By Stephanie Hodes

The American Jewish Committee held a special dinner for American lone soldiers to give thanks to the soldiers for their service.

Thousands of Israeli Americans and U.S. expats celebrated Thanksgiving with dinners and events across the country on Thursday.

The American Jewish Committee held a special dinner for American lone soldiers Thursday night to give thanks to the soldiers for their service. For the ninth year in a row, the AJC hosted approximately 30 soldiers from various IDF units and served a traditional Thanksgiving meal that included turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, and pumpkin pie.

“There is a group of people here in Israel who have not been drafted to the army, but rather voluntarily put themselves in harm’s way on behalf of the Jewish people and the State of Israel,” said Dr. Ed Rettig, acting director of AJC Jerusalem, in his welcoming address to the soldiers.

“It is never easy being away from family during the holidays, and it is with gratitude that the AJC is able to present a turkey to give thanks to you for the work you are doing,” he said.

Rettig later told The Jerusalem Post that “one of the things about lone soldiers is that they are very far away from their support systems, and while most Israeli soldiers are never more than five hours away from their families, whom they can visit every two weeks, lone soldiers are completely cut off from theirs. The AJC saw this as an opportunity to step in and do something for them.”

Adam Schwartz, a lone soldier from Tennessee, who on the same day completed the long hike marking the final stage of his basic training, said that during the 50-km. trek, he had thought of his family flying from different parts of the States and Canada to be together on this day, and although he was feeling tired, sore, and sleep-deprived, he was happy to be able to celebrate Thanksgiving and the reaching of a milestone with fellow Americans.

Shelley Stendig of Chicago reflected on how having people come home for Thanksgiving represented a time when the house is united. Stendig, who has been in Israel for two years and works in the IDF’s foreign relations department, said she was thankful for the courage she’d had to join the army.

“American identity is a big part of who I am, and although I live with the dichotomy of being American and Israeli, I am happy to be here and have Israeli friends and family share in the holiday,” she said.

A special seat at the AJC Thanksgiving table was reserved for captive soldier Gilad Schalit. The group noted that on this day he, too, was far away from his family, and raised their glasses to his speedy release.

Another Thanksgiving event was held in Jerusalem, where about 130 Hillel students took part in an annual holiday dinner at a hotel funded by Arlene Kaufman of Palm Beach, Florida. The gathering was sponsored in memory of Kaufman’s late husband Bruce and aimed to bring some “home comforts” to overseas students through an evening of music, entertainment, and an enormous turkey-centered banquet.

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