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November 20, 2009     Heritage Florida Jewish News
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November 20, 2009

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PAGE 14A HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, NOVEMBER 20, 20(F' By Edmon J. Rodman LOS ANGELES (JTA)-- When it's time to talk turkey, what do Jews have to say? There is little Jewish liturgy for Thanksgiving dinner; not even seconds. You could say ha'motze, the blessing over the bread, and after the pie sing Birkat Ha'Mazon, thanking the Eternal Thanksgiving- giver for the food you ate. You could do that. You also could sit at the Thanksgiving table, throw the dice and blurt out one of those conversation starters that at first causes alot of throat clear- ing and foot shuffling, earning you peeved looks from your host--but has the potential of stimulating an intellectual appetite or two. Here's my modest start- er: On Thanksgiving, what do Jews have to be thankful for? We are thankful for our families, homes and health; maybe even a national health plan. We are thankful for all that. But there's more, isn't there? So, JewishAmerica, I am sit- ting at the Thanksgiving table with all of you, thanks for the invite, and the question has been asked. Considering it's my question, you would think that I could nail the answer. I want to say as a Jew what I'm thankful for, but I can't find the words. Too personal a question? Maybe I'm just hungry. Then Ijustblurtout,"Thank God I'm a Jew." Complete silence. Not ev- eryone at the table is Jewishly involved, and I've taken what basically is a national nonsec- tarian meal and turned it into a Jewish conversation. With no postmodern irony or sarcasm, I said it because I'm really thankful that's who I am. Among the morning blessings, Jews say "praised is God who has made me a Jew." So why can't I say it at the Thanksgiving table? "Shouldn't the question really be," a teacher from Binghamton, N.Y., says, "on Thanksgiving, what do people have to be thankful for?" "No," I respond, working the peas around in my plate. "Let's slice this turkey; what do Jews have to be thankful for?" "Not the turkey," says a woman from Philly. "I am definitely not giving thanks for the turkey. I'm a vegan." Edmon Rodman When giving thanks this Nov. 26, add a Jewish theme to your Thanksgiving table. ',Not necessary," I answer. "There's no special blessing, no bracha for poultry, meat or fish." "A bracha is one of those "baruch atah" things," I add, seeing a couple of quizzical looks at the table."It's a Jewish formula for praising and giving thanks; acknowledging God's presence in the world. They are said over different types of food and drink, when experiencing something exceptional, and when fulfilling a command- ment." "Look who went to Hebrew High," a teacher from Phoenix comments. A software salesman from Seattle joins the conversation. "I'm thankful I have a job," he says. "Is there a bracha for when I make a sale?" "In the birkat ha'mazon, there's a blessing for parnasah, sustenance," a woman from Los Angeles responds, adding that, "I'm very thankful to my iPhone for that answer." "How about a bracha for hangovers?" a college student from Queens asks. "Yes, there's one," the iPhoner responds. "There's a prayer particularly good for this time, called Modeh Ani, of literally having your soul returned to you--though you may not feel that way. The prayer acknowledges the miracle of being alive every day." "Is there a bracha over pain, ignorance, hunger?" asks the table skeptic from Berkeley waving his fork. "Nobody blesses that," I re- spond."But there is a prayer for teachers, students and study, Kaddish d'Rabanan; another to help the needy, Ozer Dalim; andaMi Shebeirach, ablessing to bring healing and restore to health," "I'm thankful for getting engaged," a guy from Florida says. "At our wedding, friends and family are going to recite seven blessings. Our rabbi told us that the blessings connect us to the lives of all those Jews who were married before us." "In the Jews by choice class I took," he continued, "I found there's a bracha upon seeing a rainbow, hearing thunder, getting good news and bad. Traditionally, Jews say 100 blessings every day." "Many brachot are included in the day's three prayer servic- es," I add. "Whether you pray them or not, the idea of 100 blessings does get you to look for the positive--definitely a counter-cultural mind-set." Then finally, just as the turkey platter was passed to me, I had the answer to my original question--as a Jew I'm thankful for all this: Shalom bayit--peace in my house--the thoughtful- ness, respect and love there. For books, especially Jewish friends with books. For her- ring of any kind--it's proof of intelligent design. I'm thankful for a roof over our heads and the doorposts as well; when Jehovah Witnesses come to the door I explain ex- pansively about my mezuzah. That an Israeli player made the NBA. That all our cars started and brought us back to the table safely to say She- hecheyanu for another year. And for Thanksgiving guests, there's one more blessing: In Birchat Ha'Mazon, there's a bracha for eating at another's table. That one counts for plenty. Edmon J. Rodman is JTA columnist writing on Jewish life from Los Angeles. 11 y lives By Marcy Oster KARNEI SHOMRON, West Bank (JTA)--About three months after she and her fam- ily made aliyah, Laura Savren walked up to the meat counter of her local supermarket and asked to order a whole turkey. "They looked at me like I was nuts," Savren recalls, laughing. The Boston native, who made aliyahwith her husband and two young daughters in 1999, then heard through the Anglo-American network where she lived in Ra'anana that a butcher in town could get a whole turkey in time for Thanksgiving. She went in to order the bird, but it was too late. Savren, 56, finally found a frozen turkey imported from America in a specialty store in Ra'anana that caters to immigrants. The same store also carried the cranber- ries, canned pumpkin and mini-marshmallows that she needed to prepare the family's first Thanksgiving dinner in Israel, with all the trimmings. Her family is among many expatriate Americans who continue the Thanksgiving tradition in Israel. Thanksgiving was first celebrated in America in 1621 by American pilgrims who wanted to show thanks for the harvest. Itwas proclaimed a national holiday in 1863 by President Abraham Lincoln. Though it's not a religious holiday, it can take on religious overtones. For the Savrens, Thanksgiv- ing is mostly about the food. "It's my favorite holiday," Savren says. "I love the food. I love making a turkey." Finding that turkey has become easier over the years. Savern had been buying her turkeys fromabutcher in near- by Kfar Shamaryahu, which supplies the American diplo- mat families with their birds, but now she orders one at a nearby mega-supermarket. Each year, the American Jewish Committee hosts a Thanksgivingdinner for about 40 soldiers from the United States who are serving in the Israel Defense Forces. Adaya Mor, 20, recently finished her service in the army's Garin Tzabar, which groups lone soldiers together on kibbutzim, providing them with a host family and a sup- port system. She made aliyah from Cheshire, Conn., in 2007. Aboutaweekbefore Thanks- giving last year, she says, Mor realized she might not have the opportunity to celebrate the holiday. "I neverwould have thought it would hit me, that I would really want a Thanksgiving dinner," says Mor, an Israel native who grew up in the United States from the age of 5. Once they arrived in the United States, Mor says, American families invited her family to have Thanksgiving dinner. Soon the family be- gan holding their own family Thanksgiving celebrations. 1kvo days before the holi- day last year, the AJC called Mor with an invitation to its Thanksgiving dinner. "I was just in shock," she says. "I was so thankful I was invited." Mor acknowledges that the AJC dinner was "a different Thanksgiving" but also "re- ally special." Celebrating the holiday with other soldiers who had left their families in America behind to come to Israel gave her a boost she really needed. "Sometimes you need peo- ple to remind you why you are doing this," she muses. The meal, she says, "meant a lot to me." Mor is not sure what she will be doing this Thanksgiving, but she has heard that the American students at Hebrew University, where she is cur- rently studying, gather for a Thanksgiving meal with all the trimmings. Some expat Americans don't feel the need to celebrate the holiday. Lauren Dan of Pardes Han- nah, who made aliyah from Connecticut 17 years ago at the age of 22, says "I do not miss it at all." Dan met and married an Israeli during her participa- tion in Otzma, a yearlong program in Israel for young adults. She was one of the few Americans that her husband had ever met, and the couple moved to an area where there were no other Anglos. "I became Israeli very quickly," she says. "I feel so much more Israeli than I do American." Dan says Thanksgiving is an important tradition in her family back in America, and she calls them each year to wish them a happy holiday. And she admits to occasion- ally having a craving for her mother's corn pudding. Dan says her twin daugh- ters, 9, and son, 8, "have no idea" about Thanksgiving-- she shouts over to them to ask if they have ever heard of the holiday. Her query is met with quizzical expressions until she asks the children in Hebrew if they are familiar with Chag HaHodaya. Yes, they respond: They saw Zack and Cody celebrate it onthe Disney Channel show "Suite Life." For Savren, Thanksgiving evokes warm memories. "Thanksgiving was the one time when the whole fam- ily got together during the year," she recalls, when all the aunts and uncles and cousins gathered in Boston to eat her mother's turkey and her aunt's sweet potatoes. The Savrens enjoy having guests, often of many nation- alities, at their Thanksgiving table. This year's guest list, which the Savrens host on Friday night because Savren works all day Thursday and cannot make all the food for that evening, includes anAmerican family, an Israeli who grew up in Europe, a Dutchman and his American girlfriend. Savren says the meal is most successful with other Ameri- cans "because they get it." An Israeli, for example, takes one look at the cranberry sauce, she says, and spends the rest of the meal pushing it around his plate. By Marcy Oster KARNEI SHOMRON, West Bank (JTA)--Thanksgiving was always a day spent eat- ing good food and watch- ing some (hopefully) good football at my house. But in my husband's family, Thanksgiving was truly a day of giving thanks, as each year his grandfather, J. Alex Link, spoke about his gratitude to the United States for taking him in on the eve of the Holocaust. So when it came to our first Thanksgiving in Israel nine years ago, we had no doubt that we would cele- brate--even though my three sisters-in-law, who grew up in the same household as my husband and made aliyah be- fore us, do not mark the day. As part of our support system in those first weeks after aliyah, we spent much time commiserating with anotherAmerican familywho had moved to Israel during the same year, and we found that we had kindred spirits where Thanksgiving was concerned. That first Thanksgiving together has evolved into an annual tradition, though we have moved the meal to Fri- day night after waiting that first year until late in the eve- ning when our two husbands returned from work. In addition to a spread that includes the favorite tradi- tional Thanksgiving foods of both families, we ask the children and adults to talk about what we have had to be thankful about since lastyear. Sometimes the children are thankful for things as simple as the turkey or a good teacher. Other times their thanks are for not being caught in a Molotov cocktail attack or in bomb shelters like the children of Sderot--apoignant reminder that we are celebrating this most American of holidays in Israel. The first year that my asking the meat and poultry counter of my local super- market if I could order a whole turkey set off a flurry of discussion. The woman at the counter had to call the manager; the manager had to call the distributer; the distributer had to call the slaughterhouse. But in the end I got my turkey. Now when the middle of November rolls around each year, the ladies behind the counter remind me to order my whole turkey. They even let it thaw for a couple of days in their giant refrigerator before I take it home. Last year I had an audi- ence when I took my turkey from the oven on the erev Shabbat of our Thanksgiv- ing celebration. My Israeli neighbor, who the previous day had seen me lugging home my turkey--it's the size of a hefty newborn--had asked if she could come over and see what in the wOrld I do with a whole turkey. She brought her mother, too, and they oohed and aahed over my perfectly browned bird and the savory stuffing peeking out from inside. At least 300 Anglo families live in our community, mostly Americans, but I don't think many celebrate Thanksgiv- ing. Many came here too young to have established the bountiful American holiday as a tradition in their homes. Others have tried hard to become as Israeli as possible, leaving behind all the trap- pings of their American lives, like Thanksgiving. I see no contradiction in celebrating a quintessential American Thanksgiving. I will always be an American, and I am thankful for all that America has done for me, my family, Israel and the world. I want my children, who were very young or not even born when we made aliyah, to feel that same gratitude. So each year we sit down to a turkey with stuffing made following my husband's grandmother's recipe, to sweet potatoes that our friends make according to their family's tradition. The apple pie recipe also comes from Grandma, and the pumpkin pie tastes just like it was made by our friend's mother. In place of cranberry sauce we serve a cranberry kugel. Kiddush precedes the meal, accompanied by fresh- baked challah and completed with Birkat Hamazon--and we drink a fine Israeli wine with dinner. And maybe, if we are lucky, we can catch a football game on one of the satellite TV sports stations late Thursday night or early Friday morn- ing, just to get us in the mood for our Thanksgiving dinner.