Thanksgiving in Israel? It’s a hummus-cranberry-immigrant mashup

BY: Beth Steinberg, Shutaf Co-Founder

It’s Thanksgiving Dinner. The table is beautifully set and decorated. The meal has all the important elements, turkey, along with wonderful side dishes like sweet potatoes, cranberries, cornbread and….hummus. We’re in Israel after all, where allowances have to be made along with the opportunity to introduce this wonderful celebration to friends and family who may not have experienced it growing up in Israel.


Thanksgiving is the celebration that my American-born parents took seriously, along with Jewish holidays and Shabbat observance. It allowed them – children of Russian Jewish immigrants after WWI – to give thanks for all that their families had received in the United States. As a child growing up in New York, it was my favorite holiday. As it wasn’t Shabbat, we were free to cook in a  relaxed fashion, watch the famous parade down NYC’s 5th Avenue, drive and sit in traffic – along with the everyone else – as we traveled to our cousin’s house for a relaxed late-day, celebratory meal.


For me, 11 years into my Israel experience, Thanksgiving connects me to the reasons why I moved to Israel: To be part of the Jewish homeland, in a complicated place where I can live freely as a Jew and be part of building, as co-founder of Shutaf Inclusion Programs in Jerusalem, a more caring community of diversity, inclusion, and equality for all citizens, with and without disabilities and from all cultural backgrounds. Thanksgiving is about being grateful for the bounty of foods available in the local markets, the unique smells and tastes of the Levant, and being able to argue about where the best hummus can be had – countrywide. Thanksgiving is about giving thanks for my life as a new immigrant, complete with adult children living in Tel Aviv and Sderot, and my sister up the block from me in Jerusalem.


Thanksgiving is that holiday worth adding to the already heavy schedule of holidays here in Israel. Why? Because of its secular nature, it can offer biking and roller skating, followed by a meal that all can share and enjoy, while bringing new traditions and new foods to the table. This year? All will partake at our celebrations – religious and secular, vegan and carnivore – and all will enjoy. A day that all can celebrate the wonders and challenges of the dream of a להיות עם חפשי בארצנו.


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The Problem of Summer Holidays and Working Parents

by: Alisa Fox Coleman, Director of Organizational Advocacy

It’s nearly the end of June. It’s the time that panicked parents ask themselves, “what am I going to do with my kid for the next two months?”

My youngest son is 10, he is the first of my four kids to go through the long and hot, two-month summer holidays while both of his parents are working full-time. We feel sorry for ourselves as parents, having to juggle child-care, and find answers to the problem of the summer. Most of us parents get 14-18 days of holiday each year. Summer holiday is 45 days – these are just  logistics but does anyone think about the summer from our kids point of view?

Going to school is tough, and I am not just talking about the academics. Peer pressure and teacher expectations are an ongoing challenge during the course of the year.

Holidays should not be about any of that.

Holidays are for fun and relaxation – all those adjectives we would use for taking a break from the conscious and subconscious struggles of the school environment. At least, that’s what I think holidays should be.

Holidays are also  a time for informal education. They’re for a different kind of educational experience – of equal importance to every child as the school year is. As a child and teen I remember waiting until my next camp experience. I made so many good friends at camp. I learnt about myself, and how to live and work in a group setting, first as a camper and then as a counsellor. If I could go back to camp tomorrow , I would.

Camp Shutaf Is an oasis of calm amongst the storm of yearly peer interactions . Quality counsellors, and a relaxed family-style environment with fun, low-tech camp activities.

Every child is treated as an individual with their own preferences, abilities, and moods.

When a child walks in to camp in the morning, whatever mood they may be in they will be greeted by counsellors who care,  staff who want them to be happy and have fun.

Sounds obvious, but as we all know as parents, camp is often like a factory – rushing kids on and off buses, and from activity to activity. Often, kids don’t feel good about themselves if there is an activity in which they are forced to take part. Or, it is run by counsellors who are young, and without the proper tools to deal holistically with the kids in their care.

On my vacation, I personally do not want to be forced to do anything that I don’t want to do!

So what is different about Camp Shutaf? Shutaf Inclusion Programs in Jerusalem offers inclusion day camps three times  a year during longer school holidays, for children with and without disabilities. Camp Shutaf’s biggest program is August camp. This summer, 135 participants, ages 6-23, will enjoy 3 fabulous weeks of day camp in Jerusalem.

Shutaf’s innovative, reverse-inclusion model combines a majority group of participants with varied developmental challenges (75%) with a smaller group of participants (25%) without disabilities.

How does this work you may ask?

Firstly, there is a long waiting list for the campers without disabilities.Shutaf’s inclusion ethos, professional program planning and staff training ensures an excellent program in an uniquely, accepting environment .The camp provides quality, personal attention , an inclusive and accepting atmosphere all of which you can only describe when you have seen it in action.

The counsellors listen to the needs of all the kids in their charge. Every kid has good days and bad days or days when they arrive at camp not in the mood.The difference is that their counsellors will listen and be patient and do their best to accommodate and be there for them.

When you do not label kids special things happen. All the kids are looked at as individuals with their own feelings and needs.

The counsellors are not told before who has the disability, they work on dealing with each kid in their charge individually.

Many professionals in the field of disability  have gone to visit Shutaf over the years, and they all admit that it is difficult to tell which are the kids with disabilities and which are without .

When you focus on kids having fun with an emphasis on peer- communication , everyone wins.

Honestly, I wish I could spend my vacation, doing fun activities in a chilled fun environment where people care about me.

Wouldn’t you?

I’m sure all of our kids would.