I usually write my Thanksgiving Day blog late Thursday night after everyone has gone to sleep. I reflect on the day and its meaning to me. I talk about the foods I love preparing and eating. I reminisce about conversations or situations of years past and compare them to what’s happening now. I comment on family and friends, and why I am thankful.
But not this year. This year I am writing from a hotel room in Tel Aviv.
This year we decided to take the week and vacation in Israel. It is true that I often come to Israel for work-related purposes. Rarely, however, do I get the opportunity to relax and just be a tourist here. My daughter pointed out that I organize trips and missions for others, but never for us. So I rose to the challenge of creating an experience that would be engaging and interesting without being a repeat of any previous expedition. I think I succeeded.
We started the week with a focus on culinary delights. A private tour of the Levinsky market exposed the tastes, smells and stories of traditional Israeli and regional foods. In a three-block walk, we delighted in a fresh warm hummus breakfast; imbibed concoctions fusing herbs, fruits and vegetables; met a family that has been making borekas together in the same shop for three generations; tested the flavors of nuts and dried fruits from across the Middle East; compared varieties of olives; and, under the tutelage of a Turkish man, sampled the smells and tastes of spices, flowers and herbal cures that have been used for generations. Israel truly has become a place with international delicacies that span well beyond traditional and modern boundaries.
In the afternoon, our focus shifted to a new and contemporary part of the Tel Aviv scene…fashion. Israeli fashion leaders have dressed the rich and famous, including Beyonce and Lady Gaga; but the industry struggles to survive due to lack of infrastructure and support. Bright, innovative and entrepreneurial designers are paving the way in Tel Aviv. We were lucky to have the opportunity to meet with five of them at their studios/ateliers. The spark emanating from these young, passionate artists was undeniable and their creativity encompassed everything from eco-friendly to fashion forward designs. We enjoyed their stories and did our part to support their small, but growing businesses.
From there we marveled at the new Ariel Sharon Park (constructed on a former dump site); visited Zichron Yakov; caught up with wonderful friends and colleagues in Yokneam and Megiddo; and even squeezed in spa treatments, star-gazing, and a jeep ride through the machtesh (crater) at Mitzpeh Ramon.
The absolute highlight of the week was our meeting with an Arab Muslim woman who, despite her traditional upbringing, is “breaking rules.” Her daily fight is twofold: to empower other Arab women to do more than cook, clean, care for family, and obey sons and husbands; and to facilitate dialogue between Arab and Jewish Israeli women. In Amna’s home in Kfar Kara, in her kitchen over the traditional lunch she prepared, we learned of her personal and intimate struggles. Her courageous stories were mesmerizing. She was inspiring. She touched our hearts. She made us cry. She opened our minds. We left the two-hour encounter understanding – far more than ever before – the plight of those who feel as though they are “second class” citizens and believe there is no hope.
This Thanksgiving we learned the true meaning of giving thanks. It is a privilege to call Israel our own. The country still is so young, but has come so far and has much to offer. Our time with old and new family and friends warmed our hearts and made us realize how lucky and fortunate we truly are to have them in our lives.
I especially feel blessed to have a job and a family that enable me to spend such meaningful time in a place that I love; a country that truly is my home away from home.