For Kate Friedman, a Thanksgiving meal with turkey and all the fixings involves 12 people around the table and an afternoon of noshing and watching football.
Due to the pandemic, she will be sitting down to a meal with her household of four (six, if you count dachshunds Selden and Chloe) in Swampscott.
The silver lining to fewer guests means less work, but it also means the inability to schmooze and catch up.
“Less food and just more relaxed flow and one thing I noticed at Passover and Rosh Hashanah, is less dishes,” said Friedman in the run-up to the holiday.
Thanksgiving is being celebrated this year in the face of a thankless coronavirus pandemic that has only gained steam this fall and made large gatherings of friends and family risky. Health officials are urging folks not to travel and to keep gatherings to immediate family members.
“It’s also not the first holiday where we are not seeing them,” Friedman said, referring to limited gatherings for Passover and Rosh Hashanah.
Dallas native Alexandra “Alex” Marques of Rockport, who teaches at Temple Ahavat Achim Hebrew School in Gloucester and second grade at the Glover School in Marblehead, said this year it will be just her husband, Brian, her children, Zevi, 7, and Hazel, 5, plus her brother-in-law and sister-in-law and their 9-month-old baby.
Missing from the Thanksgiving table will be her husband’s parents, who live nearby in Gloucester.
“It is going to be really small,” Marques said of the meal, but she said they need to do what’s safe “and we have to be smart.”
It’s been 18 months since she’s seen her family in Texas, where both her parents have COVID-19, she said. Her dad is 72 and her mother is 64.
“They will be OK,” Marques said, adding that both her parents are at home.
“It’s unfortunate, and bad but I think we need to do what is safe for everyone,” she said of not gathering for Thanksgiving. “The mitzvah we can do is stay away from our loved ones because we love them.”
Temple Ner Tamid of Peabody’s spiritual leader, Rabbi Richard Perlman, said in an email he and his wife “will be celebrating ALONE with the kids also staying home themselves this year.
“We are working as hard as we can to keep people safe,” Perlman said, “and are making the sacrifice this year so that next year we will have an opportunity to make this up and all be together for all of the special days and more.”
They will still get together as a family, only this time on Zoom. Normally, his children visit their in-laws for Thanksgiving, and then they all get together on Shabbat for what Perlman called “Koshergiving.”
“The news coming out [about vaccines] is promising and we must remain patient and vigilant in order to ensure a future that will bring us all together next year in ways we will all be so grateful for,” Perlman said. “We are truly looking forward to the ‘normal’ days to return. The days we used to complain about that we cannot wait to return. We will never take ‘normal’ for granted again.”
In Beverly, Temple B’nai Abraham’s spiritual leader, Rabbi Alison Adler, said she usually goes to a cousin’s house in Arlington for Thanksgiving.
This year, she and her husband, Chuck, and son, Leo, plan to make the trek, only not for the big sit-down meal.
“Instead, we are going to meet them for pie on the porch,” Adler said. The rabbi said they plan to cook their favorite dishes at home, and then Zoom with their parents and relatives to talk about what they are thankful for.
“I think it’s hard,” Adler said, “Holidays can be hard for people who have experienced loss in some way and there has been a lot of that, and so people are trying to manage that. Trying to cultivate gratitude in difficult times can help us.”
Sara Ewing of Swampscott, the adult program director at the Jewish Community Center of the North Shore in Marblehead, said she normally hosts her parents, in-laws, brother and his family, with 11 of them around the table.
“We’ve been doing that for the past 10 years-plus and this year it’s just going to be the four of us,” Ewing said. “As my mom said, this is the year to hunker down, I feel it’s our responsibility to stay away from everybody and try to stop the spread.”
She’ll celebrate with her husband Jason Mahler, and their kids, Nathaniel, 13, and Kay, 10. They plan to cook the same meal – her daughter likes to bake pumpkin pie – and share some of the turkey with a friend and her daughter “because it’s just the two of them.” While the pressure of hosting a large dinner will be off, it will be bittersweet without everyone there.
Ewing said they plan to carry on the tradition of playing and singing along to Arlo Guthrie’s “Alice’s Restaurant,” only this time it will be on Zoom. They plan to sign up for some sort of community service “just to give back as a family.”
Ewing knows all too well about how the pandemic has stopped gatherings, as her son’s bar mitzvah fell on March 21 and the family had to cancel plans for the service and a huge party. Congregation Shirat Hayam Rabbi Michael Ragozin led the service in their house, with his daughter, Liora, acting as the tech person to stream the event over Zoom.
“It was an amazing experience,” Ewing said, and it put things into perspective, about being together as a family and her son’s hard work.
Another thing that will differentiate this Thanksgiving from last is Friedman’s meal prep will no longer be centered around the Swampscott-Marblehead Thanksgiving football game. Her sons Ethan, 20, a junior at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, and Pierce, 16, a Swampscott High junior, were both on the team for past games.
Normally gathered around the table are her two sons; her fiancé, William Selden; her sister, Allison Friedman and her husband, Andy Friedman, and their children Casey, a senior at Weston High and Alex, a junior at Tufts University; her cousin, Danielle Schlesier, a real estate agent in Brookline; Schlesier’s parents (Friedman’s aunt and uncle), who now live in South Carolina; and Kate’s and Allison’s mother, Debbie Spivak, who lives in Rhode Island.
Her cousin already has quarantined and traveled to South Carolina for Thanksgiving, but her mother has decided to stay in her “cocoon.”
William Selden’s four daughters have come in the past, but this year Friedman said “that wasn’t even on the table.”
“This year, it’s just the four of us,” Friedman said.
Friedman is looking forward to next year, when people are vaccinated and can gather around the table for Thanksgiving.
“Next year, in Israel,” Friedman said, “next year with lots of people.”