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It’s that magical time of the year…

Posted on December 10th, 2012 by

A blog post by Visitor Services Coordinator Abby Krolik.

It’s that magical time of the year…when everything smells like oil and onions. That’s right, it’s Chanukah time! This is my first year after graduating from college, which means that it’s the first time that Chanukah has not been overshadowed by exams and term papers—a fact for which I am very grateful. No more squeezing in a Hillel candlelighting and Rugrats Maccabee episode study break between marathon paper-writing sessions. Instead, I’ve got a whole week of holiday parties to look forward to (and probably a few Christmas-centric parties to follow afterward).

Of course, the grand holiday season kickoff event was Esther Fest, last Thursday—never mind the mayor’s monument lighting ceremony, which was missing the key ingredient to holiday fun: Esther and fried foods.  In fact, the museum (and my clothes) still smelled faintly of oil, onions, and good times when I came in on Sunday morning!

The holiday cheer continued for me last night (even though I wasn’t at Diner and Donuts) at my parents’ Chanukah party, where my mother managed, yet again, to invite a seder-level number of people to the house and still make too much food! As my dad likes to say, “she’s got a bit of the Catskills in her.” My brother and I are always pleased when this happens because it means we can each take home left-overs to our respective houses (in other words, the young adult version of our sibling rivalry takes the form of “tupperware wars”).  Our roommates have come to love the Krolik Family Supermarket.

But back to Chanukah.  And parties. Later this week, my roommate and I will continue the festivities with a small gathering of our own in which we will teach our goyish friends to play dreidel. However, we will probably not teach them the meaning of Chanukah. They will probably go home still thinking that Chanukah is the Jewish Christmas.

Which brings me to an interesting op-ed I read in the New York Times this week, entitled “The True Meaning of Hanukkah.” The author, Hilary Krieger, delivers a kind of short d’var torah on what Chanukah (in its many spellings) really celebrates. Is the holiday all about the miracle of the oil? Or is it simply a celebration of a military victory? Krieger’s conclusion is very interesting.  She says that by having observing a holiday that celebrates both a bloody war and a spiritual miracle, we are invited to reflect on the presence of light and dark in the world. Krieger also reminds us that these conflicting messages are a common motif in Judaism. At Passover, we celebrate our independence from slavery while also spilling out some of our wine to acknowledge the suffering endured by the Egyptians, and on Yom Kippur, we reflect on the confusing story of the Sacrifice of Isaac. So, while Chanukah does not have the theological significance for Judaism that Christmas has for Christianity, it is an opportunity to remember and practice the ancient Jewish tradition of self-reflection and questioning.

Apparently, you can take the student from compulsory essays, but you can’t take the compulsion to write essays from the (former) student.

Posted in jewish museum of maryland

Esther Fest!!

Posted on December 7th, 2012 by

A blog post by Program Manager Rachel Cylus. Photos by Will Kirk.

“If you’ve got latkes, sour cream and applesauce, of course it’s gonna be great!”  – Esther Weiner

These are the words I overheard Esther use to describe the success of last night’s Esther Fest program.  But, of course all of us present know what made Esther Fest the place to be last night… our very own Esther Weiner, gift shop manager, latke chef extraordinaire and all around amazing person.  Billed as “the most hilarious human on earth,” Esther, whose repertoire of jokes included classics about the Catskills and Borscht Belt as well as anecdotes from her own life, never disappoints.  Even her husband, Morty, told a joke!  It was certainly a family affair – Esther had the whole room smiling and laughing as she and her granddaughters fried up delicious latkes in honor of Chanukah.

This year as part of a fun twist, Esther invited audience participation, giving prizes to the Brews & Schmooze young adult audience members who shared Chanukah memories or could recount the facts of the epic battle commemorated during the holiday.  Prizes included dreidels, chocolate gelt, and a car mezuzah.  Car mezuzahs (available for purchase in the JMM gift shop) are just like the traditional mezuzahs affixed to doorposts, except they contain the traveler’s prayer and can be anchored to the inside of a car.  And, as Esther informed us, they have saved her from many a close call.  The grand prize winner was Jennie Gates Beckman for her rendition of the song, “I am a Latke.”

If you missed the program, you can catch a recording of Esther making latkes with WYPR’s Aaron Hankin tonight at 7:40pm and tomorrow, December 8th at 1:40pm.  As promised last night, below you will find the recipe for Esther’s famous latkes:

Potato Latkes

4 medium potatoes, peeled, slice 1 potato in quarters lengthwise, cut 3 in cubes for your processor, keep in cold water


1 medium sweet onion – cut up

1 tsp salt

1/8 tsp pepper

½ tsp garlic powder

½ tsp baking powder

½ tsp sugar (if potatoes taste slightly bitter)

3 tblsp flour

Vegetable oil for frying


Grate one potato with the grater blade in food processor, put in bowl, put the cubed potatoes in processor and whirl with cutting blade until just chopped, not too fine.  Repeat until all the potatoes are grated.  If watery, place potatoes in strainer and then in your mixing bowl.

Put eggs and onion in blender; whirl to combine, do not leave pieces of onion intact.  Add to that potatoes in the bowl.

Add salt, pepper, garlic powder, baking soda and flour to thicken the batter slightly.

Heat oil in large skillet (or two smaller ones) until a drop of water tells you that oil is hot enough, it will bounce around the oil.  Drop and drag one tblsp potato mixture for each pancake.  The “dragging” with your spoon will leave little “strings” of potato to crisp and make the latkes a little thinner.

Fry crisp and golden brown on all sides.

Wishing you a happy Chanukah from everyone here at the Jewish Museum of Maryland!

Posted in jewish museum of maryland

Tasting and Telling Stories at Two Museums

Posted on November 28th, 2012 by

A blog post by Program Manager Rachel Cylus.

We sat around the table together eating delicious foods, telling stories of family and friends, and laughing.  No, I’m not talking about Thanksgiving.  One week before families and friends sat down to turkey and stuffing, the Jewish Museum of Maryland and the Reginald F. Lewis Museum invited Baltimoreans to come together and share a meal and some stories with friends and strangers alike.  Sabbath Tables was a program that was made possible by the Maryland State Arts Council Maryland Traditions program.  It looked at the common thread and unique elements of the Jewish and African American Sabbath meal traditions.

On November 18th, over 80 participants broke bread together at the JMM, enjoying slices of challah, cups of grape juice, and steaming bowls of matzah ball soup (no kidding, the whole Museum smelled like my grandma’s house).  As attendees took seats at tables next to people they may never have met before, Mary Zajac, an expert in foodways and the Food Editor for Style Magazine, discussed the meaning of a day of rest and how it is set apart from the rest of the week.  She facilitated conversations about the memories and stories we all have surrounding Shabbat, Sabbath, or just family dinners.

Then we all headed by foot the few blocks from the JMM to the RFLM with a few stops along the way to discuss the neighborhood.  Arriving at the Lewis, we were ushered into their beautiful theater space.  The food was delicious – sweet tea, fried chicken, string beans, macaroni and cheese, cornbread – a feast.  Encouraged to sit with different people than we sat with at the JMM, everyone got settled around large round tables.  Storyteller Diane Macklin delighted us with memories of her Sunday dinners as a child.  Then participants at each table shared their stories.

It was an afternoon that warmed our souls and brought back memories and stories.  For me and my family it motivated a new tradition at our Thanksgiving table.  We decided to include recipes from members of our family who are no longer with us or who no longer are able to cook their most beloved recipes.  My mother shared her mother’s meat blintz recipe (modified with turkey in place of ground beef for the holiday), and I recreated my great grandmother’s chocolate cake according to the memories of my mother.  Thanks to the MSAC, the Lewis Museum, Mary Zajac and Diane Macklin and to everyone else who actively participated and made our Sabbath Tables program such a success.  I hope everyone had a lovely Thanksgiving.

Don’t miss Esther Fest, on Thursday, December 6th.  As part of our Brews & Schmooze series, our very own Esther Weiner will be cookin’ up latkes and telling stories and jokes.  Come taste the latkes, enjoy our bar (by donation), and meet lots of interesting people.  The event will be at the JMM from 6-9pm, and it is free, so bring a friend or two!

Posted in jewish museum of maryland