Thanksgiving in Jerusalem

What olim say, happenings and turkey tips

THE ICONIC Pillsbury Doughboy floats high above New York City during a recent Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade (photo credit: SHINYA SUZUKI/FLICKR)
THE ICONIC Pillsbury Doughboy floats high above New York City during a recent Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade
(photo credit: SHINYA SUZUKI/FLICKR)
There are many fascinating aspects to living in Jerusalem. My favorite is the heterogeneous and varied nature of the people I live among and learning about their cultures and family traditions. The olim community, which I am part of, is very much part of the Jerusalem demographic and makes the Jewish capital a colorful and rich city.
The concept of Thanksgiving is rated highly in Judaism. Showing thanks – hakarat hatov – is central to our relationships with God and those around us. In fact during Temple times, a special sacrifice was brought, the korban todah, for precisely that reason – to show thanks. The Talmud lists four types of people who are obligated to bring a korban torah – one who returns from travel at sea; one who returns from a journey in the wilderness; one who is released from prison; and one who recovers from an illness.
Leading American rabbis, including Moshe Feinstein and J.B. Soloveichik, ruled that American Jews are encouraged or at least permitted to celebrate Thanksgiving as an expression of the gratitude the Jewish people have toward America for welcoming them into their country and allowing them to live freely and be educated as Jews. Speaking to Rabbi Simcha Krauss – who for many years led the Modern Orthodox congregation at Young Israel of Hillcrest in Queens, New York, and today lives in the Old Katamon neighborhood – about Thanksgiving, he said that after the Holocaust, American Jews have an obligation to mark the festive day as an expression of thanks and recognition to the American government and people, for allowing in Jewish survivors and refugees from Europe and enabling them to rebuild their lives and families.
As a Brit who used to see Thanksgiving as a kind of Christmas without the queen’s speech, I was enlightened when talking with American olim as to what the day meant to them.
Elli Lifschitz compared Thanksgiving to the festival of Sukkot, when they are showing thanks for a successful harvest. He stressed that Thanksgiving was an “American – not religious – day, when we show thanks for all we have and those around us. As such, it makes no difference where you celebrate it – in America or Israel.”
Cheryl Lieberman enthused, “Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays. I have fond memories of being a participant in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade with my family (I was on floats and marched as a clown for over 10 years!) and then heading over to grandma’s for a huge dinner with the extended family. It was a relaxed, enjoyable day and a much coveted long weekend.”
“I believe it’s important to continue celebrating it in Israel,” she noted, “since it connects me to my roots. I love living in Israel, but I am still very much in tune with my American side and miss the quality family time that was Thanksgiving. Therefore I get together with my good friends here in Jerusalem each year over delicious Thanksgiving dishes. My friends have been an incredible support system and in a way we are family for each other, with our real families so far away. This day is for us to reminisce and celebrate the way we did in America and get a taste literally and figuratively of home.”
Mimi Borowich Milstein said, “Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays! It is like having a yom tov meal with friends and/or family, but on a weekday. It’s important for me to celebrate even in Israel, because it’s something that unites me and my American friends (and that friends from other countries are always curious to experience with me as well). I used to co-host Thanksgiving with a friend, but when she moved back to the US several years ago, I started joining other communal meals.
“It can be very challenging to find and cook a whole Turkey in small Israeli ovens. One time when I was working for a hi-tech company, I made a Thanksgiving lunch on Thursday [Thanksgiving day, the fourth Thursday in November] for my coworkers.”
Alisa Bodner also believes that Thanksgiving should be celebrated in Israel. “Like the US, Israel is a melting pot and we have much to be grateful for here in Israel. I love the family aspect of the day when we can gather together.”
Amram Riskin explained, “My family was in America for 120 years. Even though I live in Jerusalem, I feel very American. Unlike in Europe, Americans allowed Jews to practice their religion. In America, you could freely practice being Jewish and on Thanksgiving we celebrate that. We celebrate on Friday night, as practically it’s easier for my wife and because of kavod Shabbat – respect for the Shabbat.
DigginG INTO a creamy pumpkin pie is a highlight of the year for many.DigginG INTO a creamy pumpkin pie is a highlight of the year for many.
The question for many Orthodox American Jews is when to have the Thanksgiving meal – on Thursday or Friday evening. Zev Stub believes that one should celebrate it on Friday night for two reasons – to make it easier for those preparing the meal, and so as not to detract from Shabbat. Stub also believes that it is very appropriate to celebrate Thanksgiving on Shabbat, as Shabbat is a perfect time to express our gratitude to God and those around us.
STUB GAVE the following five tips to make your Friday-night meal a Thanksgiving event to remember:
1) Reserve your turkey in time.
2) Go the American stores and buy the traditional Thanksgiving foods and accessories.
3) Bake a challah in the shape of a turkey.
4) Prepare games for the table you can play as a juming-off point to express thanks and gratefulness.
5) Choose Thanksgiving-themed zemirot relating to gratitude.
Lifschitz, though, didn’t see the need to double up the Thanksgiving and Friday-night meal – “In the Diaspora, we have two days of yom tov. I see no reason why we can’t have a Thanksgiving meal on Thursday evening.”
THERE ARE several events going on in Jerusalem over Thanksgiving where one may celebrate in fine American style and enjoy the food we look forward to all year – juicy turkey, of course, but with a spotlight on side dishes like stuffing smothered in gravy, mashed potato mountains, cranberry sauce (whole-berry or jellied? straight from the can or relish? all of them?) and sweet potato casserole adorned with mini marshmallows, and desserts like pie, glorious pie (pecan/apple/pumpkin/insert endless list of fruits).
1) Mike’s Place has been hosting a Traditional Thanksgiving Dinner for almost a decade. In addition to the delicious menu with all the trimmings – featuring turkey, corn on the cob, cranberry sauce and cornbread – they decorate the room and air the holiday NFL games (American football, not be confused with soccer) on TVs throughout the bar. The formal, reservation-only dinner runs from 7-9 p.m., after which it opens to the general public, with free live-music concert at 12 (this year’s band is Rhythm and Zu). Price: NIS 150; Reservations: (02) 502-3439.
2) The AACI is having their usual Thanksgiving celebration. Dinner will be at 5:30 p.m., followed by an 8 p.m. performance of the play She Loves Me (a romantic comedy written by Bock and Harnick of Fiddler on the Roof fame). The traditional dinner – which includes turkey, stuffing and cranberry sauce – is catered by Pninat Osher. Price: Dinner, NIS 160/140; Show, NIS 85/70 ; Combined dinner & show, NIS 190/170.. Details: AACI (02) 566-1181 or; Seating requests: Belle Fine-Cohen,
3) The Inbal Hotel is hosting a four-course Thanksgiving dinner in its Carmel Restaurant 7 to 10 p.m. with live entertainment by the Tamir Jazz Trio. Price: NIS 300 per adult/NIS 225 per child; Reservations: (02) 675-6666.
4) Katamon BABayit, which caters to young religious olim, will be having a potluck Thanksgiving meal 8 to 11 p.m. Registration:
5) Tel Aviv: The Nefesh B’Nefesh event for olim starts at 6:30 p.m. with a happy hour followed by dinner at their NBN Tel Aviv Hub, 76 Rothschild, 5th floor. Details:
Many prefer to make their own Thanksgiving meal rather than going to a public event. Rachely Cozer said, “Homemade food is delicious, it brings us together, and we remember all that we are thankful for – all Jewish values. It’s important to pre-order a whole Turkey.”
If you are having a private family Thanksgiving meal or “Friendsgiving,” there are several supermarkets/grocery stores where you can purchase the sometimes-hard-to-find ingredients needed to whip up the customary foodstuffs – like pumpkin puree or cherry filling for pie, cranberry sauce, fried onions to top green bean casserole. They include: Super Hamoshava on Emek Refaim Street in the German Colony, Superdeal on Bethlehem and Hebron Roads, Cheaper Kol in Givat Shaul, Chafetz Chaim in the city center, SuperOf in Har Nof and the Mahaneh Yehudah market.
WHEN BUYING a turkey, make sure to plan ahead. Superdeal requires you to order it three or four days beforehand. Note that at certain supermarkets, like Co-op Shop on Old Katamon’s Hapalmach Street, if you order your whole Turkey at the beginning of the week, it will take two days, but if you order it on Thursday, it will be ready for you only the following Tuesday. Other smaller butchers require you to order a week in advance.
Five tips to bear in mind when buying your turkey:
1) For a larger party, aim for one pound per person. For a small party and smaller turkey, figure 1.5 pounds for each person.
2) Buy your turkey early enough to allow you to thaw it thoroughly – the advised amount of time is one day per every five pounds.
3) With regard to the size of the turkey: The smaller the turkey, the more tender it is. Consider buying two small birds instead of one big one. If you having a lot of guests, buy smaller turkeys – the bigger the turkey, the more time it takes to cook, and it also cooks less evenly.
4) Tailor the turkey you buy to your guests. If they prefer white meat, then consider buying an extra bone. If they prefer dark meat, buy a smaller turkey with some drumsticks.
5) Turkeys with well-rounded breasts are juicier.
HOWEVER YOU are celebrating Thanksgiving this year, enjoy and bear in mind the essence of the holiday – appreciating what we have been blessed with and those special people around us.
While you may be missing the Black Friday sales, you can watch the parade on YouTube!
Erica Schachne contributed to this article.