Thanksgiving: When Home Doesn’t Feel Like Home

Going home for Thanksgiving

Mike Feder: Alright, here we are. This is Toward a Meaningful Life with Simon Jacobson. I am your host, Mike Feder. We’re here every Sunday night from 6-7pm on WEVD 1050AM in New York. Tonight’s topic is “Thanksgiving: What Do You Do When Home Doesn’t Feel Like Home?”

First of all, I want to mention to people that we want your calls later in the show. This is such a personal, agitating topic for people, that I’d be fascinated to hear personal stories from people or worries or things that are happening with them this holiday season, especially on Thanksgiving. The number in the studio is 212-244-1050.

Before we start off, I want to read a little bit from the book that we depend on here, the blueprint for this show, Toward a Meaningful Life by Simon Jacobson, and I want to read from chapter 9, “Home and Family,” because the writing is so clear and perfect in a way. It says, “Why is home life so important? After many hours of looking for food, a bird returns to its nest, taking supreme comfort in a place that is warm and safe, far removed from the dangers and distractions of the world outside.

“A human should feel the same sense of warmth and security when he or she comes home. Your home and family are your nest, the center of your life, the hub from which all your daily experiences extend. Both as children and adults, our home and family are where we should feel most comfortable in the world.

“They determine how you make your life decisions, they shape your attitudes, your awareness, your self-esteem. A healthy home is obviously a vital ingredient in the pursuit of a meaningful life. Home is where we learn to cope and be productive, to work and play, to be comfortable with ourselves and with others. Most important, home is where we learn about happiness and about wholesomeness.

“Think about the warmth you feel when you come home after being away for a few months or even a few days.”

There’s a lot more, of course, in that chapter, but as I’m reading this, I am thinking aloud for a lot of the people who may be listening right now, especially around the time of Thanksgiving when home becomes more important for most Americans than any other holiday, how ironic and bitter they might feel upon hearing those words.

I do myself, and my feelings about it are clearly due to my home life. In the modern world, in the last couple of decades, you find millions of people who have experienced nothing but dread, anguish, worry, doubt and ambivalence about having to go home for Thanksgiving or having people to their home for Thanksgiving. How is this? How did this come to be? It’s a loaded question.

Jacobson: I feel and empathize very deeply with people who find it difficult to go back home or perhaps don’t even feel that that place is home, particularly in the holiday season when it’s so pronounced. In a sense, the saddest moments are on those holiday evenings when everyone is rushing home and there are people just walking the streets because they have nowhere to go.

And for many who are going to certain homes, they feel dread in their hearts. I feel very deeply for them, because precisely what you just read from the book which is very warming to hear, by contrast, when you grow up in a healthy home, you don’t always appreciate what you have.

It’s like being healthy with a healthy body. You don’t feel anything when you’re healthy. When you start feeling something, that’s when there’s a problem. Health is an invisible or a non-sensory feeling.

It’s the same thing with a healthy home. It’s like swimming in water for a fish; it’s just a natural thing. However, someone who’s deprived of that knows the consequences, and though they may feel bitter when they see a healthy home, that is from my point of view a healthy sign: at least they know there’s something they want that they’re not getting.

I’ve spoken to people who are so resigned that they don’t even believe that there’s such a thing as a healthy home because their home is so broken that they think that every home is that way. Except people play the game and put up a veneer because they also remember smiling, and photographs on Thanksgiving or the holidays and when they look at the photos they say, “Oh, everyone’s so happy.” But that’s the veneer, the surface. Look beneath the surface and there is all kinds of stuff going on, and I don’t just mean necessarily overt abuse; Maybe it’s just a lack of that comfort that you just read about; a lack of feeling like there’s a place to go to that’s not a battle zone.

You see, that’s what it’s about. I used the analogy of the nest very intentionally. Think of it this way. Imagine there are little baby birds and every time their parents bring them some worms they’re fighting with each other in the nest.

Feder: The parents or the baby birds?

Jacobson: The parents. What kind of education, what kind of message is that? The whole beauty of the nest, of a hearth, is the comfort that in those early formative years, where you have not yet been subject to the battle zone of life outside that threshold, outside your door, you have that comfort. You know you are surrounded by people who love you unconditionally. You feel the nurturing that no matter what happens out there, you have a safe place where you will always be accepted and will always be taken care of.

When that’s missing… let me equate it with a strong analogy: it’s literally as if a fetus has been ripped out if its mother’s womb prematurely, because in some ways, the home is an extension of the womb. Of course, it’s now an independent child, but in a healthy home there’s still a womblike sense of comfort, of warmth and of course this is a directly connected not just to the physical home but to the parents as well—the environment that they create. And when that becomes hostile and there’s a battle going on, when a war enters the home, the home ceases to be a home.

Feder: It seems—maybe it’s just from my perspective—that it’s almost the rule rather than the exception that there’s trouble these days, and people feel this way particularly around Thanksgiving. I mean, I don’t know how many people might call up here and express that feeling, but I wonder how many people will call up and say that they’re really looking forward to being with family unequivocally, that it’s a wonderful thing to do…

Jacobson: I’d love to hear that, but as usual, this show is geared to all people and particularly those who do have warm feelings about home. The question is, how do you share that warmth with people who don’t feel comfortable going home? Do you just criticize them or ignore them, or be oblivious to them? Or do we have a message for them?

I think our show is not just to discuss the problem, but also to share how you can recreate a home if you don’t have one: as you put it, what to do when your home doesn’t feel like home. Do you just accept it or do you take control of your life?

Feder: Or if you came from a home that didn’t feel like home, how do you build one out of thin air later on in your life.

Jacobson: I think that to analyze the reasons why there’s been such a breakdown of the home or family structure obviously requires looking at many factors, but the one that stands out most to me is the obsession with and consumption of materialism in our time.

You see, if you ask most people what a home is do you know what they’ll say? A dream house. A place where you have enough rooms….

Feder: A large screen TV.

Jacobson: You have enough room for all the different activities you want. That’s it’s a luxury in a sense. You see, a home is not a house, just like a nest is not just shelter. There is an element of home that’s shelter—shelter from the elements: it’s cold outside and you need a place to go, a place to sleep—but there’s something much more profound about a home. There are houses that I’ve seen, mansions with 20-30 bedrooms, and forgive the comparison, but it’s like a funeral parlor. And I’ve seen homes where there are kids running around and it’s a mess, and you say, even though it’s not physically comfortable to live in a place like this—the dishes haven’t been washed, and so on—but there’s a warmth there and you want to just sit there to take it in.

Now, I’m not suggesting that that’s a virtue per se, but my point is that what defines a home is not driven by physical comfort and materialism.

Feder: Maybe what you should do, and it’s in this chapter too, is to describe what the ideal home should be or what a home is.

Jacobson: And I want to connect it to the cosmic side in addition to what you’re describing because it’s interesting that in Jewish philosophy (based on the Midrash) it says, “Why did G-d create this universe?” And the answer is in order for us to create a home for G-d. The word “home” is used. And the way this is explained in Chassidic thought, Chassidic philosophy (Jewish mysticism), is that initially this world is not a home for G-d: it’s a hostile place, a selfish place, and not what one would call a sacred and holy environment on its own.

A human being can refine his or her particular area of this world and make it a home for G-d. So, in a way, that’s very much a microcosm of what each of us do when we build our homes. A home you can say captures the essence of why we’re here on this earth.

You come into a world that’s untamed, subject to the elements—and elements don’t just mean the weather and the seasons, but the elements mean people, corruption, greed, aggression, violence, general hostility that’s inherent in our type of existence—you take an area, you isolate it, an oasis, and you don’t just build walls to keep the rain and snow out, and put up locks and alarms to keep the criminals out, you also create a place where your soul can feel free.

At work, we’re in a battle zone. As soon as we walk out the door of our homes, we all put on our masks and our faces and the defense mechanisms that we need to survive with. When you come home, you should be able to feel as if you’re completely comfortable, as when you are all alone with yourself, like you can just let it all go without anyone judging you. This is the deepest type of comfort, recognizing that you matter and have value.

Feder: I think I must know far more people who are happier to leave their homes and go to work than they are to come back home and deal with what’s there. That’s the way the modern world seems to be.

Jacobson: Well, let’s take that back in time. A little child doesn’t want to leave home. For a young child, walking outside, out over the threshold, is like walking off the face of this earth. There is no reality outside of a child’s home. We adults find it hard to imagine why a child wouldn’t just leave an abusive home, why don’t you just get up and leave? But we’re talking about a very young child. The answer is that for a small child there is no leaving. This is his universe. The parents are like G-d. Leaving home is like leaving earth. Can we just leave earth? There’s no such thing as leaving earth so for a child stepping out of the door is a non option, period. And then, as that child grown into an adult he often doesn’t want to return to the abusive home.

That’s how deep the problem is because, by contrast, when a person doesn’t have that type of nurturing environment, not only do they not have the ability to grow up in a healthy way, but they are thrown into the battle zone long before they’re ready and able and they lack the proper coping mechanisms.

And then when a child comes into this world and doesn’t have someone who cradles him or her or someone to say, “I want you here,” or someone who has prepared the world, and the room, and a bed for him—if the child doesn’t get that message, either through words or through body language, then the child never cultivates the self-esteem to be able to go out to battle.

And then using the nest example, if a bird doesn’t have a nest to fly back to, then it can’t hunt properly or do what it has to do outside of the nest, because the roots are missing, there isn’t that springboard where it all begins, like the central area around which life orbits.

The home has been undermined by instant gratification, by the obsession with material gain, by thinking that if you have material possessions—large home, many homes, vacation homes—you solve the problem and you are in a sense creating security.

It’s a misplaced sense of where security comes from.

And I have to bring the story that I’m so fond of (even though it’s a sad story) which took place after the Communist takeover of the Bolsheviks in the Russian Revolution. The Communists tried to obliterate all religion, including Judaism, and there was one Chassidic Rebbe who greatly resisted and they arrested him. During their threats to him, they stuck a pistol to his head and said that if he didn’t cooperate, “this little gadget here has changed many people’s lives.”

The Rebbe said to them, “This little toy can frighten someone who has one world and many gods, but not someone who has one G-d and many worlds.”

Security, as with investments, requires diversification. If you put all your eggs in a materialistic basket, then you will only have what materialism offers which is temporary relief.

A home is really a taste of eternity, because that comfort, should it exist, that nurturing, lasts forever, even when that child leaves home. That’s the irony.

Feder: If things are worse now, and it seems to me that they may be, why are they worse? What went wrong in the last 20, 30, 40 years that people have such experiences like this? On my other show on BAI I talked to people about Thanksgiving, and people called in and it turned into kind of a support network for people who are damaged. All you have to do is say the word “Thanksgiving” and people are all upset.

There are people who aren’t even welcome in their own homes. What has changed so much? What has gone wrong?

Jacobson: Well, as I said, I’m sure there have always been issues in families and homes throughout history. But I do believe that the heightened rate of prosperity and the higher standard of living is definitely a contributing factor because it creates an illusion of control and security.

Whereas once upon a time, when life was more difficult physically—in the sense that the father went out to chop wood and the mother prepared the meal—there was a certain rustic, and by extension, holistic sense to life that was not so complicated.

There was no career competing with home life. There was no such thing as a profession competing with the center of life. There was one center, one hub. As soon as there are two hubs, it becomes: “Oh, it’s fun out there!” So it becomes fun to get out of the house and go do something, while someone else stays at home with the nagging children… When something outside the home became more fun than what was going on inside the home, it became almost like a hassle to go back home. When a parent walks into the home and feels like he or she doesn’t want to be there, they want to be elsewhere, the children get the same message and assume the same attitude—that this is not the place that I want to be as well.

So a healthy home has to be in a sense an extension of your body, of your life—not just a physical place where you rest your hat, but also an expression of your personal self.

You know, we hear about people hosting parties in their homes. However, how many times do you hear of people having a spiritual party at home? What I mean is, when they get together and commune with friends, talk about things that are very meaningful, with their children there.

I don’t mean a dinner at the Waldorf or some other social entertainment. I mean in a very natural, simple way—and that is what a home is about. Now, memories of holidays have become just memories. It’s like someone remembers that there must have once been a Thanksgiving or some holiday where it was really that way. People really loved to come see each other. There was a real spiritual reunion.

Feder: You see it on television commercials sometimes: the good old days on the farm.

Jacobson: So today it’s become an exotic experience, to the point where we also in surprise say, “Oh, there’s a wholesome family.” And they’re put up on a pedestal, highlighted in museums.

Feder: Normal Rockwell paintings.

Jacobson: And it is regarded as extra special. But Thanksgiving, I can only guess, but at the root of Thanksgiving lies that type of deep connection to home and family and faith. Who were the Pilgrims thanking? G-d. For saving them and bringing them to a new world where they could experience freedom from religious persecution. In how many homes, when they celebrate Thanksgiving, do people think about that?

Feder: So are you saying here that without danger, or conflict, without illness, poverty, struggle, that the home can’t… in order words, there has to be those things for the home to be a retreat? You can’t live in a world of comfort and ease and still have a good home? That’s a pretty harsh thing to say.

Jacobson: Well, I wouldn’t say that. I’d say you could but… Did you ever see the way a circle is drawn with a compass on a piece of paper? You take a compass and stick the needle in the center of the paper, keep it steady, and then draw the circle. The comforts of life are the circle. The center is the home. If a person doesn’t have a steady center, what kind of circle will it look like? Will it be jagged? Broken? Distorted? All of the above?

The comforts of life can definitely complement and be part of that center, but without the center, comforts become a distraction, and prosperity can lead you to another place which has nothing to do with your own personal center.

I would look at it this way. Forget about your physical home for a moment. Where do you feel most at home in your life? And I don’t mean in the physical sense—I mean in the psychological sense. Where do you feel most at home? When you’re sitting at your desk in front of your computer? When you’re traveling on a plane? When you’re in a restaurant with a certain type of people? Or when you’re physically in your living room or your bed? There are many options.

Feder: Or if you’re alone or with other people?

Jacobson: Where do you feel most at home, most comfortable?

Feder: Well, let me ask you this. Is there a right answer to this question?

Jacobson: No, there’s no real right answer, but that answer will reflect your experiences and whether you have a true home. Indeed, this question can serve like a little personal home test that everyone can do here. That answer will reflect what your life is about and how much of a home you really have.

Some people will answer that question, “I don’t have any real comfortable place. My comfort is running from one place to the next. If you stay in one place too long, you’ll get hurt.”

Feder: Flying around on a plane.

Jacobson: On a plane or just in concept. You know there are people who are runners; they’re always moving about. And they look like the adventurous type, but when you get right down to it, they’re really running out of fear. They don’t want to stay committed anywhere for too long because they’re afraid that they’ll get hurt, as they have in their past.

Some people are very comfortable with lack of comfort—crisis—always running. There’s always a fire burning somewhere.

Anyway, I think every one of our listeners should ask that question, “Where do you feel most at home?” I wouldn’t say there’s a right answer, because this is a very personal and subjective experience, but I’ll tell you this: there is a healthy answer and an unhealthy answer. The answer reflect either a healthy experience or an unhealthy experience.

Look, if a person says, “I don’t have a home. I never felt a home.” That’s a very true answer and a right answer for that person. So what that person needs to do is build a home somewhere. You have to have a comfortable place in this world or else you will remain a victim of circumstances and simply always be in that high-adrenaline mode of survival.

Feder: I hope later on you’re going to explain what you see as a comfortable and a good home. Meanwhile, we have Mike on the line.

Caller: Good evening. I have to admit that I never suffered any of the pains that you’re talking about. I grew up in a home that wasn’t threatening at all and I know that there are a lot of people who really do have a lot of conflicts in family situations. Have you ever seen the film “Avalon”? Are you familiar with that film? It’s one of my favorite films. If you talk about it on a societal level… As the Rabbi was saying, as we become more affluent, more materialistic, a lot of the things that spiritually kept people together disappeared, and I think that there is a search for that now, but we’re hooked on a lot of things, do you know what I’m saying?

Feder: Well, let me ask you. Do you feel that there has to be controversy and adversity and difficulty and lack of ownership for us to be comfortable in or homes, safe and secure? Does it have to be hard for us to be good?

Caller: Perhaps not. I don’t think there were any “good ol’ days.” There have always been tensions, and adversity has its own problems. But I think we have to go beyond where we are, in other words, we can’t look backwards to a time when people faced more physical adversity, we have to go to a new spiritual level, at least in this society. And we are the world leaders. We’re exporting our culture at a rapid rate, and if we can’t come together even on a family level, what does that say about the future of the world?

Feder: What are we exporting? We’re not exporting the ideas of home and family. We’re exporting jeans, McDonalds, burgers…

Caller: Exactly. So these are things that really dissolve traditional situations; in other words, traditional cultures come apart when assaulted by this. We have.

Feder: I agree.

Jacobson: Thanks Mike for your call. My comment echoes obviously what we’re saying here, and it’s good to see someone who does have a healthy home life…

Feder: He’s going to be the only one, I’m telling you.

Jacobson: However, I would say to Mike that it’s incumbent upon him to share his experience with those who don’t have that warmth, perhaps inviting someone who does not have a home in the same sense to his Thanksgiving dinner.

Feder: Invite a stranger into your house?

Jacobson: Well, obviously a stranger that you’re comfortable with. I wouldn’t just go out in the street unless you’re comfortable with that, but I’m sure there are people at work, associates, or others who don’t have a place to go, and maybe create that home environment, because when we warm others in our homes, our homes get warmer as well.

Feder: Okay, we have Maria on the line.

Caller: I’d like to comment about what the Rabbi said before about being on the run, and it being adventurous. You know, you have to understand that sometimes what looks like a high adrenaline level can be a lust for life. It really isn’t something that you’re running away from personally. In some situations that may be, but sometimes people just love to be on the go…

Feder: So it’s a positive thing…

Caller: So you can’t look at it like a bad thing either.

Jacobson: Oh no, Maria, I completely agree. When that experience is coming from a point of strength and not fear that is adventure. But I believe that even that adventurous type, I must say I have a sense of it myself, also needs a nest. Not just a place to rest from adventure to adventure, but that type of comfort and security. And I would think that a real exciting home, a dynamic home with parents, is adventurous as well; that it’s part of the adventure. And that experience just extends out from there—you bring the home life out into the world and the world back into the home in a very positive way. That would be the ultimate—where you have the benefits of all levels of experience, where you have both the nest and the ability to fly.

Caller: See, we don’t live in a traditional world anymore, and like things don’t happen with tradition. Tradition is very good but you know you have to let a new aspect of life come in. You know, some people don’t have the luxury of being at one with their family, and maybe they’re just totally different from their family, you know? Maybe their family doesn’t understand them or they don’t understand their family, and they need to live totally different destiny than what the traditional family is living.

Jacobson: I would agree with that. The question really is, can a person really survive without any family at all? Even if they’ve been alienated or can’t identify with their family’s life, I still think that in this world that we live in, a person like that would have to build their own home and perhaps their own family in their own image.

Caller: Oh no. Everybody should have a nest to come home to, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be a traditional nest. It can just be a set address.

Feder: So where are you going to be next Thursday?

Caller: Home with my mother and father and my boyfriend. I mean, I would love to be away traveling somewhere, experiencing something else, but for financial reasons, unfortunately that’s not going to happen.

Feder: So you’re forced to go home, Maria.

Caller: No, not forced. I choose to be home. I wanted to be with my mother and father, especially since the millennium’s coming and you have to thank G-d every day because you never know when it’s going to go.

Jacobson: Well Maria, I wish you a happy holiday. I have to say, just to add one point that I think is good—because Maria’s points were really good about adventure—because another factor is that I think a lot of people see home as being boring. The same people, the same walls. It can be boring if there’s no life going on there. If no one’s around, it’s going to be very boring.

Feder: So what is the life that should be going on in a home? Let’s get down to it. I mean, aside from my wife, who happens to be an exciting person, it’s so boring.

Jacobson: The way Maria was describing the “traditional home,” doesn’t sound like anyone would want that. Allow me to define what a healthy traditional home is. I would say that a vital, dynamic home is directly connected to spiritual energy. And spiritual energy, just before anybody jumps on this, does not mean necessarily religion and tradition in the traditional and stereotypical way. Spiritual energy means people who are embracing life, celebrating life, celebrating the marrow of life. It means people who talk about things that are really meaningful, where there’s a certain level of intelligence (people are intelligent in different ways), an honesty going on, it’s a place that promotes growth, you look forward to speaking to the people in your home, whether it’s parents or children or a spouse. It’s not just a place of comfort, where you can just lay back, but a place where you can really talk about things comfortably—not where you have to measure every word because your employer or some other person may not like it. Egos are not as dominant in a healthy home as spirit, as common goals, or larger visions. Even a discussion like Maria implied where you completely disagree with your parents is welcome in a home, where there can be a dialogue, disagreements, arguments (on an intelligent level—not just out of insecurity or emotional outbursts)…

Feder: One of the recommendations in this book of yours here is to throw the TV out. I’m putting it bluntly, but it sort of says that in a polite way.

Jacobson: I had many thoughts before I put that line in; it was definitely a suggestion from the Rebbe that I quoted here, particularly in our time and age. But you know, in the 50s and 60s it was a more innocent time and people thought, “Television is a necessity in life.” Today, in many, many homes, it became so much a part of our life that it’s difficult to just amputate, but yes, I would definitely recommend not necessarily throwing it out but minimizing it, because television is a perfect symbol of what is wrong—and I’m not one of the fire and brimstone types—for example when you see the mesmerizing, hypnotic effect on children. That alone is enough reason to understand its power.

Now, television could be used in a very powerful way, a very educational way, but when the number of hours spent, the consumption of it to the point of obsession (and I know what television is, I’ve seen television, I can’t say I grew up with it to the same extent, but I’ve been exposed), besides numbing the mind, the visual images have very little to do with the soul, with your soul. And television just accelerates the process of creating an identity outside of yourself. Whreas the idea of being at home is creating a home for your spirit. In answer to the question, “So where’s your home?” ultimately you’d better have a home right here—inside your heart and soul…

Feder: The rabbi is now pointing to his heart!

Jacobson: And it’s being at home with the soul, with the spirit, with meaning, with a higher purpose and a higher calling, and in a sense the bricks and the mortar and the walls all are there to be a vehicle for that type of expression. The healthiest thing I can hear is when someone says, “I’m going home for Thanksgiving, and do you know what I’m going to talk about there? Things that really matter to me this year. And I have someone to talk to, because I have a wise father or a wise grandfather or a wise grandmother or mother, aunts, uncle, brothers or sister.”

Feder: Okay, we have Mark on the air.

Caller: Hi. It’s a very good show. What I wanted to talk about was the situation where there has been a divorce and a child is growing up in more than one home. Number one, how do you make a child comfortable, and then, if you look at it long term, the fact that children are in a separated home, or divorced homes, how can a person create an appropriate environment for their kids?

Feder: Are you speaking from personal experience?

Caller: Yes I am.

Feder: So next Thursday, what’s your situation?

Caller: This year I don’t have my son.

Feder: That must be pretty bad.

Caller: Well, I think it’s good for him to be with his mother. I think it’s a question of making the child comfortable and being comfortable with both his mother and father.

Feder: So where will you be?

Caller: I’ll be with friends.

Jacobson: Well, Mark’s point is very good because with so many broken families—broken I mean as far as parents go—it’s critical to address the idea, how do you create a home when there isn’t a home?

Feder: A traditional home?

Jacobson: Yes. Like if a person is going home and they don’t feel that there’s a home for them there. I think that’s why, to continue the thought about the spirit, that when there’s a certain comfort with your soul and an understanding of why you’re here on this Earth, then you can begin to create a home in an unconventional way. A person growing up, for instance, in a family that they just can’t go back to on the holidays, or they do go back and they’re gritting their teeth, for a person like that it’s critical that they don’t ignore that and just say, okay I’ll get over it until next year. They have to create their own environment, as Mark just suggested, being with friends, friends who are nurturing. Perhaps you can’t replace your father and your mother, or the same type of home experience, but it should be nurturing, not just superficial. A nurturing type of environment where you can talk about values that matter and the pure parts of life.

And I know people sometimes say, “Hey, let’s just party.” Yes, there’s a time to party and there’s a time to be in a nest. If you don’t have one, you must create one, because it will come back to haunt you one day. You need to have that type of comfort.

In situations where people are divorced (and often those divorces are for the best, because life was not just working: there was too much tension and hostility in the family, in the home), obviously G-d blesses in all different ways, and in Mark’s situation I give him my blessing that his son should find peace and be able to reconcile and come to peace with the fact that he may celebrate one Thanksgiving here and there. This situation is becoming more of the norm, but I still believe that there’s a lot of hope, because a child like that may learn, if he doesn’t get bitter, he may learn from the mistakes of his parents or others how to build a home one day.

The key is not to get so resigned that you say, “I don’t want to build a home and family and to my children what my parents did to me.” In other words, to find a way to build a home and family and not do what your parents did. And I go back to my initial statement about G-d wanting a home in this world. That should give us all encouragement, because G-d is also homeless, in a way.

Feder: Could you expand on that a little?

Jacobson: Well, I mentioned it earlier. The fact that G-d said, “I desire to have a home, an abode, in this universe…”

Feder: But G-d created this world.

Jacobson: Created the world, but created an agnostic world that is hostile to anything that’s G-dly. The fact is that so many people deny G-d’s existence, so many people are greedy, so many are selfish and unjust to each other, which is hardly what G-d planned.

G-d gave us free will. And that means that G-d gave us elements, He gave us the raw elements and said we can do two things with them. We can hurt each other with them or we can build a home for our souls, which by extension, is a home for Me.

So until we do that, G-d roams (so to speak) the spiritual cosmos in His own way, and does not feel comfortable in your home and my home unless you make Him comfortable. And that requires creating an environment that is G-dly, that is holy, that is sacred.

Feder: Should we feel guilty if we don’t do this? Are we responsible for G-d being homeless?

Jacobson: If guilt will help and it’s constructive guilt, great. If it’s just guilt that’s demoralizing, then don’t feel guilty. I would think of it as a gift, as an unbelievable power, that it’s not just that we build homes for each other and for ourselves… In a way, yes, we have the power to create something that’s real, even for G-d. It’s not just a game between human beings that humans play; life has real stakes.

I think that when we create that comfort for ourselves, for our purpose, for our mission, we are inviting G-d into our home. I’ll put it to you in simplest terms: Building a home is inviting G-d into your life.

When I say G-d, obviously it means different things to different people. What I mean is a higher purpose, something that’s not human, something that’s beyond, that’s Divine. And that is really what it’s about. Building a home for G-d and allowing G-d into your life, your meals, into your room, into the intimate part of your life, whatever you are doing.

It’s the difference between eating a meal and just indulging in it, and eating a meal and acknowledging that it was given to me and I’m going to use it for something constructive, something that promotes growth.

Feder: We’ve been talking about homes, traditional homes. Now, it says in the book Toward a Meaningful Life that the mother is the foundation of the home. Now, this could probably cause a little touchiness in a lot of people out there in the world these days, for reasons which could be complex. But that’s what it says here. The mother is the foundation of the home. Can you explain what’s meant by that?

Jacobson: I hope it’s not taken as sexist. It’s actually taken from a verse in the Bible, in the Torah, and in the Midrash, which talks about the foundation of the home. In many ways you find that though a healthy home requires both a mother and a father, in some ways the nurturing element, and also that sensitivity—the sixth sense—of what is right for the environment—a mother often has that gentleness and sensitivity more than a father does.

That may be as a result of the father’s perhaps being involved more in the expression and aggressive parts of life and the mother being the carrier of life…

Feder: She’s the original home…

Jacobson: But I want to make it clear, as we’ve discussed several times on the show, that there’s a masculine and a feminine side to every human being. And therefore, there’s a mother in each of us and a father in each of us. And when we talk about mother and father, we’re talking about the mothering and the feminine qualities.

Feder: And that’s what’s the foundation of a home.

Jacobson: Exactly. Obviously, if a woman is not doing it in a feminine way it will not be a true home. But obviously a woman has been blessed with that feminine nature—let’s call it the “dominant” gene, and in that sense she has that sensitivity. And often it is the woman who will be the strong spine that will keep a home together.

Feder: We have Steve on a car phone.

Caller: I think we should tell our women not to think it’s undignified or something less than a career to become a full-time mother. I refer you to Proverbs 31 which talks about the G-d-fearing woman, that raising a successful family is something to aspire to, and it shouldn’t be frowned upon.

Jacobson: Okay, thank you Steve. I appreciate that. You have Proverbs with you while you’re driving?

Feder: Steve, don’t be reading the Bible while you’re driving! Don’t be calling up either while you’re driving!

Okay, we have Jennifer on the line.

Caller: Hi Rabbi Jacobson. First of all, I want to say what a beautiful show that you have. And secondly, my question is about Thanksgiving. How does an American Jew make this secular holiday of Thanksgiving a more Jewish experience? Are there any special brachas to say or anything to do?

Jacobson: That’s a good question! Well, there are kosher turkeys.

Feder: That’s a start.

Jacobson: I didn’t mean it in the metaphorical sense. I meant it in the literal sense: a turkey that’s slaughtered in the proper way. But I must say this, and I heard it from my Rebbe: Thanksgiving is a very universal and non-denominational holiday, so therefore it’s not considered to be anything that’s not Jewish in a sense. It’s thanking G-d for miracles, for salvations, for religious freedom.

How to make it Jewish? Well, look, it’s not per se a Jewish holiday either. Chanukah’s coming just around the corner and it has a very similar message as Thanksgiving, where we acknowledge the victory and the conquest of the few over the many, of religious freedom as well. I think Thanksgiving is more of an opportunity to use the message to share with others and say, “Here’s an opportunity for us to bring G-d into our lives and recognize what it really is to build a home in a proper way.”

I’m not aware of any particular blessings that should be said on Thanksgiving. I don’t know that we need to make it into a Jewish holiday per se.

Feder: Well, it’s not.

Jacobson: No, I mean for a Jew to go out and try to make it Jewish. I just think that the message is a very G-dly one when it’s used properly, but it’s a great question.

Feder: Okay, thank you. We have Jim on the line.

Caller: Hi. It’s a great show. I’m just curious what your opinion might be. Two parents at war, three-year separation and two teen-age daughters that are pulled and pushed and all that. And every year, what it’s been is that we split them up—dinner at her house, dessert at mine. And the kids are getting sick of it. Forget about G-d—G-d’s not even in it. Do I just give in and let them stay at their mother’s and enjoy the festivity and the peace that comes with just being at one location?

Jacobson: Painful question, but I’ll say this. Since I don’t know the details and the particulars, it’s hard for me to respond because I’m not sure what you mean by giving in. Are you giving in or not giving in for something that is petty and egoistic…?

Caller: Petty. And I’m just looking for something that might be an inspiration to do the right thing.

Jacobson: Well, you have to remember, Jim, and I’ll put it to you as bluntly as I can, that your children are your legacy. Ultimately, the children are more important… Do you know the story with King Solomon and the two women? There was a child born and no one knew who the mother was, and King Solomon said, cut the child in half, and one woman said, “Great!” And the other woman said, “No. I would rather see the child be whole even if it means that I have to give it up.” And King Solomon realized that that was the real mother.

Even if giving in is difficult and hard to swallow, we have to remember that our children are our future. We pray to G-d that our children will live long and be healthy, and how they see you behave is how they will behave. The fact that there are things that sometimes we swallow, that itself is the message, and just step away from the personal side.

Now I would be happy to discuss this further. Leave your number with Steve the engineer and I’d be happy to speak to you more about it later. But that’s the general statement that I would make and I think it’s more of a personal issue that probably would better be discussed privately.

Caller: Thank you and I appreciate it. I like your word “legacy.” I think you’re right; the kids are watching us.

Feder: Good luck to you Jim.

Okay, we have one last call here before we move on. Ellen, you’re on the air.

Caller: Good evening Rabbi and gentlemen. The one word that I’ve been listening for since the beginning of this broadcast is the word “love.” Now, a home is a beautiful place, it’s the center of everybody’s life; it’s sort of like your magnet that holds you together, but the word love is so very important because if there’s love in the home, if you have love for your family, you have love for whomever is living with you, you have love for yourself, then you automatically have love for G-d and the rest of the world and then your home is a beautiful place.

Jacobson: I find it actually surprising that we didn’t use the word love. That’s very interesting. I thank you for that.

Feder: That’s because we’re men and we’re not natural nurturers, you see.

Jacobson: No, the point is very well taken. When I was talking before about nurturing and acceptance and G-d, I really obviously meant the word love, but the word love captures it all. However, people will ask, how do you bring love into a home where there is no love? Or when there was broken love or broken trust…, and I think it has a lot to do with parents disliking themselves, not loving themselves, that causes them to not allow love to arise, to emerge to the surface in the home.

But, yes, love is an extremely important word.

Feder: So where are you going to be Thursday, Ellen?

Caller: I’m going to be with my daughters and their children and a lot of love.

Feder: So you’re going to be at their house?

Caller: Yes, we’re going to their house, my son and I, and they are going to cook. And we’ll be with friends and family, but the main ingredient in our lives, and it’s always been in our lives, is love. Love for each other and love for G-d, and that is the magic circle that you spoke about before, love. It’s almost like the planets going around or us going around. The center is love and G-d and it’s such a beautiful thing.

Jacobson: Thank you so much for the call Ellen because it’s really been warming to hear.

Feder: Somebody called in earlier and asked how to get the book Toward a Meaningful Life; so let me just say that the book is still available in bookstores from William Morrow.

Jacobson: On as well.

Feder: You can also order it by getting in touch with us. And by the way, if you want to get in touch with us to give us your comments or ask questions, you can call us at 1-800-3MEANING, which is 1-800-363-2646. You can also email us at and we have our website which is, and you can download transcripts of the radio program from past shows. Also, if you want to write to us, the address is: The Meaningful Life Center, 788 Eastern Parkway, Suite 303, Brooklyn, NY 11213.

Before we go into our final few minutes here, did you want to mention anything about who is bringing the program to us tonight?

Jacobson: People who are helping to build a home, as a matter of fact, the people who support this show are some of the pillars helping to build the Meaningful Life Center, are some who grew up in very healthy homes and some who did not, and want to help bring a home to people everywhere. And that home means human beings who have a message that makes you feel that you matter, that you have something indispensable to contribute. I just want to mention some of those people, beginning with Ivan Stux, Sharon Ganz, Robert Klein, James Garfinkel, James and Anne Altucher, Dina and David Reis, Ted Doll and all those others who know who they are and those who don’t know yet who they are yet who help us out.

Feder: Now, speaking of which, although WEVD, which should obviously be giving us free airtime out of the goodness of their hearts, they don’t. So we really do need your help as listeners, and we get a lot of people who call up and send emails and contact us in all different sorts of ways, and we really could use your help here to keep the programs going, to sponsor them. We have requests all the time how to do it, and it’s simple: you just call us up at 1-800-3MEANING, and you can pledge money. A dollar or $100,000, we’ll take whatever you want to give us.

You keep reading in the papers all the time that people are making tens of thousands of dollars week after week in the stock market. Throw a little our way so that we can help fund these programs and bring this kind of meaning and light into people’s lives, if we do.

Jacobson: If you call in, ask for our newsletter which we’ll be sending out in the next few weeks called “Meanings,” and it will have in it a lot about this issue of how to create a home and how to create that type of personal connection, a loving home… there, we used the word—and we’ll be happy to send a free copy of the newsletter to anyone who calls in.

Feder: So next Thursday is Thanksgiving, and obviously, we’ve been hearing from a lot of people who are divided and in pain and are wondering what to do; some people have the answers, some people don’t. As we go into next week and we all celebrate the holiday in a different way, how do we make the best of it? What do we look for? What do we try to create next Thursday?

Jacobson: Everyone in his or her own particular situation—we’ll have to cover several extremes—those of us who have found love in our lives, and a home in our lives, whether it’s a home within our family structure, within the building, the actual house where we grew up and where we’re going for the holidays—obviously it gives us a great opportunity to reinforce and reaffirm the contract of that type of loving home—but also recognize that it shouldn’t just suffice to have our own gifts, but we should share them with others. Invite someone to your home perhaps that has not had that opportunity, bring light to others, remembering that when it’s cold outside, there are two ways to warm up: one is to put on a fur coat and keep warm yourself in your own environment and the other is to light a fire, a flame, a hearth where others are warmed as well.

So those of us who are celebrating the holiday and have that, and appreciate that gift, should give thanksgiving for it and at the same time recognize that thanksgiving also means an obligation, a gift, a responsibility to share that with others.

Feder: Well, there are indeed shelters where people can go…

Jacobson: On the other extreme, for those of us who do not have that, who have been deprived of that type of home and wonder what kind of thanksgiving we’re giving… I’ve advised some friends of mine who really had a great difficulty going home, that maybe they shouldn’t go home this year if they really don’t feel that they’re at home there. Because perhaps they’re just perpetuating the myth, the illusion, and maybe they should go to friends and travel somewhere where they do find someone who they really feel good with, and comfortable with.

And though it’s a break of tradition—but the break has happened under the surface anyway sometimes—and it’s just carrying on a façade. For some people that’s healthier because it allows them perhaps to explore other options.

For those of us who have no choice, because we’re either stuck in the situation or we have to be in that photograph for one reason or another, or there may be a will that’s being written soon…

Feder: I can’t believe you said that!

Jacobson: Then in that type of environment I think it’s critical to recognize that you should stop being a victim of your family, a victim of circumstances. Maybe you should bring some love into that home and just say, “You know, once and for all, I’m going to do something that’s really the way the home should be lived.” And maybe start building your own home and bring your future spouse or your spouse and say, “This is what my home is like.” Not in a way of pushing it into their face, but in a way of expressing that we are in control of our own circumstances.

And on a final note, I do want to invite people to my Wednesday night class, every Wednesday night at 8pm at 346 West 89th St., on the corner of Riverside Drive.

Feder: Okay. Thank you very much. Happy Thanksgiving.


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Done and done
5 years ago

Wow. I’ve been cooking holidays for thirty years now. I’m tired. Lil sis won’t help and I’m not only tired, I am done. Our family was ripped up when I was 17 years old. Out of high school, I ran away to a job, away from them both. Because there was no more home. They had to get on with their lives, and really did not want me around. I cannot tell you the dumb stuff I did because I was young and stupid. But mostly, there was no more home. The holidays are nothing but inconvenience to me. I do my part, but I’m just happy when it’s all over with. I do find some joy along the way. My lil sis found her joy in her husband’s family. They are a big family with money. That always helps. And I’m starting to understand that no matter how I try to bring other family members into my home at holidays, it will never be reciprocated. Selfishness. So, this Thanksgiving, I will be happy for having my immediate family. Because lil sis will never find the happiness in my home that she finds with her husband’s family. They are the whole package for her, as she grew up without two parents in the home. We all have to find the path that works for us. My path is changing, and that’s not all bad. In fact, it’s kind of liberating.

The Meaningful Life Center