Challah, canned cranberries and ‘peanuts’ — Americans in Israel give thanks slightly differently
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Challah, canned cranberries and ‘peanuts’ — Americans in Israel give thanks slightly differently

From celebrating a day late to sending pizzas to families in the south, how to mark Turkey Day in the 51st state

Jessica Steinberg covers the Sabra scene from south to north and back to the center.

'The First Thanksgiving at Plymouth' (1914) By Jennie A. Brownscombe
'The First Thanksgiving at Plymouth' (1914) By Jennie A. Brownscombe

It’s been a tense, scary week in Israel, and given the ceasefire called Wednesday night, it’s an apt time for giving thanks in tandem with the celebration of Thanksgiving Day in the United States.

For North Americans living in Israel, celebrating Thanksgiving comes with a certain amount of baggage for some, and is a fast-and-firm tradition for others. There are specific challenges this food-oriented holiday entails, from acquiring fresh or canned cranberries, pumpkin and a fresh, whole turkey to deciding whether to include non-Americans in the dinnertime celebration. (It’s a curious thing that while Thanksgiving has always been mistakenly seen as a separation of sorts from the British homeland, it was in fact rooted in an age-old English tradition.)

Yet it’s the quirky aspects of celebrating Thanksgiving in Israel that have made it as important a holiday as any others in my family’s calendar year. Perhaps it’s the opportunity to bring some of our traditions to this country where we’re still immigrants, no matter how long we’ve been living here. I like that my butcher teases me each year about the size of the turkey, and can appreciate the fact that someone coming from the US, at some point in September or October, will stuff bags of fresh cranberries in their suitcase. There’s the pleasure in taking out our annual T-day decorations, and taping a massive cardboard turkey on our front door, much to the amusement of our Moroccan neighbor.

This year, it will about feeling thankful for some peace and quiet, while knowing that not everyone has managed to get back to his own home. And so, this week’s top five ways to feel thankful:

A turkey challah in all its glory (Courtesy
A turkey challah in all its glory (Courtesy

1) I used to scoff at those who celebrated their Thanksgiving at a Friday night Shabbat dinner, instead of the more calendar-correct Thursday. That said, I’ll be making Thanksgiving on Friday night this year, partially because a Friday night Thanksgiving means I can make this Turkey challah with my kids. I don’t generally delve into challah-making, as I have a sister-in-law who produces exquisitely-turned out loaves each week, but this recipe is too tempting to resist. Made out a straightforward honey-vanilla recipe (I’ll be substituting soy milk for the cup of regular milk) that requires two rising times, each for about an hour, it’s the finishing touches that are what makes this worthwhile; that, and unveiling a turkey challah at dinner.

Cranberries bubbling away on the stove (photo credit: Jessica Steinberg/Times of Israel)
Cranberries bubbling away on the stove (photo credit: Jessica Steinberg/Times of Israel)

2) When I married my husband, we attempted to merge Thanksgiving traditions, not always an easy feat when you both have extended families and kids who have their own thoughts about what makes the holiday. When we were ready to use the fresh cranberries “imported” by one of our US-commuting friends, I immediately assumed we’d make my fig-and-cranberry relish, while he was thinking along the lines of cranberry muffins. Most years, we have enough for both, but when we don’t, a muffin recipe like this one uses canned cranberries which are generally available in many Israeli supermarkets year-round. (Many Russian supermarkets stock frozen cranberries, but they’re often pricey.)

During last year's David Ben-Gurion Walk (Courtesy M.A. Ramat HaNegev)
During last year’s David Ben-Gurion Walk (Courtesy M.A. Ramat HaNegev)

3) This Thanksgiving is the kind when you want to invite families from the south to join in the celebration (we’ve got one family staying with our neighbors across the hall). If that’s not doable, there are many activities and events taking place this weekend that are all about supporting and helping southern residents get back to some sense of regular life.

    • The Gesher organization is gathering on Friday and heading down south to support locals and their shops by buying supplies and delivering them to people in need. If you can’t make it, you can also donate funds for volunteers to use on Friday.
    • If you can’t head south, go to Hangar 11 in the Jaffa Port where Negev store owners selling flowers, shoes, clothing, Judaic, crafts, housewares, spa treatments and more will be setting up shop. Open from 8-3, Hangar 11, Jaffa Port. They will also be collecting dry food packages for soldiers who have been stationed down south. Call 03-602-0888 if you’d like a stall at the event.
    • The 20th Ben Gurion Walk at Sde Boker in memory of Israel’s first prime minister is going ahead this Friday and Saturday, as planned, with three different walking routes, including one along the preferred path of David Ben-Gurion. The cost of the event is free for residents of the south, and NIS 30 for all others. For more information, call 08-6564165 or check out the Ramat HaNegev website.
    • Order a pizza (or two) from Pizza Roma in Ashdod, by calling 08-866-7000 (972-8-866-7000 from outside Israel). They will send it to a family in need. Or send a soldier a kilo of freshly baked cookies from Bakery29 in Tel Aviv. Netta Korin, who founded this unique business, donates all of her profits to Impact, part of the Friends of the IDF organization, which helps support the needs of soldiers after their service. Cookies will be delivered to soldiers serving down south by the Association for the Well-Being of Israeli Soldiers. For more information,

4) In lieu of watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade — although you can watch clips from last year — we’ll settle for some nostalgia and remember Thanksgiving in the 1970s, when the Peanuts cartoon gang first celebrated Thanksgiving in “A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving.” It’s all about Snoopy, Lucy, Charlie Brown and the rest of the gang.

5) Finally, it’s time to talk turkey. Everyone’s got their favorite way to prepare the bird, from barbecueing and bag-roasting to basting and spice-rubbing. I grew up with a mother who stuffed the turkey into a brown paper supermarket bag, chemicals not being something we gave any serious consideration, and it did yield an amazingly moist turkey. I’ve become a fan of the frequently-basted turkey, accompanied by a deeply flavorful carmelized onion balsamic gravy, (substitute olive oil for the butter), which can be made a day ahead. And we’ve often hosted vegetarian friends who bring a tofu turkey, which is a welcome addition.

Fact is, it’s all good, and it feels good to be thankful. Happy Thanksgiving.

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