winemaking at the synagogue

Rabbi Steven Kane has been at his post at Congregation Sons of Israel in Briarcliff for the past 25 years, and is always looking for new ways to get congregants involved. Well, it seems that’s been accomplished.

Some three years ago or so, Fred Schulman, a synagogue trustee, came up with the idea of creating a farm at the temple. He grew up on a farm and understood the benefits of being connected to the land.

Having cleared the designated farming area, the temple now has two acres to manage. A portion of the land, the communal area, is available for members of the synagogue, its school, and others in the community to rent so they may grow their own food and herbs. The commercial acreage is used to supply organic fruits and vegetables to local restaurants while fundraising for the temple. Thirty-six grapevines cover about 20 percent of this area, with the hope of creating the temple’s own kosher wine. A dozen chickens provide organic eggs as well.

Rabbi Kane liked the idea of getting back to the land since it relates to Jewish teachings and history, specifically the beginnings of Israel when one of the most important institutions was a kibbutz, a communal farm. The temple holds services in the farm area to give people an opportunity to be closer to the land.

Aaron Stern, a member of the congregation since 1981, tends to the grapevines. While this is Stern’s first time growing his own vines, he had worked as an insurance executive for a French company that owned vineyards in the Bordeaux region.

“I was able to spend time at their vineyards in Bordeaux and other areas around the world and learn from their head winemaker, Jean-Michel Cazes, for three harvest seasons,” says Stern, who has enjoyed winemaking as a hobby with friends for the past 20 years. Each of his granddaughters even has her own blend.

At the farm, the grapes will finally be ready for winemaking this year. Stern chose a grape variety, the Marquette, developed at the University of Minnesota, that is resistant to temperatures of 35 degrees below zero. He says, “It’s a complex hybrid; one of its grandparents is Pinot Noir and, while much further removed, Cabernet and Merlot are both in its lineage.”

Stern explains that, “Within a few weeks of harvest in the fall, you ferment grapes and produce the alcohol content. Then it’s transferred into wooden barrels where you age them as long as you like for flavor.” Stern ages his own wines a full year but might age the temple’s wines for less time so they will be available for Passover next year.

The farm products are used at the temple during religious services and produce is donated to the Ossining Food Pantry for people in need. The wine may also be sold as a kosher wine during Passover to fundraise for the temple.

Rabbi Kane believes the temple farm has brought their community closer together: specifically, different generations – first building the farm and now, maintaining it. Not only do children and teens from the Hebrew school learn and work there, but also empty nesters, baby boomers and seniors from the congregation.

“What has been surprising,” shares Kane, “is there’s usually a lot of energy at the beginning of an idea or project. With the farm, the more we have done, the more excitement it has generated within the community.”

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