‘Tis the season of Thanksgiving, and here in Israel, it’s the time when many Israeli-Americans usually feel all warm and fuzzy and nostalgic for the “old country” while living in the new, a time to reflect on our dual identities and celebrate the friendly alliance between the two countries as we replicate the festive meal we remember from childhood.
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The synergy this year, of course, has been enhanced by the historic Thanksgiving-Hanukkah overlap that has resulted in the enthusiastic - if occasionally excessive - manifestations of Thanksgivukkah.
In the past, I’ve nicknamed the occasion the American “Mimouna” - Mimouna is the celebration at the end of Passover in which Israeli families of Moroccan descent welcome guests into their homes to experience their culture. Similarly, Thanksgiving is the time that we American immigrants get to introduce our Israeli neighbors to the joys of cranberry sauce and sweet potatoes with marshmallows and gently suggest that giving thanks for what is good can be a lot more fun than complaining about what is wrong.
And so, like our U.S. counterparts, we order our whole turkeys from perplexed Israeli butchers, gather up the cans of cranberry sauce and pumpkin that we’ve been hoarding for this purpose all year and prepare the feast. For those of us who write about our mingled identities for a living, we also tend to pen sentimental blog posts about the experience. Last year, the holiday took place immediately after the ceasefire in Operation Pillar of Defense (remember that?) I wrote that Thanksgiving offered a cheerful ray of light after a difficult and dark time and that it is “a holiday of hope and optimism, something that we badly need around here.”
My colleague Bradley Burston also offered his take on Thanksgiving through the lens of the recently cease-fired Israeli-Gaza conflict, writing of the American holiday: “we can choose to view the story of Thanksgiving as a bittersweet prelude to genocide. Or we can choose to view it as a suggestion that two peoples who could be mortal enemies, could find a way to meet at a table, and break bread, and take the first tentative steps toward a common future.”
This year, that quote seems painfully timely and applicable to Iran, accurately expressing the deeply conflicting American and Israeli interpretations of the of the Geneva agreement. For me, being both American and Israeli has never felt as much like a identity bifurcated than on Sunday morning, in the hours after the agreement was announced.
We had the U.S. president Barack Obama hailing the deal as “a real opportunity to achieve a comprehensive, peaceful settlement” and it is clear that U.S. diplomatic prestige is resting on the success of the agreement.
At nearly the same moment, Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu declared that: “Today the world has become a much more dangerous place because the most dangerous regime in the world has taken a significant step toward attaining the most dangerous weapon in the world… Israel is not bound by this agreement. The Iranian regime is committed to the destruction of Israel and Israel has the right and the obligation to defend itself, by itself, against any threat. As Prime Minister of Israel, I would like to make it clear: Israel will not allow Iran to develop a military nuclear capability."
And if Bibi’s message was too subtle and unspecific enough, Economy Minister Naftali Bennett (until recently, a member of the Israeli-American dual citizenship club himself) felt he had to spell it out more explicitly with the observation: “If a nuclear suitcase blows up five years from now in New York or Madrid, it will be because of the deal that was signed this morning.”
Happy Thanksgivukkah, Naftali.
In short, these simply don’t feel like the best conditions in which to look around find things to be thankful for - and it’s certainly not an ideal state in which to cheerfully prepare and digest a festive bi-cultural dual-holiday meal.
But the turkeys are on order and so that’s what we’ll end up doing, drowning our stress and worry in heaps of comfort food: stuffing, green beans, and sweet potato latkes adorned with cranberry relish.
And as we sit down to our feast, we’ll still hope for the best - adjusting the longstanding Jewish celebratory traditional cliche to our current circumstances: “We think there might be a good chance that they are going to have the means to kill us, we really hope they don’t get it and if they do, they won’t use it ... let’s eat.”