Thursday, December 20, 2012

Turkey and Beans; thanks for what we have


“After a good dinner one can forgive anybody, even one's own relations.”
Oscar Wilde, A Woman of No Importance


Operation Pillar of Defense did more than force southern Israel to cancel only school. It also forced the Southern Branch of Americans and Canadians in Israel (AACI) – for which I volunteer – to cancel its annual Thanksgiving Dinner. For the past couple of years, AACI has joined up with Beer Sova – a local soup kitchen serving hundreds of Beer Sheva’s needy – to cook up a Thanksgiving meal that just about any American can be proud of. Being Canadian, it’s all lost on me, but it’s good fun, and the money raised is split between the two organizations.

This year, however, Thanksgiving landed right at the end of the week of bombs, and we had to postpone the dinner.

It was important to us to postpone and not to cancel because Beer Sova served meals to record amounts of people during the week of the war. They served the elderly who couldn't leave their homes. They served people who lost income because of lost business, or closed businesses. They served children and mothers, Arabs and Jews. All who needed were given hot, nutritious meals, no questions asked.
AACI members were also disappointed at the postponement, and hoped we would have the dinner later. It seems people miss a taste of the old country, especially when it comes to turkey with all the trimmings.

After the war, we settled on a new date, which was last night. Several volunteers came to the kitchen of Beer Sova to prepare a three-course meal of soup, turkey and dessert.

Situated in an old run-down building in the town center, Beer Sova’s kitchen hosts industrial size ovens, stoves, and fridges. You can bathe a pony in one of their pots. (It’s even possible that someone had.) Clean and well-kept, the kitchen’s appearance  clearly shows the hard work that goes on there regularly, almost entirely by volunteers, to feed and serve between 70-100 people daily in their dining room, and several 100 or so by home delivery. It also clearly shows how much they need donations to continue their holy work.

I got to the kitchen to help with the cooking a bit late. I used, as I always do, my daughter as an excuse for being late, but really, I just hate cooking. The kitchen was already a beehive of activity. I stood a minute and watched five wonderful women rush around the rooms looking, for all the world, like five whirlwinds that the Tasmanian devil from the Bugs Bunny cartoon makes (but without the grouchiness). ZOOM chop. ZOOM chop chop chop. ZOOM splash. MORE SALT! I NEED SOME SUGAR! ZOOM. 

Tasmanian Devil
Within four hours these women (and one man who expertly checked and washed five lettuces [lettuci?] – but didn't go rushing around) boiled up a witch's cauldron of pumpkin soup, stuffed and cooked 6 turkeys, broiled 10 kilo of potatoes, made two gargantuan sweet potato pies, mixed up three humongous pots of three different salads, boiled up some cranberry sauce and apple compote, and baked four sets of brownies. I, meanwhile, stirred some beans. Expertly, I might add. I even added a bit of garlic. 
Beans


Just over 40 people met later at the dining room of Beer Sova, which is separate from the kitchen. It was really a lovely dinner, complete with music and wine. Seeing as how I was an expert in bean stirring, I also decided I would give a short speech thanking people.
Here’s a copy – with illustrations, something those at the dinner didn’t get.

“Welcome everyone to our AACI/Beer Sova Thanksgiving dinner.

Beer Sova was established in 1999 by a group volunteers, to supply hot, nutritious, healthy meals for the needy in Beer Sheva and the surrounding area, and it was the first and remains the only kitchen preparing freshly cooked meals daily.

AACI encourages Aliyah of Americans and Canadians and assists its members to be absorbed into Israeli society and participate in the life of the Country.
AACI accepts everyone regardless of their religion or political opinions.
AACI is an a-political, a-religious organization.

But I’m not.

Last year at the AACI Thanksgiving dinner, someone told me that the Canadian Thanksgiving was actually established before the American Thanksgiving. I didn't even know that there was a Canadian Thanksgiving, so I looked it up.

Indeed, Martin Frobisher established Thanksgiving in 1578 after returning safely home to Newfoundland after failing to find the Northwestern Passage through Canada to the Pacific Ocean
Sir Martin Frobisher

The American Thanksgiving celebrates  having survived a winter and near-starvation, but were able to produce a bountiful harvest and, therefore, show thanks with a big meal with lots of food – 43 years after Martin Frobisher gave thanks – in 1621. The Canadian Thanksgiving is one of homecoming and no food is actually involved; which is why the Canadian Thanksgiving has been more or less forgotten. 

An American Thanksgiving
However, the Jewish Thanksgiving goes back even further than 1578. And it was from them that both the Canadians and Americans got the idea. And, as most things Jewish, it involves food.
A Jewish meal

During the times of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, a person who survived a potentially dangerous situation – which in those days meant crossing the desert or sea, imprisonment, or illness – brought a Sacrificial Offering of Thanksgiving (korban todah) to the Temple, to show gratitude to G-d for saving him.

This sacrifice was different than others in that it had to be eaten by the person giving it on the same day. There was a great deal of food involved: The animal sacrificed – either a bull, a calf, a ram, a sheep, or a goat (each according to his ability) – 30 loaves of unleavened bread – a kind of matzah – and 10 loaves of regular bread – or challot.

This was a tremendous amount of food that had to be eaten in a very limited time. The person, therefore, would invite lots of people to come with him to eat of the sacrifice. The rabbis say that in this way the miracle of the person’s survival was publicized, his or her gratitude to G-d was made known to all, and G-d’s compassion and mercy was publicly proclaimed.

Today, we don’t have a Temple, or sacrifices. So instead, today, when we survive a potentially dangerous situation, we make a ‘seudat Hodaya’ a Meal of Thanks, where we invite a lot of people, and eat a lot of food.
In addition, say the sages it is right to give tzdaka – charity – in the amount of cost of the animal to be sacrificed – or in the amount of a meal.

And that is what we are doing here tonight – however inadvertently. We are gathered here in a group to give thanks for the things that we have. We have all donated money tonight to two organizations, AACI and Beer Sova.

We have a great deal to be thankful for tonight; our friends and family; a wonderful supportive community, for which I am grateful every day; a beautiful Land in which we have been blessed to make our home and which is populated by more heroes than I can count; the IAF and the IDF, and most of all G-d,  for nudging those missiles just a bit and having most of them land in open areas. 176 missiles over the skies of Beer Sheva and there were no fatalities. This is a great miracle that needs to be acknowledged and publicized over and over again.  

In addition, I would like to thank those that, with the help of G-d, organized this wonderful evening; the volunteers that cooked and set up; the go-between for AACI and Beer Sova, those at Beer Sova, especially those who helped with all the  shopping, and most of all thanks to two superladies who planned and prepared the event from soup to nuts – except that there aren't any nuts, but there’s cake.”

(names have been left out to protect those who only stirred the beans.)

It appeared that everyone had a good time and came out stuffed to the gills. We raised a small amount of money for both organizations – not nearly enough, but it’s a start.

The best part of the evening, however, was that the Canadian bean stirrer won the raffle – a stuffed turkey.

Now I don’t have to cook much for Shabbat. There’s something to be thankful for!!