It’s Thanksgiving Dinner. The table is beautifully set and decorated. The meal has all the important elements, turkey, along with wonderful side dishes like sweet potatoes, cranberries, cornbread and….hummus. We’re in Israel after all, where allowances have to be made along with the opportunity to introduce this wonderful celebration to friends and family who may not have experienced it growing up in Israel.
Thanksgiving is the celebration that my American-born parents took seriously, along with Jewish holidays and Shabbat observance. It allowed them – children of Russian Jewish immigrants after WWI – to give thanks for all that their families had received in the United States. As a child growing up in New York, it was my favorite holiday. As it wasn’t Shabbat, we were free to cook in a relaxed fashion, watch the famous parade down NYC’s 5th Avenue, drive and sit in traffic – along with the everyone else – as we traveled to our cousin’s house for a relaxed late-day, celebratory meal.
For me, 11 years into my Israel experience, Thanksgiving connects me to the reasons why I moved to Israel: To be part of the Jewish homeland, in a complicated place where I can live freely as a Jew and be part of building, as co-founder of Shutaf Inclusion Programs in Jerusalem, a more caring community of diversity, inclusion, and equality for all citizens, with and without disabilities and from all cultural backgrounds. Thanksgiving is about being grateful for the bounty of foods available in the local markets, the unique smells and tastes of the Levant, and being able to argue about where the best hummus can be had – countrywide. Thanksgiving is about giving thanks for my life as a new immigrant, complete with adult children living in Tel Aviv and Sderot, and my sister up the block from me in Jerusalem.
Thanksgiving is that holiday worth adding to the already heavy schedule of holidays here in Israel. Why? Because of its secular nature, it can offer biking and roller skating, followed by a meal that all can share and enjoy, while bringing new traditions and new foods to the table. This year? All will partake at our celebrations – religious and secular, vegan and carnivore – and all will enjoy. A day that all can celebrate the wonders and challenges of the dream of a להיות עם חפשי בארצנו.
By Beth Steinberg