Susie Fishbein, the bestselling author of Kosher By Design series of cookbooks which have sold over 450,000 copies, took some time out of her busy pre-holiday preparations to talk with Arutz Sheva about the meaning of Thanksgiving for the Orthodox Jewish Community in the US.
Fishbein was considered one of the 50 most influential Jews in 2008, and is something of a celebrity around the Jewish world.
“I think Orthodox Jews are feeling a bit low about our American leadership, but there is never enough opportunity to be thankful here for the opportunities and freedoms that we have as Jews and as human beings," she explained.
"The opportunities and freedoms that we have in this country, that so far have been secured, and that we can travel without having to look over our shoulders. And while some issues are definitely creeping in, and while the country is changing, I have two different children on college campuses, we have to be thankful that we live in a country that at least in my lifetime has always been a safe and happy place for Jews."
Fishbein said that all Americans, no matter what their background is, have what to be thankful for this year, but Jews perhaps more so than others. "There is certainly what to be thankful for in a country where Jews can reach the highest level of every success in whatever field they are looking for."
Fishbein added that the family aspect is certainly an important part of the holiday. "Any time that we can have my whole family together is also a reason to celebrate, when I can have all my kids under my roof even though half of them are already out of the house."
With regard to the relationship that US Jews have toward Israel, Fishebin said that that certainly comes into play as well around this holiday season. "Looking at life in general, these days it is really important that Americans are thankful for the safety and security that we enjoy. Especially with the current security situation in Israel.
"The recent death of Ezra Schwartz hit the US community very hard. Here, people know about the situation in Israel, we see it in the news and on facebook everyday. But the death of Ezra Schwartz hit us in a very different way. It became much more real.
"I have no doubt that the death of Ezra will be echoing through people’s thanksgiving tables. These are heavy days, where we can’t really separate all of the feelings, and sometimes we don’t feel that our leadership here is supporting Israel as much as they can. While it is an important holiday, nonetheless people will be having a bit of a heavier holiday," she said.
Fishbein reflected on previous years’ celebrations and compared them to this year’s holiday. "Usually the fall is a very happy time, it is like a yom tov (Jewish holiday) without the yom tov part. Usually we just have the celebration, the food, the football in the backyard. But this year is different. It is heavier," she said.
When asked how Thanksgiving compares to a Jewish Holiday Fishbein answered by saying: "Well it’s not Jewish."
She added a few insights on top of that to elucidate the matter. "As opposed to holidays like Sukkot where the holiday is about the Sukkah, this holiday is just about the food. There is no need to go to shul. However we still have to cook all day," she added jokingly.
"It is a very easy holiday to entertain. It is about having a great dinner on the table and having an easy going day. The day is all about family, and in my house we get everyone involved."
Fishbein incorporates the principle that if you work for something you appreciate it that much more. "I try to involve my guests and family and engage them in helping with the cooking as well. People come early and spend the day and then they enjoy it so much more when we get to the meal.
"As opposed to having guests simply show up with a bottle of wine and me just bringing out the meal. We make it interactive and a whole group project and celebration. There is a long crescendo leading up to the meal that people participate in in an interactive manner, and then we all sit down and enjoy it together," she said.
Fishbein was generous enough to give a tip as to what foods could be expected at her house for the big meal.
"One of the foods that will certainly be served is the chicken wontons that appeared in the first version of kosher by design," she noted matter of factly.
"And because the cooking can happen on the spot, as opposed to a Shabbat or Yom Tov, there is a lot of action in the kitchen and we make a celebration out of the cooking itself.” She added that she gets her children and the guests who arrive early to help make the wontons which are the most requested food item in her house each year on the holiday."