The Thanksgiving That Almost Wasn't - החג כמעט לא יקרה
I grew up in a "hub" household in a hub city. Our immediate family - cousins, uncles, aunts, grandparents - was very small compared to most of my friends and especially my Jewish friends. The holidays religious and secular, were always hosted at our house because my Aunt could never get it together. And to be fair, everyone preferred my mother's cooking over hers, so why should she bother.
My father worked in a small Jewish department store. He did everything -sell, buy, manage, the books. You name it, he took care of it. When Travellers (wholesale representatives) were in town from Montreal or Winnipeg Dad would invite them they to our house for Shabbat or Pesach or whatever holiday was happening that week. It never occurred to anyone that it was unusual to have extra guests at every occasion and celebration. It was the way we lived.
When we first moved to New York, I was very lonely. We had no family to rely on. Strike that. We had family but not the sort that would think to reach out and invite your for a meal. We were on our own. I was lost and didn't know how to create the kind of "hamische" world I had come from.
One day at NYU after a graduate seminary I asked a woman from the class, who I thought was interesting and interested, out for coffee. She thanked me but said that she had come to New York from Yale with her cohort so she had all the friends she needed. I was devastated.
It took many tries but eventually I made friends. And when we had children, we were suddenly invited to family dinners. But the experience at NYU with Peggy - never forgot her name - made me realize that family life is something you make by bringing people in. Since that day, on every holiday and every special occasion in New York I tried to gather together our friends and to bring new friends into the circle - especially those who are alone.
Now that we live in Tel Aviv we are in a similar situation. Family is very far away. But we are a four people and very lucky. Many, many young people have come here solo with no one to rely on.
This Thanksgiving became especially important to me because suddenly there wasn't the assurance that the U.S. was always standing in the background - steady, dependable, predictable. Suddenly uneasiness was palatable. I needed a celebration and turkey to ground myself and my friends.
I created an event on Facebook and invited almost every American I knew who was currently in Israel - and some who weren't. I wanted to have a big party, not a staid formal event with a tablecloth and green bean and mushroom soup casserole . And the RSVPs started coming in.
We had over 30 affirmatives.
But then I realized, or maybe I realized it earlier, that the oven in our apartment was made for a doll house and the refrigerator is mostly a prettily designed door with no space inside.
I began to panic. How was I going to make enough food for everyone? How could I possibly prep everything with little fridge space? How could I cook everything at the same time and not serve a disastrous meal. Half would be overcooked, a quarter cold and a quarter undercooked and inedible.
I was up nights trying to figure out the timing of prep and the oven schedule. I finally broke down in tears and told Ken that I didn't think I could do it. But how could I not do it? People were counting on me. So I got up at 2 am tossed all the old stuff in the freezer and made the pie crusts and hid them under the ice cubes so that they could be baked the day of.
Four days before Thanksgiving Ken got on the phone and started looking for a rent-a-stove operation. He tried many places but there do not seem to be such services here. Then he went to Yad-2 to buy a second hand oven. Missed out on two of them. He finally found one at the Shuk HaPishpashim.
We jumped in the car and drove to Yaffo. We came home with a small fridge and a second hand stove. Well, not really. We paid someone to deliver it.
Just when we thought the crisis was over, the delivery didn't show up. Ken had his phone on airplane mode and he missed the call. Quick call back and they said they would deliver the following evening. Close - but not yet a disaster.
Next day - three days to Thanksgiving - they call and say they are coming when no one will be home. Scramble to rearrange appointment. I am home to receive the delivery but with no change for a tip. I end up giving the guy 40 shekels in twenty two coins.
I plug in the the little fridge. Perfect. Now time for the oven test.
Ken comes home and we plug in the oven and it blows all the circuits. We reset the panel and try another area away from the heavy usage areas - blows again. We move the oven to the rear door and run an extention cord over the mirpesset to the lower level. Blows all the circuits again. I am in hyper-freaked out mode. But it it is time to go the the Namal and pick up the turkey which we ordered the week before.
Turkey in Israel comes ground or as a roast for shwarma or in hot dogs, but never as a whole bird. To get one you must order it. It is kind of gruesome knowing you are arranging for the precise demise of a creature - but what the hell.
We are very happy with Ivo's a the Namal Tel Aviv. He is always dependable - except this year. Somehow, our order for the turkey didn't get placed and it was Tuesday and we didn't have a bird. More panic. We implore them to find one at the last minute, which is not a realistic scenario here. We aren't hopeful. Neither are they. They will let us know.
Avi says we can always get a whole turkey at the Shuk HaCarmel. May not be as good but we will still have a bird for Thanksgiving. The three of us drive down to the shuk and Avi and I go on a hunt for a clean butcher. After several frightening looking places we finally find one with a whole turkey. We buy the turkey that is too big for the dollhouse oven. We bank on the new oven not blowing up the house even though the power issue is still unresolved.
We get the giant turkey home ane Avi gets a phone call. Ivo has called to say that they have a turkey.
One turkey in the overstuffed fridge. One waiting for us and two days to go.
Wednesday morning Avi goes to the Namal and gets the second bird. Ken performs a physics experiment, testing all the circuits and the resistance across extension cords. Finds a solution. Then I find out that even though the new oven is bigger, the pans are still too big. We improvise.
The second turkey arrives. We disarticulate the first bird and save the bones for stock for the gravy. Avi takes it home to do the job. The rest goes in the too small freezer. We also buy a roast beef because the second turkey is small and I am not sure there will be enough to eat. We have full on omnivores, vegetarians, pescatarians, kosherites, so every option has to be covered.
Wednesday afternoon - marathon.
Thursday morning - ovens worked at the same time. Refrigerators worked.
Menu at the end of the day:
Artichoke leaves with vinaigrette
Bread / Crackers
Bread stuffing in bird
Potato Jalapeño gratin
Sweet potato with pumpkin seeds and cardamom
Tabouleh with pearl barley
Pan seared brussell sprouts
Wild rice with peas and dill
Pumpkin pie with whipped cream
Our wonderful guests came bearing gifts and good cheer. We had some babies - always a plus. So the that almost wasn't, was. We ate, we drank, we visited and now we have some new memories to add to our collection of holidays well spent.
I am so grateful for everyone who came. We missed those who couldn't make it. Maybe next year. I am also grateful to my family for teaching me that family is infinitely expandable. All it takes is a hub.
Thanks to a very sweet man from Greece (not Turkey) we have a video to share.