The Person Behind The Posts

Thursday, November 24, 2011

No Turkey for Me, Thanks

Yes, I know I sound like a curmudgeon. But I seriously don't get the whole  "religious Jews celebrating Thanksgiving" thing. I didn't get it in America and I really, really don't get it in Israel.
This was the Facebook status I posted 18 hours ago. So far, there are 38 comments on my status. My pro-Thanksgiving Facebook friends, a good percentage of whom are religious Jews living here or back in the US, variously argue that Thanksgiving is:
  • a holiday lacking religious significance and basically just an excuse to get together with family and friends, watch football and overeat.
  • the time to appreciate that America affords religious freedom to Jews.
  • an excuse to party with other American ex-pats.
  • a national holiday that all Americans can share.
  • a great time to get together with non-religious family because religious Jews can drive and cook and are off from work.
It's Thanksgiving in America and today, I went to work in Jerusalem and then came home and put up the challah dough to rise, pretty much like I do every Thursday. Personally, I have zero attachment to Thanksgiving.  I stopped celebrating it a long time ago and I haven't once missed any aspect of it.
The Jewish calendar is so full of special celebrations, and a Jewish life lived well is so full of opportunities to express gratitude multiple times a day, that I personally feel absolutely no need for the ritual.  And if I want turkey and stuffing, I'll make it for Shabbat.
Thanksgiving may not be a religious holiday, but it's certainly not a Jewish one.  I'm not declaring that it's wrong to celebrate the day. There are certainly worse things a religious Jew can do than celebrate Thanksgiving. But to me, it's totally irrelevant. It's someone else's holiday. I would no more make a festive meal for Thanksgiving than for Easter or Kwanzaa or Eid al-Adha.
One comment asked, "Why does aliya have to be all or nothing? First people tell them to make aliya with the assurance that they won't miss anything they have here, then once they do, they criticise them because they speak English too much, or have too many chutz-nik friends, or have a "golus mentality", or want to keep any traditions frum chutz laAretz. I think it should be enough that they made aliya... let them travel the journey at their own pace."
As I said, in recent decades, I didn't celebrate Thanksgiving in America either,so for me, the two things are not connected.  But since the point was raised, I'd like to address it.
I live in Israel and, despite the considerable amount of time I've invested in learning Hebrew, I speak English 98% of the time. I read English books and raise charitable contributions in my community (more than NIS10,000 so far) through the sale of used English books. I have no Israeli friends, except those who also speak English. There are things I still import from the US, either because they are cheaper there or simply not available here. I miss Chinese food, WalMart, the Baltimore County Public Library and free shipping from  
I will always be an American immigrant and my kids, who came as teens, probably will be as well, albeit to a lesser extent. I am completely, totally and unapologetically okay with these realities and I am singularly uninterested in the criticism of anyone who thinks that I am not doing aliyah right.
And there is still no pumpkin pie in my oven today.


LTC said...

Obviously, you are free to do whatever you please. And, in truth, I really don't care what you do.

But, your post borders on the offensive, and your logic is absurd.

How can you possibly compare Thanksgiving to Easter, Kwanzaa or the Eid? Those are decidedly and intentionally religious or sectarian holidays. The whole point of Thanksgiving was a secular, non denominational day to celebrate the good the United States has done for its citizens.

And you would have to be either delusional or have your head buried in the sand to deny what the US has meant to Jews - freedom from persecution, freedom to practice and the opportunity to succeed.

Has it been perfect? No. Is the US the best place for Jews? No. But, does that give Jews who live there the right to separate themselves SO much from the rest of the citizenry such that they can't even thank the country for what it has given them?

There is a reason Orthodox rabbeim referred to the United States as a "medina shel chessed." Claiming that Thanksgiving doesn't apply to us is refusing to act on the principle of "hakarat ha'tov."

And no, celebrating Sukkot or Pesach is not an equivalent way of joining the rest of the country in showing appreciation.

We ARE supposed to be separate to a degree. Separate does not give us permission to be ungrateful.

Batya said...

From the minute we made aliyah, Thanksgiving was a thing of the past. It was more practical and pragmatic than ideological at the time. It would come and go, and we had no idea, since we were never reminded of it. Now there are more American immigrants who treasure American traditions. In the 1970's, that was unheard of.

Bat Aliyah said...

LTC - I debated about approving your comment, not because you disagree with me, but because I found your comments about me personally harsh. It's a shame you couldn't make your points without attacking me personally.

perlsand said...

would love to know how you raised money by selling used English books-I'd be interested in doing something like that in my area.

LTC said...

I give you credit for allowing my response to appear, despite your "disapproval" of its tone.

Having said that, I have to admit that its tone was intentional, as your post was offensive and in many ways a chillul hashem.


Imagine a non-Jew reading your post - and since your words are open to the public's viewing, that is not beyond the realm of possiblity.

Basically, you told the world that as a Jew, despite the fact that America provided what was often the only safe haven for persecuted or downtrodden Jews, despite the fact that America's freedoms allowed 20th century Jews to prosper as never before, and to ressurrect their lives after the Holocaust. Despite this, you feel nothing towards it, and feel no obligation whatsoever to express that gratitude together with the rest of the citizenry, in a non-religious, non-sectarian forum.

Having made aliyah, and cast your lot with the State of Israel, it is perfectly appropriate for you not to want to celebrate Thanksgiving. But to openly state that even when you lived in the US, you felt "nothing" towards the country in the way of appreciation?

I know little to nothing about you; however, a quick Google search of your husband shows that he did rather well for himself in the US. It is highly unlikely that your or his ancestors in Eastern Europe could have achieved his level of public prominence. And still, you show no sense of gratitude.

Now, imagine the non-Jew who reads that. If that does not border on the chillul hashem, I don't know what does.

Contrast that with the many American Orthodox shuls of which I am aware, that now use Thanksgiving as an opportunity to plan a communal meal with their local police and/or firemen, as a show of thanks for their community service.

Contrast that kiddush hashem, with what you wrote.

Shavua tov.