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Arizona Synagogue Educating Public About Kosher Wine

Arizona Synagogue Educating Public About Kosher Wine

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Rabbi Yossie Shemtov, director of Chabad of Tucson, is coordinating a kosher wine raffle in conjunction with Purim celebrations March 20.
Rabbi Yossie Shemtov, director of Chabad of Tucson, is coordinating a kosher wine raffle in conjunction with Purim celebrations March 20.

Jeremy Lite always looks forward to Purim, but this year, there’s even more excitement in store. He and his wife, Sharon, bought four raffle tickets that make them eligible to win 101 bottles of kosher wine and a cooler to store it all, which will be given away Sunday, March 20, at the Purim party at their Tucson, Ariz., synagogue.

Word is spreading fast about this year’s special celebration at the Chabad-Lubavitch run Congregation Young Israel, which in addition to a tent of activities for kids ranging from juggling to clowns, a unicycle and games, will host an elegant wine tasting, complete with gourmet Chinese food and kosher sushi indoors for adults. There will be the traditional reading of the Scroll of Esther, as well as a review of wine and Jewish history.

“We really wanted to promote the concept of kosher wine,” said Rabbi Yossie Shemtov, who will draw the winning ticket. It’s a mitzvah to drink wine on Purim in a responsible way, he said, noting that what sets the event apart is the combination of the ability to educate people about kosher wine, offer a tasting and raise funds for the organization.

“My hope is that every Passover Seder table in Tucson should only have kosher wine,” he added, noting that the eight-day holiday comes just a month after Purim. “Quality kosher wine.”

The event will benefit a host of programs run by Chabad of Tucson, including an effort to provide kosher for Passover food for Jewish prisoners throughout the state, and the organization’s Seders for prisoners and local community members in Tucson. It will also benefit its preschool, summer camp and weekly Torah classes.

(For Chabad.org’s directory of Purim celebrations around the world, click here.)

Lite said he’s happy to support the organization, which does so much for the community, and added that he’s more than a bit curious to try the kosher wines. He’s especially eager to survey the selection at the event, which is co-sponsored by online retailer kosherwine.com.

“I’ll tell you, there’s a lot of really good things about Tucson, but a wide selection of kosher wines is not one of them,” he explained. The common conception is that kosher wine is “not very good” he added, which leads to a lack of interest in the product. But that could all change over Purim.

He’s looking forward to the unique experience, which will add to the synagogue’s usual regimen of scotch and beer.

“I can’t say that we’re wine connoisseurs out in here in the desert of Arizona, but we’ll give it a shot,” he said.

Participants will be eligible for a discount on the online distributor’s website.

The Tucson raffle’s grand prize is 101 bottles of kosher wine.
The Tucson raffle’s grand prize is 101 bottles of kosher wine.

Suzanne Cummins, who teaches at the University of Arizona, said she thinks the wine tasting and raffle event will be a lot of fun, and she doesn’t even really drink.

“I’m a total teetotaler, but my husband likes wine and my sons like wine,” she said, adding that the wine will make bringing something appropriate to everyone’s table easier. “You can give it to people when you go to their house; it’s just nice to have [and] it’s a wonderful prize.”

Cummins, who has known Yossie and Chanie Shemtov since the early 1990s, said while her experience with wine is usually limited to a sip of the drink at the Shemtovs’ Sabbath table, she’s glad to see kosher wine evolving beyond the sugar-laden concoctions most people remember from days past.

“So now 101 bottles is a gift. Maybe 15 years ago, it would have been a sentence: What am I going to do with this?” she joked.

For Robert Indik, a math professor at the university, the prospect of winning a stocked wine cooler holds a lot of promise. He’s purchased one ticket so far, but said he might buy a couple more. And even if he doesn’t win, he said he expects he’ll come home with some bottles. Having switched from drinking non-kosher wines to a focus on kosher wines, he said it’s harder to find ones that he likes.

He’s hoping the experience opens up possibilities for people like him, who find it hard to drink the kosher wines, to find bottles that interest them. Then he can look for them online.

“The fact that we’ll be able to taste it really makes a difference,” he added.

Tickets are $54 for a single ticket, $136 for three and $180 for four, and include admission to the event. The raffle is open to anyone who buys a ticket, said Rabbi Yehuda Ceitlin, Chabad of Tucson’s director of development, adding that the organization will ship the prize anywhere in the continental U.S.

As part of its sponsorship, kosherwine.com will be offering a five-percent-off coupon with a special code, and will also give five percent of the proceeds to Chabad of Tucson.



Karen Schwartz is a freelance writer whose stories have appeared in the New York Times, Houston Chronicle, Detroit Jewish News and Red Thread magazine. A Columbia University Journalism School graduate, she hails from Detroit and currently resides in Brooklyn.
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