Sunday, November 28, 2010

Thanksgiving with the enemy

There’s a perception among some people in American society that Muslims are the enemy, and the story in the November 28 edition of the Chicago Tribune about Mohamed Osman Mohamud’s attempt to blow up a crowd of people in Oregon will only add more fuel to the fire.

The truth is that the Islamic religion is the most popular single denomination in the world, and the overwhelming majority of its followers are non-violent people.

On the night before Thanksgiving, I attended the Interfaith Thanksgiving Service at the Unitarian Church on Ridge Avenue. The featured speaker was Imam Abdul Malik Mujahid. In addition to being a leader in the Chicago Muslim community, he is also the Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Parliament of the World’s Religions, an organization that was founded in 1893. The parliament was the first attempt to create a global dialogue of faiths, and it turned out to be one of the most popular exhibits at the Columbian Exposition.

Part of his message was that you can’t bomb your way to peace, a lesson that we should have learned from “Operation Rolling Thunder” in Vietnam, but he closed with a variation of the well known phrase “E pluribus Unum”, which means “out of many, One”.

After his address, the gathering received blessings from representatives from seven different religious backgrounds. Father Bill Tkachuk (of St. Nicholas Catholic Church) delivered part of his blessing in Spanish, and Rabbi Andrea London’s blessing was delivered partially in Hebrew. The blessing that REALLY sent shivers down my spine, though, was the blessing that was sung in Arabic by Tahera Ahmad, the associate chaplain at Northwestern University, since it was absolutely gorgeous.

The Baha’i Temple in Wilmette pays homage to the nine major religions of the world on the nine-sided columns that surround the building, which is precisely what the Parliament of World’s Religions attempts to do. The Baha’i chorus, along with the Unitarian chorus, provided music for the event, and Reverend Barbara Pescan, the leader of the Unitarian Church, provided the closing prayer.

I’m the only Christian that I know who has actually read the Koran, and I found it surprisingly familiar. Like the Jewish and Christian faiths, Islam is considered an “Abrahamic religion”, which means that the majority of the people in the word have a lot more common than they previously might have suspected.

Next Thanksgiving, I’d recommend attending the next Interfaith Thanksgiving Service.

You’ll be glad that you went.


Tom Brennan

Friday, November 19, 2010

Play it again, Sam

One of the best lines in the 1942 movie, Casablanca, is this one:

In the very near future, Evanston will have its very own gin joint. In view of the town’s attitude towards alcoholic beverages in the past, that’s a pretty amazing accomplishment.

The Women’s Christian Temperance Union was formed in Cleveland in 1874. Five years later, an Evanston resident, Francis Willard (who was the first Dean of Women at Northwestern University) became President, and served in that position for 19 years.

Her position as head of the WCTU fit very well with the city’s character, which had outlawed the purchase of alcohol within its borders ever since its founding in 1863. It wasn’t until 1972 that the City Council allowed the sale of liquor in the city’s hotels and restaurants, and Northwestern University finally approved the serving of liquor on campus in 1975, ending a ban on alcohol sales that had remained in place since 1855. The first liquor store in Evanston didn’t open its doors until 1984.

I was recently introduced to Paul Hletko by Brooke Saucier (of the Evanston Chamber of Commerce) at an after hours event at Buffalo Wild Wings (on Maple Street). Paul told me that he planned to open up a store on Chicago Avenue in the near future that would sell both gin and rye whiskey (the original ingredient in the Manhattan cocktail beverage that Winston Churchill's mother commissioned in 1874) which had been produced on site.

In a nod to a time when speakeasies were common in America, the new location is a nondescript building at the end of an alley. Unless you were really looking for it, you’d never suspect that it was there. At this point in time, the site has been secured, but it will take another few months to tie up the loose ends and the balance of the funding. Opening day should be some time in the first quarter of 2011.

Opening a distillery is not for the faint of heart, whether it’s a moonshine distillery in the heart of Kentucky, or a fully legal one in a college town in Illinois.

Paul has been certified as an approved distiller by the American Distilling Institute, but his training is only a small part of the whole puzzle. In order to ensure that the proper taxes are collected, the Federal Government has a rigorous screening process that can consume an enormous amount of time. In the last 2 years or so, he has spent an estimated 150 hours on the application process. Once he is fully eligible at the Federal level, the next step is to apply for state certification.

Both gin and rye whiskey have a long history.

Gin has been consumed since at least the 11th century, when Italian monks added juniper berries to a low grade of alcohol for medicinal purposes. Gin in its current form was first created by a Dutch physician named Franciscus Sylvius in the 17th century.

The origin of rye whiskey is a little murkier, but it IS known that George Washington made it at his home in Mr. Vernon.

At this point in time, there are no local producers of gin, and very few of rye whiskey. For that reason, Paul feels that his new venture should be a good business opportunity. Once he opens his doors, and as time goes by, it should become a popular place

In addition to retail sales of the product produced on site, there will be tasting events a few times each week. Once that happens, I’d recommend that you stop by for a few samples. It could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship