Turkey and Tomatoes—Counting our Blessings at our Thanksgiving Table
Did you know that the ancient psalms for Thanksgiving anticipated our turkey dinner? The word “hodu” (thanks) as in Hodu lAdonai ki tov (give thanks to God for all the goodness) also means “turkey” in Hebrew.
So the verse from psalms also means Turkey for God is good!
With or without turkey, I love Thanksgiving. Food and family. Stopping work and everyday life to gather together for a delicious few days, is a great privilege. I know that many people do not have the family ties, the capacity to travel, or the free time to enjoy this holiday. Many are hungry on Thanksgiving Day. Knowing how precious all this is, I am deeply grateful.
In our family, we always pause before digging in for each person to give voice to that gratitude. Awkward as that can be, I try to bring to mind people who make our meal possible. This year, I am particularly mindful of the migrant workers who pick our food. Living in fear of deportation, oppressed by growers who turn a blind eye to exploitation, sexual harassment, toxic chemicals, and other human rights abuses, their plight remains invisible to most of us.
To add insult to injury, it is shameful that those who are indispensable to our Thanksgiving meal are so poor they eat their Thanksgiving dinner at a soup kitchen.
Early in November, a group of local clergy met with Julie Taylor of the National Farm Worker Ministry. After reminiscing about the success of Cesar Chavez and the California grape boycott in the 1970s, we heard stories of migrant workers all over the country today who are struggling for basic survival: decent pay, housing, childcare, and healthcare.
We learned that 60% of farmworkers are undocumented. Surprisingly, growers are seeking to increase the number of temporary workers while trying to gut the legal protections for those workers. Today, farmworkers in the H2A (2014) program receive housing and compensation for their travel. Under proposed legislation, they would lose both.
Increasing the cap on guest workers would take jobs from migrant workers already in this country; yet they would receive lower pay, leading everyone to a downward spiral into poverty and exploitation.
We also heard of victories for farmworkers who have organized. You know about the United Farm Workers (UFW). Familias Unidas por La Justicia (FUL) won a negotiated settlement with berry growers in Washington State. I also learned that in addition to the Fair Food Program created by the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), that protects workers who pick tomatoes, strawberries and peppers on the farms of Florida and the Southeast, the Equitable Food Initiative (EFI) does the same for agricultural workers in the US and in Mexico, home of some of the worst human rights abuses.
Heartened by their courage, creativity, and commitment, I will continue to champion the rights of farmworkers. On Thursday, January 18, 2018, I’ll be fasting with clergy nationwide to draw attention to the human rights abuses that persist in the fields. That day I will be protesting at a local Wendy’s restaurant to urge Wendy’s management to join the Fair Food Program. Put that date on your calendar and come along!
Whether you give thanks for your health or your family, for your home or your job, I hope you will join me in bringing a farmworker (in spirit, or with a tomato centerpiece) to your Thanksgiving table. Here is a prayer that you can print and read before you enjoy the fruits of their labors—at Thanksgiving, or at any meal.
Hodu l’Adonai ki tov—we are so grateful for all the goodness in our lives.
May this Thanksgiving holiday help us realize how blessed we are, and encourage us all to give expression to our gratitude.
Rabbi Barbara Penzner