November 25, 2010, - 2:01 pm

My Big, Fat, Kosher Thanksgiving: How Jewish Americans Celebrate

By Debbie Schlussel

Over the years, readers have continued to ask me how, as a Jewish-American, I celebrate Thanksgiving. Well, just like you celebrate Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is an American holiday. We are all Americans, and I am as thankful as anyone to be able to live and practice my religion freely in our great country. Yes, there are some “Americans”–you’ll find many of these Muslims today on the streets and souks of Dearbornistan–who might have been born here or who have a passport that’s marked “United States of America,” but they have no loyalty to this country. Their hearts and minds belong to Mohammed. They will not be consuming turkey today, but, rather, their usual traditional foods native to the Hezbollah stronghold of South Lebanon and the ruins of Gazastan and Fatahland. Their “thanksgiving” is when they praise allah after successfully blowing up Americans, Jews, Westerners, and Christians.

In contrast, Jews have been here and help establish and found the United States from the very beginning. And we celebrate it and express our thanks with the same heartiness and gratefulness as the rest of our fellow Americans. Above is a postcard supplied by the Jewish Welfare Board to U.S. Soldiers during World War II, so they could write home on it. The postcard shows a Thanksgiving dinner sponsored and paid for by the Jewish Welfare Board, so Jewish and Gentile U.S. Soldiers.

The photo was taken “before the attack,” which I would imagine means the attack on Pearl Harbor. It was taken at one of many Jewish Welfare Board Hospitality Houses, which Jewish organizations paid for and established near military bases, so that all American soldiers–gentile and Jew alike would have a place to go for free drinks, meals, shaving kits, board games, and other supplies to make their lives better while America was at war. The Jewish Welfare Board, established during World War I, and sent soldiers overseas all kinds of free supplies and postcards, stationery, and care packages, regardless of their religion.

Like the rest of my fellow Jews in America, today I will eat turkey (I like the white meat of turkey breast and the crispy-crunchiness of the skin on well-done roasted turkey wings (and the meat inside). I will also eat most of the same “fixin’s” as you do, with the exceptions noted below. Differences in my Thanksgiving meal are minimal, such as:

1) My turkey is kosher. That means it’s slightly more expensive (most kosher meat and poultry usually is because you are paying for the kosher slaughter, a rabbi’s supervision of it, etc.). That means the turkey was slaughtered in captivity, pursuant to kosher slaughter rules (of which the Muslim halal is a complete rip-off and a lite version). The live animal is inspected to make sure there are no defects, missing parts, blemishes, etc. If none, then it is slaughtered with almost a guillotine like beheading. The idea is that, even though we are not animal rights/PETA freaks, we want the bird to feel as little pain as possible and die instantly. Also, we don’t need to brine the turkey, because kosher poultry is always slightly salty, anyway. Kosher meat/poultry is salted to get rid of the blood. Kosher . . . the Original Brine.

My late grandfather, Isaac, came here after surviving the Holocaust in Europe because he was recruited by the Detroit Jewish community to be its new kosher slaughterer, a trade he’d mastered in addition to his rabbinical certification.  He slaughtered a lot of turkeys for the Jewish community for this great American holiday.  And when government intrusion from Big Brother became too great, he closed his slaughterhouse and built a large kosher poulty distributorship, continuing to deliver kosher turkeys (mostly from Empire Kosher Poultry) to kosher Jewish Americans throughout the Detroit area.  (My uncle owns and runs the business, now.)  A proud American, my Holocaust survivor grandfather from Poland loved Thanksgiving, and we always celebrated it together, when he was alive. He was a short, little guy–whose development was stunted by poor nutrition (he was young in the camps). But he was tough and strong beyond imagination and was proud to denounce liberal politicians as “linkas,” (lefties).

2) If you keep kosher, as I do, then we don’t have any dairy ingredients with our meal or up to six hours afterward (I wait the full six, other observant Jews wait five or whatever their family custom is). So, no buttering the turkey, or cream-enriched mashed potatoes, plus we use a non-dairy pumpkin pie at dessert, etc. That’s, again, because of the kosher/Jewish idea of humane treatment of animals. We eat the animal, but we don’t want it to suffer. And in the Bible, it says, “Thou shalt not cook a goat in its mother’s milk.” In those days with small, self-sufficient family farms, if you cooked a goat in milk, it probably was its mother’s milk. We believe that it’s enough that we killed the animal and are eating it, but to cook it in its own mother’s milk would be to embarrass it/make it suffer more. So we never eat meat/poultry ingredients with dairy ones and wait up to six hours in between for the two not to mix in the digestion process.

3) I noticed that most gentiles I know start their Thanksgiving in the very early afternoon. Most of my many non-Jewish friends are done with their Thanksgiving dinner much before we’ve even started ours. Most Jewish people I know don’t start our Thanksgiving dinner until the early evening/regular dinner time. That’s anecdotal, of course. I don’t know every one of my 5.2 million American fellow co-religionists. But this is my observation. As I post this, I haven’t yet begun my Thanksgiving feast and won’t for a few hours. Yet, many of you, my gentile readers, are already finished with yours and starting your food coma. Mine starts later.

4) The obvious: there’s no ham, pork, bacon, or any pig products at my Thanksgiving dinner table.

Other than that, my Thanksgiving is pretty much the same as yours.

Enjoy. And give thanks.

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12 Responses

Happy Thanksgiving Debbie! Thanks for this beautiful article!

Naomi Litvin on November 25, 2010 at 3:16 pm

Beautiful article Debbie, Hope you enjoy your Thanksgiving. One reason you might have started dinner later might be that grandpa had to finish saying mincha and maariv.

Hilda on November 25, 2010 at 3:53 pm

Beautiful article Debbie. Wish you and yours a happy and meaningful Thanksgiving. One reason you may have started dinner later is grandpa had to finish saying Mincha and Maariv.

Hilda on November 25, 2010 at 3:55 pm

The custom, while it is not Jewish, has been accepted by Jews here out of respect for the laws of the land, and also because there is no prohibition on thanking G-d in accordance with your faith. Unlike Christmas, Thanksgiving is not a specific Christian holiday, so the Jew has no problem with taking part in it and taking part in it is only showing appreciation to a nation that has historically protected the Jews but its showing gratitude to G-d for His protection of them here. And thanking G-d should be a practice carried forward all the year so we’re healthier and happier for His presence in our lives.

Happy Thanksgiving!

NormanF on November 25, 2010 at 5:50 pm

I had an Italian friend who had an Irish wife. I don’t remember which side held from the early dinner. However, he had 2 Thanksgiving meals – one in the early afternoon and one towards evening.

Facts Life on November 25, 2010 at 6:31 pm

I loved the info in the article. I am always in awe and fully appreciate the Jewish sense of tradition…and sacrifice in their rituals. It’s very fascinating to me and I appreciate the discipline.

I loved the animal kindness stuff. That is to be appreciated. How lovely that observant Jews REALLY have a heart and sensitivities to animals. Ironically, more so than meat-eating Liberals.

Skunky on November 25, 2010 at 9:27 pm

Happy Thanksgiving Debbie! We had our kosher Thanksgiving dinner at 4pm. We used rice milk for our dairy substitute and my Christian friend and her daughter enjoyed our meal, didn’t even miss the butter and cream! We are so grateful for the abundance our beautiful country provides for us!

Debbi from AZ on November 26, 2010 at 1:23 am

It’s interesting to note that Thanksgiving is essentially a harvest festival, in line with most faiths. It’s definitely the most “god-neutral” of all holidays.

So be grateful of what you’ve earned and what you’ve sown and reaped – they are your own rewards.

The Reverend Jacques on November 26, 2010 at 1:59 am

Yes, we also started our Thanksgiving feast at dinner time. I don’t know why, that’s just how it is with us. I skipped lunch and did some bicycling to build up my appetite!

One more thing that is different: kosher wine at the table, rather than non-kosher wine or eggnog (dairy) or some such. This year it was Verbau Gewürztraminer: good, but not as good as the Bartenura Pinot Grigio which graced our table in previous years.

Solomon2 on November 26, 2010 at 7:15 am

Your’s sound a lot like my grandparents (my maternal grandfather’s family was Jewish). My maternal grandmother’s was Scots (though there’s some Sepherdic in her line too).Happy Thanksgiving!

Paul on November 26, 2010 at 8:42 am

Debbie when I was a younger man I had a Gentile gf. She looked like a young Sandra Bullock, had a paternal Jewish grandparent and her middle name was Rachel. She told me she liked dating Jewish guys because they always had walking around money and the best weed. Anyway her friend asked me if I celebrated TG and I realized I was running in the wrong circles there and then. That and I went solo to a Hanukkah party which ticked her off. She was a really beautiful girl, though. Maybe I should’ve called Chabad in.

A1 on November 26, 2010 at 1:51 pm

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