This Is What Happens When You Try to Transplant an American Holiday

I don’t really celebrate Thanksgiving in Israel. I don’t object to it, I just don’t do it. I mean, I like the food and all, but Thanksgiving for me was always basically an excuse to drink egg nog (for some reason, my husband insists that egg nog is not a Thanksgiving food; whatever, if egg nog’s not a Thanksgiving food then why do all the stores sell it around Thanksgiving, answer me that!) and to see specific family members, and since they don’t sell egg nog in Israel and anyway as an adult I can make it anytime I want, and those family members whom I would see on Thanksgiving are in America…

Well, no. Actually, I did do Thanksgiving that one time.

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Friday morning, November 17, 2006. My second November in Israel since making aliyah, my first since getting married. I’m living in a basement apartment in Nachlaot, Jerusalem–a tiny two-room flat whose kitchen is smaller than its bathroom and which suffers from an issue that the Israelis euphemistically refer to as “moisture.” (In English we call this “mold.”) It causes the paint on the walls in the affected areas to peel and flake, and I often find pieces of ceiling in my dust piles when sweeping.

My sister the Thanksgivophile is visiting, and we’ve planned on a Thanksgiving Shabbat. I bought canned pumpkin and found a recipe for pareve pumpkin pie (not an easy feat, by the way), and my mom has emailed us her recipes for stuffing (which, let’s be honest, is the real reason to eat a turkey to begin with) and cranberry-apple kugel, as well as instructions for roasting a turkey.*

Cranberry-apple kugel
Cranberry-apple kugel

“Did you order a turkey?” my sister asks me.

Order… a turkey? Is that a thing? Isn’t a turkey just basically a chicken, only bigger, and filled with stuffing? Don’t you just go to the store and buy them?

“No, I didn’t,” I respond, “but we’re going to the shuk. You can get anything in the shuk.”

Machane Yehuda, the popular open-air market in downtown Jerusalem, is a seven-minute walk from my apartment. And apparently, you can get anything there, although finding a whole turkey may necessitate going around to ten different butchers until you find someone who has an entire frozen twelve-pound turkey.

We bring the thing home, and the three of us (my sister, my husband, myself) gather around the turkey to decide on the next step.

“You can cook it frozen, right?”

I’ve cooked chickens frozen before. And, after all, isn’t a turkey just basically a chicken, only bigger? And filled with stuffing?

Except then I remember an email my mother sent the night before to wish us luck. The email includes this line:

If you’re you’re using a frozen turkey, you’ve already got it defrosting, right?

I call her to double-check. So apparently you can’t cook it frozen. Well, okay, so we’re standing around a twelve-pound frozen turkey and we have five hours until Shabbat starts, minus four hours for cooking….

Maybe we should blow on it.

* * * * *

Friday, late morning. My sister and I go back out to the shuk and return with an extra-large plastic blue basin, diameter of about 100 cm. (It ended up being a good investment; we now use it as a baby bathtub.) In the meantime, my husband turns on the dud chashmal (electric water heater) in preparation for the vast amounts of hot water this job is going to need.

We put the turkey in the basin and fill it up with hot water. After ten minutes, the water is ice-cold, so we dump and repeat. And again, and again–sorry, Kinneret. It’s Thanksgiving; I’m sure you understand.

Once the turkey is thawed, we put it in the pan and stuff it with the amount of stuffing which fits inside a twelve-pound turkey (i.e. not as much as you’d think). The rest of the stuffing goes into a separate covered pan, and both pans go into the oven. This is not as simple as it sounds, since our young-married-couple giant toaster oven is roughly the same size as…well, as a twelve-pound turkey. It takes a little bit of maneuvering, is all I’m saying.

We’re cutting it close. I don’t know whether or not the amount of time left before Shabbat will give us the perfect turkey, and I don’t want to mess with my mother’s turkey-roasting directions (which includes a certain amount of “cook the turkey at this angle for this many minutes, rotate ninety degrees on this axis, cook, flip, cook, flip, cook”), and we all know how important it is to get the turkey right.*

* * * * *

Friday night. Thanksgiving Shabbat dinner is a success. The turkey is perfect. The cranberry-apple kugel is great. The extra stuffing is delicious. If we were one of those families who go around the table saying what we’re thankful for (we are not), I would be saying that I’m thankful that we were able to pull this thing off.

And then a hand-sized chunk of ceiling falls right into the stuffing.

So yeah, that was the last time I celebrated Thanksgiving in Israel.

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Disclaimer: This is a fictionalized account of events pulled from my memory. Quotes have been paraphrased, misattributed, and occasionally made up entirely.

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*Don’t let it cook too long or it’ll be dry; don’t let it cook too short or you’ll get salmonella. The rest is commentary; go and learn!

About the Author
Tzippy grew up in the vicinity of Teaneck, "Ir HaKodesh." She made aliyah because there just wasn't enough kosher pizza.