A bird in hand can make one conspicuous, especially when Thanksgiving arrives in Israel.
When in Jerusalem, for example, the fourth Thursday in November is not your grandpa’s traditional holiday. Some, if not most, Israelis have never heard of Thanksgiving. Even so, as the date approaches, many American Israelis persist in ordering turkeys from their favorite butcher shops. (The big birds do not magically appear by the hundreds in Israeli grocery stores, come November, as they do in the US, nor does there exist, to my knowledge, a Hebrew equivalent for the word, Butterball.) Every November, American expatriates in Israel also forage in the markets for fresh cranberries, sweet potatoes and other seasonal delights in advance of the big day on which we congregate to celebrate an American tradition, albeit with no hope of watching live football, also hoping, as some of us plod along, to make ourselves understood.
“Where have you been?” my Israeli neighbor asked bluntly when our paths crossed at a Jerusalem bus stop, each of us heading home.
“To a butcher shop in Talpiyot,” I told her in broken Hebrew, “to order a turkey.”
“A turkey. A hodu. I’m from the United States. We celebrate Thanksgiving every November, even here.”
“Why?” she asked, after I repeated Thanksgiving in English six more times. (Only later learning the phrase, חג ההודיה, chag hahodayah, “holiday/festival/feast of the turkey.”)
Anxious to get past the interrogation, I mumbled something dismissive like, It’s what American’s do, but it wasn’t enough. “So, you are going to eat a turkey?” she persisted, closing in on the concept.
I sighed as I nodded, knowing her next question would, again, be why?
Difficulties traditionally begin here two to three weeks in advance of the holiday. This Thanksgiving, on my sixth November visit in six years to the same shop, Shoshani and Sons Butchers on Emek Refaim street in Jerusalem’s German Colony, I stepped inside their small establishment and threw down the gauntlet once more. “I would like to order a turkey,” I said, hoping my voice wouldn’t crack.
The least cordial of the three men who man the meat counters placed both hands flat upon a cutting board and narrowed his eyes. “I know,” he said after taking a long, careful look at me. “Thongs-geeving.”
So far so good, but experience had taught me to recognize that moment as the point at which drama truly begins. “I would like it to weigh seven kilos,” I added hopefully (because every turkey I had ordered in the past—regardless of my wishes—had arrived at that weight).
My butcher slowly turned his palms up while smiling condescendingly, a gesture I had learned to interpret as, you will get what you will get. Fine. This will be the year I try to feed eleven people with a six-pound bird.
With my help he slowly penciled my name, address and phone number into a familiar looking stained and curling spiral binder. When I learned that Shoshani’s would also deliver the bird to my door for a reasonable fee, we repeated the info process, entering redundant data into a second tattered book which he found, after a thorough search, folded in half under a tape dispenser.
“Everything will be beseder,” the butcher told me, reading the doubt in my eyes.
But all is well that ends. Five days later, hallelujah, Mr. Shoshani was proven correct as yet another thrilling, Israeli demonstration of chaos had given way to order; our turkey arrived at our door on the appointed day at exactly the requested weight.
From them will come songs of thanksgiving and the sound of rejoicing. I will add to their numbers, and they will not be decreased; I will bring them honor, and they will not be disdained. (Jer 30:19)
“Hodu, hodu, hodu,” my neighbor had repeated the Hebrew word for turkey as we boarded the bus toward our homes the week before, her thumbs tucked under her armpits while she worked her elbows like wings. “Chicken gadol.”
In another of the wonderful coincidences, or not, that always seem to happen here, hodu, as well as the word for turkey, is also Hebrew for Give Praise!