Mouth full of hamentaschen, heart full of bravery

Posted on March 24th, 2016 by

Whenever I find myself blogging about a Jewish holiday (whether volunteer or voluntold), I always start with Seasons of Our Joy by Baltimore-native Arthur Waskow.

Seasons of our Joy

Seasons of our Joy

When I reviewed that go-to text on Purim, I was struck by this passage on page 118:

“The custom grew of making Purim-Torah—parodying the prayers themselves on Purim night, parodying the rabbis’ Talmudic debates and discussions over how to apply Torah to life-dilemmas.”

And then a few pages later, Waskow writes that in some congregations, after the megillah is read, a “Purim-rabbi—a mock rabbi chosen for the occasion—might give a sermon that pokes fun at established traditions and institutions.”

This idea of a Purim-authority who is a parody of authority, really struck me. In this season of American electoral politics, I suddenly realized that I am waiting for the Purim-candidates to yield the stage to the real candidates. They’re not going anywhere.

Large wooden gragger (noisemaker for Purim), made from solid wood pieces, c. 1900. This gragger was found in the basement of a Highlandtown rowhouse on Fairmont Ave. JMM 1999.162.1

Large wooden gragger (noisemaker for Purim), made from solid wood pieces, c. 1900. This gragger was found in the basement of a Highlandtown rowhouse on Fairmont Ave. JMM 1999.162.1

But that’s one of the points that Purim makes, isn’t it? It’s the holiday on which we are commanded to get so drunk that we cannot discern the difference between “blessed be Mordechai” and “cursed be Haman.” But maybe the drunkenness is necessary only to get us to drop our inhibitions that create the difference in the first place. Maybe the equality is always there for us to see, if only we could (indeed, Rabbi Waskow points out that using gematria, the two phrases are equivalent).

And see it we must, as a later passage made plain to me:

When the original history happened, the sublime liberation of Exodus came long before the farce of Purim. But when we finish living that history and begin to learn it, absorb it into our lives, digest it so that we can make a holy future, then it may be important for us to laugh first, to let the farce come first. For power is funny, and those who hold power are ridiculous. The first stage of liberation is that we learn to laugh at them.

But power is also profound, and liberation is also at the root of all the universe. Having learned to laugh, we become ready to seek our freedom seriously. There is a time laugh—and then there is a time to ask questions. (page 127)

Today, for Purim, we eat and we drink to excess. We poke fun at everything—especially authority. And Rabbi Waskow is right. If we can see the ridiculousness in authority, we can hope to challenge it when it oversteps its bounds.  And so, with my mouth full of the taste of hamentaschen, wine, and laughter, I for one, am looking ahead to what will be needed to stand up to Pharoah, to choose right over comfort, and to leave my mitzrayim, my narrow place. I am putting on the costume of Esther’s bravery not to pretend to be something I am not, but to practice being something I know I am.

Pre- School Purim March 1974. JCC Collection, JMM 2006.13.1063

Pre- School Purim March 1974. JCC Collection, JMM 2006.13.1063

And so, dear friends, I leave you with this blessing: may we all use the foolishness of Purim to uncover the righteousness that is already in the world and in us, waiting to be exalted, and may “the memory of Purim never cease from among us.”

Purim Sameach!

Tracie Guy-DeckerA blog post by Associate Director Tracie Guy-Decker. Read more posts from Tracie by clicking HERE.

Posted in jewish museum of maryland

An Installation Process

Posted on March 2nd, 2011 by

One of the benefits of working at a small museum is that we each have the opportunity to wear many hats.  It’s how I became the graphic designer.  And the web master.  And part of the social media team.  Our days are full of little extra things that keep the job interesting.

One of those things is helping to move travelling exhibits.  The wonderful Community Outreach Coordinator Rachael Binning is responsible for finding homes across the state (and, possibly, the country) for the exhibitions curated and created by the JMM.  This is quite a task, it involves a lot of research, emails, and phone calls.  I can say that because our desks are next to each other.

This past week we installed Drawing on Tradition: The Book of Esther, an exhibit of work by artist JT Waldman, curated by the Jewish Museum of Maryland.  On Tuesday Rachael (from hereon known as Toodles to differentiate her from Rachel Kassman) drove to DC in a giant van with the work.  We unloaded everything at the Sixth & I Historic Synagogue and then treated ourselves to Chinese food and frozen yogurt.

On Thursday night, Jennifer Vess (Archivist), Rachel Kassman (Photo Archivist), Toodles and I stayed after work to help with the 18 Stones Book Signing & Reception at the Museum.  It was here that we learned that (unsurprisingly, I guess) challah with sweet butter and chocolate sprinkles is delicious.


After the program we left for DC, with a stop at Target on the way (to buy an airmattress.  And a few blouses).  We arrived in DC at Toodles’ house, quickly snuggled her dog Wednesday, and then headed to Ted’s Bulletin for dinner.  Now, there are two points that need clarification.  1) We decided to all stay at Toodles’ house Thursday night so that we could get up and begin installing first thing Friday.  2) We chose Ted’s because they have adult milkshakes.

Boozy milkshakes? We earned them!

Mmmmm… adult milkshakes, burgers, and more!  This was a good dinner out.  After dinner we went back to the house, took Wednesday on a long walk, admired the architecture of Capitol Hill, and then knitted and watched movies.

Early the next morning we got moving, got breakfast, and arrived at Sixth & I.  Here is where I stop to say the most sincere thank you I can muster to Cecilio, the hanging genius/madman that helped us hang.  He was a precise hanging machine and we’d still be there, crying in the corner, exhibition unfinished, if not for him.  We all divided up tasks– hanging, condition reporting, putting up the giant decal that took 10 years off my life.  And amazingly, it went up!

An installation in progress

Throughout the process, we took a lot of photos with my DSLR and the end product was (what we think is) an awesome stop-motion video.

Drawing on Tradition: The Book of Esther from Jewish Museum of Maryland on Vimeo.

A just reward

Afterwards we rewarded ourselves with much deserved frozen yogurt.  Be sure to stop by Sixth & I to see the exhibit through April 29!

Posted in jewish museum of maryland


Posted on January 25th, 2011 by

A Blog by Esther Weiner

So you thought that because we are coming to the end of January 2011, Chanukah would not resurface until December 8, 2011?  Think again, my friends…oh yes, we still have wonderful Chanukiot in our Museum Shop, we still feature dreidles, amazing dreidles, from hand painted small wood dreidles, that spin amazingly well, to stone and crystal dreidles, with holograph designs inset in the crystal, to sterling silver dreidles in the Yemenite design, with intricate designs and set with semi-precious stones. I believe we still have a box or two of bags of chocolate gelt, still delicious, still yummy to eat. Do plan to visit us, or our on-line shop.

Its part of my job as Museum Shop Manager to make sure that our merchandise is fresh, up to the minute, and draw the visitor in to the magic of the museum shop at the JMM. But I digress, this is about Chanukah Re-Visited…

As a part of the JMM Speakers Bureau, I speak to audiences on a topic that is very special and near and dear to my heart, The Jewish Kitchen: A Link to the Generations.  When I speak, I often give a demonstration of a favorite recipe of mine, one that is fairly easy to transport to a room with no kitchen, no oven, no utensils, nothing. I enjoy speaking to my audiences, and hopefully, they enjoy listening and sharing their Jewish Kitchen with mine.  Again, I digress.

Okay, so how, you may ask, does this relate to Chanukah Re-Visited?

Well, the museum is host to many, many school groups. High school groups, middle school children, children as young as 7 or 8, many have never been to a museum, and many have never been to a synagogue.  It is wonderful to see them and know that they are being shown the exhibits by our talented education department and docents. They visit the new exhibition in the downstairs area of the newly renovated Lloyd Street Synagogue, Synagogue Speaks. I have seen the wonder in the eyes as they walk in with their teachers; I know they are absorbing everything. When they come into the museum shop, we explain what certain items mean, and their interest is amazing.

So, now here it comes–normally in December, when the children come to visit the museum, we have a program where I make latkes for some of the school groups. I set up a couple of tables, put out two little gas stoves, I bring my food processor, two frying pans, potatoes, flour, eggs, oil, apple sauce and sour cream!  I work quickly since their appetites are quite amazing. The room is full of the scent of oil and fried latkes, smothered in apple sauce or sour cream. This December, Chanukah was so early, we never got to make latkes for the school kids….and they tell me that these children are ready for latkes!

Well, we will have Chanukah, again, next week…we will have a latke demonstration, a talk about Chanukah and a sing-a-long…the kids will have fun, and we get to re-visit Chanukah in January.  Hey, we might even spin dreidles…why not?

Posted in jewish museum of maryland