When we moved to Israel, we swapped holidays.
Gone were Halloween, Veteran’s Day, the Fourth of July. In were the Jewish holidays transformed into national days off – Sukkot, Shavuot, Pesach – not to mention Tu B’Shvat, Israel Memorial Day, Holocaust Day.
I’ve always gotten a kick out of ignoring those holidays we knew so well back home. On December 25, I’ll nonchalantly email someone: "Oh it is Christmas? Just another work day for us here in the Holy Land…” January 1 – well it’s kind of a big deal (we still go by the Gregorian calendar), but at the end of the day, it’s still a couple of hours stuck in traffic on the way to the office.
And then there are the days we totally forget once we move here – Martin Luther King Day, President’s Day “Why isn’t so and so returning my work call,” we wonder. “It’s Monday, they should be at their desk…”
But there’s one American holiday that Jody and I have kept in Israel: Thanksgiving.
Though we do it a bit differently.
Growing up, Thanksgiving was a family day, a rare occasion for everyone to get together and sit around the table eating and shmoozing. But we do that every week on Shabbat and multiple times during the year on holidays. So we’ve turned Thanksgiving into an adults-only dinner party.
I can’t take credit for the idea. A group of friends had been doing it for some years before we made aliyah. But once we got here, they brought us into their circle. We would pool the cooking responsibilities and alternate whose home we would temporarily occupy.
As the war kicked in, we began having trepidations about Thanksgiving over the Green Line, and our friends in Givon (a quality-of-life settlement near Givat Ze’ev) had equal misgivings about traveling to us at night (they’ve since relocated for a temporary break in California).
Thanksgiving Dinner for Adults would start late, after the kids were tucked away and the babysitters settled in. We’d have all the usual fare: gargantuan turkey, stuffing, pecan pie. It was always a guessing game whether the local stores would import cranberry sauce in a given year for the few hundred English-speakers who knew what it was and wanted it.
One year, though, early on in this ritual, when we hadn’t been fully integrated into the group, we were somehow excluded. We didn’t really know the hosts that year and we simply weren’t invited. Not wanting to make a scene, we resigned ourselves to no Thanksgiving that year.
I have to admit I was pretty disappointed. I felt down and lethargic all day. I told myself that I didn’t really care, it’s not our holiday anymore, but still it mattered. It was tradition.
I went to work as usual and was planning on staying late to finish a business plan. At about 5:00 PM, I got a call from the kids. They were on the speakerphone, a little breathless and giggling, speaking almost in unison.
“Abba, you have to come home right now.”
“Why? I’m in the middle of something.”
“It’s very important.”
“Is everything OK? Is Imma OK?”
Giggle, giggle. “Everything’s OK. But you have to come home. Now.”
Reluctantly, I closed the laptop and headed for the car. I was more annoyed than worried, but these are my kids, how can I say no? In any case, I was working in Jerusalem at the time, so the drive home was only about 20 minutes.
As I walked up the steps, something was different. I could smell it. As I opened the door, it became overwhelming…and delightful.
The table was set with a festive tablecloth and matching napkins. The china was out. A big turkey was sitting center stage beckoning “welcome home.”
“We made it with Imma,” the kids exclaimed.
In fact, it had been the kids’ idea. They had all pitched in to make a full Thanksgiving meal at home, for just our family, because they knew I was feeling blue.
I don’t think I need to say what I’m thankful for, this year or any other year.
Happy Thanksgiving, wherever you are in the world!
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