HAVING BEEN NURTURED in the Ashkenazic (Eastern European) Jewish tradition, as both my parents were born in Romania, it was always a special treat for me as a little boy to accompany my late father, a much sought-after rabbinic speaker in the early days of Israel’s statehood, whenever he was invited to deliver lectures in Tel Aviv’s most prominent synagogues — including the Sephardic (Middle Eastern) synagogues.
I vividly recall strolling with my father and brother down Tel Aviv’s Rothschild Boulevard where we lived, on the way to the renowned Ohel Moed Synagogue where Tel Aviv’s Sephardic Chief Rabbi Toledano officiated, where he awaited my father’s arrival to deliver his dynamic lectures several times every year. There was a unique aura, atmosphere and color to this Sephardic spiritual home, which I sensed even as a six-year old. Years later in the mid-1960s, as an energetic teenager in a hot New York City, I landed my first summer job, as a camp counselor at Camp Deal on the Jersey Shore, where Rabbi “Heshy” Weinreb, currently the Orthodox Union’s thoughtful and creative Executive Vice President, served as head counselor.
Again, it was my good fortune to cross paths with a special group of Sephardic Jews, who then discovered the Jersey Shore — which would eventually become the ever-growing and revived Syrian community’s summer community.
Today, the Jersey Shore community prides itself on synagogues, schools, eateries, and structured organizational life serving thousands of summer inhabitants and a year round community, as well. But then, there was no one has yet to meet the spiritual needs of the fledgling group. So when the Sephardic representative called Camp Deal to inquire whether someone could be sent to their prayer group meeting in the regal local town hall, it was my good fortune to be selected.
Though not proficient in the Sephardic tradition, I read the weekly Torah selection and delivered inspirational talks. Perhaps more than I inspired the group, I came away uplifted and moved by their seriousness of purpose in prayer and religious motivation. Milton Levy’s note of appreciation to “the Ashkenazi young man who inspired the Syrians and got them going” is still filed in my special drawer.
Decades pass… My beloved wife immigrating from Europe communicates a need to be near the ocean.
“Perhaps you know someplace not too far where I can enjoy the ocean and its healing powers”? she asked.
And the Jersey Shore it was, on Ocean Avenue, where God’s waves neighbor on one side, and across the way Cedar Avenue Synagogue, where rich and colorful Syrian /Sephardic traditions abound and Arak is the drink to have. So for lengthy and beautiful summers now, our generations-long Ashkenazic heritage takes a break, and our Syrian/Sephardic brethren take front row, sharing a heritage and tradition ancient and meaningful.
This brings me to the OU’s newest certified liquor product, indeed unique, historic, a delicacy — Zachlawi Fig Arak, the finest gourmet Arak in the world, distilled by hand from luscious fruit and fresh botanicals — produced at the Jersey Shore’s Atlantic Bottling Company. Soon after seeing the very first ad announcing the upcoming Zachlawi, I sensed that this finest of liquor products needed to join the ever growing list of the best among liquor companies attaining the coveted OU symbol. It’s more than two years later, and Atlantic Bottling has ventured to produce this little-known, underappreciated category of liquor as an artisanal product, hoping to awaken a sleeping giant. Happily, Atlantic Bottling will soon be introducing additional OU certified liquors.
Zachlawi can now be found on better liquor store shelves as connoisseurs of elite liquors hail it as refined and sophisticated, destined to join the winning team of liquors. Bottled in a stunningly attractive bottle akin to a fig, Zachlawi Fig Arak now has a permanent place of honor at my Sabbath table all year long, even if my Cedar Avenue Synagogue friends are only summer neighbors. And the privilege of having acquired the trust and friendship of Zachlawi’s refined and inspiring grand brew master, Mordechai Marty Kairey, helps me better appreciate why this “milk of the lions” will always reign supreme.