Why I’m not going to Vinitaly this year: because I am a Jew.

vinitaly-easter-passoverAbove: Vinitaly, the annual Italian wine trade fair in Verona (images via my friend Fabio Ingrosso’s Flickr Creative Commons).

Early this morning Texas time, my friend and University of Gastronomic Sciences colleague Alessandro Morichetti tagged me in a post he shared on Facebook: it’s a call-to-arms for this year’s Intravino meeting at Vinitaly, Italy’s annual wine trade fair held in Verona. Intravino is Italy’s most popular wine blog and the event is one of the most fun and one of the few gatherings I genuinely look forward to at the fair. (Check out the video from last year’s affair to get a sense of its shared goliard spirit.)

Sadly, I won’t be attending Vinitaly this year. The reason for this is that Erev Pesach (the first night of the Passover) falls on the second day of the fair, which is scheduled for April 9-13.

I’m hardly what you could call an observant Jew. I was raised in a “conservative” bourgeois Jewish milieu in San Diego, California in the 1970s and 80s. Like my father and my older and younger brothers, I became a bar mitzvah (son of the commandment [or law]). But my family leaned heavily toward a secular expression of Jewish culture. Over the years, I’ve been connected to Judaism through music and my own scholarly interests. My adoptive paternal grandfather was a rabbi and his family has also been a big part of my Jewish life. But I am a secular as opposed to observant Jew, meaning that I identify ethnically as a Jew while not religiously observing the commandments of the Torah (the Five Books of Moses).

vinitalyAbove: not “do” (2) bianchi (white wines) but “dodici” (12) at a Vinitaly tasting. The fair is our industry’s largest and most important gathering each year.

In our home today in Houston, we are raising our daughters in Tracie’s family’s church. They attend a Methodist preschool in our neighborhood and we often attend services at Tracie’s father’s church, where he serves as pastor (Methodist).

But the Passover has become a favorite family holiday of ours and over the last five years, since Georgia P, our oldest, was born, we’ve either attended a Seder (the ceremonial Passover dinner) hosted by one of my family’s many Texas relatives (in Austin or Houston) or we’ve hosted a seder in our own home (in Austin and Houston). And my mother, who will be 84 this year, has come to Houston for the last two years to celebrate the Passover at a Seder led by me. I would hate to tell her that we’re skipping the Seder this year.

When I was “coming up” in the wine trade in New York in the 2000s, I missed the Passover twice because of Vinitaly. At the time, I was working for a restaurant and importing group that required my presence at the fair. That was really tough. But it was one of those sacrifices I felt I had to make at the time. Today, I run my own consulting business and can afford to skip Vinitaly.

But this year, with the rise of anti-Semitic and racially charged rhetoric in Europe and the United States, the Passover and our Passover Seder mean more to me than ever. The Vinitaly organizers’ insensitivity to the Jewish calendar is nothing new. But such thoughtlessness has a new significance in the age of Trump, Le Pen, and the Freedom Party, not to mention the North League, which claims Verona as part of its putative Padania nation.

President Trump neglected to mention the Jews in his Holocaust Remembrance Day statement this year and his top advisor is the former editor of a website that regularly publishes anti-Semitic content. Three weeks into his presidency, some polls indicate that many Americans support his executive order calling for religious and racial profiling.

This year at our house, while many of my colleagues will be tasting and networking at Vinitaly, my family will be celebrating the Passover and everything it represents: freedom of religion and freedom from ethnic persecution. In honoring a Jewish tradition that stretches back to the Middle Ages, when Jews were subject to institutionalized persecution and widespread racism in Europe, the door of our house will be open to any and all visitors and any and all will be welcomed at our Seder table.

Hag sameach, everyone! Happy festival!

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