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Counting our blessings

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My family rang in the Jewish new year at a friend’s home. After we chanted the blessings and before we sat down to eat our meal, the host asked each of the guests to take turns saying what we were most thankful for in the past year.

Giving thanks is something we don’t do enough. We spend a lot of time complaining over the course of the year—and often rightfully so—with our over-scheduled lives, a bad economy, and hatred and tragedy plaguing the world, often specifically targeting the Jewish people.  

Sometimes the bad overshadows the overwhelming good in our lives. But now, with Thanksgiving just around the corner, it’s an ideal time to stop and count our blessings.

Giving thanks is core to Judaism. In fact, it’s the first thing we’re instructed to do each morning before we get out of bed. The very first prayer that Jews recite upon waking is Modeh Ani, “I give thanks,” thanking God for protection.

Self-help author Melody Beattie emphasizes the importance and the creativity of being grateful. “Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough and more,” she said. “It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.”

I am thankful for many blessings in my life. To name a few:

I’m grateful for being an American Jewish woman, endowed with the freedom to be anything in life that I want to be, no matter my religion or gender. 

I’m thankful to my parents for raising me in a loving, compassionate, and haimish Jewish home and for serving as models of love to emulate in my own life.

I’m blessed to have had three of my grandparents live to see me grow up. Throughout my childhood, I would weave together the fabric of my family history as they’d transmit to me bits and pieces of our shared story, over a game of gin rummy or while filling in a crossword puzzle with me. Three Passovers ago, my maternal grandmother died at the advanced age of 93; but I still visit my father’s parents in Long Island often.

I’m thankful for attending excellent schools in a safe learning environment with extraordinary teachers, who nourished my potential. This fall, I watched the new documentary film Waiting for Superman, which examines the failures of American public education, following five students through the fraught school system. The students were forced to leave their education to fate, a lottery dictating whether they would attend the higher-quality charter school in their area. Witnessing their struggle, I realized how much I’d taken my own education for granted.

And I’m thankful for being a member of a committed, caring, and vibrant Jewish community here in Chicago. Our community strives to repair the world each day, lending a hand to Jews and non-Jews in the Chicago area and to Jews in need around the world.

I hope you’ll count the blessings in your own life—not just on Thanksgiving—but every morning before you get out of bed.

What are you most thankful for this year? Comment below:

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