“Do Jews celebrate Thanksgiving?”
"Do Jews celebrate Thanksgiving?" a friend's Catholic grandmother asked her the other day. "Of course, they do," she replied, rolling her eyes. Indeed, in many American Jewish families, Thanksgiving is observed with nearly as much sacredness as (in some cases, even more than) the High Holidays. Most of us are only a few generations removed from the immigrant experience, and Thanksgiving holds a special place in the hearts of immigrants.
StoryCorps' idea of a National Day of Listening (instead of a national day of shopping) captures part of what makes Thanksgiving so meaningful to American Jews. I plan to spend time on Friday listening to my elderly parents talk - and will use JWA's 20 questions to ask the important women in your life when it's my mother's turn.
It saddens me to think that Hilda Meltzer's children will not have that chance. Fortunately for all of us, Hilda who died last weekend at the age of 92, wrote down the story of her life and shared some of the highlights with me in a series of phone calls last fall while she was still healthy and independent. I never met Hilda, but I learned a great deal about this woman who worked for 21 years as an assertiveness trainer at the 92nd Street Y in Manhattan. She described her retirement activities this way: "collage and memoir, volunteer, as always, for peace, civil, women's and minority rights."
She had heard we were interested in documenting the experiences of American Jewish women during WW II and sent me an outline of her unpublished autobiography, Short Tales of a Long Life. Her summary of the chapter that begins in August of 1942, when her husband Milton (who survives her) was drafted, is typical: "I train for and become a lathe operator in a war factory after I'd supported myself by modeling since 1935. Frivolous work but all I could find during the Depression." When the manuscript itself arrived, I read and enjoyed every word. Together we began planning for her nephew, a public radio producer, to record her stories. He never got the chance, but I am so grateful that I can read her words and summon up the sound of her voice on the phone just a few months ago -she was so delighted to find a person, and a place, eager to collect and share her stories. I've never felt more grateful for the existence of the Jewish Women's Archive than I did talking to Hilda Meltzer.