Faced with the big news about the Conservative movement dropping the ban on kitniyot this Passover, we welcomed something new to the table of the Jacobs family seder.
No, we didn’t add corn or rice or beans. I can’t argue with the logic behind the new rabbinical opinions on kitniyot, as explained by Congregation B’nai Torah Rabbi Joshua Heller in our Pesach issue, and, growing up in a Conservative synagogue, I always argued that the ban on corn in particular made no sense. After all, corn not only was unknown in the Middle East 3,000 years ago, but it also had never been seen in Europe 800 years ago when Ashkenazi rabbis adopted the kitniyot rules.
Still, I found myself agreeing with Atlanta Kashruth Commission Rabbi Reuven Stein that, regardless of the justification for the rules to begin with, they have worked fine for eight centuries and have long since become a part of Pesach tradition. Why change now?
Which means, as usual, Passover emptied out the family liquor cabinet. (The bourbons we usually drink wouldn’t pass muster under anyone’s rules because, in addition to corn, they use wheat or rye. But the change on kitniyot in theory brings all-corn whiskeys into play for those who want to go there.)
In past years, with beer and whiskey out of the picture and with all-potato vodka increasingly tough to find, we made due with just wine for a week. But then I went to the Man Seder at Young Israel of Toco Hills on April 10 and had my eyes opened to another Passover-kosher option: slivovitz.
I didn’t go to the Man Seder in search of something to drink during Passover. After all, one of the charms of the Man Seder is the chance to go through the forms of a seder with booze you can’t have during Passover: beer and bourbon.
That wasn’t the main point of the Man Seder, of course. Many of the 70 or so attendees did a mitzvah by donating lightly used suits to a nonprofit helping men who need dress clothes for work. All of us had a good time socializing and ate well with a four-course steak dinner. Most important, Rabbi Adam Starr delivered eight teachings for us to bring home to our own seders.
Still, for the third annual Man Seder, Rabbi Starr decided to distribute a handout with those lessons because, he said, no one would take notes while he was speaking and, after four courses of beer and bourbon, he couldn’t count on anyone remembering what he said.
In other words, alcohol played an important role in the Man Seder, so maybe it wasn’t just a coincidence that a couple of my tablemates were talking about shopping for slivovitz for Pesach. I’d never had slivovitz and never thought about getting it for Passover, but I was told that there were plenty of choices.
I mentioned the discussion to my wife, and, sure enough, she added a bottle of slivovitz to the Passover supplies. When we reached dessert during the seder, the bottle came out of the freezer, and shots of the plum brandy were passed around our table for the first time.
It almost certainly will be the last time as well.
I’m not sure why our Eastern European ancestors and their Slavic neighbors thought making brandy out of plums was a good idea. Maybe something sickly sweet and slightly medicinal served as an antidote to their bitter peasant lives. More likely, people everywhere try to ferment whatever is at hand to get a buzz.
All I know is next Passover we won’t have to buy more slivovitz; there’ll be plenty left in the freezer.