In November 1941, a radio program aired in time for Thanksgiving. Called “Psalm for a Dark Year,” it was written and produced by Norman Corwin, a Jewish creator of depth and poignancy who became known as American radio’s “poet laureate.”
That dark November, Europe was at war. Soon after the broadcast, Japanese planes attacked Pearl Harbor and, in a flash, America was at war as well.
Like Corwin and his listeners, we sense that we have been through a dark year. And like them, we don’t know what lies ahead — although for them, the unthinkable was still to come.
This has been a year of growing hate and antisemitism, of further and deeper political divisions, of war in Europe and mounting threats to world order, of sustained economic concerns and mounting uncertainty, and the ever-louder alarm that we lack what it takes to save ourselves and our planet.
Despite these concerns, we know that we are fortunate, and we know that there is reason to be grateful and hopeful as we gather for Thanksgiving. Our democracy was put through a stress test this month, and it is holding up just fine. Ukraine’s David is beating back Russia’s Goliath.
Two years ago, we couldn’t gather for Thanksgiving. This year, we gather with family and friends with less fear of COVID-19. We are closer than ever to our congregations and our community. The receding pandemic has left us joyful and open to new ways of expressing our Judaism. And if we look at the part of the glass that’s full, we can appreciate all the good the United States has provided to us and to our community.
We are proud to be American and Jewish. We give thanks that our Jewish heritage is one of joy and deep knowledge — a tree of life that can help lift us above petty distractions. We give thanks that there were Jews who dreamed big and worked hard to create and sustain the state of Israel — yes, imperfect but an ongoing blessing and inspiration for us and for the world. And we are grateful for the Thanksgiving holiday, which still unites all of America’s people in gratitude.
So let’s all take a moment to consider how fortunate we are to be a part of the American experience and to be able to call this place home.
Corwin felt it was important to blend his Jewish heritage into his radio program at a time when America had much less familiarity with Jews and Judaism than it does today. In “Psalm for a Dark Year,” a shofar was blown to stir gratitude: “Let now the ram’s horn of my father’s tribe resound a note of Thanksgiving,” he said. And he gave us a Thanksgiving psalm for this or any other dark year: “Give thanks where thanks are due. We shall give thanks tonight for song, and bread, and such a thing as love, and dogged hope. And for the guarantee of morning somewhere.”