In Israel, Thanksgiving, or “Holiday of Thanks” as it’s known in Hebrew, sometimes comes with a side of frustration for those American immigrants who celebrate it.
Many Americans in Israel are determined to carry on their favorite holiday traditions even as they embrace a new life in the Holy Land. But they often come up empty- handed when preparing for the multi-course Thanksgiving meal. And that hurts, because for them, the Thanksgiving holiday is a reminder of their other home — not a mere evocation of the early American origin story.
The starchy Thanksgiving menu doesn’t jive with Israel’s Mediterranean diet, and Thanksgiving staples like pie crust, pumpkin puree and cranberry sauce are difficult to find or very expensive due to import fees.
“The problem is that celebrating Thanksgiving in Israel is a lot like celebrating Jewish holidays in America,” opined the How To Be Israeli blog in 2010. “This country isn’t really set up to take Thanksgiving into account.”
A new Israeli venture, called We Sell It, has stepped into the void this Thanksgiving, delivering American-brand Thanksgiving ingredients to the large U.S. expat community in Israel — of which there are around 150,000.
We Sell It was co-founded by Gila Yasgur, from Teaneck, New Jersey. Her Facebook group, Spotted in Israel, is a forum where American-Israelis share tips about where to find rare American favorites in Israeli stores, like Pop-Tarts and Milk Duds.
“It’s the little things that make it work,” Yasgur said of immigrating to Israel, which she did eight years ago. “When you find something small that reminds you of your home town it makes it more comfortable to be here.”
Yasgur and her boyfriend, Yehuda Goldberg, began We Sell It five weeks ago, offering beverages like Canada Dry ginger ale, A&W root beer and Dr Pepper, which they purchase from suppliers who buy from the United States. For Thanksgiving they expanded their line, selling canned pumpkin puree, cranberry sauce, graham crackers, pie crusts and marshmallow fluff.
Their prices are a bit steeper than what one would find in America — the pumpkin puree is $3.60 a can —but cheaper, they say, than Israeli grocery stores.
“People are really excited,” said Yasgur. “People are like, ‘Oh my god I haven’t had this in years. This reminds me of my childhood.’”
For those who make Thanksgiving dinner from scratch, the How to Be Israeli blog suggests sourcing cranberries from Russian grocery stores and blending pumpkin, available at many Israeli green grocers, into a puree. Turkeys are easy to come by at the local butcher’s.
There are also a few communal Thanksgiving meals in Israel. Mike’s Place, a bar popular with expats in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, serves a 120 shekel (about $31) three course meal. The Lone Soldier Center offers a dinner for immigrant soldiers in Israel without family. The Tel Aviv International Synagogue, which markets itself to new immigrants and tourists serves a combination Thanksgiving dinner and Sabbath meal.
“I personally don’t celebrate it because of the pilgrims,” said Yasgur. “It is a way to fill that sense of homesickness around the holiday times.”
Naomi Zeveloff is the Middle East correspondent of the Forward, primarily covering Israel and the Palestinian Territories.