The Yiddish Tale Behind the Thanksgiving Turkey


Why do we eat turkey on Thanksgiving? There are lots of explanations, but socialist Jews have the best one. It appears in a 50-year-old Yiddish story, “Farvos est men indik tenksgiving” originally published by the Workmen’s Circle, in the now-classic language book for kids, Yiddishe Kinder. The story has a heavy allegorical hand and a hard lesson for nativists.

The setting might sound familiar: five birds – a rooster, a chicken, a duck, a goose, and a turkey — live together in a barnyard. They plow the ground; it’s hard work. They tell each other stories, help each other find food, and for the most part live together peacefully.

But there’s one jerk: the turkey. He blusters and struts, and to whomever will listen he screams, “You all are from across the sea! I’m the only American here!” Whatever you say, man. The tables turn when it comes time to pick the bird for the big “American yom-tov” — Thanksgiving.  Who better to cook up than the real American?

It’s above our pay grade to unpack the allegory, there. We’ll just end by quoting the prophet Lin-Manuel: “Immigrants: We Get the Job Done:”

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