Turkey and Beans; thanks for what we have

Operation Pillar of Defense did more than force southern Israel to cancel 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!!

AACI is the home for English Speakers in Israel with offices in Jerusalem, Netanya, Tel Aviv, Beer Sheva and Haifa.

AACI Jerusalem – Dr. Max and Gianna Glassman Family Center

Pierre Koenig 37, corner of Poalei Tzedek 2 (across from Hadar Mall) Talpiot, Jerusalem

MAP of Jerusalem Location

Buses # 10, 21 & 49 stop on Pierre Koenig across from AACI; 71, 72, 74 & 75 stop at Tzomet Habankim, a 10-minute walk away.

(02) 566-1181 for more information about any programs or to register.

More rave than rant

If this article sounded great to you, don’t miss the next session!
AACI Aliyah Conversations for Olim in the Absorption Process

Insights into Israeli Life and Culture through Song

You are invited to join AACI for our informal Aliyah conversations with olim to discuss the challenges—the highs and lows—you’ve been facing in Israel. Join us on Monday, June 6, at 7:45 p.m., at Merkaz Klitah Ye’elim to hear special guest Hector Marrero who will present a workshop on “Learning Israeli Culture and Language through Song.” Find out how some of the nationally known songs are key to understanding life and language in Israel. Please RSVP to AACI Counselor Miriam Green at mgreen@aaci.org.il. The sessions are geared towards olim within their first 5 years in the country, but we’re happy to make exceptions. We’ll meet at Merkaz Klitah Ye’elim on Rehov Ye’elim in Shechunah Hey, Beer Sheva. Entrance through the parking lot behind the “Gesher.” There is now a ramp for wheelchair access to Merkaz Klitah Ye’elim. Take the no. 9 bus!

 
 
 
By YOCHEVED MIRIAM RUSSO 
05/26/2011 13:07
in the Jerusalem Post

A new AACI initiative introduces English-speaking olim to Beersheba to the finer points of living in this country.

Eighteen months ago, something new and exciting started to happen down south. “For the first time ever, Beersheba began enjoying a large influx of English-speaking new immigrants,” says Miriam Green, Southern Branch counselor for the Association of Americans and Canadians in Israel (AACI).

Since 1948, Beersheba has served as “immigrant city” for tens of thousands of newcomers, but very few hailed from English-speaking countries.

“The change was amazing,” Green says. “I’d love to say the English-speakers were coming because we’re such a welcoming city and the word has gotten out. But realistically there might be several other explanations, including our local economy. It’s still easier to buy a house here than in the center of the country. Then, too, our schools – first grade through university – are great. There are lots of reasons why they may be coming, but whatever they are, for the first time, Englishspeaking olim are flocking in.”

Green, whose job involves helping new immigrants adjust to life in Israel, saw a common pattern among the newcomers.

“Many seemed to be suffering culture shock,” she smiles, noting that condition is hardly unusual.

“We all go through it, it’s common, but many of these newcomers were all expressing the same concerns and asking the same questions,” she continues. “I started to think about it.

One of the things AACI likes to do is connect people. Since we had a relatively small group of veteran immigrants from English-speaking countries, maybe we should put them together with the new immigrants to help the newbies through those first months. The older olim could help the newcomers see the bigger picture in the aliya experience. The new olim could gain practical advice about Beersheba in general, and seek help and advice for any specific issues they might have.”

AACI’s “rant and rave” sessions were born. New immigrants – up to five years was suggested, but in fact anyone was welcome – were invited, as was the English-speaking community as a whole.

“The idea was to let the newcomers ask any questions they had, seek advice on anything, whether it was where the best place to buy groceries was, how best to find a job, or tips on how to master Hebrew,” she says. “Whatever issues anyone needed help dealing with, we were ready to offer our own experiences.”

Aviva Weisel-Eichler, a long-term immigrant from Connecticut, was invited to chair the sessions, which started with a no-format agenda. She was just asked to make sure everyone had a chance to express themselves.

“I was delighted to do it,” Weisel-Eichler says. “It was a giant information-swapping fest – it sounded like a great idea to me. That first session – held a year ago, in a meeting room at the absorption center – attracted about 30 new immigrants. It was a very mixed group – all ages, backgrounds and professions. They came from the US, Canada, England, South Africa and Australia, but also included English-speakers from non- English-speaking countries.

A name change was needed, Weisel-Eichler said.

“I know they were called ‘Rant and Rave’ sessions at first, but I have to tell you, there wasn’t much ‘ranting and raving’ going on. No one did much ranting. It was all pretty positive,” she recalls. “Afterward, everyone was excited about how well it went. The new olim were grateful that we’d brought them together with the more senior immigrants. Everyone, new and old, seemed to enjoy the interchange.”

The second session a month later was a little more organized, Weisel-Eichler notes. “We had a discussion topic, ‘Dealing with Bituah Leumi’ [the National Insurance Institute]. That, too, went very well. But after that, the number of attendees started to drop off. Maybe they’d had their questions answered and they’d moved on.

“We started to offer something a little more structured, inviting a speaker who could offer specific expertise. A subsequent session featured Alan Cohen, a former Bank Hapoalim manager formerly from London, who talked about banking in Israel, explaining how the system worked and inviting questions. After that, we featured a speaker from Tnuat Or, an organization devoted to the development of the Negev. The number of attendees began to grow again.”

In the year since those first sessions, invited speakers have covered any number of topics, some requested by the newcomers, others by professionals who volunteered to come and share their expertise. Even the name applied to the group meetings evolved: “Rant and Rave” gave way to the less colorful – but probably more accurate – “Conversations with Olim.”

TWO RECENT speakers drew especially large crowds – not just of new olim, either, but of immigrants of several years’ standing.

In March, David Brock, senior lecturer in business management at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and a 2001 immigrant from New Zealand, came to offer some tips on learning Hebrew.

“That was one of our best sessions,” Green says. “A primary concern for all new immigrants is learning Hebrew, and David offered some great ideas.”

One of Brock’s suggestions came from his own experience: As a new lecturer at BGU, he had to learn Hebrew quickly, so he contacted a retired gentleman, another scholar, who enjoyed visitors. The two would just get together to talk – in Hebrew – twice a week.

According to Brock, both benefited from the activity.

Following Brock’s presentation, several newbies offered additional advice of their own: “Repeat phrases until you know them by heart,” “Read short paragraphs from newspapers over and over again,” “Listen to the radio,” “Watch children’s television,” and “Borrow easy-to-read books – or better yet, borrow someone’s first-grader.”

In April, another top-ranked professional, Zvi Ophir, presented a workshop on “Reading Israeli Body Language: Rude Gestures and Other Cultural Differences.” Ophir, who presents his body-language workshops for business groups, teachers and the IDF, also teaches English at Yeshiva High School in Sussiya and Dimona, having made aliya from England with his family 41 years ago. Using film clips, photos and drawings, Ophir kept the audience both laughing and learning.

One of his drawings represented the quintessentially Israeli hand signal: all five fingers closed together, pointing upward.

“What does this mean?” Ophir asked. Only a few guessed: “In Israel, it means ‘Be patient.

Take it easy. Give me a minute.’” But make that same gesture in Italy, someone pointed out, and you might find yourself going home in a wheelchair.

Using the now-famous photo of US President Barack Obama talking on the telephone to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu with his feet on the desk, soles to the camera, Ophir discussed the sensitivity of Middle Easterners to being shown the sole of another’s shoe.

“Keep your feet on the floor,” he suggested. “Don’t cross your legs so that the sole of your shoe shows if you’re sitting with an Arab.”

Looking at the group assembled to hear his talk, Ophir says, he could tell from their facial expressions, and where and how they sat in the meeting room, that the new immigrants were appreciating the presentation.

“They were very interested, many were leaning forward a little, which betrays strong interest,” he recalls. “It was a great session – fully interactive. It wasn’t a lecture. There was something going on between us, bouncing back and forth. We were learning from each other.”

“I’ve been to almost every ‘Conversation’ session,” says Hector Marrero, a sociologist who made aliya from Mexico four years ago. “They’ve all been helpful and interesting. The how-to-learn-Hebrew session was maybe the best… I just hope the sessions will continue.”

Not only will the sessions continue, says Green, but future topics are sure to keep people coming.

“Martin Stone, a veteran immigrant from London, will be making a presentation on how to read your bills and invoices. Another session will focus on what adult education is available in Beersheba. Finding employment is always a hot topic for new olim, and we’ll also have a session on nonprofessional jobs that might be an option. For newcomers who don’t have much Hebrew yet, a job such as working in a hotel might offer a chance to earn some income and learn Hebrew at the same time,” she notes.

Learning Hebrew should be viewed as a long-term process, Green adds. To put it into perspective, she tells of a conversation she had with a very new immigrant from Florida, one who’s been struggling with the language.

“At the end of one of the ‘Conversations’ sessions, this mother came up to me and said, ‘I just want you to know that today my son had the best day of his entire life,’” she remembers.

When Green asked what had happened, the mother said, “My son is in sixth grade. He doesn’t have any Hebrew yet, but today, after school, he went out with a group of his new Hebrew-speaking classmates. They ate pizza, they rode their bikes all over the city and played together until after dark, when he came home all by himself. I’ve never seen him so happy.

“You see, back in Florida, he had to stay in the house or the backyard. There was no way we could allow him to be outside playing like that with friends, riding their bikes all over, unsupervised. Kids don’t have that kind of freedom where we lived before,” she explained.

“So here’s how I see it,” the mother continued. “We’ll all struggle to learn Hebrew. But it doesn’t matter how long it takes, because we’re sold on this country. Already my son is flourishing here – what can be more important than that?”