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What I'm thankful for ... even though I don't celebrate Thanksgiving

Jerusalem, Israel tourism
Souq, Jerusalem, Israel |

Every year, I appreciate watching my American friends take part in their Thanksgiving tradition. Thanksgiving is not a holiday here in Israel, but we can all agree it is a wonderful habit to set aside a day for people to exercise gratitude.

This year, I am especially thankful for the numerous Americans who model good friendship in a variety of ways. 

For starters, I am especially grateful for our American friends who have helped hundreds of small, family-owned businesses in Israel survive a horrible global pandemic. In Israel, tourism essentially vanished during the pandemic, and because much of our national economy is driven largely by tourism, thousands of Israeli citizens were at risk of losing their income and the businesses that took generations to establish. Especially hard hit were the mom-and-pop shops that line the streets of Jerusalem whose entire income is derived from being vendors to tourists.

At the same time that Israel was essentially shut down, and America itself was struggling with economic uncertainty and businesses closing, our American friends kept many small businesses in Israel alive by continuing to purchase products from us — even though they were oceans away. 

I know firsthand from observing my company’s subscribers over the past two years, that it was faithful customers from America — and their commitment to buying products from local businesses in Israel —  that helped ensure many families could pay rent and keep food on the table. It is not a stretch to say that because Americans were loyal to the vendors I work with here in the Holy Land, numerous shopkeepers were able to survive during that precarious time.

I am also grateful for Americans who continue to be steadfast allies of Israel. When terror activity spikes and threatens innocent civilians in Israel, Americans are often the first to come to our defense. The terror attacks we suffered this past summer are a prime example. Many of America’s leaders, along with many of my friends back in the states, are quick to offer their condolences, condemn terrorism in all of its forms, and remind the world of our right to exist as a sovereign nation.

Americans are keenly aware right now of both the subtle and the overt forms of antisemitism that are also on the rise. Whether it’s a figure in pop culture, a social media page filled with bigotry, or an assault on a passerby on a city street, hatred for the Jewish people sadly still exists in American communities from coast to coast. These same situations appear all throughout Europe as well. While antisemitism has somehow become socially acceptable in some circles, I’m grateful for the many Americans — particularly my Christian brothers and sisters — who are eager to condemn such hatred in all its forms. 

Overall, Americans as a whole work hard to prevent such bigotry from spreading. And my Christian friends are quick to, publicly, voice their love and support of Jewish people in general, and Israel specifically. In many nations of the world, Christians themselves are severely persecuted, and yet they stand with Jews and with Israel.

I’m thankful that so many Americans have my back. It hasn’t gone unnoticed, and I certainly won’t wait for this yearly tradition to continue expressing my gratitude. We need allies 365 days a year, and we certainly have them. For that, to all of my American friends, I offer a heartfelt, “Thank you.”

Itai Schimmel immigrated to Israel ten years ago and is one of the founders of Artza, a new direct to consumer company delivering a taste of the Holy Land to Christians across America. 

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