Rabbi David Kalb wrote in Ha’aretz today that Jewish people love Thanksgiving: “Jews and Thanksgiving: A Love Story”. He argues that “There should be no surprise in the way Jews gravitated toward Thanksgiving. It all boils down to two common denominators between our religious holidays and this American one.”
Although giving thanks is an essential part of Jewish religion and eating turkey on Thanksgiving means that Jews can participate in the celebratory dinner, my own experience with the holiday does not necessarily bring to mind similarities between Jewish and American traditions, quite the contrary.
We spent our first real Thanksgiving as a family at the home of a colleague of my husband. They taught together at a university in a small Midwestern town.
We were curious about this national American holiday and excited about spending it with with real Americans, as opposed to being with our Israeli friends. It felt especially meaningful since only 8 months earlier we became the proud parents of an American, our first baby girl.
The invitation was for the early afternoon. When we got there at the appointed hour we found our hosts downstairs in the den watching TV. To our great amazement, they didn’t turn it off upon our arrival. Obviously we were meant to join them and watch the football game together.I felt that it was odd, perhaps even a bit rude.
When dinner was served and we moved upstairs to the dinning room, we saw another TV set not far from the table. As Israelis we were used , to lively holiday dinners in which we gathered around the table, eating, talking, and laughing .Here there was little interaction as the game was still going on strong.
I always believed that surviving army food meant that I was not a fussy eater, However, Thanksgiving presented new challenges. The flavors, smells, and appearance of the special holiday food felt very foreign. Till this day I have yet to get used to the taste of the famous pumpkin pie.
The strangeness of this experience emphasized how far away from home we were.
Gradually Thanksgiving has become one of our favorite family holidays, right after Passover and Rosh Hashana. We made changes and celebrated it our way. But we gave thanks to our good life and good fortune in this wonderful and strange county called America
Back in Israel the idea of people watching football during a holiday dinner, suddenly seemed absurd. So to make sure that I didn’t make the whole thing up I googled “Thanksgiving “and Football” and discovered that it was all true:
NFL Football on Thanksgiving: An American Tradition By James Alder
“Thanksgiving is a holiday that is steeped in tradition. After all, it just wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without the turkey and dressing and the pumpkin pie with whipped cream. And, of course, it just would not be Thanksgiving without NFL Football.
Pro football has become as big a tradition at Thanksgiving as the turkey and pumpkin pie, and if your Thanksgiving celebrations are like mine, most of the football fans head right for the television as soon as they hit the door.