(Courtesy of Saint Mary’s General Hospital) Here’s a bit of history for you. Did you know that the English who came to the new land and celebrated the first Thanksgiving were Planters, not Pilgrims, as we may have learned in history class? And there is a possibility that they celebrated with a Jewish tribe on November 9, 1621 (25 Cheshvan 5382)!
The English colonists did not specifically label themselves in written documents. Sometimes they referred to themselves as Planters (colonial farmers) to distinguish themselves from the Adventurers (men and women who financed the colony). Twenty years after their arrival, one man referring to Scripture, as he often did, wrote; “they knew they were pilgrims,”1 in reference to Hebrews xi.13-16.—“someone on a journey with a religious or moral purpose.” It wasn’t until the 1800s that “Pilgrim” became the popular term applied to everyone in Plymouth Colony2 and President Lincoln announced that the nation would celebrate an official Thanksgiving holiday on November 26, 1863.3
The Planters celebrated with a Native American tribe of Wampanoag, who may have been part of the lost tribes of Israel4 who migrated from Eurasia across Beringia, a land bridge over the Bering Strait that connected Siberia to present-day Alaska. “I was always fascinated with Native Americans,” said George Matyjewicz, PhD, community liaison at St. Mary’s General Hospital. “I studied them for most of my life and was really interested in the Israel connection when I learned there were some tribes who believed in circumcision. Nobody in their right mind would do that except for a religious reason! And they prayed three times a day, facing the sun at sunrise and a woman in niddah was quarantined to a separate hut.”
This year, it’s hard to give thanks with all that has happened and continues with COVID-19. New Jersey Governor Murphy, in his press conference on Monday said that the number of new cases on the four days ending November 15 represented 5% of the total number of cases of all of this pandemic! Sunday and Saturday, November 15 and 14, were the highest and second-highest number of cases recorded since the pandemic started on March 4—257 days ago! And he is strongly recommending that family gatherings this year be limited to family that lives with you—not your extended family as we have had in the past!
At St. Mary’s General Hospital, this holiday season will be very different from in years past. This year, we will have a 9:30 a.m. memorial service in the cafeteria for patients who passed away from COVID. The memorial will be followed by a decades-old tradition in which hospital departments create Thanksgiving food baskets for those in need. Over 50 baskets collected this week will be blessed and then distributed to the community.
And that same practice will carry over for Chanukah and Christmas. “Last year we had a beautiful menorah lighting with a background of the Kotel,” said Matyjewicz. “And we had a crowd of people watching the lighting, followed by a kosher buffet and some prizes for the kids. This year, if we do anything it will have to be by Zoom, which I’m sure a lot of families will be doing for Thanksgiving.”
And, sadly, it was learned that Santa has COVID this year, and won’t be visiting St. Mary’s General as he has in the past, when he handed out gifts to the children. Not to worry, the staff will do something for those in need, like it will do for Thanksgiving.
So, this year celebrating Thanksgiving and other holidays will have a whole new meaning, and may be depressing. When that happens, think about that first1 Thanksgiving, Planters, who were called Pilgrims, enjoying a meal with Israelites who were called Indians!
Hawúnshech Netompaúog, חברים פרידה, Farewell Friends
(Wampanoag, Hebrew, English)
St. Mary’s General Hospital—nationally recognized, locally preferred among the top hospitals in America for health, quality and patient safety! The hospital has over 550 physicians and 1,200 employees, with every staff member committed to providing respectful, personalized, high-quality care—to satisfy patients’ needs and exceed their expectations. St. Mary’s General is a proud member of Prime Healthcare, which has more Patient Safety Excellence Awards for five consecutive years (2016-2020) than any other health system in the country, including a “Top 15 Healthcare System” by Truven Health Analytics. To learn more about St. Mary’s General Hospital visit https://www.smh-nj.com/ or Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/StMarysGeneral.
For more information, please contact George Matyjewicz, PhD, community liaison at [email protected]
2 https://www.nationalgeographic.com/news/2015/11/151121-first-thanksgiving-pilgrims-native-americans-wampanoag-saints-and-strangers/#close “Thanksgiving” to the original colonists was actually a fast day!