A holiday game-changer: Celebrating Sukkot with a twist

Why not bring something different into your sukkah, like American blueberry wine or a cup of Ethiopian Buna?

MOST COFFEE in Ethiopia is enjoyed outdoors thanks to the Buna-Ladies who make it on the spot. This was an attempt to see if Israelis will also be open to the experience (photo credit: Courtesy)
MOST COFFEE in Ethiopia is enjoyed outdoors thanks to the Buna-Ladies who make it on the spot. This was an attempt to see if Israelis will also be open to the experience
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The holiday of Sukkot is meant to be a time for two things that don’t usually blend well together: changing our old, familiar habits by the act of relocating from home to temporary dwelling, and enjoying this shift by hosting, eating well and celebrating the holiday in this freshly built location.
This Sukkot, The Jerusalem Post invites you to read the stories of two people who changed their lives to pursue a dream - and perhaps for you to even enjoy the fruit of that dream in your own lives.
1) From Washington state to the wine cup
Daniel Green was an established musician who jammed with blues legend Marc Ford and toured the US when he felt the need to change his day job. Green, with 15 years of experience working in sales in the fashion industry, wanted to be his own boss.
“I wanted to feel I’m alive,” he told the Post, “and not a dead man with the appearance of a living person.”
The year was 2015 and Green decided that after ending a tour with his band in the US, he would explore Seattle for new alcoholic products he might be able to import to Israel.
“In 2015,” he explains, “the Israeli drinking market was mostly focused on males; women who went out to bars and restaurants had relatively few drinking options.”
Green first had the notion of importing sweet-tasting beers or ciders, but when he was introduced to Pasek wines, “my jaw dropped to the floor,” he says. “I felt this was my product.”
Pasek Cellars, from Mount Vernon, Washington, is a family-owned business managed by Dave and Judy Pasek. They produce wines from blueberries, blackberries, cranberries and raspberries, fruits not common to this region.
“I bought a few bottles and took them home to see if my intuition was correct,” Green said. “I hosted an evening of wine tasting at my house and everyone – everyone – said this is unlike anything they ever tried before.”
While researching if anyone else was importing Pasek wines or anything similar to the country, he discovered that he really had found something Israelis didn’t know about. The country already had port wines, pomegranate wines, even pear wines – but no blueberry wines. In addition, similar products made in Russia or Eastern Europe did not have the high standard Green was looking for, since they usually added alcohol or flavoring in the process.
“I called Pasek Cellars and introduced myself,” he said, “and there was a pause on the other end. And the woman – Judy, Dave’s wife – asked: “Isn’t Israel very far away?”
Not only was Israel far away, but Green unexpectedly ran into a linguistic argument with the Standards Institution of Israel. Their point of view was that in Hebrew-speaking culture, the word “wine” (yain) refers exclusively to grape-produced drinks. Other fruit-based drinks should be called ale (Shaichar).
Green, already concerned that blueberry wine might seem odd for the Israeli consumer, was worried that labeling it as ale might appeal to Israelis familiar with the drink from The Hobbit or the Nordic sagas – and leave out everybody else. The solution was to label it as wine in English on the front of the bottle, and as ale in the Hebrew description on the back.
ANOTHER CONSIDERATION was kashrut (kosher status). In theory, the product was foolproof. As the wine is not made from grapes, there is no concern it might be yain nesach, wine that might have been used in Catholic sacrament. And as the fruits are grown outside of Israel, there is no concern with shmita, the need to let the earth rest every seventh year – as that only applies to this country.
However, foolproof or not, Green realized he needed a label with kosher certification, not a 20-minute lecture on kashrut law. "I even had a restaurant serving shrimp asking me for a kashrut label," he laments, "and I said, you are a non-kosher restaurant! Why should you care? The answer was that they don't do the religious thinking for their clients; some patrons do eat shrimp and also request a kosher wine."
The solution came from Los Angeles-based Kosher Supervision of America (KSA), which was willing to take on the project. As of 2018, the wine Green sells enjoys a Kashrut label.
The wines produced by Pasek are designed to be fruits in liquid form. Cranberries happen to contain a lot of flavonoids, which are antioxidants. Not only is eating antioxidant-rich foods healthy for humans, the wines can be kept open for longer than usual, since they don't age at the same rate as those that are grape-based.
No extra alcohol is introduced into the mixture; it is all produced from the natural sugar in the fruit – nor are artificial flavors added. But since all of the sugar becomes alcohol, some beet-based sugar is added after fermentation to restore the sweetness of the original fruit.
Green shared an interesting factoid with the Post. While most of the fruits are harvested by machines, cranberries are picked by hand because "machine-picking causes them stress, and the stress changes the way the fruit tastes," he explains.
Green began bringing Pasek Cellar wines to Israel in 2016 and chose to market them himself, taking the wine he so much believes in across the country. He says that in the 2017 Jerusalem Wine festival, "I was told by the organizers that this wine was the biggest success of the event."
Green believes in his product, explaining that he will not provide it to stores that feature vodka and energy drinks in their front displays. "This is a unique product for people who are seeking unusual things," he said. "I now carry my product in all branches of Basher wine and cheeses across the country, in Agamon Market up North and in select places in Beersheba.”
Speaking about Sukkot, the first day of which happens to be his Hebrew birthday, Green connected it to the experience of standing on trial on Rosh Hashanah. "It's a reminder our lives are fleeting," he says, "only after that realization sinks in are we able to return to our established homes and routines."
For more information on Green & Co: greennco.com or 054-331-1383
2) A fresh cup of Buna
For Atirsaw Awoke, whose name means “not to forget” in Amharic, the change came not from the new world but from his Ethiopian legacy. Already working as an aviation mechanic for El Al, he visited Ethiopia with a friend a year ago and experienced buna.
Buna, which is the Amharic word for coffee, is both the coffee and the unique way most Ethiopians consume it. The fresh, green coffee beans are roasted, ground, cooked on the spot and then served. In cities, this is done by buna-ladies who also offer a whiff of the freshly roasted coffee to the patrons.
In families, buna is a relaxing tradition in which the entire family takes part. The tradition is that the first cup, abol, is brought to the oldest member of the family. The second cup, tona, is drunk by everyone, and the third, bereka, is an invitation to the oldest member to greet the family with a blessing. The resemblance between the Amharic bereka and the Hebrew barachah (blessing) is not a fluke, as both are Semitic languages.
"I told my friend, this is a good thing to bring to Israel," he told the Post, "but after the friend did nothing with this idea, I said: ‘Why should I offer such good ideas to people who won't do anything with them?’ So I decided to do it myself."
Awoke thought at first that his company, Nehus Buna (King of Coffee) would follow the same model; he even hired his sister to see if Israelis might opt for buna in shopping malls. They quickly learned that Israelis are not so eager to switch from coffee shop chains to standing around and chatting with the buna-lady and other patrons. In Ethiopia it's the other way around: coffee chains are having a hard time convincing patrons to enter them when the much more socially enjoyable buna experience is cheaper and easier.
He soon expanded to offer a special service of teaching buna coffee to Israelis and importing it here. Companies seeking a special treat can book a lecture with him and learn all about the coffee culture of Ethiopia – where a quarter of the population works in coffee – and even buy a jabena, the traditional coffee pot.
"During the traditional buna drinking, which can take place three times a day, there is no television," he explains. "This is the time to quietly speak with your family members and friends and catch up – perfect for Sukkot!"
SINCE SO many people work in coffee in Ethiopia, a standard system is in place to grade the product. At each harvest, farmers bring samples of their produce to the coffee stock market in Addis Ababa where the elders sample it and grade it. To be marked “Specialty Coffee – Grade 5,” the elders must give it a grade of 80 or more. The farmers can sell their produce based on the grades they get from the stock market.
"Naturally," Awoke explains, "you're not going to take grade 5 coffees and add sugar or milk to them. Most coffee chains in the world buy lesser brands of coffee, as they offer coffee-based drinks in which quality doesn't matter so much. I use only specialty coffee." He also points out that, even in Ethiopian coffee shops in Israel, the coffee being offered is usually from Brazil, not Ethiopia.
Confiding that he originally cared little for coffee himself as a consumer, Awoke took his interest in coffee to the top when he attended a formal training course in Italy offered by Specialty Coffee Association, an NGO devoted to promoting the coffee industry and making it more sustainable, ethical and accessible to local communities of growers. "Coffee is a huge world," he told the Post. "It can take you to many different places. Today, it is very important for me that something my own parents enjoy will be available here, in this country," he says. "I want the people who drink my coffee to know where it came from: from grower to cup, each step of the way."
He is currently working on opening a location where buna will be offered along with European-style coffee drinks, hoping to eventually find a coffee grower in Ethiopia who will service him exclusively.
Eventually, he hopes to lead Israelis on coffee-based tours of Ethiopia, combining tourism and passion for coffee and all that it encompasses. He is even working on a documentary about coffee and is planning to fly to Ethiopia for the picking season, which begins in October.
As he discovered his passion for Ethiopian coffee, Awoke also realized that he can put some dreams on the shelf, at least for now.
"A month ago, I decided not to attend a commercial aviation course so I can focus on coffee," he told the Post, "I was accepted, and being an aviation mechanic, all my life I wanted to fly – but coffee was stronger."
For more information on Nehus Buna: Adirb18@gmail.com or 054-215-3714