In our family, we have had a tradition of eating turkey on the holidays. In addition to Thanksgiving, Rosh HaShana and Passover wouldn’t feel right without the traditional turkey. Purchasing kosher food in Israel is not difficult. In fact, all but one of the large supermarket chains are fully kosher, under rabbinical supervision all year round. However, in Israel, virtually no one who is not a former American cooks a whole turkey. In fact, the small European ovens that most of us have make it quite a challenge. However, in certain areas in Jerusalem and other places where there is a concentration of American immigrants and finally in Modi’in, the meat department of the supermarket has gotten used to odd requests around holiday and non-holiday (Thanksgiving) time. So, each year, I order my turkey a few days in advance of each holiday and each year, we have our turkey. Our local butcher is used to ordering for me and it is a fairly simple process.
But a year and some ago our daughter married a man who prefers to eat “mehadrin” turkey. For anyone who doesn’t know what that means, suffice it to say that it requires a special type of religious supervision and it is not sold in all supermarkets. Since they will be with us for seder, we need a mehadrin turkey.
Last year I bought it in a place not far from here. It was a large store with no customers. Now it is a large empty building.
For Thanksgiving, I ordered a turkey in Har Nof (a neighborhood of Jerusalem where I teach) and when I went to pick it up on the appointed day, it hadn’t come in. After many calls on the part of the friendly butcher, starting at 3 in the afternoon and ending at 11 at night, a suitable turkey was found in a supermarket in a suburb of Jerusalem. That did not seem to be a good option for this Passover.
So I trekked over to Kiryat Sefer which is the chareidi (ultra-Orthodox) town not far from here. It’s a particularly good place to shop before Passover as they cater to people who like us are “Ashkenazim” (of Eastern European descent) and don’t eat beans and corn and rice on Passover unlike the “Sefardim” who are of Middle Eastern/ North African/ Spanish/ Dutch origin. Many of the Passover foods sold in Israel are made with those as ingredients and are not consumed by people who follow the “Ashkenazi” customs.
The supermarket was filled with food, but there was nary a whole turkey in sight. I went to the front desk. The woman there called the person in charge. He didn’t answer. She tried his cell phone. He didn’t answer. She announced his name. He didn’t respond. She told me to come back to the desk after I finished shopping and perhaps she would find him by then. I checked back a few times and finally, he was there. He was a very nice person and he was very helpful. He made a number of telephone calls and determined that the best thing for me to do was to show up the next day at 1 p.m. when the turkey supplier was scheduled to visit.
I thought that was a bit odd since it was clear he wouldn’t have the turkey on him at the time and I didn’t quite understand why I had to show up in person when I could more easily call him on the telephone, but I agreed since I didn’t want to embark on another wild turkey chase.
Later in the day my daughter-in-law called to find out where I was getting my turkey since she needed one for the 24 people she is having to seder (her whole side of the family!). I told her my story and suggested that she call the store and perhaps she could get more cooperation than I could since she was born in Israel and doesn’t have that tell-tale American “R” (that should be my only problem!)
She called me back and told me that she was told to call “Yoram” (not his real name, although he turned out to be such a nice guy that I probably should use his real name) between 9 and 10 in the morning. I told her that since I would be the one to go and pick up the turkeys, it made more sense for me to call and she was happy to allow me to do that.
So at 9 I began calling the supermarket. The phone rang for a very long time and finally changed to a busy signal. I redialed. The same thing happened. Again and again. Until 9:40. Finally someone picked up the phone and I asked for “Yoram.” The woman said she would find him. She hung up the phone. I began calling again. Finally 10 minutes later, someone answered. He told me Yoram was busy– I should call back in 20 minutes. Twenty minutes later I began calling again. After another 10 minutes of ringing, a woman answered the phone. She said Yoram wasn’t anywhere around. I asked her if perhaps he was somewhere else in the store. She told me that she couldn’t see him. I should call back. I told her my story and she said, “How is that my problem? Am I supposed to go wandering through the store calling for him?” I suggested she make an announcement asking him to call. She did. He called. Finally he came onto the phone and told me that no, there is no possibility for me to get a turkey at that store, but that he was a supplier to a number of stores and there is another one in Kiryat Sefer that he will call while I hold. He got back on the phone and told me the name of the store that would have the two turkeys.
I quickly got ready and left the house worried that someone would snatch up the turkeys. Well, actually, that was not the problem. The problem is that no one buys whole turkeys and what butchers do when times are slow is to cut up the whole turkeys in anticipation of the customers to come, and I wanted to save my turkeys from that fate.
So I arrived at the supermarket, put my 5 sheqel coin in the cart and immediately realized that one of the 4 wheels was about to fall off as the cart lunged forward and to the right. The security man fished my coin out of the cart and I went and got another one. With hope in my eyes, I went to the meat counter.
Behind the counter were three jovial men. I asked for my whole turkeys. Their eyes glazed. It was as if I had asked for a side of unicorn. They looked at each other with the look usually reserved for “does anyone here speak Navajo?” Finally, I could see them beginning to focus as I said, “One of you just spoke to Yoram and told him that you have whole turkeys.” One said to the others, “Hmm, yes, I think we might have one.” The others just stood there. Finally he located the one whole turkey. I said I was told there would be two. He said they were expecting a shipment any minute. I asked if they thought it would arrive within the next hour. He said that it was supposed to have arrived at 8 a.m. (by now it was about 11.) They weighed the one turkey, put it in their fridge and I went wandering through the nearby stores for about 40 minutes. When I got back, they told me there was good news. The truck had left supermarket 1 and was on its way. It should be here any minute. The three men were actually rather jovial and friendly. I got updates every 5 minutes or so. “Should be soon.” “He’s about to turn into the parking lot.” “He’s at the back door.” “He’s unloading.” I felt like I was giving birth. How many centimeters am I dilated?
Finally finally turkey 2 arrived. I won’t describe the awkwardness that accompanied the older butcher as he attempted to put the 18 pound turkey into a plastic bag “this thing is HEAVY!!!” But after an mere half hour wait in the checkout line, I was free! I returned from the turkey hunt successful.