Olim participate in a Nefesh b'Nefesh Thanksgiving event at Beer Bazaar in Jerusalem last year Photo credit YONIT SCHILLER

With events taking place in Haifa, Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Beersheba, NBN, casts a wide net so olim across the country can be included.
In preparation for this story, a request was shared on Facebook asking immigrants from America to share why the holiday of Thanksgiving still means so much to them even though they now live in Israel.

And, boy, did people have a lot to say. And why not? The holiday which elicits feelings of home, comfort and family can make even the most stoic cynic feel sentimental. And despite how fortunate many olim (immigrants) feel to live in Israel, leaving family behind is never an easy choice.

Nefesh B’Nefesh understands this and, as such, hosts Thanksgiving events throughout the country to make new immigrants feel like they’re part of one big extended family.

“On Thanksgiving, we try help fill that void. Many olim don’t have their families in Israel and this is a time where they really miss that,” Benji Davis, Israel Program Manager at NBN, said. “Through our Thanksgiving programming, we strive to replicate that warm family feeling for olim, by surrounding them with reasons to feel thankful for their new lives in Israel. Together we have created a new family here.”

With events which take place in Haifa, Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Beersheba, NBN, casts a wide net so olim across the country can be included.

In the spirit of being thankful, two olim-run establishments have decided to work with NBN and give back to their community for the holiday. In Jerusalem’s Mahaneh Yehuda market, Beer Bazaar and Crave offered to host an event for young professionals on Thursday night and lone soldiers and b’not sherut (female civil national service volunteers) on Friday, respectively.

And because no Thanksgiving meal is complete without stuffing one food item into something else – turducken, anyone? – those at Beer Bazaar tried some stuffin (a muffin stuffed with pieces of turkey).

In Tel Aviv, at an event in the organization’s hub on Rothschild Boulevard, an over-40 crowd was planning to replicate the at-home Thanksgiving experience by hearing live country music while watching football on the big screen.

And in the South, where residents had been on high alert last week due to the most recent flare up in Gaza, olim were planning to celebrate a Friends-giving in Beersheba. At the event, which is coordinated through the organization’s joint initiative with KKL, Go Beyond, which encourages olim to move to the North and South, meeting new members of a community in a relaxed atmosphere should be a moment of respite for those who ran in and out of shelters a mere week ago.

“Growing up, Thanksgiving was huge for my family where we spent quality time with people we care about,” said Menucha Schwartz, a Florida native who moved to Beersheba. “We don’t have family in Israel, but friends have become family. With Nefesh B’Nefesh, these gatherings enable more people to come together on a larger scale. That’s really special.”

However, the NBN events are just one example of organized events available to olim. Dr. Leora Leeder, replicates that warm and fuzzy family experience each year at the Inbal hotel.

“Since my daughter was a baby, we go with a group of old friends to the Inbal Hotel. We sit at a table with 20-30 people for dinner. Until very recently, I didn’t have any family in Israel, so you adopt your own family. We look forward to it every year,” she said.

Leeder and her daughter don’t come alone, though. They bring her daughter’s turkey Beanie Baby, Gobbles, who, despite being an inanimate object, is the life of the party.

“Gobbles every year sits at our table and you won’t believe how many grown ups want a picture with him,” Leeder laughed.

Growing up, Leeder’s childhood Thanksgivings were an intimate affair: 25 people crammed into her grandparents’ colonial four-bedroom house in Rhode Island. What may seem like a nightmare on paper, actually helped Leeder form long-lasting relationships with her first cousins which has caused the holiday to have a special place in her heart.

As does Pittsburgh native Emily Wind. “Growing up, Thanksgiving was a very important time of year, it was when we got together with my mom’s side of the family.

Because of all those memories, I had the association that Thanksgiving is a time for family,” she said.

“So while being here, I still wanted to have that experience of being surrounded by family. A lot of people are not comfortable hosting huge meals and figuring out where to order a turkey in Israel is not always so simple. So my husband and I decided to give others the opportunity to have this,” she said.

Wind hosts a large Thanksgiving meal in her apartment every year, but this time she changed it a bit by teaming with Bnei Akiva. The organization is opening a new community center in Jerusalem for young professionals and Wind was planning to have the meal there, allowing her to provide that warm family experience to many more people.

And while many Jews revel in the secularism of Thanksgiving, the holiday is an opportunity to also tap into the very Jewish concept of hakarat hatov.

“The Hebrew term for gratitude is ‘hakarat hatov,’ which literally means, ‘recognizing the good.’ The secret embedded in the Hebrew is that gratitude depends not on getting something good, but on recognizing the good that is already yours,” Aish HaTorah writes on its website.

“People joke about Thanksgiving as if it’s one of the haggim [religious festivals]. As American Jews, we know how to do hag, so it feels like a Shabbat meal during the week,” Wind said. “When I think about my upbringing, Thanksgiving was as significant as Rosh Hashana [the Jewish New Year], even though I’m Orthodox and you wouldn’t think it would be on the same level. They really are though! When you grow up with these holidays, the presence is strong and in your blood. I can’t imagine going a year without them.”

This article was written in cooperation with Nefesh B’Nefesh


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