October 24, 2014

The ultimate melting pot: Ethiopian Thanksgivikah

posted by on December 20th, 2013

by Alison Aucoin

As I made my shopping list for our Thanksgiving dinner, NPR inundated me with side dish suggestions for the hybrid holiday, Thanksgivikah. And just to keep the momentum of cultural stereotypes going, they added the traditional Jewish guilt: Thanksgiving won’t happen during Hannukah again for 80,000 years. Gah, 80,000 years is a lot of pressure, people!

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So as I looked at my menu and grocery list, I alternated between assuming the guilt -80,000 years!- and rebelling against martyrdom – latkes (Hannukah’s traditional fried potato pancakes) are so messy and time consuming! I’m a self-employed single mother, how much more am I supposed to take on?!

Sure, I could have whipped up one of the latke-inspired casseroles I heard about on NPR or sent someone to pick up jelly donuts from Krispy Kreme, the North Carolina source for sufganiyah (a traditional Hannukah pastry), but just didn’t feel right. It was either ignore the hybrid holiday or go all in and make turkey AND latkes.

I couldn’t make up my mind so I posted my quandry on Facebook, where I was promptly told to “Jew up, lady!” This struck me as one of the most awesome imperative sentences I had ever heard. How could I ignore it? Jew up, I would!

I realized that with turkey and all the traditional Thanksgiving side dishes, I didn’t need to make a whole meal of latkes, I could peel four or five pototoes and whip them up quickly while folks settled in and had appetizers.

With that decision made, I reviewed the menu and refigured my grocery list. Something was missing. I thought about the people coming to dinner. My daughter and I would be the only Jews in attendance but all of the children are adopted from Ethiopia. There is nothing in this world that I am more grateful for than being my daughter’s mother. I just had to figure out how to incorporate something related to Ethiopia into our meal of thanks.

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Eureka! Latkes topped with meiser wat (Ethiopian lentil stew). The Jews and goyim (non-Jews) and Habesha (Ethiopians) and ferengi (non-Ethiopians) all called it a huge success. And with that, a new Hannukah tradition is born: meiser lat!

But I have to admit, the next 79,999 Thanksgivings at my house will not include latkes. The hybrid holiday has turned my kitchen into a once-in-a-lifetime mess!

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Alison Aucoin is the Cajun Jewish mother of an Ethiopian daughter. In other words, food is a very big deal in her house! When she’s not cooking, she runs her own consulting firm, Two Birds One Stone, that provides low-cost fundraising and grant writing services to non-profit organizations around the country. She has her own blog at Ende beteh yemhone yelem and might get back to writing for The Nervous Breakdown any day now…

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