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E-Newsletter - A Complaint-Free Thanksgiving!
November 23, 2014

A Complaint-Free Thanksgiving!

A warm welcome to our Thanksgiving E-Newsletter! Along with the new articles and resources here, please be sure to explore all the items on gratitude and Thanksgiving on our Holidays page (scroll down to "Thanksgiving").

In This Issue:

For Thanksgiving, Our Gratitude Audio Teachings

A Complaint-Free Thanksgiving - An essay by Rabbi Debra

Brand-New Thanksgiving Resources - A guided exercise for your table, a fun Thanksgiving quiz, quotations from great Americans, and free audio of Rabbi Debra on the radio

Craig’s Corner - Notes from the rebbetzin

Thanks to Our Subscribers, Come See Us

For Thanksgiving, Our Gratitude Audio Teachings
As you cook your turkey… or drive to the home of relatives … or clean your house for the arrival of guests …

In preparation for sharing around your Thanksgiving table … or offering a toast at a Thanksgiving gathering … or teaching a class or giving a sermon on gratitude …

Or just feeling happier and calmer as you welcome the holiday … Now is a great time to listen to our most recent audio teachings album: Gratitude. Access your own spirit of gratitude and enjoy Thanksgiving in a whole new way!

Download the album now from iTunes to listen immediately or order the CD and carry the Thanksgiving spirit with you throughout the season.

A Complaint-Free Thanksgiving
an essay by Rabbi Debra Orenstein

Seven years ago, I started on a journey. It was an auspicious and daring beginning. In the words of John F. Kennedy, I “threw my hat over the wall” – forcing myself forward, leaving no opportunity to retreat. I declared in the bio of an article, published in the weekly Jewish newspaper where I lived: “Rabbi Debra Orenstein … aspires to achieve 21 days of complaint-free living before Rosh Hashanah and to preach on the High Holy Days about how to crowd out complaining with an overabundance of gratitude and peace.”

This wasn’t merely throwing a cap for motivation to hoist myself over a wall. This was the equivalent of throwing my kippah up and over Mt. Everest. I was going to scale and conquer the ultimate height of Jewish cultural foibles: I was going to stop complaining.

I was influenced by Rev. Will Bowen, who encouraged his parishioners to achieve 21 days of complaint-free living, in order to break the bad habit of griping. I had to re-start the clock many times. Every so often, even seven years after I first started working on gratitude in earnest, I don the purple rubber bracelet that Rev. Bowen created. It is embossed with the words “A Complaint-Free World.” It reminds me not to waste my time and attention on fruitless complaints and petty negativity, while the good, the worthy, and even the holy beckon.

A complaint-free world is not going to be achievable before the Messiah arrives, but we can shift the balance a bit. We can do more thanking and less carping. We can limit our complaining to talking only about things that really matter and to people who have the power to make a difference.

And wouldn’t it be poetic to start with A Complaint-Free Thanksgiving? The Jewish tradition of refraining from speech is called ta’anit dibur which literally means “fasting from speech.” Words are as necessary and as vital as food, but we overindulge in both. Thanksgiving seems the perfect time for a ta’anit telunot, a complaint fast.

The turkey may be dry, the guests may be late, some of the relatives (not yours or mine, of course) may be rude. Maybe you didn’t even get invited to dinner this year, and you will be spending Thanksgiving alone. But is your body still functioning for you? Do you have enough to eat? Are you in a safe home? Can you feel love? Do your eyesight and education allow you to read these words?

You get the idea…

We all have complaints – some are warranted and righteous, others are inflated and self-indulgent. Put your energy toward complaining and you may find an audience, but you won’t find much joy or meaning.

This Thanksgiving, in honor of the holiday, and, perhaps, as a jump-start to a 21-day ta’anit telunot/“complaint fast,” let’s catch ourselves before we complain. Instead, we can be on the look-out for someone to praise. Deliberately acknowledge what is good. Enjoy our bounty (in food, money, talent, friends), and share it with someone else.

If some people are absent from your Thanksgiving table because they are no longer alive, consider what you would give for just one day, one hour, one moment to connect with them. Give thanks for the gift of their lives – and yours. Then, look around – at nature, at the people who are here, in the mirror – and make a connection. Don’t miss the blessings that are yours – right here, right now.

Brand-New Thanksgiving Resources

Click on the links below for wonderful resources to enhance the spirit of your holiday.

GUIDED EXERCISE : Expressing Gratitude Around Your Thanksgiving Table – without feeling awkward, “lame,” trite, or anxious
Exercises created by Debra based on the morning liturgy.

THANKSGIVING QUIZ: Which Kind of Grateful Are You?
Recently, with a Barnes & Noble gift card burning a hole in her pocket, my daughter, Hannah Mathilda, shopped for books. Among her selections was a cute and involving American Girl volume entitled Which _______ Are You?

In honor of Hannah Mathilda and her find, as well as the “self-knowledge” quizzes of the girls’ magazines of my youth, here is a Thanksgiving Quiz: Which Kind of Grateful Are You?

Take the quiz and read the answer key around your Thanksgiving table for fun, for bonding, and to spark a deeper conversation about gratitude.
Download here:
- Thanksgiving Quiz
- Answer Key & Discussion Questions

AMERICAN GRATITUDE: Quotations from Well-Known Americans to Spark a Conversation this Thanksgiving

It seems appropriate to turn to Americans for inspiration on this quintessentially American holiday.

Consider attaching a quotation on thankfulness to each person's place card around your Thanksgiving holiday table. You can invite people to share their quotes and/or to experience the holiday through the prism of their randomly selected quotation.

** If you use any of these resources during Thanksgiving this year, please be in touch and share your experience with us. We would be grateful to hear.

RABBI DEBRA ON THE RADIO: How to Feel Grateful on Thanksgiving
, November 23, 2014, Religion on the Line (WABC, 10 min.)

Craig's Corner, notes from the rebbetzin
Thanks for your service

I was listening to a story on the radio about a soldier who had returned from Iraq and felt a disconnect with people here at home. When they would ask him about his wartime experiences, they would comment with sympathy and general appreciation, but this soldier retains a deep feeling that, not only don’t these people have a real understanding for his experience, they don’t even want to engage in a deep appreciation of what he went through. It’s as if for many Americans the wars we have been fighting don’t touch us, are not relevant to our lives, and are somehow unclean. That people are suffering and dying – for us – just seems foreign, unreal, and unrelated to our everyday experiences here at home. We exhibit an intellectual sympathy and “respect for their service,” but how many of us who have not been in combat know real empathy – or can express deep-felt gratitude for the pain and struggle people endure on our behalf?

As I drove along a peaceful and verdant Bergen County road, listening, I tried to imagine what I would say to this soldier if had the chance to meet him. Would it be enough to just say “Thank you for your service?” It would be polite and respectful, of course, but would it really communicate appropriate gratitude for what this guy had done for the people of this country – for me? He clearly was not feeling that connection, that depth of gratitude and understanding - even from his friends and family. “Thank you for your service” just seemed to me to ring hollow – to preserve a distance and disengagement. It wouldn’t serve him, and, really, it wouldn’t serve me either.

I found myself imagining saying to him “Hi, my name is Craig, I so appreciate what you’ve done for me and this country. If you are having difficulty readjusting, here’s my phone number, please call me, and I will help you. It’s the least I can do.”

I doubt I will meet this soldier, and I don’t know that I’ll be in contact with any soldier recently returned from war. Here’s what I learned from him, though: It’s not enough just to say polite and respectful words. To communicate and receive the benefits of gratitude, you have to have empathy. You have to meet the other person where they are emotionally. That’s true for thanking a soldier, and it’s true for thanking any person who does you a service. Whether someone defends your homeland or passes you the turkey, look them in the eye, smile, and dwell for a moment in the depth of your appreciation. Then say “Thank you.”

Thanks to Our Subscribers, Come See us

We want to thank you for subscribing to this e-newsletter. Online community is never a substitute for live-and-in-person community, but it is a great adjunct to it. We love reaching out to you with ideas and resources, and it is always very rewarding when we learn that you used or shared them. Thank you for being part of our online family and community.

Please be in touch via e-mail, join us in New Jersey, or consider inviting Debra to your community as a scholar-in-residence.

News: Debra has just been asked to lead services next summer by the Hebrew Congregation at Chautauqua Institution, a favorite place of ours. Our whole family will be at Chautauqua August 14-15, 2015, and we hope you can join us in this historic and inspirational setting. Information about Chautauqua is at

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