Voices from the field

Why do we keep the traditions we keep?

By Leah Breslow-Katz

Thanksgiving was an American tradition that my family didn’t part with. My parents made aliyah 30 years ago from North America, and while they were eager to learn Hebrew and feel comfortable in their new surroundings, celebrating Thanksgiving was one tradition they (my father particularly) were not willing to give up. The tradition varied over the years. At times we would celebrate it on the Thursday night in accordance with the American tradition, and then other times we would have Thanksgiving dinner as our Friday night Shabbat meal. For me this was a beautiful combination between traditions - we would eat traditional Thanksgiving food, every family member would say what they are thankful for, and then we would recite Shabbat psalms and Diverei Torah.

I enjoyed celebrating Thanksgiving with my family in Israel, though it was foreign to my friends and our community. My Israeli friends either did not know what Thanksgiving was or they mistook it for a religious Christian holiday. Growing up in an Anglo family, I was constantly being asked what language was more comfortable for me to speak. However, what I was really being asked was: Do you feel more Israeli or American? I would answer at times – “both” – though it always felt like I needed to choose. I am very comfortable speaking in one, dreaming in the other and in general enjoying the richness of both.

This year will be my first time celebrating Thanksgiving in the United States. The uniqueness this year is that the first night of Chanukkah and Thanksgiving overlap – a once in a lifetime event. While speaking to other Jews living in the United States, I realize that during this night they will be celebrating an American tradition, along with Jewish and Israeli traditions. To them, their Jewish and Israeli identities are one. To me, Chanukkah does not feel Israeli - it is distinctively Jewish. This probably stems from growing up in Israel where there is a clear distinction between Jewish and Israeli holidays, such as Yom Ha'atzmaut. Depending on your traditions, you may or may not celebrate the Jewish holidays but everyone celebrates the Israeli ones. And while during this year’s "Thanksgivukkah" I won’t feel that I am celebrating my Israeli side, I am thankful for an opportunity to express my American and Jewish identities together in a single night.

Why do we keep the traditions we keep?

This post connects with the Resource "The Things We Carry: Traditions"