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The Media Line: Americans in the Middle East To Observe Thanksgiving Under Shadow of War

Americans in the Middle East To Observe Thanksgiving Under Shadow of War

In Israel, subdued gatherings will focus on being thankful despite the conflict

By Nicole Jansezian/The Media Line

Sara Black-Charm, a professional chef who runs a kosher and health-centered catering service based in Efrat, hesitated to advertise a Thanksgiving dinner this year, assuming most people weren’t up to celebrating.

It was only after she got a call from a client who ordered a Thanksgiving meal last year did she realize that perhaps others were planning to observe the American holiday after all.

“I thought, ‘Okay, if she’s asking, then others might want it too,’” Black-Charm told The Media Line.

Then, when congratulations poured in after her daughter’s engagement last week, it confirmed her decision to go ahead with a Thanksgiving plan.

“Everyone told me, ‘We need good news so badly.’ Everyone was happy,” she said. “We need to be thankful. We have a lot of the be thankful for on regular days and on days like this … there’s no reason why not. It keeps us going.”

Americans in the Middle East are observing Thanksgiving under the shadow of war and a regional depression that has settled in after the Oct. 7 attacks on Israel by Hamas and Israel’s subsequent military campaign in Gaza.

Black-Charm’s HealthEat (https://www.health-eat.com/) was one of many small businesses impacted by the war. After initially losing many of her clients, the chef pivoted. She has been raising money to supply displaced Israelis living in hotels and soldiers called up to active duty with vegan, gluten- or dairy-free meals for those who need them.

On Thanksgiving, HappyEat will also be catering dinner for 90 lone soldiers.

Bonnie Rosenbaum, co-director of the Michael Levin Base, is hosting another dinner for lone soldiers. She told The Media Line it wasn’t a given that she would be going forward with her ninth annual dinner because of the situation.

“There was a question—should we do Thanksgiving or not because of what the vibe is? Are they feeling it or are they not feeling it?” Rosenbaum said.

She sent a questionnaire to the soldiers, she said, and “the response was, ‘Absolutely!’”

As of Wednesday morning, 122 soldiers signed up for the dinner in Jerusalem—a large drop from the normal number which is upwards of 500. Rosenbaum said most of the soldiers who would normally attend cannot get off their bases and so the organization is sending out 120 “Thanksgiving-in-a-box” meals to the bases.

Rosenbaum said the participants will take time to reflect on why they are thankful, as both Israelis and Americans, and the reasons they are defending this homeland.

The Michael Levin Base (https://themichaellevinbase.org/), named eponymously for a fallen soldier who died in 2006, provides essential needs and events for soldiers and young people in national service in Israel while their family is abroad. The community suffered a recent loss when lone soldier Rose Lubin was killed earlier this month in a terror attack in Jerusalem.

“She used to come here. We went as a group to her funeral and we made sure to have therapists here waiting when we got back,” Rosenbaum said.

Across the region the mood is affected by the Israel-Hamas war but nevertheless, American expats are likely to find a place to celebrate. In the Gulf, Dubai has a line-up of restaurants offering Thanksgiving dinner with trimmings, according to the Gulf News.

Further north, in Manama, expats can celebrate more than just Thanksgiving—one establishment will be holding their annual Christmas-tree lighting on the same day. McGettigan’s invites families to sing Christmas carols and meet Santa in the warm climes of the Gulf.

Other restaurants also make sure Americans won’t feel too far from home, including CUT by Wolfgang Puck and Waterfront Restaurant at the Grand Swiss-Belhotel, where holiday dinners are being offered.

Back in war-torn Israeli and Palestinian areas, celebrations will be more subdued and downsized. Nevertheless, the demand for whole turkeys is still comparable to previous years, according to Aladin Rimaee, a butcher in an American neighborhood in Jerusalem.

Rimaee told The Media Line that orders dropped slightly, but he attributes that to people who left during the war or didn’t return from the holidays.

This year, instead of the usual 200 turkeys ordered through SuperDeal in Jerusalem, orders topped out at 180 instead.

“We have a lot of customers who eat turkey all year, but the Americans like to order a whole turkey at Thanksgiving,” he said.

Through her catering service this year, Black-Charm said that more people ordered turkey parts rather than whole turkeys this year, indicating less elaborate celebrations but not necessarily fewer celebrants.

She plans to host 25 people herself on Thursday. Many Americans living in Israel opt to celebrate on Friday night instead, combining the holiday with Shabbat. But Black-Charm is keeping with the true date even though Thursday is not a day off in Israel.

“I love the fact that it’s not on Shabbat and you get to host a lot of people,” she said. “And then they get to go home.”

Buying a whole turkey is a rarity in Israel—often turkeys are larger than the standard Israeli oven—so they must be ordered in advance. Black-Charm said few butchers outside neighborhoods with a high American clientele handle the orders.

“If I call my usual butcher in Jerusalem, they question why you need a whole turkey,” Black-Charm laughed.

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