Aliyah diary: Of candidates and candied yams

Aliyah diary: Of candidates and candied yams

The Leichmans’ neighborhood is plastered with election posters for a recent municipal election.

The other morning, we walked up the hill to the high school and were greeted by crowds of cheering teenagers waving banners and yelling slogans.

It was nothing personal. It was Election Day in Ma’aleh Adumim.

Coming only once every five years, municipal elections are a big deal. Our popular mayor was running – wildly successfully, as it turned out – for his fourth and final term. His opponent, well-liked in private life, was roundly condemned for offering too much criticism and too few constructive ideas (sound familiar?).

The more exciting races were those of the city council contenders. Typical of the byzantine Israeli political system, you vote for a list of candidates rather than one person. Each slate receives a number of seats on the council in proportion to the votes it receives.

The voting process itself was a new experience for us.

After walking past the competing groups of young staffers hawking their patron’s slate, you present your national ID card to the poll watchers and they hand you a yellow envelope and a white envelope. You take the envelopes into a booth, where a tray contains sorted yellow and white slips of paper. You choose a yellow one imprinted with your mayoral choice and seal it in the yellow envelope. Then you choose a white slip imprinted with the name of your preferred council list and put that in the white envelope. You then slide both envelopes into a cardboard box and get your ID card back.

It was quite different from pushing buttons on an electronic voting machine. But this more primitive system has a certain hands-on cachet. In our old-new homeland, sealing a piece of paper in an envelope is an act of great significance.

This time around, there were enough English-speaking voters in our city of 38,000 to warrant special attention from the candidates. Several parlor meetings and meet-the-candidates sessions were held for us “Anglos,” who compose less than 5 percent of the general population and about 30 percent of our neighborhood.

Obviously, we don’t have much electoral clout. The only all-Anglo slate got a paltry 300 votes, less than half of what it would have needed to capture even one seat. But each list promised to appoint a liaison to communicate effectively with English-, Russian-, and French-speaking constituents.

And now that the elections are over, we are free to focus on Thanksgiving preparations.

As I reported last year in this newspaper, many American ex-pats in Israel continue celebrating Thanksgiving. Often, as we plan on doing, they move the dinner to Friday night because Thursday is a regular work day.

Seattle educator Rivy Poupko Kletenik, in her “All Things Jewish” blog, notes that turkey is a particularly fitting food for a Shabbat Thanksgiving, because “turkey” in Hebrew is “tarnigol hodu.” “Hodu” is the word for India, but it also is the plural imperative of “thank,” a frequent word in the psalms that make up the bulk of the liturgy.

However, Thanksgiving is not an intrinsically Jewish festival. Is it hypocritical, for people who have chosen to live in Israel, to keep a day of thanks for being American?

Some of my fellow immigrants say it is. Leaving behind Thanksgiving, they argue, is a package deal with waving bye-bye to Halloween, Christmas, and Valentine’s Day.

Others mark Thanksgiving as an ex-pat patriotic statement. Israel-based food writer Giora Shimoni puts it this way: “Even though we live in Israel, we enjoy American citizenship and feel gratitude towards the United States. And I love the menu!”

For me, the holiday’s significance is more personal. Until we started marrying and moving to distant places, my three brothers and I always spent Thanksgiving with our similarly aged cousins Josh, Danny, and Jonathan. Each November, our families alternated houses for a weekend that bonded us for life. Our second cousins became more like second siblings.

Josh, who has lived in Israel for more than 20 years, proposed that this year we revive the tradition around the nucleus of our two families. It was a perfect idea. Not only do Steve and I feel close with Josh and Adina, but our children – who collectively range in age from 14 to 25 – genuinely like each other as well. Without a car, and without a work-free Sunday, we do not see them as frequently as we’d like.

Since we have the larger apartment, the shindig will be hosted here. I have ordered a whole turkey – rarely seen in a country where most ovens are too small for a large bird – and chosen recipes for yams and stuffing.

With “Alice’s Restaurant” on the stereo, I look forward to raising a glass of cinnamoned Galilee apple cider to toast a new Thanksgiving custom, grateful for the opportunity to be together with good people in a good land.

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