By Rabbi Emily Ilana Losben-Ostrov
A few years ago a friend was visiting me for the High Holy Days and so we decided to do one of the things for which Long Island is famous- we planned to go to a winery. I searched for the closest winery in my GPS and I started driving. When we arrived at our destination we had reached an industrial park- clearly not an idyllic, picturesque setting. We were surprised, but figured maybe this is just a storefront and the vineyard is a few miles away. However, as we got out of the car and entered the store we realized we were not at a winery per se, but rather a “meadery.” Right away, I remembered having had mead-wine made entirely from honey (no grapes), a few years earlier while celebrating a friend’s wedding.
We were a bit apprehensive at first, but we tasted and thoroughly enjoyed this wine. At this local meadery, there was “pure” mead as well as mead mixed with other fruit juices. On their list of meads, they even had one made with apples- so it was a wine made completely of Honey and Apples. They didn’t have any to taste, but I thought, “wow, this would be great for Rosh Hashanah.”
An idea was born. I shared this with my husband and told him, how I’d like to sell this apple mead, known as cyser and call it “Rosh Hashanah in a Bottle.” I thought it would be a great way to celebrate the New Year with something new- that was also something very old, as mead is the most ancient type of alcohol.
Additionally, I thought it could be a fun way to add some sweetness to the holiday. Maybe, this “hip,” alcoholic beverage could be an entry point to Judaism for some people for whom “going to services” wasn’t their thing. Maybe they could drink a little of this wine or bring a bottle to a friends’ home and at least have a moment of connection to their faith, their heritage, their history. I am not trying to imply it is a “magic potion,” but I know that there has to be ways to connect people to Judaism outside of simply saying you have to go to services, or have to keep Kosher, or you have to light the candles or you have to….fill in the blanks.
Don’t get me wrong- I think all of those things are important and CAN help people BE Jewish and connect to their Judaism. However, some people need other entry points- not being told what to do or being pushed into faith based on guilt or other non-motivators. Basically, I thought wouldn’t it be great if a simple bottle of wine could actually help Jews (and others) find the real meaning of Rosh Hashanah… and that our hope for the new year and always is to have sweetness in our lives?
Well, the next year I got too busy when the High Holy Days came around to pursue my idea. And then the next time I looked into it, that meadery- the one in the industrial park had closed. (I never found out why, but I think it may have had to do with the fact that it was originally just the owner’s hobby). So I basically let my idea go…until my husband encouraged me again. Through a business connection he met someone who inspired us again to follow our idea. I won’t bore you with the details of having to find the perfect winery/meadery to make our “Rosh Hashanah in a Bottle” but after a lot of searching, some due diligence, a bunch of wonderful phone calls and a drive upstate, we found the perfect winery/meadery with whom to partner for our High Holy Day wine. And now the idea has been born…
Earlier this month, we began spreading the word about our special, exciting and delicious drink for the New Year and always. In addition to sharing some joy and sweetness, my hope is that this wine will also enable some congregations or groups to use our product as a fundraiser and further the principle of Tikkun Olam.
As a rabbi, I want to be clear that I’m not trying to “push” an alcoholic beverage (and maybe in the future I can also have a non-alcoholic version). However, since we use wine at almost all of our happy occasions, I thought this could be a nice added twist to something that is already part of our tradition- already a symbol of joy and happiness!
So, raise your glass to a Shannah Tovah U’Mitukah- May you be blessed with a good and sweet New Year!
Rabbi Emily Losben-Ostrov is the rabbi at Sinai Reform Temple in Bay Shore, New York.