The first Jew to set foot in Colonial America, was Joachim Gans, who came here in 1584 having been recruited by Sir Walter Raleigh as he set out on an expedition to explore the Virginia territory. In 1654 a group of 23 Dutch Jews arrived from Brazil, on the shores of New Amsterdam (New York), fleeing the Inquisition recently instituted in Portugal’s new colony. Like the Mayflower Pilgrims before them, this group came to the New World in search of opportunities and religious freedom. Life wasn’t easy; dreams could only be realized through an incredible amount of determination, hard work, sweat, tears and personal sacrifice.
I can just imagine these Dutch/Brazilian Jews in the new land celebrating Thanksgiving with a slowly cooked Moqueca Capixaba (a Brazilian dish consisting of: fish, onions, garlic, tomatoes, cilantro, chili pepper and additional ingredients). Fish was plentiful, requiring no shechita.
As the years and centuries progressed, Jews realized unparalleled success in the New World, engaging in fields of study and a variety of livelihoods unrivaled in our history… We educated ourselves and our children, excelling in areas in academia, maths and sciences, commerce, technology and the arts. We suddenly had new freedoms and exploited unprecedented opportunities.
In 1946, my dad, a teenager at the time, arrived to these shores, on an orphan transport boat called the Ernie Pyle. In his hand was a shabby little suitcase that contained his Tefillin and a herring. Shortly after his arrival, speaking but a few words of English, he landed a job in a baby blanket factory, sewing & sweeping floors. His one meal a day was dinner at Ratner’s, one of the famous dairy eateries of its day, where he’d sit down to a bowl of soup and all the bread he could eat. The Hungarian wife ( and amazing cook) he married two years later, kept him happy and content in the kitchen and in life. May they continue together in health and happiness till 120!
Dad’s early days in the new land remind me of an old joke:
Abe Cohen goes to a restaurant every day for lunch. He always orders the soup du jour. One day the manager asks him how he liked his meal. Abe replies (with a Yiddish accent) “Vass goot, but you could give a lidle more bread.”
The next day, the manager tells the waitress to give him four slices of bread. “How was your meal, sir?” the manager asks. “Vass goot, but you could give a lidle more bread”.
Next day the manager tells the waitress to give him eight slices of bread. “How was your meal today, sir?” the manager asks. “Vass goot, but you could give a lidle more bread”.
The manager is now obsessed with seeing Abe say that he enjoyed his meal, so he goes to the bakery and orders a 6ft long French loaf. When Abe comes in – as usual – the next day, the waitress and the manager cut the loaf in half, butter the entire length of each half and lay it out along the counter, right next to his bowl of soup. Abe sits down, and devours both his bowl of soup and both halves of the 6ft loaf of bread. The manager now thinks he will get the answer he is looking for. When Abe comes up to pay for his meal, the manager asks in the usual way: “How was your meal TODAY, sir?” Abe replies “It vass goot, as usual, but I see you are back to giving only 2 slices of bread!”
How times and country have changed us all! America is still a land of opportunity, if we can just get past the gauntlet of recorded voice messages that stand between us and our daily bread. Though the the ‘Goldeneh Land’ has lost some of it’s glitter, we have much to be grateful for. We enjoy freedoms in this country that others less fortunate literally die for each and every day. Though our health care system is in shambles, we have access to medical care, medication and vaccines that don’t even exist in other countries. We benefit from technologies we never dreamed of; at our fingertips we have the power to transform the world or to destroy it.
In our tfilos we thank the Almighty each and every day, three times a day. We acknowledge His mastery over Creation and bless His handiwork in everything we eat and partake of in His world. All our accomplishments are through His divine grace. Thanksgiving is a national holiday in the US, it brings families together from near and far, as collectively America remembers all we have to be thankful for.
Wishing those that celebrate this holiday a Happy Thanksgiving filled with good cheer, good conversation, good food, in the company of loved ones.
In the holiday spirit, I’ll leave you with a personal heimishe recipe for turkey stuffing and simple turkey baste. Enjoy!!
2 cups shredded carrots, sautéed
2 cup sautéed minced onions
2 cup sautéed finely diced celery
2 cups wild mushrooms
1/2 cup chopped water chestnuts (washed and drained)
1/2 cup toasted walnuts, optional
1/3 cup canola oil
2 cloves garlic, minced, and sautéed
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
2 tablespoons chopped dill
1 teaspoon rosemary
1 teaspoon thyme
2 cups chicken stock
¼ teaspoon garlic powder
Soak Challah in water, remove crust top when moistened, and squeeze out all water, break into small pieces. Add eggs, oil, stock and seasoning. Sautée vegetables; when cooled to room temperature, add into mix . Stuff inside turkey cavity, alongside turkey or bake in a separate casserole.
¾ c. oil
dried garlic powder
dried parsley, dried dill, salt and pepper.
Place sliced onions, celery, clove of garlic, (brussel sprouts-optional garnish) in bottom of roasting pan. Add water.
Place turkey in prepared roasting pan, tented with aluminum foil. Bake at 325 degrees for about 30 minutes per pound. Baste 4-5 times with oil/spice mixture. Bake uncovered for last 15 minutes.
Here is my simple, homemade turkey (the guests always love its finger lickin’ goodness!):
As a dessert, some may want it as a side dish with the turkey, you might make this simple to follow but delicious recipe:
Cranberry Crunch Mousse
2 Rich’s Rich whip 8 oz topping
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
¼ cup confectioner’s sugar
Whip up topping. When whip is formed add vanilla and confectioner’s sugar.
1 12 oz. package fresh cranberries
1 8 oz bag of mini marshmallows
8 oz honey glazed pecans chopped
Chop cranberries in food processor for about a minute, don’t pulverize. Fold cranberries, marshmallows and chopped pecans into whip mixture and serve chilled.
Prep time: 5 minutes