thanksgiving turkey legs 248.88.
(photo credit: Brian Blondy)
Lone soldiers and foreign volunteers serving in the army far from their families can sometimes feel lonely. But two organizations are trying to make sure that despite the distance, lone soldiers from the US don't miss the quintessential American holiday of Thanksgiving.
"Thanksgiving is the holiday of immigration and immigrants and giving thanks," said Dr. Edward Rettig, Acting Director of the American Jewish Committee's Jerusalem office, whose organization has sponsored a Thanksgiving meal for lone soldiers for the past nine years. "Here you have soldiers who come without their families to Israel... being an immigrant is not easy even if you're happy. It's a good thing to be a little bit American even as you become Israeli, because that's how you were brought up," he said.
AJC is planning a dinner of pumpkin soup, turkey, mashed potatoes, and apple pie for 30 hayalim bodedim who are serving in IDF branches across the country. The soldiers were chosen by the army's Spokesperson's Office. For AJC's staff, the dinner is a chance to honor the soldiers and give them a brief respite from the army. "One time we got three or four soldiers from a unit stationed in Hebron in the middle of the intifada," Rettig said. "They had chicken and turkey for Thanksgiving, and then went right back to their units."
Thanksgiving traces its routes back to 1621, when the surviving 53 Pilgrims celebrated their first successful harvest with the Wampanoag American Indians. It was declared a federal holiday in the US in 1941 by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
"Thanksgiving was based on immigrants to US - they created it as a way to give thanks for good bounty, good fortunate and making it in the new country," said Myra Clark-Siegel, Director of External Relations of Project Interchange of the AJC. "It's a mirror image of that entire story in Israel. [The lone soldiers] have come to help Israel and make their new lives in Israel. It's a way to close that circle. It allows them to celebrate the holiday that's meaningful to most Americans, no matter your background."
Another Thanksgiving dinner, hosted by The Michael Levin Memorial Center, is open to all lone soldiers. This is the first Thanksgiving dinner hosted by the Center, a new non-profit aimed at helping soldiers without family in the country adjust to the army and stay in Israel after completing their service. They expect around 100 people at their potluck dinner, which will be held at a volunteer's giant apartment in Tel Aviv.
"It's good to be together with other people like you, who are serving in the army and care about the state, but want to observe the most fun American holiday," said Josh Flasher, a director of programming at the Center.
The Center's open invitation extends to active duty soldiers, foreigners who are about to go into the army, and former lone soldiers. "Just because you're out of the army doesn't mean that your family is suddenly here," said Jared White, another director of programming at the Center. "We call them 'ezrach boded' or 'lonely civilians.'"
This population of ex-soldiers is a crucial population that the Center hopes to reach. "After the army, there's a type of 'fall off'-you're not part of a framework, you're on your own, and it's a huge adjustment," Flaster said." The more people out of army who show up to the meal, the better," he added, noting that the Center hopes to create more formal one-on-one mentorships between post-army and current hayalim bodedim.
But the best part of Thanksgiving for most soldiers, of course, is the food itself. "No matter how Zionistic you are, it's nice to have a taste of home, a little turkey, and a little stuffing," said Flasher.