On Thursday, President Obama acknowledged what the American-Jewish world has dubbed “Thanksgivukkah” in his annual address to the Jewish world on the first day of Hanukkah.
“As we gather with loved ones around the turkey, the menorah, or both, we celebrate some fortunate timing and give thanks for miracles both great and small. Like the Pilgrims, the Maccabees at the center of the Hanukkah story made tremendous sacrifices so they could practice their religion in peace,” the President said.
For those who don’t know, this was the first time since 1888, and the last time for the next 77,000 years that the first day of Hanukkah falls on the same day as Thanksgiving.
And this coincidence is pretty apropos for my being here—a melding of American culture and the Jewish world. My boyfriend and I made a Thanksgiving dinner, complete from the turkey to the yams, for his family here, which was followed up with the lighting of the menorah and the traditional Hanukkah dessert of sufganiyot (jelly doughnuts).
But getting to that end point wasn’t so easy. The butcher had to be called days ahead of time, because even turkey cold cuts—let alone an entire turkey—is not a common request around here. And you can forget about Stove Top stuffing, canned cranberry sauce, or any type of cheese that doesn’t come from a deli.
While you’d be hard-pressed to find an Israeli who has never heard of Thanksgiving, it’s safe to assume that the desire to celebrate a holiday based on a story of Pilgrims and Native Americans is pretty centrally located to the United States. The butcher could’ve sworn that we were ordering an entire turkey by mistake; the grocery store attendant looked at me like I was crazy when I asked for canned cranberry sauce; and it wasn’t until after I started boiling the noodles for the macaroni and cheese that I found out that the exclusively Hebrew-speaking deli service clerk sold me sheep cheese when I tried my best to convey that I wanted cheddar.
Overall, I can’t say that my time in Israel has been particularly tinted with the feeling that I’m in a foreign country, let alone in the midst of a region that has been intertwined with international turmoil since the concept of “nations” was first acknowledged. But trying to celebrate an exclusively American holiday with an exclusively American tradition will make you realize things you hadn’t before.
And thus, the old adage, “You don’t know what you have ‘til it’s gone,” comes to mind. Always having been in the exclusive country in which my favorite holiday was celebrated made it nothing more than just my favorite holiday. In addition to giving thanks for my family and friends and health and happiness, I found myself giving thanks for Thanksgiving in and of itself, as well as the country that birthed it. Because as much as I’ve loved my time here in Israel, I have to say that my time abroad has made me realize just how thankful I am to call America my home.