Adapting to a new country and culture often means having to shed aspects of where you originally came from. It’s a personal choice.
When it comes to holidays, I continue to embrace the Jewish holidays that I have cherished and honored since childhood. Here in Israel, they take on an even more powerful meaning. But many holidays that are observed in America have not made the journey to Israel with me.
While observed in many countries around the world, including the United States, New Year’s Day is just a normal workday for me and most of Israel. While some people celebrate, I choose not to. I also no longer celebrate America’s Independence Day, the Fourth of July; Israel’s Independence Day is enough for me.
However, there is an American holiday that has made the trans-Atlantic journey with me – Thanksgiving.
I can’t quite explain how this holiday above all others has withstood the test of time in my life in Israel. Perhaps it’s the fond family memories. Or the unique blend of Thanksgiving foods – the turkey, cranberry sauce, candied yams, stuffing, pumpkin pie, etc. It might also be that Thanksgiving is like a typical Jewish Sabbath or other holiday meal, with connection to things such as gratitude and enjoying quality time with others – just without the Jewish religious traditions.
One thing that’s lacking for me about Thanksgiving in Israel is that I can’t celebrate with my immediate family. Therefore, I’m dependent on another aspect of life that’s also important to express gratitude for – friendship.
Thankfully, I have no shortage of options. Reuben Beiser, another Providence native, is the owner of a sports bar and restaurant in Jerusalem called Mike’s Place. Each year, Mike’s Place does something for Thanksgiving. Some years, they’ve even collected donations to offer a free Thanksgiving dinner to lone soldiers.
My friend Rebecca Zibman, who is originally from Massachusetts, runs a nursery school on the street where I live. Each Thanksgiving, she and her colleagues provide a Thanksgiving lunch to the young children who attend her school. As it’s right down the street from my apartment, on one occasion I stopped by to sample the feast.
My main Thanksgiving event, however, shows how friendships can withstand the test of time. My love of Israel and my desire to live here began in 1997, when I first came here on a program known as Achva Israel. It was on that trip that I met Ilana Mann.
Originally from New York, Ilana was one of the people who befriended “Rhode Island Dan,” as I was playfully dubbed. We stayed in touch for a little while after the trip, but eventually we drifted apart. It was after college, when we both lived in the same neighborhood in Manhattan, that we reconnected.
About four years after my own aliyah (immigration) to Israel, Ilana followed. We’d have each other over for the occasional Shabbat meal.
Ilana, a bigger fan of American Thanksgiving than even I am, decided to bring that tradition with her to Israel. I’m part of a group of Ilana’s family members and friends in Israel whom she invites to the feast each year. Among the other regular guests are Ilana’s first cousin, Aleeza Deutscher, and her family.
Each year, Aleeza contributes amazing Thanksgiving-themed desserts, such as a cake in the shape of the turkey.
As Thanksgiving is a normal workday in Israel, Ilana takes the day off to slave over a hot stove so that we can enjoy all of our Thanksgiving favorites, including a whole turkey. We go around the table and share what we’re thankful for – besides a Thanksgiving meal in Israel.
After all, holidays such as Thanksgiving are not only about the food, long weekends and shopping bargains.
Thanksgiving should be primarily about being grateful and the joy of being together with friends and family. These are life experiences that we should always be thankful for, no matter where in the world we find ourselves.
DANIEL STIEGLITZ (firstname.lastname@example.org) lives in Jerusalem, where he works as a life coach. His collection of short stories, “Tavern of the Mind,” is available for paperback and Kindle purchase at Amazon. www.amzn.to/2Izssrz.