Purim combines two of my passions: politics and wine. With the holiday nine days away, I offer a reflection on the dangers of “daylight” in diplomacy, and suggestions on how to stock your fridge with great new Israeli wines.
Underlying the biblical narrative about Purim is the nefarious attack on Jews across the ancient Persian Kingdom by the Aggagite- Amalekite clan headed by Haman.
“The Jews are quarrelsome and troublesome,” Haman tells his king, “and not worth our forbearance. They nonsensically claim to be a special nation with a unique connection to Divine will and power. Their status is an affront and an impediment to our diplomatic agenda, and we should take them out.”
You can almost hear Haman snickering sarcastically: “Let’s ‘put some daylight’ between the Jews and their God.”
Jewish tradition connects Haman’s fourth-century BCE assault on Jews to a theological war fought against the Jewish people in the desert in the second millennium BCE, just after the Exodus from Egypt. That assault also was led by the biblical tribe of Amalek.
The Israelites were marching confidently from the smoldering ruins of Egypt to the Land of Israel, and all the neighboring nations were in awe. They knew of the Jewish triumph over the Pharaohs and shook with fear.
In a famous Midrashic telling of the story, no one dared confront the Jewish people, except Amalek. The Amalekites jumped into the proverbial hot bathtub, and “cooled the waters” to prove that there was no reason to fear the Jews or their God.
Amalek sought to confront the “myth” of Israeli omniscience by darkly pouring “daylight” into the God-Israel dynamic.
In modern times, there are no Amalekites.
But present-day Israel indeed has Middle East enemies sworn to its destruction. Alas, there also have been Western leaders who sought to distance Israel from its sources of diplomatic strength.
Former president Obama was explicit in his desire to increase the “daylight” between the US and Israel, because too close ties between the two countries, he argued, were an impediment to America’s global and regional diplomatic agendas.
Indeed, Obama succeeded in cooling the relationship between the two countries and in damaging Israel’s deterrent posture – which is acutely dependent on perceptions of close Israeli-US strategic alliance.
Even if he does nothing else, new US President Donald Trump already has helped Israel regain a significant degree of defensive strength, by rejecting “daylight” as misguided strategic policy, and instead warmly embracing Prime Minister Netanyahu as an intimate ally.
This is good enough reason to raise a glass of wine and toast Israel’s improved diplomatic fortunes.
WITH WHAT WINES might that toast be given? Well, drinking Israeli wines is, in my view, a deeply Zionist profession of faith.
It is a celebration of the magnificent fruit that the Lord has re-bequeathed to the indigenous people of the Land of Israel, after 2,000 years of desolation and neglect in this country.
Behind the 40 million bottles produced here each year stand fascinating artisanal winemakers who stamp Israeli wines with unique personal character. In past, I have written about some of my favorite wineries, including Bat Shlomo, Carmel, Flam, Gvaot, Lueria, Montefiore, Netofa, Psagot, Shiloh, Teperberg, Tulip, Tura and Yatir.
This Purim, I encourage you to try the interesting wines of some very young ultra-Orthodox (haredi) winemakers. It’s a pleasure to see them succeed! Eliran Aharonov of Aharonov Winery makes a great 2014 Cabernet reserve, and the 2013 Merlot from Yossi Izikovich’s Yehuda Winery is wonderful too. Both wineries are in Moshav Givat Ye’arim. I also like the Cabernet-Merlot-Petit Verdot blend called Aminadav by Yitzhak Hopshtein of Hevel Yehuda Winery in Moshav Zanoah.
Moving to Modern Orthodox Zionist winemakers, in Sussiya (South Hebron Hills), Elad Movshovitz’s Drimia Winery has a 2013 Cabernet-Petit Verdot blend called Sfar that pours very well. In the Samarian highlands, Lior Nahum of Gat Shomron offers delicious desert fare with a 2011 Gewürztraminer faux ice-wine (although I preferred an earlier version of this wine, called 24K, made from Viognier grapes). Erez and Vered Ben-Saadon of Tura Winery have a sleek new white wine called Snow (a blend of Viognier, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay).
The Lower Galilee Stern Winery (Kibbutz Tuval) produces a fine 2014 Petit Verdot.
Itzik Cohen’s Upper Galilee Ramot Naftaly Winery has a superb new 2015 blend of Barbera and Merlot called Primo. (Itzik’s Barbera wines have perennially been Israel’s best.) The young French varietal called Marselan is making its way into the Israeli market for the first time, and it is showing well in the portfolios of several veteran winemakers.
It produces round and chewy wines, with sweet spice aromas. Tabor Winery has released a 2013 Marselan grown in Gush Etzion, as has the Jerusalem Wineries – now led by the Canadian-born Sam Soroka.
Binyamina Winery just launched a 2014 Petite Sirah-Marselan-Shiraz blend from its Merav vineyards, alongside a brilliant 2013 Petite Sirah from its Ramat Sirin vineyard – both in the winery’s high-end Chosen series.
Tabor is the first in Israel to make wine with the grape called Tanat, imported from Uruguay and planted at the foot of Mount Shifon on the Golan Heights. This makes for a tight, dark, slick wine that is likely to become more prominent in the Israeli market.
Finally, the always excellent Domaine du Castel has a new series of 2015 light wines called La Vie, including a un-oaked white blend (Sauvignon Blanc-Chardonnay- Gewürztraminer), and a lightly oaked red blend (Cabernet-Merlot-Petit Verdot).
Both are easy-drinking and delicious.
Any of these wines will do a fine job of blotting out the memory of Israel’s enemies, and in transporting your consciousness to the primordial Garden of Eden – where there is no confusion between good and evil; no darkness and daylight; and no hiding from responsibility.