November 19, 2018

When Crushing Grapes, Strong Stories Emerge

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In early October, as we began the cycle of reading the Torah again, I was in a vineyard in Israel, celebrating a friend’s wedding. It was the first marriage for both bride and groom, both in their 40s. Each had many life experiences before they arrived at the wedding canopy. Each had experienced professional transitions, successes and relationship misfires. Each had suffered parental loss and dealt with illness, either their own or someone else’s. Their families, whom I got to know over the day of the wedding and the Shabbat afterward, were filled with joy and stories, some of which they recounted in a manner that indicated they had been told over and over again. Each story gave a clearer picture of that family branch, the roots they had in the towns where they lived and the long-term investment they have in one another, and illustrated that the stories we knew about the bride and groom were only the tip of the iceberg.

The wedding reception was held at the Nevo Winery, a small, lovely boutique establishment located in Moshav Mata in the Jerusalem hills, not too far from Hadassah Medical Center in Ein Kerem. The winery’s origins lie in a story of illness, family, tragedy, passion and recovery. Nevo Chazan, a third-generation resident of the moshav, first started making wine when his Aunt Leah fell ill and needed to stay with them so she could be close to Hadassah, where she was receiving treatment. During her stay, Aunt Leah enjoyed being outside on the moshav; she picked olives and cooked special meals for her family. She told her nephew that she had made wine and offered to teach him how. 

In Israel, “Jewish geography” isn’t just a party game but actual life playing out on city streets and in coffee shops, a reminder of how closely connected we all are. This wedding was no exception. Chazan’s Aunt Leah, now well, visited the newly married couple at the wedding, discovering that a relative of the bride was Leah’s next-door neighbor. When it comes to weddings, you can’t do better than a location that embodies healing, family, connection and celebration. 

“The grapes of a small winery aren’t just grapes — they represent what those grapes might become.”

From these humble, healing roots, a business was born and a passion ignited. Chazan committed serious study to the craft and the winery has become a hidden gem, unknown even to some of Israel’s oenophiles. At 6,000 bottles a year, it doesn’t produce enough wine to sell commercially. So if you want to sip Nevo wines, you have to go to the Nevo Winery.

The grapes of a small winery aren’t just grapes — they represent what those grapes might become, because when you look at grapes after they’ve been crushed, you can barely see their original shapes; they blend together in a bloody pastiche of destruction. Each of those grapes had a story before they all were pulverized into a collective puree. With time, the grapes do not heal, do not reassume their prior shapes and storyvines. But their essence deepens and becomes stronger. Their stories emerge after time in shared captivity, their flavors roam free, mixing with the tales of grapes around them, opening with oxygen and swirling around glasses in moments of celebration.

The grapes’ stories, like many of our own, remain beneath the surface, yet to be told. The process of uncovering stories is a constant journey. We talk to people we thought we knew and learn something new about them; we reread Jewish texts every year because time deepens perspectives and experience.

Which is why every year, we read of Moses standing atop Mount Nebo and gazing into a future land he’d never live to experience. And then we return our weekly readings to the beginning. Back to Bereshit. Genesis. Noach, the flood. Lech Lecha, the first of many goings-out from lands where we were born to pursue the promises of unknown places. And at the Nevo Winery, during the weekend of my friends’ wedding, I learned the lesson afresh: Gazing into the future, you can see a new beginning.