Thanksgiving in Tel Aviv 311.
(photo credit: Yonit Schiller/Nefesh B’Nefesh)
At the Nefesh B’Nefesh aliya organization’s “Thanksgiving Dinner with a Middle
Eastern Twist” on Thursday, the hosts did not shy away from the holiday’s North
American culinary roots.
At least 50 lone soldiers (without close
relatives in the country) and more than 100 young professionals gathered in Tel
Aviv’s Leonardo Basel hotel for the autumnal engorgement.
I came alone,
and within a minute I saw someone who had attended the Jewish Community High
School of the Bay in San Francisco with me; someone I had no idea was living in
“This is my first time here,” Hila, who graduated high school two
years after me, told me. “I’ve been living in Israel for a little over a
I asked Hila, who has been serving as the equivalent of a social
worker in IDF for most of the time she has spent in Israel, what she was
She said she was thankful that things were going so well
for her here, and that her life was so good.
Call me traditional or
clichéd, but I had a nagging impulse to ask folks what they were thankful for on
Most people expressed gratitude for two things: their
family, and the chance to live the Zionist dream in Israel.
gathering was far from an opportunity for expatriates to get together and kvetch
about the laborious process of integrating into a foreign culture. Rather, they
seemed genuinely pleased to be spending an important cultural holiday – one that
played a key role in our lives growing up – in Israel. No one told me, “Hey, I
would rather be doing this back home.” I was the only one at my table not
currently serving in the IDF.
The young woman sitting next to me, a
sprightly South African celebrating Thanksgiving for her second time with Nefesh
B’Nefesh, was in uniform.
“I came straight from the base, and I have no
other clothes,” she said.
“Yes you do!” Hallel, an olah from Boston,
Maybe she was just showing off her fatigues, but it seemed
just as likely that she and the other soldiers in uniform just hadn’t had enough
time to pick up civies on the way from their bases to the hotel.
paratrooper at our table was coming back from his enlistment day at the Tel
Hashomer Induction Center, and hadn’t had time to sign up for the
The staff let him in nonetheless.
“This is our sixth year
doing this,” coordinator Rachel Kaufman, from Los Angeles, told me after a
heated trivia battle that took place during our turkey dinner, adding that it
has been sold out since the first time Nefesh B’Nefesh organized the event at
Tel Aviv’s Beit Haikarim in 2005.
“This was a great opportunity for young
professionals and lone soldiers to enjoy a traditional festive meal and express
their thanks together with fellow olim from around the country for their good
fortune,” Kaufman said.
“I’m thankful to be working for Nefesh B’Nefesh;
to have the chance to bring together new olim,” Nefesh B’Nefesh’s PR coordinator
Tani Kramer told me.
He also explained that Nefesh B’Nefesh staff had
essentially taught the hotel kitchen staff four years ago how to prepare
“They were so interested,” Kramer said, adding it was
a chance for Israelis to learn a bit about American culture. “We taught them how
to make stuffing,” he said smiling.