Sunday, February 6, 2011

See You Around, or A Funny Way to Sip Wine

A friend of ours who is gainfully employed at the AACI (Association of Americans and Canadians in Israel) tipped us off to an event of great interest which they were co-sponsoring along with several other communal and religious groups: a wine tasting with cheese, featuring the most prominent writer on Israeli wines, Daniel Rogov. The Great Synagogue on King George St. was hosting the event, and it was billed as a fund-raiser for a group which provides support for chayelim bodedim, Lone Soldiers – some of whom are Israeli youth from broken homes, but, more often than not, idealistic Jewish youth from all over the world who decide that defending the Jewish people for real is a better option than fighting an imaginary foe in the computer game du jour.

Wine and cheese!!! One of mankind’s sublime culinary combinations. The very thought of the event quickened my step and brought a song to my heart. We alerted our friends in Har Halutz – the ones with the wine cooler and the son who gives wine tastings – who joined us, and we met up with a number of people we knew from The ‘Hood,’ all of whom are recent olim. There had to be speeches; you can’t have an event of this kind without them. First was a gentleman from The Great Synagogue (I recognized him as having moderated the debate during the last election here), who spoke about the Shabbat dinners for 200 soldiers which his shul hosts. Then two men from the Lone Soldiers organization spoke briefly about their efforts. Finally, it was Rogov’s turn.

This – along with the chance to sip some wine and nibble some cheese – was what we had come for. Surely, he would have something interesting and informative to say. After all, there aren’t many men and women who can say that they have sampled every wine produced in Israel, kosher and non-, over the last 20+ years, wrote about them, rated them, and compared them to wines grown around the world. I’ve always wondered, for example, how he or other critics figure out the ratings they give: this one gets and 87, the other gets an 85. If I do a taste test with a bottle of each, will I be able to tell the difference? When he says that a particular wine should be consumed before 2013, how does he know that? All kinds of questions, starting with the ABC’s of wine tasting to advice to the connoisseurs. What we got instead was a standard stump speech: a little bit about the how’s, why’s, and when’s of improvement in the Israeli wine industry over the last thirty years, but mostly about the life and times of Mr. Daniel Rogov, wine taster, restaurant reviewer, and fair and impartial arbiter of taste.

To prove his point, he told us that he does not travel over ‘The Green Line,’ but that he is happy to meet with vintners whose product is produced in these places – as long as they travel to those parts of Israel where Rogov will venture. And….. Rogov will sample and review their products impartially. As I said, this must be Rogov’s standard stump speech, and I imagine that there are audiences who will give him a standing ovation in support of his self-imposed travel restrictions. Just not this crowd; dead silence.

The first thing I had done when we arrived at the Great Synagogue was to purchase – at a discount – Rogov’s most recent annual volume, “Wines of Israel, 2011,” coupled with a companion volume, “Rogov’s Guide to World Kosher Wines.” Usually, if I buy a book and the author is present, I have him autograph it. When he was finished with his little speech, Rogov went over to the table in the back where his work was on display. I thought to myself that I was happy to have the book (my 2008 edition is out-of-date), but I had no interest whatsoever in having his inscription in my copy. Maybe he doesn’t want his book traveling over ‘The Green Line’ either; maybe he doesn’t even want his signature going there. Maybe I’m not amused.

I’ve been thinking about this business of boycotting other Jews. It is true that I do it to some extent myself. If a restaurant doesn’t have a kashrut certificate, I won’t go in. But there’s no malice intended; I long for the day when their teudah arrives and I can become a proud patron. As far as more global considerations go, nothing doing. Imagine if somebody were to propose that we here in The Land boycott the Exile. (True, there are some rabbis here who insist on reminding one and all that it is forbidden to leave The Land except for certain specific reasons, a position universally ignored by the multitudes.) But despite my belief that the continued existence of five million Jews in random places on the planet is dangerous to their and our continued well-being, I will keep having a pleasant word for everyone, and, to the extent that I am able to traverse the continents, I will be happy to visit you wherever you are.

If someone says that he refuses to set foot in Yehudah and Shomron (a/k/a The West Bank), one question might be, Why not? Is it to prevent some form of spiritual contamination, to maintain some sense of moral superiority over the rest of us demented ‘settlers’ and our allies, or might it be from a conviction that we have no right to be there and the sooner we are expelled the better? Like many questions, this one leads to another. How should I deal with such a person and his boycott?

Back in The States, I developed a life-long fascination with eccentrics. One of my favorite persons was Jimmy, who would call to say he didn’t have time to talk with you, and then hang up. I cheerfully hobnobbed with people with bizarre diets and idiosyncratic religious practices; conspiracy theorists of all stripes; even people (shudder) who voted for the wrong political party. So if someone told me that he wouldn’t visit the Kotel – not because he preferred hanging out on the beach in Tel Aviv – but because Jews have no right to control the area around Har Habayit, I would simply add him to my list of odd-niks and leave it at that. After all, I wasn’t any closer to the Old City than he was, so who was I to talk?

But now that we have made it to The Land, can I afford to maintain such a bemused attitude? Am I unwittingly smiling at a crocodile? Consider our Connoisseur for a moment, a man who, by his own testimony, is fair and impartial when he reviews wines from places he will not visit. What would be his reaction if the fields in The Golan and the Judean Hills – where a lot of our finest wines are produced – were handed over to our enemies, and these vineyards were trampled and ripped out? A true wine aficionado should cringe at the thought, especially if one knew about the care and devotion involved in growing the grapes and producing the wine; but if you think that the we shouldn’t have been there to plant the vines in the first place……… Maybe, if he were consistent, Rogov wouldn’t review wines that he thinks should never have been produced. But who ever accused certain people of being consistent?

My mind was already on to other things, when about a week after the wine tasting, I noticed a little piece in the Jerusalem Post, part of a weekly feature called “Grapevine,” a kind of gossip column about social events in and around the capital. The writer mentioned the wine tasting and stated that Rogov showed “courage” by showing up at the right-wing bastion, The Great Synagogue, and announcing his self-imposed travel restrictions. I sent a letter to the editor (which they printed) with my opinion that Rogov was simply showing “poor judgment” and that the assembled throng was too polite to respond to his provocative and irrelevant remarks.

This incident must have gotten my juices flowing again because all of a sudden, something fairly obvious crossed my mind. Rogov’s yearly series of book is entitled “Wines of Israel,” not “Wines of Israel and The Occupied Palestinian Territories” (although I imagine the latter title wouldn’t pass muster with his publisher!). In the great propaganda war being waged around the world to de-legitimatize us, the author is on the wrong side of his own argument; in effect, he is sipping wine out of both sides of his mouth! Is ‘The Gush’ part of Israel, or is it part of ‘Palestine,’ (to me a fictitious state populated by a non-existent national group). And if the latter, why not list the Gush Etzion Winery, or the Golan Winery for that matter, in “Rogov’s Guide to World Kosher Wines,” which lists wines from “The Americas, Europe, South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand.” Why not add ‘Palestine’ to the list? On the other hand, if the Gush Etzion Winery, “(l)ocated at the Gush Etzion Junction near Jerusalem,” is in Israel, what’s all the fuss?

So I’m back to the question I raised before. What’s with these guys? Should I take Daniel Rogov seriously? What about friends, relatives, or acquaintances from The States who announce that they will be visiting The Land but who won’t come to Ma’ale Adumim – not because they’re on a very tight schedule, they’re too jet-lagged, they have no easy way to get here, or, quite correctly, because the selection of quality restaurants is much greater in Jerusalem – but because they won’t set foot over ‘The Green Line’ into ‘occupied territory?’ Never mind, as our friend Steve. L reminded me, that you can’t get from airport to Jerusalem without crossing over that imaginary line – at least for a short distance. Never mind that the ‘good’ side of the GL is littered with abandoned Arab villages – one of which is at the entrance to Jerusalem – while nobody, and I mean nobody, ever inhabited any part of Ma’ale Adumim until 1983 when a construction company started dropping pre-fab concrete walls into place. Never mind our historical claims to Ir David, Hebron, Shilo, and the like. Never mind that some of these folks who won’t come here are gainfully employed by Jewish organizations that assist us, providing goods and services to communities throughout Yehuda and Shomron. If Rogov is drinking wine out of both sides of his mouth, these conflicted souls are trying to have their cake and eat it too.

Should I, then, take them seriously? Their version of tikkun olam (fixing the world) seems pretty lame to me, perhaps a tad self-serving. It would be easy to say to such a person: “You know what, I can’t take you seriously; it’s not worth my time arguing with you. Let’s have a beer as far from ‘The West Bank’ as possible and talk about our children, other interests, old times, and the like.” Or should I say, “I can’t take you seriously, but others might – and do. It is definitely not worth my time to argue over something which is a pet peeve for you and a matter of life and death for me. As the old saying might have said, ‘Takes two to boycott.’ See you around.” I like the sound of that, “See you around.”

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