Rivka’s First Thanksgiving by Elsa Okon Rael is a real winner. The story takes place on the Lower East Side on NY around 1910. Rivka and her family have recently moved to the U.S. from the old world and, at school, Rivka learns about Thanksgiving. She comes to her grandmother and asks whether they could celebrate Thanksgiving. Not sure, her grandmother heads to her local rabbi who says: NO! And for me, this is the best part: Rivka doesn’t feel good about this decision and so she decides to do something about it. She decides to write a very respectful letter to the rabbi to explain why it would seem to her that they should be able to celebrate Thanksgiving — after all isn’t the story of running from persecution a familiar one to the Jews of the Lower East Side? Celebrating the freedoms afford to one in America was something she felt should be mandated, not disputed.
And, at the end of the story, the rabbi listens to her reasoning and admits he made a mistake. She has to get up in front of their beit din (rabbinic court) and explain her position (it’s a great illustration or this little girl in front of all these men with white beards and black coats) — which she does. It’s a story of standing up for something you believe in. It’s a story about respecting your elders. It’s a story of working within the system for change. Basically, it’s a great story.