Let us raise a toast to Serbia for getting a relative Jewy item onto the United Nations’ list of items with “intangible cultural heritage.”
That item is slivovitz, a plum brandy traditionally associated with Passover by many Ashkenazi Jews.
The decision was made at UNESCO’s conference in Morocco this week, where France successfully campaigned for including the decidedly less Passover-appropriate baguette on the list, and Saudi Arabia, Oman, and United Arab Emirates jointly entered Alheda’a, which, as you probably don’t know, is “an oral polyphonic expression accompanied by gestures or musical instruments played by herders to communicate with their camels.”
All told, several hundred items representing 140 countries are on the list, which began in 2008 as part of the Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Heritage.
While Serbs claim the plum as their national fruit, slivovitz appealed to Eastern European Jews, who were prominent in the alcohol and tavern industries, for avoiding the kashrut problems of both grape-based alcoholic beverages — which Jewish law says cannot be prepared by non-Jews — and grain-based alcohol, which is banned on Passover.
Though its popularity has waned, slivovitz can still be found on some synagogue kiddush tables, and it remains in the cultural memory of American Jewry.
Author Michael Chabon chose it as the spirit of choice for his hard drinking, Yiddish-speaking detective, Meyer Landsman, in “The Yiddish Policemen’s Union,” a crime novel set in an alt-history Jewish state in Sitka, Alaska.
The drink is having a bit of a nostalgic renaissance: It’s on the menu at several swanky bars in Manhattan, such as the Second Avenue Deli’s Second Floor Bar & Essen, which makes Jewish themed cocktails with both Manischewitz and slivovitz, and Kafana, a high-end Serbian restaurant on the Lower East Side.
Jewish Telegraphic Agency