Thanksgiving in Israel for me

When I lived in the USA, I would always celebrate Thanksgiving at home; I enjoyed the traditional holiday foods and the family time.

Also, Thanksgiving happens to be a very, very convenient holiday for Jews in the USA who observe the Sabbath (which begins at sunset on Friday) because Thanksgiving is always on Thursday. Therefore, we are already with our loved ones for the secular national holiday and don’t have to deal with the stress of rushing to arrive at their homes before sunset on Friday (because, traditionally, it’s forbidden for us to drive on the Sabbath).

That said, I’ve never been particularly committed to Thanksgiving. While I certainly would have maintained the tradition if I’d chosen to remain in and raise my family in the USA (simply by default), I lack the motivation to proactively celebrate it here in Israel. Apparently, Thanksgiving is simply not very important to me.

Still, many American Jews living in Israel do continue celebrating Thanksgiving. And, actually, I’ve found that it’s very common for them to celebrate this secular holiday on Friday evening, rather than on Thursday, because many Jewish families are already together for their weekly Friday night Sabbath dinners.

My friend Hersh is one such American Jew residing in Jerusalem, and he has been inviting us over for Thanksgiving-Sabbath Friday night dinner at his home for years (because I’m one of his local American-raised friends). If it weren’t for Hersh, I almost certainly would not have continued celebrating this holiday while living in Israel; in fact, last year, during the pandemic when Hersh did not invite us, I skipped Thanksgiving entirely. This didn’t bother me.

This year, Hersh and his family invited us once again for Thanksgiving-Sabbath dinner, and we happily accepted. Truth be told, we’re looking forward to spending quality time with them more than celebrating the holiday itself; but, unexpectedly, I find that I am harboring increased feelings of Thanksgiving nostalgia this week…

Perhaps the longer I live in Israel, and the less American I come to feel… the more ‘American’ moments come to hold a special significance for me.

While I remain feeling quite unmotivated to take any initiative and celebrate Thanksgiving with my own family at home… Maybe it’s exactly that lack of personal emotional investment in this holiday of my youth that’s beginning to niggle at me.

I seem to be feeling that Thanksgiving should matter more to me.

50 thoughts on “Thanksgiving in Israel for me”

  1. I absolutely love Thanksgiving, I think I’ve come to appreciate it even more this year because my dad passed in January 2021. He loved Thanksgiving. As an indigenous family my father loved the history and how Thanksgiving brings people together. We celebrated this year a bit early so we could have our entire family together, with everyone working the day after or our son the day of Thanksgiving it was better to do it earlier. I look at it as a way of thanking our Mother Earth for her bounty and the blessings Heavenly Father has given us. I love giving during this time and making peace with myself through remembering what I should be thankful for. Thanksgiving though has always been a big part of me and I’m American. Did you ever watch Eat, Pray, Love? When they had the American Thanksgiving in Italy, it was so wonderful. Everyone has their thoughts on each holiday, no reason why you should celebrate if you don’t feel it. I love it because it reminds me of growing up and my family. Other holidays like maybe not so much for me.

    1. Thinking more on it, I think it also has to do with the fact that we were an immigrant family in the first place, so it wasn’t something that my parents had been raised with – only something that we adopted. Thanks for sharing, Rose. Did you have a good celebration?


      1. I did have a good celebration, thank you. We haven’t been able to afford Turkey these last few years but this year we received a free Turkey through the place my son works. We did service these last years to a veteran center, I’m a veteran so I love to give back. I don’t have much money so I give time. I agree I think when it’s an adopted holiday it’s not close to you personally.

  2. Interesting thoughts on how and when Thanksgiving is celebrated by Jews, both in America and in Israel, from your personal perspective. I can relate to your essay, in that I enjoy the social aspect of the holiday more than I care to celebrate the holiday. I also enjoy cooking and baking. 😄

      1. Well… I made a cake last night and today I will be making a few veggies dishes and rolls. My cake might turn into a coffee cake, at least one slice. 😉 Enjoy your day and time with your family, however you choose to celebrate (or not). 🧡

  3. Thanksgiving has always been a favorite holiday of mine. First as a child for all of the usual reasons, mostly food and goofing off. The older I’ve gotten the less food has played a part, although I have to admit to being partial to some of the old standards (and will have things like turkey and cranberry sauce at other times of the year). To me, forget the old myths of pilgrims and all of that but drill down on the “thanks” and the “gratitude.” As I segue into my life to convert to Judaism, I’m finding that Thanksgiving kind of is a nice addition to the reflection of Yom Kippur, which wasn’t that too long ago.

    1. To me, forget the old myths of pilgrims and all of that but drill down on the “thanks” and the “gratitude.”

      I grew up in an immigrant family in the USA so it was never really about Plymouth Rock for us… or Indians… or any of that historical stuff… it was always about family, food, and gratitude.


  4. Thank God we’ve not got Thanksgiving inflicted on our culture ….yet. Insidiously, Halloween slowly drip feds in, courtesy of the cheap nasty surplus trash imported from Chyyna!

    1. In Israel there are “Black Friday” sales before Thanksgiving, which last for more than just that Friday itself… and I’m not even sure that most Israelis know what “Black Friday” actually is.

      1. Nor Aussies, nor do they care. Moreover, the juxtaposition of ,
        of words of opposite meaning, might be cute in poetry, but such cojoinings such as “False Truth” in fact have a real meaning , a lie.

  5. The traditon in my family is getting together and cooking together. We find plenty of other excuses to do that throughout the year, but since it’s a national holiday, it’s a day off from work so we can spend the whole day making and consuming a meal. Perhaps it doesn’t resonate so much with you because your religious tradition is to do that once a week anyway. But that’s not true for most Americans. (K)

  6. We are a big family and generally split the festivities between the traditional Thursday Thanksgiving proper and the following Sunday as most of the nurses work on Thursday and get Sunday off. This year we are travelling on Saturday and will be gone for the “BIG” meal so we are having a subset of just 14 -15 people over… Still it is a large group. We will be scrounging for chairs as I only have 10 dining room chairs. We do have some folding chairs in the attic but they are not comfortable. Son#1 will bring his 4 kitchen chairs over (they came with the dining room table but we needed more and wanted them all to match)! Nostalgia is sometimes very strong – I wouldn’t fight it but just enjoy the memories…

  7. you describe the mixed feelings very well David. I feel I share most of the sentiments from other issues, even if they are not directly comparable. National identity shifting, festivities changing or losing spiritual meaning. In trying to get a handle on what that means, what I mean, I come back to that quote of Karl Rahner’s (I have a feeling I have used it before in some comment: The Christian of the future will be a mystic or – won’t be. There may even be something in that statement that applies to all secularisation: People have to make their own what essence they wish to retain (or regain) of their spiritual origin (if anything). In some way looking at or seeking impulses from the mystical branches of those traditions seems to be one way forward there. US Thanksgiving seems to be somewhat of an outsider there because it is not denying its secularised cultural character – and as a national character at that. To me, it seems almost Thanksgiving is celebrating the US national character more than anything else. I don’t know whether your longing for it may have anything to do with your shifting Jewish spiritual identity or not. What seems clear to me, and that I certainly share again, is the realisation that migration experience cannot be had without contradictions – almost a personality split.
    I am digressing and to complete that I note that I, undeniably German, love not only the English language but also the quirkiness of the culture and its representatives. – Even more so now, as that culture is under enormous pressure from tendencies that feel almost pre-fascist. With a leading figure, I feel one can’t even in good conscience call a clown, not without insulting that profession at least.

    1. To me, it seems almost Thanksgiving is celebrating the US national character more than anything else. I don’t know whether your longing for it may have anything to do with your shifting Jewish spiritual identity or not.

      Not sure about my spiritual identity, although I’m sure there is some of that, but my national identity is shifting. I still identify as an American (and probably always will), but to a lesser extent than I once did… in lieu of identifying more and more as an Israeli.

  8. I never cared about “Thanksgiving” itself, but for several years now I usually add vacay days to the 2 days off and spend a bunch of time with my daughter who lives 400 miles away, so that part is great. Plus pie is good!

    1. yeah, part of it is that it’s just not part of the national consciousness… there’s an element for me of it feeling forced outside of the USA, but on the other hand, when I don’t have the traditional Thanksgiving meal experience, it just becomes a meal like any other… even if its a good one with friends.

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