On Thursday night  Dec. 30th, Adat, the Cincinnati Jewish Young Professional Community founded by Adath Israel Congregation, presented “Whiskey & the Word”, a space for young adults to share words of Torah, community, and a good whiskey as well. 

The event was hosted in Norwood at the house of Alex Ziegler, co-founder of Whiskey and the Word, with his Husky Piper helping to greet guests as they arrived. Attendees were given their own whiskey glass, and led to a table covered with a variety of whiskey and other alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks, along with snacks and desserts. Participants could catch up and introduce themselves over a L’Chaim, sharing stories and New Year’s plans. Alex walked the guests through the differing types of drinks, from rye whiskey, “Which has a darker flavor”, to scotch, a blended scotch, Canadian, Tennessee and Texas whiskeys, along with Bourbon. 

Ice, to cool and dilute the whiskey was offered as well, along with the debate of whether or not one should sniff their whiskey before drinking; for some, the scotch opens into vanilla, oak, or spice, but to others the smell only burns the nose and makes them reach for a water instead.  

Whiskey and the Word began in 2019, with Alex collaborating with Rabbi Ben Chaidell, Associate Rabbi at Adath Israel, to create a space for young adults to share weekly thoughts on the Torah and other Jewish topics, while enjoying community and a gathering of friends.  “The whiskey serves as a social lubricant”, said Alex, helping to encourage those who might not otherwise contribute to speak up and join the discussion. “Our goal was to create a shared space, an opportunity for Torah study, in an approachable environment” he explained.  

During the pandemic, the event, like almost everything else, was put on pause. A video conference Whisky & the Word was attempted, but wasn’t the same, and Thursday night’s meeting was the first resumed event. 

In the new series of Whiskey & the Word, set to take place on the last Thursday of every month, the first class was led by Michael Evers, a close friend of Alex, with whom he shares a love of whiskey and a history of attending Temple Sholom together. Michael led a discussion centered around the origins of Jewish prayer; how we pray, why we pray, and what prayer means to us as Jews, both individually and as a community. The prepared discussion started with readings from the Gemara, or commentary on the Oral Torah, with Tractate Brachot (Blessings), which speaks of the origin of prayer in a Tanaic discussion. 

Participants considered whether the prayers were instituted by our Forefathers, Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov, or if they were instituted in honor of the sacrificial services performed in the Temple, a question of inspiration or of structure. Guests shared what form of prayer they connected to, and how they viewed the institution of prayer; some guests found praying when inspired, versus being told when to pray, yielded a stronger connection and more powerful moment. One guest spoke of how she continually prays throughout the day, giving thanks to G-d when she is moved to do so in her daily life. Another participant spoke to the feelings of community that come with praying with a minyan, in a synagogue that welcomes him. “I’m not one to pray individually” he said, adding that through setting specific times to give thanks, he is better able to order his day. 

The reading continued throughout the Gemara and into the Book of Samuel, where attendees read of Hannah, mother of Samuel the prophet, who was the first to pray silently. This form of prayer was instituted in the daily Tefilat Amidah, or standing prayer, that comprises eighteen blessings, and is said thrice daily, silently, while standing. 

The discussion moved to how prayer affects the individual who chooses when to pray, and whether in structured or inspirited form. “What does prayer do for us?” Michael asked. “how do we connect to it?  

One guest spoke to the varied forms that prayer can take, and how she connected to prayer as giving thanks; another spoke on how the Israeli Anthem, HaTikva, is a form of prayer, and that even the bedrock of Zionism is the fervent hope and prayer for a return to the Jewish peoples ancestral home. An Adat member spoke to how the organization wanted to highlight prayer and stress its importance, saying “at the forefront of Adat is placing importance on prayer”.

As the night came to an end, and participants said their goodbyes, Michael posed one last question to the group: “How can prayer do something for you?” 

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