American expatriates in Israel and the West Bank share common Thanksgiving traditions

Amal Ras, 40, is away from her home in Kansas City. She moved to the Palestinian Territories a few years ago with her four children and her husband when he started a business company in Ramallah.

“We miss all the holidays, but the one we miss the most is Thanksgiving,” says Ras, as he goes over his Thanksgiving menu.

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Americans living in countries around the world do their best to celebrate Thanksgiving

(Photo: Getty Images)

Thanksgiving is the quintessential American holiday, and Americans living in countries around the world do their best to celebrate, especially in the Middle East.

While some struggle to find traditional Thanksgiving decorations, others add foods and activities from their new homelands to their holiday celebration.

“The life of the Arabs and Palestinians revolves around social gatherings and food. That is why I adore this day. It’s an opportunity to meet family and friends that you don’t see all year, ”Ras said, adding that he doesn’t have many American or Palestinian-American friends living nearby for most of the year.

Most of the residents of his village of Turmus Aya, located near the West Bank city of Ramallah, live most of the year in the United States and return to the village to visit during the summer months.

They are not in town on Thanksgiving.

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Al-Manarah Square in the center of RamallahAl-Manarah Square in the center of Ramallah

Al-Manarah Square in the center of Ramallah

(Photo: Wikimedia Commons / Djex93)

“They only come to visit in the summer, so really only my husband and the kids celebrate,” she said.

Palestinian Americans celebrate Thanksgiving with a few changes, in part because “it’s not easy to find all the side dishes – a turkey, blueberries and stuffing – here. We have to settle for what is available, ”Ras said.

She says she has to improvise when she makes Thanksgiving dinner.

“Not all the ingredients are available; I order my turkey a month in advance from a butcher in Ramallah, ”Ras explained.

He adds that Thanksgiving at home has a “Palestinian flavor.”

“I make my own stuffing, it’s basically ground lamb, pine nuts, spiced onions with rice. You will also find hummus, mtabal (an aubergine cream) and a lot of pickles, ”he said.

Thanksgiving this year will certainly be different from last year, when the coronavirus forced people to stay indoors and not mix or gather in one place.

Many expatriate Americans in the Middle East missed a traditional Christmas meal with family or friends.

It’s about family reunions and food. Two pillars of the Palestinian social fabric, ”said Hamza Akel, who was born in Chicago to Palestinian parents.

Akel returned to the Palestinian territories this year to help his extended family harvest olives and decided to stay until the end of the year.

“As a Palestinian-American, Thanksgiving is an especially wonderful holiday because we are obsessed with food and there are always family and guests in our home,” he said.

Akel says there is much to be thankful for this year, and the most important thing is seeing his grandparents after a two-year separation.

“I couldn’t come in the last few years because of corona, my grandparents are older and I love spending time with them. I am grateful for that, ”he said.

“I know this is not the south side of Chicago, right now it is probably very cold, unlike here, where it is still unbearably hot. I am grateful for that and we pray to end the occupation, ”Akel said.

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Many expat Americans in the Middle East missed a traditional Christmas meal with family or friends

(Photo: Getty Images)

Joseph Gitler, founder and president of Leket Israel, the national food bank, moved to Israel 21 years ago, but he still celebrates Thanksgiving every year.

“This year we will celebrate in the United States,” he said a few days before the holiday. “We are leaving tomorrow to be with my mother and my brothers and their families; particularly when Hanukkah hits the calendar at the same time as Thanksgiving, there is an additional opportunity to reunite with the family. ”Hanukkah begins on Sunday night.

Gitler said she always grew up celebrating Thanksgiving, even though her Yeshiva Jewish day school had classes on Thanksgiving. He remembers that that day he would always skip school to attend the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

“For my family it was the holiday with which we most connected as Jews, knowing what we have been through as a people, we have tremendous gratitude for being treated as humans should be,” he said.

“In Israel, people are celebrating,” he said of the Americans who moved to Israel. “We all understand that anyone who made aliyah (emigrated to Israel) from the United States did not come because they needed to flee.

They all came here of their own free will, so people still feel connected and love the country they grew up in, and it’s heartening to see that people continue to show their gratitude to the United States of America. My five American children understand what this is about. “

Jay M. Shultz, president of the Am Yisrael Foundation, the world’s largest Jewish nonprofit young adult community based in Tel Aviv, thinks about giving thanks on Thanksgiving.

“There should be no tension for American Jews on Thanksgiving. The Jewish people can only be grateful to the United States for the last 200 years of civil and political support.

But today, we have so much more to be thankful for, ”he said. “Specifically, we need to infinitely thank God for finally granting us the Land of Israel, guaranteeing a safer and stronger Jew, regardless of the community in which they live around the world.”

Butcher shop owner Rafael in Jerusalem’s Machane Yehuda market said he has “the usual amount” of turkeys in stock this year before Thanksgiving.

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A crowd of people at the Mahane Yehuda market who choose not to wear masksA crowd of people at the Mahane Yehuda market who choose not to wear masks

the Machane Yehuda market in Jerusalem

(Photo: Eli Mandelbaum)

Turkeys are generally sold whole and weigh between 4 kg, or almost 9 pounds, and 6 kg, or about 13 pounds. Whole turkeys need to be ordered in advance, he cautions.

Plus, he says, hotels are asking for turkeys for Thanksgiving weekend “at the usual price.”

David Parsons, who is originally from the Outer Banks of North Carolina, has lived in Israel for the past 24 years, but Thanksgiving is still important to him.

Parsons, vice president and chief spokesperson for the International Christian Embassy in Jerusalem, a Christian Zionist organization, said that “I am especially grateful this year for health, home and family. I’m trying to keep COVID from affecting my Thanksgiving in any way. “

Learn how to celebrate the holiday outside of the United States.

“The first thing you need to do to celebrate Thanksgiving in Israel is learn to say hodu shalem in the souk so they know you want a whole turkey and not just parts,” he explained.

“Look, I’ve tried to celebrate it every year here with my family. He’s trying to make all the turkey and side dishes, and especially to invite a lot of other Americans.

Many of the Christians we have on staff here are single. They have no family here and it is always good to bring them. I often invite other people to introduce them to the holiday. “

He added: “I think this year it is especially important to observe it, [and] don’t skip it, because in light of everything we’ve been through over the past two years with the pandemic, there are many reasons in the world to be grateful to God for health, home and family this year. “

Report written by Felice Friedson and Mohammad Al Kassim

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