It’s that time of year again! Over the next few months, many Jewish people will prepare for a stretch of holidays that celebrate resilience, honor tradition, and give thanks for renewal. All of these holidays invite people to share in food, prayer, community togetherness, and largely, have quite the emphasis on drinking.
Ritual and tradition around holidays often include drinking
Purim, a holiday that commemorates triumph over adversity when Persian rulers sentenced all Jewish people to death, typically involves a festival that is what non-Jewish people would liken to Halloween. Though there are many cultural customs, children will typically dress up in costumes, listen to the story of Esther, and eat candy and special cookies called Hamantaschen. For the adults, there is a Talmudic tradition to consume so much alcohol you cannot tell the difference between Haman (the bad guy) and Mordecai (one of the heroes of the story).
The next holiday that takes place on the Jewish Calendar in Nisan, or early April this year, is Passover. Passover famously memorializes the exile of Jewish people out of Egypt—think Prince of Egypt from the early 90s. Throughout the course of the Seder, which is a ritual meal, you drink four glasses of wine. Different people have various interpretations of the meanings of the four glasses of wine, such as the freedom from four different exiles, or the four elements that remind us our true liberation lies in the harmony of balance.
So you can see, with these two spring holidays alone, comes a lot of casual and ritualized drinking.
I feared my sobriety would be a barrier to my faith
When I converted to Reconstructionist Judaism I found myself being fearful to not participate in all the Mitzvahs, or commandments, to the letter. I was afraid that if I didn’t do certain parts of the traditions or rituals then I wouldn’t feel Jewish enough. Despite having gone through a lengthy and studious conversion process, I worried: If I don’t drink wine on Shabbos and I can totally tell the difference between Haman and Mordecai on Purim, am I doing Judaism wrong? The commonly held belief that once a person converts to Judaism, they are to be treated as though they were always Jewish didn’t feel like enough security for me at the time.
Then I turned to my local synagogue, Congregation T’Chiyah. There I found a community that not only made room for my sobriety but actually celebrated it. From hosting weekly recovery meetings, having Shabbos dinner with other sober folks, always having grape juice readily available to take the place of wine, and even making this year’s Purim party alcohol-free to honor sober congregants, my synagogue has made sure that I feel welcomed and a part of each celebration and Shabbat.
I’ve learned that my faith supports my recovery
In my ongoing learning of Judaism, I discovered that my Jewishness wasn’t dependent on anything other than my love for being Jewish. Though my observance is really important to my identity, self-care, and sobriety, no lack of observance could make me less Jewish at this point. Something I have been delighted to learn is that Jewish people are committed to making mitzvahs accessible. Even if you are unable to participate, we are committed to making sure you know that’s okay.
One of the most important commandments is Sh’mirat haguf, which roughly translates to “guarding the body.” The expectation for all Jewish people, regardless of observance, is that you first and foremost care for your body both spiritually and physically … and this includes us sober people. So if there’s anything you take away from this time of year I hope it is this: One of the most Jewish things you can do is care for your body. Community is out there waiting to honor all of who you are with tradition, and grape juice is still the “fruit of the vine.”