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Wednesday, November 27, 2013

No, We Don't Do The Thanksgiving Thing Here in Israel

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I hope that none of our Shabbat guests are expecting turkey.

In the forty-three years since we got married, boarded the Greek Lines Santa Maria  "sailed away" and made aliyah to Israel, only once did we have a "Thanksgiving" meal.  It was a few years ago when one of our neighbors decided to organize a "Thanksgiving potluck" dinner. Everybody contributed.  It was fun getting together, but there was nothing very "thanks to the USA" on  the program.

A few years after our aliyah, when we were doing Jewish Zionist youth work in England an American friend mentioned that she was having trouble finding cranberry sauce (or was it bright orange yams?)  And I asked her why she was looking for them.
"Oops! I had never given it a thought since we left the states." 
That's the truth.  Now with the internet I'm very aware of Thanksgiving since so many people write about it on facebook or blog about it.  And this year especially, since Chanukah and Thanksgiving are at the same time there's even more about it in the media than ever before.   Also on facebook I've been reading of the plans of some cousins.  A few decades ago it was much, much easier to be unaware of that American Holiday.

When I was "an American" our Thanksgiving was pure family, not patriotism.  I don't even remember the food, just the crowd of cousins, plus some aunts and uncles.  I remember the joy and the jokes.  Without my cousins there's no Thanksgiving.

Should Jews be celebrating Thanksgiving?  Is it a Jewish Holiday? 

As I remember, the holiday is to celebrate the Pilgrims, early European pioneers invaders surviving difficult conditions.  They were religious Christians and established the holiday to thank god for their survival. Some were adventurers, and some were more like refugees escaping difficult economic and social conditions.  Some of those Europeans wanted more religious freedom for themselves.  Once they set up their communities they were as intolerant of other religions as their former neighbors had been of theirs. Jews weren't very welcome.  That's the real America.

WASPs, white Anglo Saxon Protestants were the ideal American until a few decades ago.  For the ideal American, "color" meant rosy cheeks.  John F. Kennedy, as popular as became after his assassination, almost didn't get elected didn't get elected United States President, because he was a Catholic, and that was just half a century ago.

President Coolidge signs
 the immigration act
In 1924 the American Government in an attempt to "undo" the increase in the Jewish population and other non-"Europeans" which had mushroomed in the twentieth century enacted the  Immigration Act of 1924.

The Immigration Act of 1924, or Johnson–Reed Act, including the National Origins Act, and Asian Exclusion Act (Pub.L. 68–139, 43 Stat. 153, enacted May 26, 1924), was a United States federal law that limited the annual number of immigrants who could be admitted from any country to 2% of the number of people from that country who were already living in the United States in 1890, down from the 3% cap set by the Immigration Restriction Act of 1921, according to the Census of 1890. It superseded the 1921 Emergency Quota Act. The law was aimed at further restricting the Southern and Eastern Europeans, among them Jews who had migrated in large numbers since the 1890s to escape persecution in Poland and Russia, as well as prohibiting the immigration of Middle Easterners, East Asians, and Indians. According to the U.S. Department of State Office of the Historian the purpose of the act was "to preserve the ideal of American homogeneity".[1] Congressional opposition was minimal.
I have no doubt that barely two decades later when the United States did its best to keep its doors carefully locked and rejected many Jews fleeing Germany that the same people and mentality ruled America.
The events of 1938 caused a dramatic increase in Jewish emigration. The German annexation of Austria in March, the increase in personal assaults on Jews during the spring and summer, the nationwide Kristallnacht ("Night of Broken Glass") pogrom in November, and the subsequent seizure of Jewish-owned property all caused a flood of visa applications. Although finding a destination proved difficult, about 36,000 Jews left Germany and Austria in 1938 and 77,000 in 1939.
The sudden flood of emigrants created a major refugee crisis. President Franklin D. Roosevelt convened a conference in Evian, France, in July 1938. Despite the participation of delegates from 32 countries, including the United States, Great Britain, France, Canada, and Australia, only the Dominican Republic agreed to accept additional refugees. The plight of German-Jewish refugees, persecuted at home and unwanted abroad, is also illustrated by the voyage of the "St. Louis."
Compare those numbers to the estimated six million 6,000,000 who were murdered directly or indirectly by the Nazis.

The Jews who made it to America and succeeded to make their lives better were lucky, but they must remember that the USA didn't encourage or facilitate their immigration.  They succeeded despite the United States Government.

I have nothing against family and friends getting together.  I even like eating turkey.  But I think that the Jewish commitment to thank the United States sometimes goes too far.

And don't forget that the American decision to join in the war against the Nazis had absolutely nothing to do with saving Jews.


Natalie Katz said...

While I understand your point of view, I guess I view Thanksgiving a bit differently. I think of it not as a specific thank you to the United States government. For me, it is not a political holiday. I think of Thanksgiving and celebrating thankfulness generally. Thank you for family and friends. Thank you for good health. Thank you for making it through another year. A Shehekiani in a sense.

My memories and feelings about Thanksgiving are centered around family and food. I also remember the big Thanksgiving gathering in my grandmothers one bedroom apartment. I remember setting out the forks in the shape of a fan. I remember lots and lots of big cousins. I remember how an unbelievable amount of food came out of my grandmother's tiny galley kitchen.

It's strange, but because of our age difference, and your move to Israel, it is possible that I have spent more Thanksgiving dinners when with your parents than you did.

This year will be a small Thanksgiving for us - only about 17 people. But, as always, there will be lots wonderful food, and cousins playing together. Hopefully our regular Thanksgiving show put on by the kids! We will connect with extended family in the evening by making phone calls. . . and checking Facebook!

I suppose, like anything else, Thanksgiving is what you make of it. I have a sense of Thanksgiving during Shabbat services when reciting prayers. I have a sense of Thanksgiving when celebrating with family and food on Thanksgiving Day. There is no right or wrong answer. You do what works for you.

I would enjoy celebrating with you, with food and family, Thanksgiving Day or on any other ordinary day where we could enjoy the family and be generally appreciative.

I love you, cousin!

With Love (and sweet potatoes),

Batya Medad said...

Natalie, my dear young cousin, those wonderful family Thanksgivings at your grandmothers were the highlights of my childhood. I guess the "big cousins" you're referring to are my little cousins.
You're right about spending more Thanksgivings with my parents than I did!
We're blessed to be from a very special family. Love to all

Natalie Katz said...

Yes, my big groovy cousins are your little cousins - Arthur and Kenny, the "cookies" (my nickname for Ira and Marvin), your brother Tom and sister Vivian. In my grandmothers apartment, I was the baby of the group.

Let us know when you'll be out here again. I would enjoy getting the family together. (I know. . . I'm due for a trip there!)

I hope that your day tomorrow is lovely, whether celebrating Hanukkah or thinking about Thanksgiving or just reaching out to friends and family. Have a beautiful and inspirational day!

Batya Medad said...

You're the big cousin of your generation.
Vivian and I are planning to do an unveiling for my mother some time in the spring. We haven't yet set a date. That would be a good occasion for a big family get-together.
I want to visit the states in the winter, but not up north. We'd love to see you here in Israel any time...

goyisherebbe said...

For American olim in Israel, celebrating Thanksgiving seems to me to be identifying as an expatriate American rather than as an Israeli Jew and as such is not necessarily healthy for being absorbed into Israeli society. Maybe I'm being extreme. Maybe it is wrong to treat American Thanksgiving differently from Moroccan Mimouna or Ethiopian Sigd. I have warm memories of those family dinners and the football games on TV, but it was long ago and far away. Thanksgiving is a general American celebration and non-sectarian. American rabbis have not agreed on whether it is acceptable for Jews to celebrate it, but that was in America, where we had non-Jewish neighbors who had certain expectations. Here it is different. But having come here over four decades ago, when there were a lot fewer Americans here, may have colored my perspective. What do the more recent arrivals have to say?

Serach Yael Ben Lev said...

I have been in Israel for 6 1/2 years and have said since my Aliyah that I have thanksgiving once a week meal wise and everyday spiritually.

Is there harm if someone celebrates Thanksgiving after Aliyah? No. You are eating turkey, not praying to it or something it represents.

I am an expatriate American and an Israeli Jew. Love both countries. Israel is my home and part of the country my ancestors helped to build has come home with me to Israel. I live with Jewish friends and neighbors that have certain expectations......a Thanksgiving style meal the Shabbat right after the last Thursday of November...okay well I can do that!

Batya Medad said...

goyish, you made a good point. Those of us here forty plus years pretty much ignored the American holiday Thanksgiving. It wasn't acceptable then to continue American customs.

Serach, does that make any sense to you?

yosef said...

For both religious and zionist reasons, my wife and I never celebrated Thanksgiving either before or after aliyah from the US. It's very nice that Christians thank G-d every year on the fourth Thursday of November (Gregorian calendar)over turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce and a football game. We Jews have our own prescribed way to thank the G-d of Israel with every blessing and praying three times a day - why emulate American Christians (Pilgrams).