Blindness No Handicap for Group of Future Sommeliers

"It's astonishing," said Vera Margalit, an instructor at Kibbutz Yiron's Galil Mountain Winery, when she heard Dvora Kushik's comments after tasting several of the company's wines. Kushik was able to distinguish and identify the components of all the wines she tasted. But she is no veteran wine expert: She is a blind woman who works as a waitress at the Nalaga'at Center's Blackout restaurant in Jaffa port.

Kushik and several of her colleagues from Nalaga'at - blind workers from Blackout and deaf workers from the center's Cafe Kapish - had just taken a daylong tour of the vineyards accompanied by a workshop on the textures, tastes, odors and colors of the winery's products.

"The goal of the workshop is to raise the [employees'] professional level," explained Amar Sela of Nalaga'at. "Both the cafe and the restaurant insist on the highest level of professionalism and service. So [the employees] must have a wealth of knowledge."

"We want people to come to us because we are good, not for any other reason," he continued. "We want diners to judge us strictly, so that we will improve. This is another stage in our efforts to improve."

In an unusual gesture, the winery's kashrut inspectors even allowed members of the group to touch the fermentation vats - something even company employees are forbidden to do, for halakhic reasons, unless they are directly involved in making the wine.

Reuven Rubin, another instructor at both Galil Mountain and its parent company, Golan Heights Winery, termed the tour "a challenge for me and for them. They need to rely more on the senses of taste and smell and know how to focus those senses. It's been a very exciting day - a completely different experience."