Friday, August 17, 2012

You are what you drink – In Israel

Society can be differentiated by a variety of factors.  In Israel, by knowing what a person drinks, you can often guess their socio-economic status.

Jews in the Diaspora were more known for their hard work more than drinking, even in heavy-drinking countries like Russia.  This tendency shows in older Israelis, over 55, who spent most of their lives in Israel, meaning not including the last batch of immigrants from the former Soviet Union.  For example, I was recently at a Bar Mitzvah brunch.  I noticed an interesting cause and effect: most of the adults were “aunts and uncles”, i.e. over the age of 55; there was no beer or wine on the table.  Curiously, nobody seemed to care or even request any.  For many people of this background, the only alcohol they regularly drink is sweet wine on the Sabbath. Alcohol is not part of their social way of life.

Younger, non-religious Israeli-born adults between the ages of 30-55 do drink alcohol occasionally.  The aspiring upper-class often orders wine and beer at restaurants and serves them at parties with friends.  To be fair, Israeli wine is quite good, with good soil and no shortage of sun here, but can be quite expensive relative to income.  The middle class tends to order beer.  Israeli beer, Maccabi and Goldstar, are quite good lagers, better than most American beers but slightly inferior to the top European brews.  The draft version is rather refreshing after a set of tennis or a hot day hiking.  More traditional Israelis enjoy Arak, an Ouzo-like, anise-based clear liquor or a traditional whiskey. 

The large Russian immigration of the 1990’s brought a love of vodka to Israel.  Initially, only the immigrants themselves partook of it.  However, today almost every non-religious Israeli under the age of 30, male or female, drinks vodka, now available in every food and beverage store, including candy stores!  For these people, liquor is becoming a requirement at any social occasion.  Going to a pub has become a way of entertainment, like in Europe or the United States. 

So, as Israeli society is evolving, so are its consumption habits.  There are marked differences in what people drink depending on their age and status.  To paraphrase a French expression, cherchez la boisson.

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