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An Interfaith Prayer of Thanksgiving

November 25, 2015
Posted by: Rabbi Doug Kahn, Executive Director

The following was given as the Closing Prayer at the San Francisco Interfaith Council’s 18th Annual Interfaith Thanksgiving Prayer Breakfast on November 24, 2015. In honor of San Francisco’s Sanctuary Movement, the theme of the event was “Faith and Sanctuary: There Are No Strangers.”

In a Chassidic tale, a rabbi asks his students how they can tell when the night has ended and the day has begun.

“Could it be,” one asked, “when you see an animal in the distance and can tell whether it’s a sheep or a dog?”

“No,” the rabbi answered.

“Is it when you can look at a tree in the distance and tell whether it is a fig tree or a peach tree?” another asked.

“No again,” the rabbi replied.

“Then what is it?” the pupils demanded.

The sage answered:

“It is when you can look at the face of any man or woman or child and see your sister or brother. Because if you cannot see this, it is still night.”

In a world in which darkness has descended once again – in the form of unspeakable acts against humanity on the streets of Paris and too many corners of the globe – shedding light has never been more urgent.

Here too, in the presumed land of unfettered tolerance. It is true we have so much to be thankful for, living in a land of freedom and potential, liberty and opportunity – and 49 square miles of particularly remarkable enlightenment. Yet, we must never be complacent, either about guarding that which we have or about the need to improve upon it for those left behind. Each day we make decisions that determine whether there will be more darkness or we will see the light of our brother or sister – from the homeless on the street to our brothers and sisters of different faiths and ethnicities to the Syrian (and other) refugees desperately waiting to reach our not-always-welcoming shores.

Communities always come together after a tragedy. The true test is our ability to come together before one. And that is why the San Francisco Interfaith Council plays such an indispensible role in the life of our community. Each day, we make decisions about whether to reach out to other communities when they feel under attack: Muslims who fear growing Islamophobia and the mainstreaming of xenophobia in America; Catholics who feel besieged for daring to hold unpopular views; African Americans who have to educate their teenage sons in how to avoid being suspected merely for being; Jews who experience growing animosity here for retaining the belief that our very survival as a people depends upon preserving the State of Israel, ultimately to be able to live in peace and security, side by side a Palestinian State; and so many other communities in their hours of need.

As we approach Thanksgiving and soon Chanukah, Kwanzaa and Christmas – holidays of light – let us be blessed with the knowledge that it is both our eyes and ears that determine whether we see the face of our brother and sister, hear them and stand with them – even when we see the world differently. And let us give thanksgiving that we have been endowed by our Creator to look at others and know that we are looking at our brother and sister; and to act in ways that never break that bond. That is the true meaning of being created in the image of God. That is the true spirit of Thanksgiving.

Baruch atah adonai eloheinu melech haolam, shechechiyanu, vkiyamanu, vhigiyanu lazman hazeh. Blessed are You, Adonai our God, Ruler of the Universe who has given us life, who has sustained us, and who has brought us together as a community at this special season. Amen.

PHOTO: San Francisco Interfaith Council logo.