Celebrating Thanksgiving Corona-style
Those who want to mark the American holiday in Israel, Palestinian Authority find ways to enjoy a turkey dinner
The coronavirus pandemic has not snuffed out American Thanksgiving celebrations in Israel. Rather, hyphenated Americans and others in search of a turkey dinner are creating ingenious ways to rejoice.
Gone are hotels stuffed with patrons, restaurants with multiple seatings and hosts offering sustenance to dozens of guests in their homes. This year, the year of the coronavirus pandemic, is all about social distancing.
Reuben Boiser, owner of Mike’s Place bar and restaurant in Jerusalem, is using Thanksgiving as an opportunity to help his staff, who are mostly now unemployed, celebrate.
“They are absolutely emotionally destroyed. They missed Halloween in the bar and the prospect of missing Thanksgiving is terrible,” Boiser told The Media Line.
“In recent years we were serving some 100 patrons with the full Thanksgiving experience: turkey, gravy, cornbread, drinks, stuffing and dessert. We would have a full restaurant from 6 pm to 9 pm and those who came in later would have a Thanksgiving menu at the bar.”
“This year I am opening the kitchen for my staff to cook. We have 30 orders for takeout patrons who will pick up their meals. However, like usual, we will cook more. I will sit down my staff, all of them, and we are going to have a staff dinner. They, of course, will take home all the leftovers.”
Social distancing at home is replacing communal eating in public dining halls. This is the year of the Thanksgiving teleconference, or Zoom dinner phenomenon.
In a normal year we have 70 to 100 people in our community hall in Jerusalem. This year we are having caterers deliver meals to our participants
“AACI [the Association of Americans and Canadians in Israel] is sponsoring a Thanksgiving Zoom ‘dine-in-your-own home’ communal experience,” Elayna Weisel, director of development for AACI, told The Media Line.
“In a normal year we have 70 to 100 people in our community hall in Jerusalem,” she said. “This year we are having caterers deliver meals to our participants, some 75 in Jerusalem and some 60 to 70 people in Netanya [the coastal city between Tel Aviv and Haifa].”
In this sense, Weisel noted, AACI, a nonprofit organization assisting North American Israelis, is reaching more people.
“We will be showing a prerecording of the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, show some American football bloopers and have a sing together. It should be a wonderful event,” she said.
One of those catering companies is Kinamon Catering founded by an American, Ben David, and a Brazilian, Moshe Herc.
“We closed our ordering for the holiday 10 days ago. We are supplying 800 full meals around the country,” David told The Media Line.
“We are producing 400 kilograms of turkey, 120 kilos of stuffing, 120 kilos of apple crumb cake, 200 kilo of mashed potatoes, 80 liters of orange soup and 20 tofurkeys for vegetarians,” he said.
David said he has rented a truck to deliver all of the meals, supplemented by his personal car. “Don’t worry about spills,” he said. “All the meals are pre-wrapped in vacuum-tight containers.”
Meanwhile, hotels that once hosted Thanksgiving meals are suffering.
The American Colony Hotel in east Jerusalem, whose gated and tree-lined courtyard surrounds a sparkling fountain, was once a magnet for the diplomatic corps, especially those from the city’s US and UN diplomatic institutions.
“We have been closed for eight months now. We did open our restaurant for one month, but it is long closed,” Jiries Fanous, assistant dining room manager, told The Media Line.
“Last year we had a nice open buffet with traditional Thanksgiving foods such as turkey, stuffing, rice, pumpkin pie and pumpkin soup. We had some 50 people joining us for the boutique event. It was a very successful night,” he said.
“Palestinians, Israelis and foreign diplomats were there. Really, many locals – those who had spent time in America during the holiday period – waited for this event,” said Fanous.
Though many are waiting for the event, the coronavirus has already overtaken the day.
Luai Zoraiqui, general manager of Ramallah’s Carmel Hotel, is dealing with a curfew that begins on Thanksgiving night.
“Due to corona, Ramallah will be under curfew from 7 pm to 6 am. All events on our calendar are canceled,” he told The Media Line. “Yet, we are taking care of our long-term guests. We have a skeleton staff, but we are open.”
Corona or not, some American Palestinians are not celebrating Thanksgiving.
“This is not part of my culture, though I was born in Youngstown, Ohio. What Thanksgiving stands for goes against the grain of what we are living through. It is really the furthest thing from my mind,” Sam Bahour, owner of a business consulting firm, told The Media Line.
“We are living under an occupying colonial regime. They are trying to conduct ethnic cleansing against us just as the Americans did to America’s Indigenous peoples. This reflection makes it not at all interesting for a Palestinian to celebrate,” said Bahour.
Thanksgiving is a holiday of gathering together. This year will be different. We all wonder what next year will bring.