Thanksgiving delicacies from years past.

Thanksgiving 2020: New Traditions for a New World

While we're mourning the loss of time spent with friends and family in person, we're making new (southern and Jewish) Thanksgiving memories.

Last November, in the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving, the Goldring/Woldenberg Institute of Southern Jewish Life (ISJL) office was abuzz with activity. Staff members prepared to fly or drive to family across the country, or prepared to welcome family members to their homes in Mississippi. We traded recipes, argued about which pies should be featured on our Thanksgiving tables, and reveled in anticipation of a beloved holiday.

This year, as we gathered on a Zoom call for our weekly staff meeting, some parts of that shared excitement remained: we had a classic stuffing vs. dressing debate, yearned for ISJL CEO Michele Schipper’s famous banana pudding, and talked about the family traditions that we hold dear. In the midst of a pandemic, it’s comforting to have Thanksgiving as a touchstone, as a moment to reflect and eat and relax and be joyful, even as we gird ourselves to face the ongoing struggles this year has brought us.

It’s not safe to have large in-person family gatherings, which is painful. But forgoing a traditional Thanksgiving is a small price to pay to keep ourselves and our family and friends safe and healthy. We’ve already celebrated High Holidays and Passover on Zoom calls—what’s one more major holiday in front of a screen?

But all is not lost. Our staff members are looking forward to Thanksgiving celebrations that are at once comforting and unfamiliar in the new world of social distancing.

This time last year, I was getting ready to fly home to Pennsylvania to enjoy my favorite holiday. Normally, my grandparents, aunts, and uncles would gather at my parents’ house to eat my mom’s incredible sweet potatoes, green beans, Brussels sprouts, and cranberries; stuff ourselves with my dad’s amazing pies; and compete in Thanksgiving Jeopardy. This year, I am looking forward to my first Thanksgiving in the South. I’m buying ingredients to make my dad’s apple pie, helping my roommates smoke a chicken, and practicing saying the word “dressing” until it rolls off my tongue.

Even in the midst of so much sadness, we can still celebrate—safely. Here’s what my colleagues are planning for Thanksgiving 2020.

Margo Wagner, Education Fellow

I am very much looking forward to Thanksgiving this year! Although many families will be separated due to COVID, I am extremely fortunate to have only a thirteen-hour drive to my Thanksgiving table this year. That’s right—I will be driving thirteen hours to see my family for Thanksgiving. My mom is a fantastic cook, so I certainly do not want to miss out on her mouthwatering challah stuffing, her famous sweet potato pie, and, of course, sticking my grubby hands into the turkey pan to soak up all of the juices before they become gravy. More than ever this year, I am grateful for my car, my driving partner-in-crime, and the opportunity to keep my family’s Thanksgiving traditions alive.

Bethany Berger, Assistant Director of Education

My family loves cooking together, so this year we are all going to hop on Zoom from our respective kitchens across the country. I started cooking with my family over FaceTime this past spring. We’ve made biscuits and butternut squash soup together. On Thanksgiving, we are all going to make Uncle Barry’s famous Brussels sprouts. These are the best Brussels sprouts in the world, and I am very excited to finally learn how to make them.

Gabby Tropp, Education Fellow

Part of what makes my family’s Thanksgiving special is that each of the households in attendance contributes some of the food. My grandma makes the turkey, my mom makes her cranberry bread, I make the mashed potatoes, and my sister makes the other sides. This year, we can’t all eat together, but we’re doing a food swap so that we can still contribute to each other’s meals. We’ll eat on Zoom together. In my family, food is how we show love, so we’re still sharing that.

Rianna Weil, Community Engagement Fellow

For the past three years, my friends and I have gotten together for a Friendsgiving the week before Thanksgiving. This ends up being the largest gathering of the year when everyone truly comes together. To ensure everyone’s health and safety, we are hosting the event outdoors this year so that there is a comfortable amount of space for everyone to enjoy Friendsgiving while remaining six feet apart.

Isaac Gamoran, Education Fellow

In a normal year, my family would fly to Chicago to see our old neighbors and friends, visit extended family we only see once a year, and take part in all of our jam-packed Thanksgiving traditions (including family football, Shabbat dinner, and two separate Thanksgiving meals). This year, we will not be traveling to Chicago, and will have our own intimate Thanksgiving at home in Bethesda, Maryland. Each of us is hoping to take a different role—I am on stuffing duty! Though it will be strange to spend this holiday rooted in family traditions without our expected festivities, I am very thankful to be home with my family, proud of us for practicing resilience, and excited to make my first stuffing!

Michele Schipper, CEO

Instead of our usual fifteen- to twenty-person Thanksgiving gathering, we will be our immediate family of five.  I don’t know what time we’re eating; we don’t need a set time. I imagine when all the food is cooked, that’s when we’ll eat.

For our typical Thanksgiving meal, which already has an incredible number of dishes including two cranberry sauces (the jellied kind in the can and homemade), I’ve been asked to add macaroni and cheese as well. You read that correctly—add, not replace. Sure, why not? It’s 2020.

Although the holiday will have a different feel this year, we give thanks for each other and for the food we have on our table. We also give thanks for the knowledge that we are doing the right thing this year, so that next year, our table will be as full of family and friends as it is laden with food.

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