Wine is holy and other things I learned from my Jewish friends

Posted on Thursday 9 April 2009

When I graduated from Spur High in 1979 and went out into the vast, temporal world, I met some really interesting people. I discovered that most were different than me, because I soon learned that coming from a small, rural town made me an oddity in the land I chose to try and conquer. Rubbing elbows with people with different backgrounds than mine proved educational, enlightening, and always entertaining.

I met my first Jewish person–Lewis Bernard–in college. I thought this fair-skinned guy with with curly, almost afro-style, hair and large nose was odd looking compared to the boys-next-door-looking guys from my hometown. It wasn’t until much later, in my Sophomore year in college, that I found out he was Jewish. I had never met a real live Jewish person. I only knew about the ones in the Bible and I was pretty sure they weren’t talking about Lewis. A native of Dallas, Lewis was fun-loving and more worldly than the Jewish people I had pictured from childhood Sunday school lessons. I spent a lot of time around him and his girlfriend, Susan, who, by the way was a Catholic and also from Dallas. Their relationship didn’t strike me as unconventional but I learned later in life that indeed it was. But then, after I graduated from college, I lost touch with them, so I wasn’t around if any fireworks went off when their families found out they were planning to get married. As far as I know they are still married today–more than 25 years later.

After college I embarked on my career where I met Perry, a pale redhead with curly hair and a nose not unlike the one Lewis had. Like a good Jewish girl she took her grandmother to synagogue every week, but Perry enjoyed decorating her Dallas home for Christmas which I didn’t see as unacceptable because everyone did it. She told me one time that her favorite door decoration spelled out the simple word “JOY” which I soon learned she found to be a perfect compromise for her heritage and her desire to decorate for the season, not to mention it suited the intermix of her beliefs and those of her Catholic boyfriend who lived with her.

Then there was Susan, a dark haired beauty with dark eyes and a lovely complexion. She told me about her parents’ friends who would come to visit her family in their home in San Antonio. They had numbers tatooed on their arms because they were Holocaust survivors. Susan was the one who introduced me to words like chuzpah and chotchke. Chuzpah–pronounced hus-pa– describes “the quality of audacity” as in “She exhibited a lot of chuzpah when she showed up at the party.” Chotchke is an inexpensive souvenir, trinket, or ornament–bric-a-brac–as used in the way Susan described my neighbor’s overly embellished yard when she visited me in Spur for the first time: “They sure have a lot of yard chotchkes.”

But the most important thing I learned from my Jewish friends is “wine is holy”. Anything physical is transient–it doesn’t last. Most food spoils with time, but wine is an exception. The Jewish view wine as having a spiritual property of improving with age. They say wine testifies that even the physical can be refined. The spirit is eternal, and gets stronger with time, and what could be more holy than that? Saying “wine is holy” may disconcert some religious zealots of other factions who might think, “It sure took a lot of chutzpah for her to even say it.”

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