2018-05-23 / Voice at the Shore

A night to drink, schmooze and talk Torah with the guys

By ELLEN WEISMAN STRENGER
Voice Shore editor


The end of the night at Whiskey, Wings and Wisdom. The end of the night at Whiskey, Wings and Wisdom. They drink, they eat, they kibitz, they talk Torah—though not necessarily in that order. That’s the night’s business for the men who come to Chabad’s Whiskey, Wings and Wisdom group on Wednesday nights at 7:30 p.m. at the Chai Center in Ventnor. The group is open to Jewish men of all ages, including locals and summer visitors.

Yes, there is whiskey. Throughout the evening, the men drink “l’chaims.” And there’s an unending supply of Torah wisdom, offered by Rabbi Avrohom Rapoport, who usually discusses the week’s parsha— with a lot of interruptions from people making jokes and wisecracks, and also asking some serious questions.

On a recent Wednesday night, a steady stream of men show up at the Chai Center until about fifteen are sitting around a long table laden with whiskey and snacks. The l’chaims and schmoozing start right away. One man walks in bearing bottles of whiskey and announces: “I’m looking for whiskey, wings, and not women!”

“Where’s your kippah?” the rabbi asks another man who usually has one. The rabbi then explains why men wear kippot and women don’t have to. “We put the cover on our heads to remind us there’s always someone over us,” Rapoport tells the men assembled. For women, it’s optional, he adds. “In our tradition, women are considered more spiritually sensitive,” he explains.

This piece of wisdom prompts a rash of banter. “Women are smarter than us!” calls out one man. “I’m the boss in my house, and I have my wife’s permission to say that,” jokes another—and the wisecracking takes off around the table.

They’re interrupted by Rabbi Rapoport. “We’re going to start our Torah class now,” he says. Then he asks: “If I asked everyone here to shut your business down for one year, would you be able to do it?” As the men ponder this, Rapoport explains that the week’s Torah portion talks about “shmita,” the biblical rule requiring farmers to cease farming their fields every seventh year. During that year, he notes, the farmers would revert to studying Torah and spending time with their families.

Incredulous, one man asks: “Why would they do this?”

“Because G-d told them to,” chimes another, and the rabbi affirms that he’s right.

“Oh my G-d, there’s a first time for everything!” the man jokes.

The rabbi steers the conversation back to Torah. “Although we’re not farmers, we have this challenge with Shabbos,” says Rapoport, especially in a place like Atlantic City, where so many businesses rely on weekend tourist business. He tells a story of a couple that lost their business after closing on Shabbat, only to start another business that did not require them to work weekends that was even more successful.

“We don’t know the whole picture; only Hashem does,” he says.

The Torah talk stops as another man comes in late and starts shaking hands with his friends. “Give this man a l’chaim!” Rapoport calls out, and they take another drink.

The rabbi goes back to the Torah portion but most everyone drifts away into their own conversations, and within moments wings and fries are served. (While everyone else contemplated the parsha, one man heated up the kosher wings, which are delicious.)

The men eat and schmooze, talking about old Atlantic City, business, politics, immigration and being Jewish.

“I got kicked out of a country club for wearing a mezuzah,” says one older member of the group.

“It wasn’t that, it was just that they didn’t like you,” another man banters back. “Being a Jew is hard,” he adds, his sarcasm now tinged with seriousness.

Rabbi Rapoport halts the banter to make announcements about upcoming Chabad events. This weekend, he tells them, his bubbe is celebrating her 75th birthday at the Chai Center, so Shabbat services will be cram-packed with his family members, mostly rabbis and rebbetzins.

The men drift back to their conversations. Soon a few get up and start putting food and tables away. Then it’s time to leave.

But why did they come? What draws this group to come study and schmooze with each other every week?

“Where else will you find a group of guys from the ages of 26-90 who get along like this?” says one man. He admits he was initially intimidated to do anything with Chabad, which seemed to draw people much more observant than himself, such as his Orthodox best friend.

“He kept trying to get me to come but I didn’t think I’d feel comfortable. Then he told me about this group and I was hooked. They made me the whiskey maven—the guy who always brings it—so now I always come!” he says. “I bring the whiskey and we all get a little buzzed.”

“It’s a fun night. We all look forward to it,” says Stephen Dicht, who is one of a core group of regulars. There are “semi-regulars,” as well, he adds, and new people too. The size of the group ranges from about 10-25 people.

“This is the most beautiful group of people,” says Rapoport, this time not joking. “They all take an hour out of their week to study Torah. It doesn’t matter if there’s whiskey and wings; they still get the Torah.”

Whiskey, Wings and Wisdom meets every Wednesday night at 7:30 at Chabad’s Chai Center, 6605 Atlantic Avenue in Ventnor. For more information, call (609) 822-8500. 

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