JTA — L’chaim! L’chaim! Živjeli!

Slivovitz, a plum brandy traditionally associated with Passover by many Ashkenazi Jews, has been added to the United Nations’ list of items with “intangible cultural heritage.”

The decision was made at UNESCO’s conference in Morocco this week where France successfully campaigned for the inclusion of the baguette on the list, a complement to the regular tally of physical sites that the agency seeks to preserve.

It wasn’t Jews leading the charge for the hard-burning brandy, but rather Serbia, where the spirit is a mainstay, as it is across much of the Balkans, Eastern and Central Europe.

That’s where Jews first got turned onto the drink, according to Martin Votruba, a Slovak studies professor whose research included the history of slivovitz and who died in 2019.

“Jews would acquire this local drink after moving into European kingdoms,” Votruba told Moment magazine in 2014. “They would simply pick it up as part of the culture.”

The spirit became particularly associated with Polish Jewry in the 19th century, as Jews became prominent in the field of alcohol production and the running of inns and taverns. They found special utility in slivovitz when it came to maintaining the Jewish laws around keeping kosher.

Unlike wine, traditional brandy and some types of vodka, slivovitz being made from plums meant the drink was not subject to the same stringent rules that apply to grape-based alcoholic beverages. The root “sliva” means plum in several Slavic languages.

And unlike beer, whiskey and other types of vodka, it had no wheat or other grains, so it was acceptable for consumption on Passover. It was also relatively inexpensive.

As a result, the Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity at Italy’s University of Gastronomic Sciences wrote in a primer on the drink, “The Polish Orthodox Jews adopted the plum brandy as [their] festive spirit,” which in some cases became known in Polish as Śliwowica Paschalna or literally Passover slivovitz.

When masses of Polish Jews arrived in America, they brought slivovitz with them, and it quickly became associated with the Jewish community. Today, much of the slivovitz sold in the United States is marketed to Jewish consumers, typically around Passover each spring.

Though its popularity has waned, it can still be found on some synagogue kiddush tables, and remains in the cultural memory of American Jewry.

Author Michael Chabon chose it as the spirit of choice for his hard-drinking, Yiddish-speaking detective, Meyer Landsman in “The Yiddish Policemen’s Union,” a crime novel set in an alt-history Jewish state in Sitka, Alaska.

Meanwhile, the 1990 Barry Levinson film, “Avalon,” which tells the story of a family of Polish Jewish immigrants in the United States, presents it as the drink of choice of the main character’s father in the old country.

“He never drank water. And oh, boy, could he drink! What was that stuff called he always used to drink?” one character asks. Another answers, “Slivovitz. Slivovitz. He used to call it ‘block and fall.’ You have one drink of that, you walk one block and you fall.”

Slivovitz gradually gave way to other favored spirits as Eastern European immigrants, Jewish and otherwise, assimilated in the United States.

But the drink is having a bit of a nostalgic renaissance: It’s on the menu at several swanky bars in New York City, such as the Second Avenue Deli’s Second Floor Bar & Essen, which makes Jewish-themed cocktails with both Manischewitz and slivovitz, as well as Kafana, a high-end Serbian restaurant in Alphabet City.

I joined The Times of Israel after many years covering US and Israeli politics for Hebrew news outlets.

I believe responsible coverage of Israeli politicians means presenting a 360 degree view of their words and deeds – not only conveying what occurs, but also what that means in the broader context of Israeli society and the region.

That’s hard to do because you can rarely take politicians at face value – you must go the extra mile to present full context and try to overcome your own biases.

I’m proud of our work that tells the story of Israeli politics straight and comprehensively. I believe Israel is stronger and more democratic when professional journalists do that tough job well.

Your support for our work by joining The Times of Israel Community helps ensure we can continue to do so.

Thank you,
Tal Schneider, Political Correspondent

We’re really pleased that you’ve read X Times of Israel articles in the past month.

That’s why we started the Times of Israel ten years ago - to provide discerning readers like you with must-read coverage of Israel and the Jewish world.

So now we have a request. Unlike other news outlets, we haven’t put up a paywall. But as the journalism we do is costly, we invite readers for whom The Times of Israel has become important to help support our work by joining The Times of Israel Community.

For as little as $6 a month you can help support our quality journalism while enjoying The Times of Israel AD-FREE, as well as accessing exclusive content available only to Times of Israel Community members.

Thank you,
David Horovitz, Founding Editor of The Times of Israel

QOSHE - Slivovitz, a brandy with a Jewish history, gets UNESCO recognition - David Klein
We use cookies to provide some features and experiences in QOSHE

More information  .  Close
Aa Aa Aa
- A +

Slivovitz, a brandy with a Jewish history, gets UNESCO recognition

23 16 17
03.12.2022

JTA — L’chaim! L’chaim! Živjeli!

Slivovitz, a plum brandy traditionally associated with Passover by many Ashkenazi Jews, has been added to the United Nations’ list of items with “intangible cultural heritage.”

The decision was made at UNESCO’s conference in Morocco this week where France successfully campaigned for the inclusion of the baguette on the list, a complement to the regular tally of physical sites that the agency seeks to preserve.

It wasn’t Jews leading the charge for the hard-burning brandy, but rather Serbia, where the spirit is a mainstay, as it is across much of the Balkans, Eastern and Central Europe.

That’s where Jews first got turned onto the drink, according to Martin Votruba, a Slovak studies professor whose research included the history of slivovitz and who died in 2019.

“Jews would acquire this local drink after moving into European kingdoms,” Votruba told Moment magazine in 2014. “They would simply pick it up as part of the culture.”

The spirit became particularly associated with Polish Jewry in the 19th century, as Jews became prominent in the field of alcohol production and the running of inns and taverns. They found special utility in slivovitz when it came to maintaining the Jewish laws around keeping kosher.

Unlike wine, traditional brandy and some types........

© The Times of Israel


Get it on Google Play