I have a story for you… and a ‘wee dram.’

I have a story for you... and a 'wee dram.'

There’s something about whisky and story-telling that makes them a special kind of blend. In any setting where a ‘wee dram’ (a small pour) is shared, conversation flows. If you’ve ever been to a whisky tasting seminar, the story of the whisky is an important part of understanding the liquid in the glass.

I’m a Rabbi and also an amateur whisky enthusiast. In the midst of the pandemic, when connecting with others to share a dram and some stories, the sharing took place on Zoom and in the Clubhouse audio app. I began to think about the potential to share Jewish wisdom over a dram. I’m also half Scottish on my father’s side. I grew up with many a family gathering or festival celebration beginning with the host asking, ‘can I pour you a wee dram?’ It was one of the few things that my grandmother z’l would take just a thimble of, and she lived to 102.

I so enjoyed watching the unfolding of these conversations, whether it was with my own family or listening to whisky experts sharing their stories, that I began to explore a way that I could share conversations with others that married together Jewish ideas with a little whisky education too. Metaphorically speaking, where the ‘Water of Life’ (the meaning of the Gaelic Uisge Beatha from which ‘whisky is derived) meets the ‘Tree of Life’ (Eitz Chayyim – another way of referring to Torah).

As a long-time student and practitioner of Clal’s philosophy of making Judaism a public good (I am a Rabbis Without Borders Fellow, Cohort 1), I’ve been passionate about finding accessible ways to share Jewish wisdom for a long time. Many of us have profound ideas and beliefs that emerge from our lived experiences and personal stories. When we want to share ideas with others, the personal story is one of the most powerful tools we have to deeply connect with and inspire others.

What began as a desire to bring my passion for Judaism and whisky together resulted in a new podcast, available in both video and audio format, entitled ‘A Dram & A Drash.’ Each month, my guest chooses their ‘dram’ as a way to begin the story, and part of each episode will include information about the whisky and helpful tasting notes. The ‘Drash is where we get into the stories, experiences, and ideas – the ‘Torah’ in its broadest sense, the teaching that emerges from our lives.

With just the first few episodes in the can, I am excited to share some of the wisdom that emerges from these conversations. While each is unique and will have its own focus, each will surprise and delight. We so often make assumptions about people and how we think they ended up on their path or what we think they believe. We live in an era when those assumptions are becoming hard-baked by the media we listen to and the ways we too often put people into categories of ‘not us.’ When we listen deeply to each other’s stories, we learn that things are seldom as we have assumed, and when we soften enough to consider another perspective, it gives us space to adapt and grow too. Centuries ago, Scottish clans would meet on the tiny Eileen a’ Chomhraidh (Island of Discussion) on Loch Leven, near Oban. They’d be supplied with just cheese, oatcakes, and whisky. And disagreements would be solved. The sharing of a dram facilitated genuine open-hearted discussion then. Perhaps it can inspire us today.

I’m delighted that Clal’s President, Rabbi Brad Hirschfield is my first guest on Episode 1. Coming soon will be visits with Single Cask Nation founder and Keeper of the Quaich Joshua Hatton, host of ‘The Jewish Drinking ShowRabbi Drew Kaplan, and Bourbon enthusiast Rabbi Charles Arian (the latter both fellow Rabbis Without Borders). The conversations take us on a journey that includes family immigration stories, the path from a Shabbat oneg to a profession in whisky, and the Jewish wisdom that we find from the past that informs contemporary Jewish culture.

With just the first few episodes in the can, I am excited to share some of the wisdom that emerges from these conversations. While each is unique and will have its own focus, each will surprise and delight. We so often make assumptions about people and how we think they ended up on their path or what we think they believe. We live in an era when those assumptions are becoming hard-baked by the media we listen to and the ways we too often put people into categories of ‘not us.’ When we listen deeply to each other’s stories, we learn that things are seldom as we have assumed, and when we soften enough to consider another perspective, it gives us space to adapt and grow too. Centuries ago, Scottish clans would meet on the tiny Eileen a’ Chomhraidh (Island of Discussion) on Loch Leven, near Oban. They’d be supplied with just cheese, oatcakes, and whisky. And disagreements would be solved. The sharing of a dram facilitated genuine open-hearted discussion then. Perhaps it can inspire us today.

A Dram & A Drash is at www.rabbrg.com/dramanddrash. From there, you can subscribe to the YouTube Channel or the audio podcast, wherever you get your podcasts.


Rabbi Rachel Gurevitz

Rabbi Rachel Gurevitz’s Jewish life has brought her through many denominational doors: growing up in a Modern Orthodox community in the suburbs of London, transitioning to a Reform community during her college years and, simultaneously, into a Jewish Renewal chavurah. She became Senior Rabbi of Congregation B’nai Shalom in July 2012 after 6 years as the Associate Rabbi of Congregation B’nai Israel, Bridgeport, CT. She served for several summers with the management team of Elat Chayyim before beginning her rabbinic studies at Leo Baeck College, London and Hebrew Union College, NY. Prior to entering the rabbinate, she taught at University College London and the University of Sussex, gaining a Ph.D. in Cultural Geography (Sociology). Drawing on that expertise, she brings the outside world into her teaching, recognizing the centrality of the social experience in creating vibrant synagogue community. In Bridgeport, she was a founder of an interfaith ‘Tent of Abraham’ program and has recently launched a multi-town interfaith encounter initiative in Central MA. She works as a partner with her lay leadership, shaping the identity and values of the congregation together, and seeking to make it more of a model of the values and sacred community that we aspire toward.

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