Our Favorite Esther’s Place Stories

Posted on October 12th, 2018 by

This month’s edition of Performance Counts is from Office Manager and Shop Assistant Jessica Konigsberg. To read more posts from Jessica, click here. To read past editions of Performance Counts, click here.


At Esther’s Place, we hope to provide that personal touch to your JMM experience—the opportunity to slow down and reflect on the exhibits and tour and find special items to take home with you so that you might continue that spark of curiosity with a great book, treasure that moment of connection with a personal memento, or relate a favorite story to a loved one via the perfect gift.

After starting 9 months ago as JMM’s Shop Assistant, it has been my great pleasure to get to know the stories that make a JMM experience meaningful and the products that capture our visitors’ imaginations—or even just make them laugh. So I was delighted to write this month’s Performance Counts and to take a deep dive into the Gift Shop to discover our visitors’ favorite Esther’s Place stories and how we at JMM been evolving and growing to meet these needs.

What stories have been shared or suggested, requested, or unexpectedly beloved this year in the Gift Shop by our valued visitors? To answer that question, let’s look at some of the top sellers (by quantity) from the previous Jewish calendar year!

In the past year, we’ve held many book talks, making for an especially engaging and edifying year of stories, ranging from beloved tales of Jewish Baltimore to the cultural contributions of Jewish punk music to the intriguing career of Harry Houdini. Our top-selling title for the year is new Jewish Baltimore history book, On Middle Ground: A History of the Jews of Baltimore (by Eric Goldstein and Deborah Weiner) with an impressive 72 copies sold since the book’s release in April.

Our next best seller, at 40 copies, is our favorite quirky Judaism primer, Did Jew Know by Emily Stone. The suggestion to carry Did Jew Know in the Gift Shop came to us from volunteer docent Howard Davidov—just one example of the valuable contributions our volunteers make to the stories of Esther’s Place. In third place on our bestsellers list is the charmingly-illustrated children’s book, I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark by Debbie Levy, illustrated by Elizabeth Baddeley; with 34 copies sold, I’m delighted to know we are collectively uplifting Jewish women’s stories and sharing them with younger generations.

While performing inventory this year, I became deeply acquainted with our Gift Shop’s astounding supply of JMM catalogs and publications—a treasure trove of knowledge, research, and uniquely-JMM stories, photos, and ephemera. It came as no surprise that our best-selling JMM publication was Voices of Lombard Street—a truly evergreen story that so many of you have chosen to take home, share, and re-visit through this beautiful catalog. We sold 29 copies in the past year.

In April 2018, we developed a special display and social media campaign around our many whimsical mugs and our staff’s collective love of coffee and tea. The display is titled But First Coffee (or #ButFirstCoffee), and the social media campaign utilizes the hashtag #MugShotMonday—a Monday social media tradition. To date, we’ve shared 19 #MugShotMonday posts on Twitter and Instagram (and many on Facebook too), each one involving artful arrangements and heartfelt tributes to the caffeinated beverage.

This year, we also worked particularly hard to respond to a frequent request we had been hearing in the Gift Shop—the request for custom Maryland or Baltimore Jewish products. After introducing our line of See America products featuring the Lloyd Street Synagogue in January, we developed the humorous and uniquely-Baltimore mugs and magnets pictured here. 

Our most popular product so far is the “Oy Vey Seasoning” magnet with 51 sold, each one helping to share the story of German Jewish refugee Gustav Brunn’s Old Bay Seasoning invention and its famous Baltimore origins. Later this month, we expect to welcome our latest custom offering into the Gift Shop—postcard sets featuring Upstanders, Athletes, and Pets from the Collection of the Jewish Museum of Maryland.

While many of our bestsellers were easy to predict, several products delighted us this year with their unexpectedly warm reception. The most striking was our selection of magic tricks, merchandised in connection with our exhibit Inescapable: The Life and Legacy of Harry Houdini (currently on display). From the exhibit opening on June 24 through to Rosh Hashanah 2018, we sold 82 individual magic tricks and 24 magic trick sets—and no doubt contributed to countless home magic shows and budding magicians.

Many of you ordered Esther’s Place merchandise from afar, and we were delighted to send our products and stories as far as California, Arizona, and even Germany this year. To place phone orders and have products shipped to you, please call us at Esther’s Place at 443-873-5179 or email jkonigsberg@jewishmuseummd.org.

We look forward to another year of unforgettable stories, products that make us smile, and the invaluable input of our valued visitors, volunteers, and Esther’s Place customers.

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What’s in a name? A birthday blogpost

Posted on October 10th, 2018 by

A blog post by JMM Executive Director Marvin Pinkert. You can read more posts by Marvin here.

66 years ago yesterday I made my first public appearance.  Instantly I joined the small cadre of folks in my generation named “Marvin” and that’s when a lifetime of teasing began.  From Bugs Bunny’s nemesis, Marvin the Martian to Starvin’ Marvin (first the restaurant, then the character on South Park) it never let up.  I once asked my mother why they selected this name for me and she said, you were named for your great grandfather Morris Pinkovitch, “would you have liked it better if we named you ‘Morris’?

A brilliant, but unpersuasive, rejoinder.

Now the name Marvin had perfectly respectable origins.  It first appeared in the Middle Ages as a variant on the Welsh name Merwyn – which in turn owed its origins to Merlin (six degrees of separation from Houdini?).  In America the name soared in popularity from about 1920 (birth year of Marvin Mandel) to 1939 (birth year of Marvin Gaye).  But after WWII the “Marvin market” crashed… a fact that did not seem to deter my parents. In looking up a list of famous Marvins,  I also noted that a disproportionate percentage of folks who share my Welsh first name appear to be of Jewish or African-American ancestry.  I am sure someone has written a thesis on this topic.

I gave up trying to change my name in college.  I flirted with calling myself Marc for a few weeks, but it was embarrassing when people would say “hi Marc” and I thought they were talking to someone else.  So I decided I was stuck with Marvin.  It’s not all bad – the Urban Dictionary tells me that my name has become slang for a “sweet guy”.  And at JMM, for the first time in my life, I work in the same building with another Marvin, volunteer Marvin Spector, and he is genuinely a sweet guy.

This is a long way of saying that about a mile from where my son was married this Sunday outside Detroit, there was a roadside attraction I just had to stop by. I think you can understand why.

~Marvin

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Once Upon a Time…01.05.2018

Posted on October 9th, 2018 by

The Baltimore Jewish Times publishes unidentified photographs from the collection of Jewish Museum of Maryland each week. If you can identify anyone in these photos and more information about them, contact Joanna Church by email at jchurch@jewishmuseummd.org

JMM 1989.102.10

Date run in Baltimore Jewish Times: January 5, 2018

PastPerfect Accession #: 1989.102.010

Status: Unidentified – do you recognize any of these employees of the Becker Sign Company? We believe the shorter man in the middle might be Herman Becker himself. Photo taken in Baltimore, 1928.

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