By Marcy Oster, JTA www.JewishJournal.com
Thanksgiving was always a day spent eating good food and watching some (hopefully) good football at my house. But in my husband’s family, Thanksgiving was truly a day of giving thanks, as each year his grandfather, J. Alex Link, spoke about his gratitude to the United States for taking him in on the eve of the Holocaust.
So when it came to our first Thanksgiving in Israel nine years ago, we had no doubt that we would celebrate—even though my three sisters-in-law, who grew up in the same household as my husband and made aliyah (moved to Israel) before us, do not mark the day.
As part of our support system in those first weeks after aliyah, we spent much time commiserating with another American family who had moved to Israel during the same year, and we found that we had kindred spirits where Thanksgiving was concerned.
That first Thanksgiving together has evolved into an annual tradition, though we have moved the meal to Friday night after waiting that first year until late in the evening when our two husbands returned from work.
In addition to a spread that includes the favorite traditional Thanksgiving foods of both families, we ask the children and adults to talk about what we have had to be thankful about since last year.
Sometimes the children are thankful for things as simple as the turkey or a good teacher. Other times their thanks are for not being caught in a Molotov cocktail attack or in bomb shelters like the children of Sderot—a poignant reminder that we are celebrating this most American of holidays in Israel.
The first year that my asking the meat and poultry counter of my local supermarket if I could order a whole turkey set off a flurry of discussion. The woman at the counter had to call the manager; the manager had to call the distributor; the distributor had to call the slaughterhouse. But in the end I got my turkey.
Now when the middle of November rolls around each year, the ladies behind the counter remind me to order my whole turkey. They even let it thaw for a couple of days in their giant refrigerator before I take it home.
Last year I had an audience when I took my turkey from the oven on the erev Shabbat (eve of the Sabbath) of our Thanksgiving celebration. My Israeli neighbor, who the previous day had seen me lugging home my turkey—it’s the size of a hefty newborn—had asked if she could come over and see what in the world I do with a whole turkey. She brought her mother, too, and they oohed and aahed over my perfectly browned bird and the savory stuffing peeking out from inside.
At least 300 Anglo families live in our community, mostly Americans, but I don’t think many celebrate Thanksgiving. Many came here too young to have established the bountiful American holiday as a tradition in their homes. Others have tried hard to become as Israeli as possible, leaving behind all the trappings of their American lives, like Thanksgiving.
I see no contradiction in celebrating a quintessential American Thanksgiving. I will always be an American and I am thankful for all that America has done for me, my family, Israel and the world. I want my children, who were very young or not even born when we made aliyah, to feel that same gratitude.
So each year we sit down to a turkey with stuffing made following my husband’s grandmother’s recipe, to sweet potatoes that our friends make according to their family’s tradition. The apple pie recipe also comes from grandma, and the pumpkin pie tastes just like it was made by our friend’s mother. In place of cranberry sauce we serve a cranberry kugel (casserole).
Kiddush (blessing) precedes the meal, accompanied by fresh-baked challah (egg bread) and completed with Birkat Hamazon (saying grace after a meal)—and we drink a fine Israeli wine with dinner.
And maybe, if we are lucky, we can catch a football game on one of the satellite TV sports stations late Thursday night or early Friday morning, just to get us in the mood for our Thanksgiving dinner.