The United Nations has included slivovitz, a plum brandy that many Ashkenazi Jews associate with Passover, on its list of things having “intangible cultural heritage.”
The choice was made this week at the UNESCO summit in Morocco, where France successfully lobbied for the baguette to be added to the list as an addition to the usual list of physical sites that the organization strives to protect.
Instead of Jews, it was Serbia, where the spirit is widely consumed, as it is throughout most of the Balkans, Eastern Europe, and Central Europe.
According to Martin Votruba, a professor of Slovak studies who passed away in 2019, his research includes the history of slivovitz, where Jews were first introduced to the beverage.
After settling in European kingdoms, Jews would obtain this regional beverage, Votruba stated to Moment magazine in 2014.
They would merely adopt it as a component of the culture.
In the 19th century, Polish Jewry began to be connected with the spirit as Jews gained prominence in the alcohol industry and in the ownership of inns and taverns.
Slivovitz served a specific purpose for them in upholding Jewish rules regarding keeping kosher.
The fact that slivovitz is made from plums as opposed to other alcoholic beverages like wine, traditional brandy, and some varieties of vodka means that it is exempt from the strict regulations that govern those derived from grapes.
Furthermore, because it contained no wheat or other grains, unlike beer, whiskey, and varieties of vodka, it was legal for consumption during Passover. It was also reasonably priced.
The Polish Orthodox Jews adopted the plum brandy as [their] festive spirit as a result, according to the Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity at Italy’s University of Gastronomic Sciences in a primer on the beverage, which in some cases became known in Polish as liwowica Paschalna or Passover slivovitz.
Slivovitz was brought to America by large numbers of Polish Jews, and it was soon connected to the Jewish community.
Most slivovitz sold in the United States is now promoted to Jewish customers, usually around the spring holiday of Passover.
Despite declining popularity, it is still present on some kiddush tables in synagogues and is still part of American Jewry’s cultural heritage.
It is the preferred spirit of the hard-drinking, Yiddish-speaking investigator Meyer Landsman in author Michael Chabon’s mystery novel “The Yiddish Policemen’s Union,” which is set in Sitka, Alaska, in an alternative history Jewish state.