A Kosher Thanksgiving
November 25, 2001
Isabel invited me to Thanksgiving weeks ago, before the fateful Friday night that transformed our friendship into whatever you'd call us now. Normally she and her daughter spend Thanksgiving with her ex-husband and his family, but this year only her daughter was going to Wisconsin with her ex. Isabel had gotten a special invite to a kosher Thanksgiving featuring the divorcing husband-wife rabbi team from her synagogue. She couldn't resist that kind of Thanksgiving, and neither could I when she asked if I wanted to come along.
At the time it was just a friendly invitation, but now...well, everything is different, and so am I. Suddenly I'm consumed with paranoia about social events with her, and this Thanksgiving was our very first. She's out to her synagogue (which is Reform and very liberal) and hasn't dated anyone in almost a year, so would people think we're an item? Could they discern the attraction between us, our magnetized hearts? And omigod, what was I supposed to say if someone asked me if we were together like that -- you know, like that?!?
Isabel just laughed at those concerns and reassured me that nobody would think we're an item. "Everybody will know we're just friends hanging out for the holidays."
"Are you sure?" I asked skeptically.
She smoothed my brow with her soft lips. "Of course I'm sure."
She's such a liar.
Every person I met looked at me with appraisal in their eyes, sizing me up, curious. I might as well have had ISABEL'S NEW GIRLFRIEND stamped on my forehead.
I knew a few people from the peace work at the Somali mosque, but most were strangers to me. Nobody seemed even slightly surprised that a Muslim girl was attending a Jewish Thanksgiving, although I did get several questions about whether I was observing Ramadan (we were eating at 1 PM in the afternoon, long before Muslims are allowed to break their daily fast at dusk). My answer was short and evasive -- "Not this year."
The rabbis took a personal interest in me, filling my ears with explanations about the symbolism and ritual of Jewish observance. Kosher laws are fascinating, but eventually I tuned them out. My eyes tracked Isabel in the midst of all these traditional families -- husband, wife, kids -- and I was suddenly struck by how brave and strong she was, to leave that kind of security for the pursuit of something she hasn't found yet.
If you're unfamiliar with Jewish dietary restrictions, a kosher meal can have meat or dairy products but not both. Since this was Thanksgiving the choice was meat, in the form of a pair of turkeys (it was a huge crowd). That meant everything else -- all the side dishes, desserts, drinks, you name it -- had to be prepared without any dairy products. Not a problem for most side dishes, like string beans and yams, but the mashed potatoes had to be made with soy milk. Soy milk. The kids' palettes were particularly offended by that substitution. The grownups ladled on the gravy extra thick, trying to kill the too-sweet aftertaste. For dessert we all had a piece of one of Isabel's tofu pumpkin pies (she made two). That substitution was much more successful, even delicious. And I'm not just saying that.
Eventually dinner wound down and everyone began dispersing through the spacious house, most of the men -- and a few of the women -- migrating into the living room to watch football on a big screen TV, the kids disappearing into a playroom and the basement, the rest of us pitching in to clean up. I found myself standing around the marble-topped island in the kitchen with the rabbis and about a dozen other women, drying china plates with a dishtowel and making holiday smalltalk.
Isabel strolled in and stood next to me, close enough that her hair tickled my ear, and slipped an arm around my waist. "Hey everybody, I volunteered to take Lawrence back to the nursing home soon," she announced, so that every head in the room turned toward us. "So finish up in here and say your goodbyes to him, okay?"
There were nods and "okay"s and a few knowing smiles, then Isabel slipped away, her warm palm suddenly missing from my hip, and conversations resumed.
My face felt like it was on fire. I quickly looked down at the embroidered dishtowel in my hands, the slate tiles beneath my boots. But I didn't want to sink into the floor in embarrassment. I was secretly pleased with Isabel's simple but significant gesture. I want to belong to someone again, someone who wants me to belong to them.
November 24, 2001 - The Hair
November 23, 2001 - Waiting to Bloom
November 22, 2001 - Last Friday
November 21, 2001 - More Journal-Related Navel Gazing
November 16, 2001 - Growth
November 15, 2001 - Palestine Independence Day
November 14, 2001 - Touring a Strange Land
November 13, 2001 - Emergency Room
November 12, 2001 - Traces
November 11, 2001 - Catching Up
November 7, 2001 - Grateful
November 6, 2001 - Cuban Sandwiches and Sex Toys
November 5, 2001 - 100
November 4, 2001 - Can of Ass
November 2, 2001 - An Afternoon at "Monsters Inc."
November 1, 2001 - Acanit's Guide to Driving
October 31, 2001 - Birthday
October 30, 2001 - Starting Over
The new archive:
October 27, 2001 - Report Card for My 29th Year
October 26, 2001 - S - T - U - P - I - D - B - I - T - C - H
October 25, 2001 - Surprises
October 22, 2001 - Driving Lesson
October 21, 2001 - Two
October 19, 2001 - Porn
October 18, 2001 - Stupid Stupid Stupid Girl
October 17, 2001 - Something Like That, Only Worse
October 16, 2001 - Everything Seems Like Hollywood Today
October 14, 2001 - Profiling
October 13, 2001 - Dead Piglets
October 11, 2001 - Audience Participation
October 10, 2001 - Only Allah
October 8, 2001 - Music
October 7, 2001 - Flooding, Rodents and War
October 3, 2001 - The Adventures of Olga and Acanit (or 10 Things I Learned Last Night)
October 1, 2001 - Starveling
September 28, 2001 - Dogs and Friends
September 27, 2001 - Refugees
September 25, 2001 - Contingency
September 24, 2001 - Reason to Stay
September 21, 2001 - The Empty and Treacherous Road
September 18, 2001 - How Normalcy is Restored
September 17, 2001 - Blasphemy
September 16, 2001 - Out of Phase
September 15, 2001 - Gone to Ground
September 11, 2001 - Declarations of War
The old archive:
September 8, 2001 - The Vibrator That Didn't Clear Customs
September 6, 2001 - The Eyes of Water
September 5, 2001 - Two Poems About Death
September 2, 2001 - The Open Veins of My Life
August 30, 2001 - Dallas
August 29, 2001 - Inconvenient
August 27, 2001 - Becoming American
August 22, 2001 - How It Ends
August 20, 2001 - Quid Pro Quo
August 18, 2001 - The Path That Takes You Back to Her
August 16, 2001 - A Sentence With Everything Wrong
August 15, 2001 - Pieces
August 14, 2001 - Things Fall Apart
August 11, 2001 - Hearts
August 10, 2001 - Rape and After
August 7, 2001 - No More Palestine
July 27, 2001 - The End of Africa
July 20, 2001 - Street Scene, Ramallah
July 11, 2001 - Tea With Milk
June 22, 2001 - Child #5
June 18, 2001 - Hell Takes a Vacation
June 10, 2001 - The Greatest Strength
May 28, 2001 - Clever
May 5, 2001 - They Finally Took It All Away
April 23, 2001 - The Measure of a Journalist
April 21, 2001 - The Price of Truth
April 19, 2001 - Thierry Said
March 6, 2001 - Fever
March 2, 2001 - Smelling Israeli
January 13, 2001 - The Scorpion and the Comb
January 4, 2001 - Reasons for Leaving
January 2, 2001 - The Sex Pistols are Alive and Well and Living in Sohatsenango