Last night, around 200 American IDF soldiers and new immigrants celebrated the traditional Thanksgiving holiday in a special event hosted by Nefesh B’Nefesh, Friends of the IDF, the Ministry of Aliyah and Absorption, the Jewish Agency, Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael, and the Jewish National Fund. The event helped Americans who have no family in Israel feel like they have a community.
IDF soldiers celebrating Thanksgiving Photo Credit: Yonit Schiller
Last night, around 200 American IDF lone soldiers and new immigrants gathered in the Beit Ha-Chayal in Tel Aviv for a special thanksgiving dinner catered by Idan Ianovici, a former lone soldier from New York City who owns the Vici Deli in Ra’anana. The Thanksgiving dinner is hosted by Nefesh B’Nefesh, Friends of the IDF, the Ministry of Aliyah and Immigrant Absorption, the Jewish Agency, Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael, and the Jewish National Fund.
The event aimed to help Americans, whether they are new immigrants or lone soldiers who have no family in Israel to celebrate the traditional American holiday. At the event, guests were served turkey, cranberry sauce, cornbread, squash, and other traditional American Thanksgiving foods.
“Thanksgiving is a very family-oriented holiday,” Marc Rosenberg, Director of Pre Aliyah at Nefesh B’Nefesh, stated, hinting that for Americans who have no family in Israel, not having a place to do Thanksgiving contributes to their homesickness. “We wanted to give new Olim who arrived alone, including Lone Soldiers, the opportunity to celebrate this American holiday with other Anglo Olim here in Tel Aviv.”
“When I was a lone soldier, I celebrated Thanksgiving with only a few friends,” said Ianovici, who served in the IDF’s Armored Corps and has worked at restaurants in New York and Israel since he was 16. “I’m so happy to be able to help give these young Olim the opportunity to experience a proper Thanksgiving in Israel.”
Eidan Schahaf, a lone soldier who made Aliyah in August 2014 and is presently serving in the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit, stressed that usually it is difficult on him to be serving in Israel for he misses his family but it is very rewarding: “It’s my time to try my life here. I am a Zionist. That’s why I made Aliyah. It was a huge culture shock. It’s a tough country but it makes you tougher and it gets easier. It is a special feeling when you go through the stages of absorption. I have no regrets about making Aliyah.”
According to Schahaf, the event was important for him: “I am keeping the traditions alive. I did not eat all day because that is what we do in our family and I came here to eat. It’s fun. It reminds me of home. I am surrounded by English speakers. It’s like being back in America, even if it is for one night. It’s special. I appreciate Nefesh B’Nefesh.”
Jacob Israel is another American IDF soldier who has been living in Israel for two years and serves in a combat unit: “I have only second cousins in Israel. It is hard being away. They visit but I feel homesick. The event helps me feel like people are here for me.” He noted that making Aliyah was difficult in the beginning due to the language barrier and the culture shock but that it got easier with the time for he adapted to the country: “It is my first Thanksgiving doing here. I am happy about it.”
Not everyone who came to the event was American. Rodion Kroitor is a Russian immigrant who is presently serving in the IDF and he came to the event with an American IDF soldier who could not be interviewed due to the position that he is serving in within the IDF. Nevertheless, the event also made him feel good: “I feel like I am not alone. I have new friends. In Israel, I have just a grandma. All of the friends that I meet are like my family. Having a community makes it easier.”
New immigrants celebrating Thanksgiving Photo Credit: Yonit Schiller