A culture of wine and spirits runs deep within Jewish customs and celebrations. From sipping on four cups of wine at the Passover seder to kicking off Shabbat, the weekly day of rest, with a blessing over kosher wine, the perfect drink is often top of mind. But gone are the days when sugary-sweet Manischewitz or Kedem wines were the only options. Today, a new generation of Jewish mixologists is drawing cocktail inspiration from their religious and cultural heritages.
Often these libations deploy Jewish-associated ingredients such as horseradish and slivovitz (a type of plum spirit) and boast names like “Kugel Fizz” and “Promised Land.” Of course, these drinks aren’t just for Jewish customers—they’re meant for everyone, potentially making the cocktail space more inclusive for drinkers of all stripes.
Certainly, that’s the hope of these three mixologists. Here’s how they’re shaking up what it means to be Jewish in the drinks space—and making some delicious cocktails along the way.
“FOMO no more” is Naomi Levy’s mantra when it comes to helping her Jewish brethren celebrate the holidays. Born to an Israeli mother and Jewish father from Long Island, Levy was raised with a strong Jewish identity that manifested in relishing drinks such as egg creams, a New York deli staple, and mitz petel, an Israeli drink of raspberry syrup and soda water.
However, growing up Levy felt left out during Christmas as she watched others partake in themed seasonal activities. This sense of longing continued into adulthood as Levy began to work in hospitality. “Like many Jewish Americans, working Christmas was fun,” Levy says. “But you know the holiday is not really for you.” Having witnessed the commercial success of the Christmas pop-up bar phenomenon, Levy decided to start her own Jewish version.
In 2018, she launched the pop-up Maccabee Bar in Massachusetts as a tribute to Hanukkah and the greater Jewish holiday culture. Lavishly decorated for the holiday, Maccabee Bar offers a curated menu of themed cocktails (including the Latke Sour) and traditional dishes. Five years later, the pop-up concept remains popular and continues to expand to different locations.
In 2023, Levy looks forward not only to leading another round of Maccabee Bar pop-ups in Boston and New York City, but also lending her expertise to a new venture, Lehrhaus, the world’s first Jewish tavern and house of learning. Recently opened in March 2023 in Somerville, Massachusetts, Lehrhaus features cuisine and cocktails influenced by the Jewish cooking customs of New York, Morocco, Yemen, India and beyond. As for Maccabee Bar, patrons this season should look for the Ocho Kandelikas (meaning eight candles), which Levy describes as a “Ladino celebration” bolstered with olive oil-infused gin.
Recipe by Naomi Levy
Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice and shake until well combined. Strain into a rocks glass over a big ice cube and garnish with an olive.
*To Make Olive Oil Gin
In a pot over low-medium heat combine extra–virgin olive oil with London dry gin. Whisk until the mixture is warm but not steaming (about 160-180°F). Remove from heat and allow to cool. Place in a freezer-safe airtight container and store in the freezer overnight. The next day, remove the frozen mixture, thaw and strain through cheesecloth.
Virtually nothing is off-limits when it comes to cocktail ingredients for macher—that’s Yiddish for “important person”—mixologist Rami Lavy. Born to a Georgian mother and a Libyan father, Lavy, who identifies as culturally Jewish, grew up in Israel and from a young age was immersed in diverse eating and drinking traditions.
“Israel is an amazing melting pot, where I got exposed to many spices and cuisines,” Lavy says. As beverage manager for Bar Moxy in New York, Lavy has distinguished himself in the industry by designing drinks that represent the many flavors and multicultural dishes associated with Jewish gastronomy. His Ashkenazi Mule, for example, plays on the flavors of tsimmes, a rustic Ashkenazi Jewish stew made with carrots and dried fruits, by utilizing a syrup made from carrots and prunes alongside vodka and ginger beer. Meanwhile, his Sephardic Swizzle employs house-made falernum containing the Middle Eastern spices bharat and ras el hanut.
But Lavy wasn’t always so invested in his religious background as a source of creative expression. “In Israel, being Jewish is taken for granted. It was only when I moved to the United States that my Jewish identity really started to take shape,” he says.
On his Instagram, Lavy shares many Jewish-inspired drinks, like this Kugel Fizz. “Kugel is a traditional Jewish dish with many variations,” he says. “Most of them will have in common a balance between caramel/sugar, and a generous amount of black pepper that makes it a little spicy.”
Recipe by Rami Lavy
Move your serving glass (preferably highball) to the freezer. Combine all ingredients in a shaker except the sparkling water and cinnamon. Dry shake to emulsify. Add a few large ice cubes and shake again until cold.
Remove the serving glass from the freezer and pour in about 1.5 oz. Of sparkling water. Strain the cocktail into the serving glass atop the sparkling water and let the foam take shape and settle for 10-15 seconds. Add a splash of sparkling water to your shaker to top your glass and make sure not to over-stretch the surface tension to avoid collapsing. Garnish with the cinnamon stick.
*To Make Black Pepper Syrup
Combine all ingredients in a small saucepan. Bring to a quick boil. Turn off the heat, cover and let cool and infuse. Blend using a blender and strain for use.
Pamela Wiznitzer is a consultant and beverage historian who was raised in a conservative Jewish household and considers herself culturally and religiously Jewish. Like many Jewish bartenders, her formative years saw limited exposure to explicitly Jewish libations.
“My uncles would have a kiddush club where they would drink Crown Royale,” she says with a chuckle. After earning a dual bachelor’s degree from Barnard College and the Jewish Theological Seminary, Wiznitzer went on to earn a master’s in food studies at NYU’s Steinhardt School. Today, Wiznitzer designs and oversees beverage programs for heavy-hitting clients, including the iconic Big Apple Circus.
“I guess I am having my ‘Sandy Koufax’ moment,” Wiznitzer says with a laugh. “I love creating spaces for the consumer and cocktail lover to continue learning, but I don’t want to dumb down my advocacy for Judaism and being Jewish.”
To that end, Wiznitzer actively seeks to inflect her professional behavior with her background and beliefs, from utilizing familiar Jewish ingredients such as pomegranate or grape juice in her drinks, to normalizing practices like ensuring Jewish employees have time off by default for important religious holidays. “I want younger Jewish people in the industry to see that you don’t have to check your identity when you go to work,” she says.
Recipe by Pamela Wiznitzer
Combine ingredients into a shaker without ice and shake vigorously. Open the shaker and add ice to shake again. Strain the drink into a martini glass or coupe and garnish with half a fig.