The 11th Floor

A Perpsective Overlooking Jerusalem, Israeli Life, and Talmud Torah

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Rule Twelve Strikes Again! ( A late word about Thanksgving in Israel)

Thanksgiving is often a tough time for Anglos (Israeli residents from the UK, Canada or the US). Students and recent olim from the U.S. in particular find the last weeks in November debilitating in a powerful way; we are used to the change of seasons and the short vacation that the end of the month brings. We find ourselves preparing internally for the homecoming that Thanksgiving usually brings. Instead, the weeks flow ruthlessly forward towards Hanukah. There is no X-mas shopping season, no parades, no red and green bunting, let along any pictures of turkeys and “Indians” or pilgrims. The only change is the appearance of sufganiot- beignet style doughnuts- in most bakeries.

The Hebrew University Hillel has held a Thanksgiving dinner for its students for a few years now. Endowed by a donor and the UJC, the meal is held in a hotel. It was a buffet dinner priced at 40 shekels. At that low price, my love and I decided that we could accept the invitation of our friend and have our own turn at cooking north-American autumnal foods for Shabbat itself. The HU Hillel has planned the evening to have some entertainment during the meal. We think it will be a decent time. We enter to see a drum kit and a some amps set up for later on.

Rule twelve: Never let Israelis plan it unless it is a war.

Rule ten: Never invite the French.

We walk further into the ballroom, and notice the large buffet of salatim, classic israeli salads that are laid out for dinner. Cabbage salad type one seems close to coleslaw, while version two is purple cabbage and three seems to be nothing short of Yemenite with cumin and turmeric. Cucumbers, tomatoes, babagannouj, and of course, huumous are all heaped up on platters. Only now do we realize that Rule Twelve may have been violated in a brand-new fashion, because nobody we know has ever eaten Yemenite cabbage salad for thanksgiving. Sure enough, we learn that the Hillel at HU left the planning to the Israeli UJC staff, who have the same command of the concept of the thanksgiving holiday as I have command over Yeshiva University- which is to say, none.

As I stare in disbelief, that cabbage salad with the cumin is saying “Mah? Atah lo rotzeh salatim? Lamah?” -What, you don’t want salads? Why not?

Our friend guides us to our table and introduces us to someone we met in our hometown. Also at our table are some young American students and of course, three Frenchmen. Each one could not have filled out the stereotype of a French man any better; first was the sleazy European making his moves on women right and left; speaking of left, the second was ranting about something philosophical the whole night, and finally, the fashionable Frenchman wearing a white suit long after labor day. All of them complained about the lack of wine (two bottles per table). So they went and took wine from other tables in this way:

“Bonsoir ! Are you, ehh, done avec du vin ? Jes? No? Okay, I will just take dees.” Six more bottles were brought to the table- and drained. Rule ten was broken, and all during the d’var Torah (yes, they had one, but God was not mentioned, so it may not even count), I was sure it was going to be a bad thing. But I forgot about rule eleven.

The salads were served. The bread was broken. We talked, the d’var was given. The hot buffet was served.

One man carving turkey for 250. A Thirty minute line results. Why? See Rule Twelve.

Sweet potatoes drowning in more oil than the Saudis. Why? That’s right, See Rule Twelve.

Schwarma and rice. NO, I AM NOT MAKING THAT UP. The buffet included schwarma and rice. Did that Israeli UJC team say in a meeting “No, they can’t want roast turkey only! Let’s give them a real taste of home. Let’s give them…Schwarma!!!” Yes, See Rule Twelve.

Cranberry sauce made with raisins. Why? See Rule twelve. Again.

No green beans. No green vegetables of any kind. Why? Rule Fifteen. Just kidding- See Rule Twelve.

No squash. No Pumpkin. They are in season here in Israel, but See Rule Twelve for an explanation on why they were not served.

No corn. See Rule Twelve.

No cornbread. See Rule Twelve.

No Cornbread Stuffing. No mushroom stuffing. No chestnut stuffing. No stuffing or dressing of any kind. Why? See Rule Twelve, dammit.

To review: Turkey? Yes. Other associated foods? No. And then, dear readers….and then… there are moments in life so bizarre, people will think you are making them up. But I promise you that I am not lying that as soon as people had their food and were digging in, out came the entertainment.

Three mimes.

That’s right. Mimes. White face paint, suspenders, top hats.

At this point, you might think I had lost my mind. But sadly, this was real. They came to the center of the floor and proceeded to do something; at times it could have been a play about the pilgrims, and at other times it could have been a woman trying to seduce an “Indian.” Or maybe it was a turkey. And then there was this thing with a carrot taking the place of an egg that did not hatch. What did it all mean? How in the hell should I know! It was a group of freakin’ mimes!!!

Apparently, said one HU Hillel leader, “Israelis think mimes are the most sophisticated form of entertainment. They did not believe me when I said this was a bad idea. I had to beg them to do without the stilt-walker.”

Rule ten: Never invite the French.

Rule eleven: Unless, of course, there are mimes.

As the rest of us sat in shock, the three Frenchmen smiled with delight, and began to cackle as the performance began in earnest. Nobody can mock mimes like the French! There comments seemed to be along the following lines:

"Sacré Blue! (Heavens!) ! Est-elle pour violer environ cette dinde? (Is she trying to rape that turkey?) C'est la chose dummest depuis les Américains élus cela débile de Bush ! (This is the dumbest thing since the Americans elected that idiot Bush!)"

Eventually, the horror passed and the mimes went away and the French stopped making rude comments. But then the band came out.

Two guitarists. One Drummer. And one Tuba.

Ladies and Gentlemen: I give you – BOOM PAM!!

They were very good- hey, we bought their CD- but greek-arab/ soulvakian/ klezmir fusion rock is not the thing for a thanksgiving dinner. I’m not sure what live music would have worked, but all of the sudden, there was a great band playing music your might hear at a Jewish wedding- in Kurdistan.

After the buffet of salads, after the d’var Torah, after the long line for turkey with raisin sauce, after the mimes, you would have thought the students would have been fed up. But instead of mocking the band, or ignoring them, people got up and danced like a bar-mitzvah re-enactment. It was the horah in circles, the trash compactor dance (two lines squeeze in and out, then two more), mayim steps and cherkezias to the rhythm. Circles formed inside of circles. The French were right in the middle of it, giving it their all. It may not have been pure thanksgiving, but the HU students acted with menschlikhiet, being thankful for what they had. And so they danced.

We hope your Thanksgiving day was one filled with foods that you love and the people you love. Ours was one where we learned a lesson: those kids showed that you can be thankful without turkey and paper pilgrims. That being said, we left before dessert, because any more Israeli Thanksgiving and we would have lost our minds.


Anonymous Marsha said...

Thanks for the great laugh. You two are missed in Chicago!

4:09 PM  

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