebration will be at least 50 children and representatives of 17 European nationalities.
Thanksgiving, after all, is an American tradition that Jews have embraced with enthusiasm.
At New York’s Congregation B’nai Jeshurun, Thanksgiving observance is a longstanding tradition. In 1932, the synagogue was celebrating its 107th Thanksgiving, with a Protestant bishop as a guest speaker. Eighteen years later, as B’nai Jeshurun marked its 125th Thanksgiving, 11 of the city’s oldest Protestant churches sent representatives.
But it is not only in New York where Thanksgiving has provided an occasion for interfaith togetherness. In 1932 a Duluth, Minn., synagogue joined five area churches in a “union” Thanksgiving service.
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