When I was growing up, the whole idea of Thanksgiving wasn’t really something that we subscribed to. Since it wasn’t a Jewish holiday, it wasn’t as important to my mother to make sure we knew the story or background of the holiday. For us, it was simply a time to go and visit my father’s only brother. We lived in Buffalo, New York, and every year we would pile into the van and make the eight hour drive to Stowe, Vermont, with my brother and I watching movies on the little portable television that plugged into the cigarette lighter (our favorite was always watching Star Wars, my parents still have the VHS tapes in their basement). Thinking back, I don’t remember if I actually even knew the history of the holiday. It wasn’t actually all that important.
My aunt, a gourmet chef, would always make a ten-fifteen-twenty pound turkey and all the fixings, including our favorite: home-made from scratch sticky/cinnamon buns. My uncle, a respirator-dependant quadrapalegic, found his joy in wine and there would always be champagne before the meal, at least two wines during, and a dessert wine to round it all off (if I’m being honest, I have him to blame for me being a bit of a wine snob even now). And of course that was the whole point of it, to sit around the table with family and eat a big meal.
Then we moved away, first to Florida and then to Colorado, too far to drive and airplane tickets simply became more and more expensive. We would still go and see them, but it stopped being a yearly event. More often than not, my dad would go by himself, eager to spend time with his younger brother (my uncle passed away about three years ago--a good thirty-five years longer than the doctors had originally predicted after he’d first had the skiing accident that had left him paralyzed in the first place), and Thanksgiving became just another day on the calendar. We’d share memories and reminisce of years past on my aunt and uncle’s farm, but we didn’t sit down to have a big meal. It was enough for my mom to cook large amounts on Rosh Hashanah and Pesach, she didn’t need to prepare another annual feast.
I made Aliyah in August of 2018. My first Thanksgiving in Israel passed me by like any other. I was still trying to settle in, going to ulpan, trying to wade my way through the bureaucracy of Tel Aviv University (still working on that last one) and I honestly didn’t even realize that it had happened until it was over. My second Thanksgiving in Israel, I was invited to join the celebratory meal at Kerem House. I still don’t care about the history of the holiday (and it’s not exactly a part of history to celebrate), but with all the time that had passed and all the added stresses of adulthood and moving out of your parents home and starting a life in a new country, I’d forgotten about the more simple joy of the holiday. There is something almost magical to be found in sharing a meal with a large group of people. It didn’t even matter that I knew almost nobody going in (the introvert’s worst nightmare) because that was the whole point: to meet new people and bond over a shared experience. I had some wonderful conversations with people from all walks of life. And that’s one of the greatest joys of Kerem House. It’s not just that there is something for everyone, it’s the joy of finding the kinds of people who are interested in the same things you are. It’s finding similarities with someone you would have never spoken to otherwise. And in that way, Kerem is truly a community for anyone and everyone. I’m sure that I’m not the only one there who didn’t really care about the “message” of Thanksgiving, but that wasn’t really the point of it all, at least not for me. I was able to recapture some of what I remembered from my childhood of what I had always enjoyed on Thanksgiving: sitting around a table eating good food with good company.