Thanksgiving in Israel

A photo of the Hillels’ Thanksgiving table this year.

Thanksgiving is not a national holiday in Israel, but it is celebrated by Jewish immigrants from the US. Since we all work on Thursday when Thanksgiving usually takes place, we celebrate on Friday evening, combining it with Kabbalat Shabbat. Many of us do not have family in Israel, so the celebratory meal is shared with “extended family” with those from our congregation and our friends. The saying “there’s always room for one more around the Shabbat table” is especially apt when combined with Thanksgiving. Though we don’t celebrate by watching parades and football—the thing I miss most about Thanksgiving—we do have great food and fellowship.

We eat traditional Thanksgiving foods: turkey, stuffing, seet potatoes, pumpkin pie, cranberries, and more. However, they are cooked a little differently to avoid mixing milk and meat, and because prepared items are hard to come by. For example, getting a whole turkey can be a challenge, so we cook a turkey breast and thighs. Stuffing has to be made from dried bread and pumpkin pie from real pumpkin, not from a can. Cranberries can be purchased frozen and sometimes from a can. This year my husband and I were in the US before Thanksgiving, so we purchased canned pumpkin and canned cranberries as well as many other traditional delicacies and Thanksgiving touches (except the turkey, of course!). The table is set and decorated for the holiday and everyone dresses for the occasion. Instead of watching football and parades, we focus our conversation on the things for which we are grateful, including the opportunity to share an American holiday among like-minded people in Israel.

This post was written by MJTI Academic Dean Rabbi Dr. Vered Hillel.

For more posts on Thanksgiving, click here. For more from Rabbi Hillel, watch how to build a DIY Hanukkia, read her article Traveling, or reminisce about back-to-school.

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