To Chase Down a Turkey in Galilee

27 Nov

Israelis are in love with all-things American.  Most things.  They speak of Black Friday as if it’s an Israeli event.  Television, radio and print are full with Black Friday sales.  But ask Israelis about Thanksgiving Holiday and most will tell you that it involves a turkey.  Here in Israel, the turkey is called an “Indian chicken” – referring to the first immigrants to the New Land and mistaking the American continent for India.

So, to better educate our Israeli friends in our village, we’re about to host the third annual Thanksgiving Dinner at our house.  Twenty people are invited.  But before we can carve the bird, and serve the pumpkin, corn bread, and apple cobbler, we must first find a turkey.

Israelis are mad about chicken.  Go into any home and you can hear the oil splatter in the pan. Everyone’s frying chicken breast, the breaded Schnitzel.  And here’s the paradox: Israel is a major producer and exporter of turkey; Israelis consume twice as much turkey as Americans, three times as Europeans, and yet, there isn’t one turkey on display at the supermarket.

Where did the turkeys fly to?turkey bird

They end up being cut-up into small pieces, grilled as Shawarma meat in countless restaurants and roadside eateries throughout Israel.

But what if you want a whole turkey for Thanksgiving?

That requires work and patience.  And planning ahead.  My wife Pnina has been calling around butchers for the last two weeks.  The phone call goes something like this:

Ring.  Ring.  Ring.


“Hello, my name’s Pnina and I’d like to order a turkey (Indian Chicken).”


“A turkey.”

“We don’t have any.  You have to order one.”

“That’s why I called.  I want to order one.”





“The turkeys are sick.”


“There’s a disease with turkeys.  We will not get one until next week.”

“But I want a healthy one.”

“Call next week, shalom.”shawarma

And so began a round of phone calls to supermarkets and butchers.  They promised a bird, and 20 drumsticks (Israelis like dark meat) by this week.

Finally, I got the call.  I was happier than getting a call from a Hollywood agent.  We got in the car and raced to the market.  The butcher in the meat department knew nothing of the order.

Pnina said, ” I spoke to Yakov.  He kept one for me.”

“Turkey?  I don’t know how to ring it up.  Do you know the code?”

Pnina says, “No, but Yakov said it’s 30 shekels per kilo.”

“Come with me,” the butcher says.turkey 1

And together they go into a giant walk-in refrigerator in the back of the store.  Cardboard boxes with meats are piled high.  At last, Pnina identifies her name marked on a box.  in it, sits a turkey.

Pnina wheels the turkey in the shopping cart to the cash register, careful not stab people with the bird’s long neck that’s hanging out.  Being a kosher bird, it’s not fully plucked; there’s a plume of feathers that Pnina will have to pull out with tweezers.

The bird’s in our house, safe and sound, and will soon turn brown.  Guests will be arriving; they’ll dive into mixed drinks, nibble on corn bread, tear into drumsticks.  We’ll tell them about pilgrims and Indians.

Next year we’re serving shawarma and diet Coke.


Maurice Labi is an Israeli-American who lived in Los Angeles for many years. In 2011 He returned to Northern Israel (Galilee) with his wife and twin teenage daughters. He is of two lands, of two cultures and he blogs about his experiences in Israel, particularly from Galilee where Jews and Arabs dwelled for centuries.

He has also written three novels: “Jupiter’s Stone,” “Into the Night,” and “American Moth” — available at

or at



3 Responses to “To Chase Down a Turkey in Galilee”

  1. Sandy Galfas November 27, 2014 at 5:42 pm #

    Gobble,gobble. Sandy G

  2. Adi hara November 27, 2014 at 5:54 pm #

    Very enjoyable Maurice. Happy thanksgiving!

  3. Meg December 8, 2014 at 7:11 pm #

    My laptop is “unhappy” & I just got this post. Good for Pina’s persistence; bet it was yummy. cheers

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