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New Thanksgiving Tradition Catching On


America's Thanksgiving holiday is a commemoration of an historic feast held in 1621 by a group of Pilgrim settlers to give thanks for a successful harvest. Today on Thanksgiving, nearly 400 years later, American families of every racial, ethnic, and religious group across the country enjoy a traditional home-cooked turkey meal.

Thanksgiving holiday is a commemoration of an historic feast held in 1621 by a group of Pilgrim settlers to give thanks for a successful harvest. Today on Thanksgiving, nearly 400 years later, American families of every racial, ethnic, and religious group across the country enjoy a traditional home-cooked turkey meal.

Thanksgiving holiday is a commemoration of an historic feast held in 1621 by a group of Pilgrim settlers to give thanks for a successful harvest. Today on Thanksgiving, nearly 400 years later, American families of every racial, ethnic, and religious group across the country enjoy a traditional home-cooked turkey meal.

But amid the food, the holiday football games on TV and the chaos of a big family gathering, Americans seldom take the time to prepare any formal way of expressing gratitude for the bounty of their family, of their culture, of their country. That's where a little booklet called America's Table: a Thanksgiving Reader might help. It's a ready-made narrative designed to be shared aloud at the Thanksgiving feast.

"Here is a holiday that is sitting out there, and we all do more or less the same thing: food, family, football, then nap, and watch TV," says Ken Schept, who wrote the text for the booklet. "It's a lovely holiday, but where is that other layer of meaning?"

In the 21st century, Schept says, the story of the Pilgrim settlers does not retain the meaning it once did. "As America becomes a more and more diverse society, isn't it important to have one day when you reflect on the fact that America gets its strength from this diversity, and its cohesion from its democratic values?" he asks. That's what Schept says he set out to do with "America's Table."

The booklet was produced by the American Jewish Committee (AJC), an international human rights organization dedicated to inter-group understanding. One million copies have been distributed this year.

Attorney Mayo Bartlett, vice chairman of the Westchester County New York Human Rights Commission, says his family has used America's Table as part of their Thanksgiving tradition. He says even his 6-year-old daughter appreciates the message it delivers. "She is starting to think of why it's important to treat each other well, why it's important to respect someone's differences," Bartlett says.

Indeed, the America's Table Reader says that all Americans are a family, similar to an actual family gathered around the Thanksgiving table to share turkey and talk. And just as family members are individuals that share a common identity, each American religious, ethnic and social group has its own unique culture, yet is bound to other groups by a common theme.

"Everyone has something to be thankful for, no matter what it is or where they're from," says Brunie Vasquez, a Hispanic American administrator at the AJC. "That's what strikes me the most about 'America's Table.'"

The booklet does not ignore the many differences of opinion and belief among Americans, or the fact that African Americans came here against their will, and Native Americans were already here and saw their land conquered, often brutally. Yet America's Table asserts that we are all Americans now, and that our diverse histories and cultures are key to America's strength. "We feel free to disagree. We are a family, but what is a family gathering without debate?" the booklet asks.

"I think that is actually one of my favorite lines in this entire Reader," says AJC's Isra Yaghoubi, a Jewish Iranian-American. "It touches upon that sense of tension, but care, the whole mixed bag of human interaction"

Like Americans as a people, the "Thanksgiving Reader" is hopeful in tone, giving thanks for Americans'freedom of religion and speech, and for the fact that "In America,each if us entitled to a place at the table!"

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