Kristine L Ming

When turkey reigned king: Americans do Thanksgiving in Tel Aviv

As Israelis went about their day as usual on Thursday, Americans now living in Israel excitedly prepared for Thanksgiving meals around the country.

One such Thanksgiving gathering was with Nefesh B’Nefesh at their eighth annual dinner, this year titled “My Big Fat TLV Thanksgiving.” Hosted at the Goren Shul in Tel Aviv, the meal brought together 208 guests for a traditional thanksgiving feast of turkey, stuffing, sweet potatoes and cranberry sauce, topped off with a dessert of apple pie.

As a three-piece bluegrass band playing in the background, 50 American lone soldiers also enjoyed having the day off to attend the dinner for free, thanks to Friends of the IDF, the Jewish Agency for Israel and the Ministry of Immigrant Absorption.

One of the soldiers, 20-year-old Yonatan Chamudot, originally from New York and now serving in the C4i Corps, was glad to attend the event, especially since he said last year’s Thanksgiving dinner consisted of a hamburger with a bit of turkey meat on top.

He said that for Israelis, the concept of a national holiday, with no religious connotations, is hard to imagine. Chamudot told of how the soldiers in his unit thought Thanksgiving was a Christian holiday and did not understand why he would be celebrating it. “I love America and will always be proud to be an American,” he said.

Another lone soldier from New York, Benny Zupnick, also a 20-year-old C4i soldier from New York, said that he enjoys celebrating Thanksgiving because he feels even more proud of his American roots since moving to Israel six years ago. “At my swearing-in ceremony, I purposely said the declaration in a strong American accent.”

When asked what Israelis could learn from the Thanksgiving holiday, Zupnick was quick to say that Americans should learn more from Israeli culture instead. “Here, even non-religious Israelis do Shabbat dinner. They spend more time with their friends and families.”

One of the few Israelis at the meal was Bat-El Dahan, a Tel Aviv resident and Beersheba native, who came to the meal with her American fiancé . She enjoyed the meal but was bewildered by some of the traditional dishes, such as stuffing. Even after a few Americans at the table explained that stuffing is the bread usually cooked inside the Thanksgiving turkey, Dahan and the other Israelis at the table still were hesitant to try the foreign dish.

Tourist Matt O., who was visiting Israel from Teaneck, New Jersey, came to the meal in order to see what the immigrant community is like in Tel Aviv. He hopes to make aliya himself one day. He described the event as heartwarming. “For 100 shekels, I got 400 shekels worth of entertainment.”

Benji Davis, one of Nefesh B’Nefesh’s event organizers said that he likes events like these since they bring old and new olim together in their new homes, celebrating where they came from. “This dinner is a testament to people thriving in Israel.”

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