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Jewish World Review Nov. 21, 2001 /6 Kislev 5762

Don Feder

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Pilgrims understood the real source of security -- THE first Thanksgiving after Sept. 11 should remind us that blessings and gratitude go hand in hand.

The holiday is rooted in America's religious experience.

Unfortunately, in recent times it has been largely stripped of its spiritual dimension. One public-school textbook claims the name refers to the Pilgrims giving thanks to the Indians -- revisionism in the service of secularism.

The Pilgrims were Protestant dissenters who came here to create their own new world order. The Mayflower Compact was as much a creed as a political document. ("Having undertaken, for the glory of G-d and the advancement of the Christian faith ... a voyage to plant the first permanent colony in the northern parts of Virginia ...")

When they arrived not in Virginia but on the rocky coast of what became New England, the settlers, in the words of Governor William Bradford, "fell upon their knees and blessed the G-d of heaven who had brought them over this vast and furious ocean."

The first Thanksgiving, celebrated in October 1621, praised G-d for bringing the Pilgrims through an awful winter, when half their company perished. It also observed the commandment to the Children of Israel to perform a service of thanksgiving, after they entered the Promised Land.

Other Americans continue the tradition begun at Plymouth.

In 1789, George Washington proclaimed the first national day of thanks. Our infant republic had survived the snows of Valley Forge to triumph over the greatest empire on earth -- reason enough to give thanks, the father of our country thought.

Abraham Lincoln made Thanksgiving a holiday, by a proclamation issued on Oct. 3, 1863. This came three months to the day after the Civil War's pivotal battle, when the republic once again was saved, seemingly by Divine intervention.

Weeks after his proclamation, speaking at the dedication of a cemetery at Gettysburg, Lincoln expressed the hope that "this nation, under G-d, shall have a new birth of freedom."

Those were the days when our people, no less than our leaders, understood that the affairs of nations are ordered by a higher power.

After Sept. 11, there has been a resurgence of public devotion. "G-d bless America" blares at us from bumper stickers and roadside signs. This has the ACLU and others of the secularist mujahedeen beside themselves.

But religion -- not adherence to a specific denomination, rather an acknowledgement of the G-d of Scriptures -- has always been our greatest strength. To deny this in a season of plenty is ungrateful. In times of trouble, it invites disaster.

In his 1993 book "The Clash of Civilizations," Samuel Huntington identifies the characteristics common to a civilization (language, customs, etc.). However, Huntington writes, "religion is the central defining characteristic of civilizations." Every civilization is connected with a faith -- Christianity (originally, Western Civilization was Christendom), Orthodoxy, Islam, Hinduism and Confucianism.

Despite the multiculturalist claim, it isn't differences but similarities that strengthen us. That we are more religiously diverse than 30 years ago, doesn't alter that fact that Christians and Jews, with their common heritage, still comprise more than 80 percent of the American people.

If we weren't a Judeo-Christian nation, America would be hardly recognizable. Democracy and freedom both are faith-based. To believe the common man can govern himself requires a leap of faith. Those somber old puritans understood that self-government isn't established as much as it's ordained.

Lincoln's proclamation chastised his countrymen for having "forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace, and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us." Our supreme folly, Lincoln observed, was that "we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own."

Pride goeth before the fall of tall buildings that once graced the Manhattan skyline. Like the Pilgrims, we too have come through a time of trial and tribulation. Let us emulate them by acknowledging the real source of national security and so be worthy of Heaven's continued blessings.

JWR contributing columnist Don Feder's latest books are Who is afraid of the Religious Right? ($15.95) and A Jewish conservative looks at pagan America ($9.95). To receive an autographed copy, send a check or money order to: Don Feder, The Boston Herald, 1 Herald Sq., Boston, Mass. 02106. Doing so will help fund JWR, if so noted. He is also available as a guest speaker. To comment on this column please click here.

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© 2001, Creators Syndicate