November 17, 2020 — Miami, Florida
This piece appeared originally in the Miami Herald.
To revitalize a strong civil society built on mutual understanding, respect and connection, our highly polarized society needs inspiration.
That is what makes this Thanksgiving so important.
Thanksgiving, the quintessential American holiday, will not be observed per tradition. Our gatherings of family and friends will be limited in this era of COVID-19, and our Thanksgiving celebrations will occur against the backdrop of deep societal divisions, a raging pandemic, a tenuous economy, national security concerns and many other challenges
While we can sustain some sense of community thanks to the ubiquity of Zoom, this simply isn’t enough. We must find ways to imbue this Thanksgiving with a deeper sense of meaning and purpose.
Thanksgiving is a celebration of core American values, of our nation’s unique democracy and diversity. It is a day to remember that we live in a land, unique among the nations, that embraces the cultural and religious distinctiveness of all its inhabitants. Thanksgiving should be the day when we recall this achievement and commit to perfecting it.
To help us reflect on these values and to foster thoughtful discussions, the American Jewish Committee created “America’s Table: A Thanksgiving Reader.” Intended to be read as part of a Thanksgiving gathering, the brief booklet tells the story of a people — the American people. It celebrates the freedoms we enjoy and acknowledges that we still have much work to do. It posits challenging questions and encourages deeper reflection and discussion. It reminds us that, regardless of who we are or where we came from, each of us is entitled to a place at the table, and that the many American stories — some infused with hope and some marred by deep pain — have helped create a nation of unparalleled strength.
But we know that the good feelings of Thanksgiving do not always last. We get easily distracted and lose sight of the fact that the American project thrives because of — not in spite of — our rich tapestry of racial, religious and ethnic diversity. As a society, we must be intentional in our efforts to choose dialogue over diatribe and engagement over estrangement. We must affirm that bigotry and hatred are not compatible with our values and work to expunge them from American society. Our goal must be mutual respect of one another. E Pluribus Unum. Out of many, one.
We are committed to doing our part, which is why we will launch the South Florida Community of Conscience on Nov. 19 at AJC Miami’s annual Thanksgiving Diversity Celebration. AJC’s national Community of Conscience was convened in June 2019 at the AJC Global Forum in Washington, D.C. Many faith leaders came together to stand as one in opposing any manifestation of religious-based hatred, violence or bigotry. Regional Communities of Conscience have been established across the country.
Now, it’s our turn. AJC’s South Florida Community of Conscience will create a forum for leaders of Miami’s diverse communities to educate one another on how discrimination toward their communities is manifested and how to combat discrimination and hate. Initially, this South Florida Community of Conscience will work to make confronting the rise in hate crimes a local, state and national priority. This group will be a vehicle to issue a clarion call for advancing pluralism and civility in our daily discourse.
This is a defining moment for all who cherish free, democratic societies. We have a real opportunity, indeed an obligation, to defend our values and see the nation’s diversity as a strength, not a weakness. Now is the time to unite to combat hatred in all of its forms and manifestations.
If we are to confront the enormous challenges we face effectively, the talents of all Americans will be required. This Thanksgiving, let us recommit to this American project, give thanks for our seats at America’s table and vow to build strong, interconnected Communities of Conscience.
Brian Siegal is director of the American Jewish Committee’s Greater Miamiand Broward Regional Office.