A bar in downtown Jerusalem called Mike’s Place has been a refuge for American expats since its opening in 1993. And for years, Mike’s Place has hosted a good, old-fashioned Thanksgiving dinner, with two seatings of over 100 people each. “Somehow Thanksgiving brings out the most sentimentality in U.S. expats here,” observed Reuben Beiser, the current owner (and, full disclosure, an old friend of mine from Providence, RI).
For the past few years, the bar has offered free Thanksgiving meals to American lone soldiers serving in the IDF. “We want them to enjoy a taste of home,” Beiser told me on Facebook Messenger.
But demand has grown exponentially. “Every year we wish we could do more,” Beiser said. “So this year we thought about reaching out to the American Jewish community for help. As cynical as I am—and believe me I deal with a lot of shit as a bar owner—I still get a kick when people are generous toward others.”
So in the spirit of the holiday, the bar is asking Americans to sponsor Thanksgiving dinner for a lone soldier. There’ll be fancy tablecloths and pretty decorations, and all the fixins: pumpkin soup or corn chowder, turkey, cornbread, stuffing, cranberry sauce, yams, peas and carrots. Dessert will be apple pie (of course). There will also be NFL games on TV, just like at home, and later in the evening, a Grateful Dead cover band, which is apparently not a deterrent for people who are not me. The bar—which has partnered in the past with Jerusalem City Hall and the Jerusalem Lone Soldiers Center to host lone soldiers on days when other soldiers are being visited by their parents—is looking forward to hosting more lone soldiers for dinner than ever before.
As for why Beiser is doing this… Well, like any good bar owner, the guy is a storyteller. He ruminated to me, “Many of the American lone soldiers I meet here are idealistic about serving. They come to Israel and the IDF full of enthusiasm and commitment, only to get hit hard with reality. Some have great terms of service, but others get injured or psychologically ‘scratched’—local slang—and get soured on Israel, life, and everything in between. I’m not a jingoistic, flag-waving, Facebook-posting Zionist, but I came to Israel when I was pretty young, and my oldest will be drafted in December, and I identify with the commitment and sacrifice these young adults are making. They’ve left home and they’re struggling for the sake of a higher ideal. Thanksgiving represents that moment of contemplation and joy that comes when you take a momentary break from the struggle and express thanks for being part of history. I want these kids to enjoy a meal and a night out, but more than that, an affirmation that what they’ve done by coming here and serving is meaningful to a massive community of strangers who have them in their hearts.”
If you want to sponsor a soldier’s dinner, donate 138 NIS (around $36 US) here.