But first, coffee!

Posted on April 9th, 2018 by

A blog post by Deputy Director Tracie Guy-Decker. Read more posts from Tracie by clicking HERE.

I am a big fan of coffee. I drink between 2 and 3 cups a day, and though I have had healthcare providers recommend that I cut back or cut it out, I have decided that the possible harm it is doing is outweighed by my enjoyment of it. I love the smell of coffee. I love the way that first taste burns my tongue ever-so-slightly. When I wake up, my first thought is “coffee.”

This deep appreciation for the hot, brewed beverage came to me in my adulthood. I was about 28 and working on my PhD at the Divinity School of the University of Chicago (I didn’t finish). I was studying for comprehensive exams and spending at least 10 hours a day in the Regenstein Library. I was reading endless pages of rabbinic arguments and arguments about the arguments and monographs about medieval Jewish philosophy. And I was spending a big chunk of my stipend at Ex Libris, the coffee shop in the basement of the library, or at the Divinity School coffee shop, on a beverage that was already very old, but was new to me.

I was in love. Coffee became my best friend in those days, as I struggled through medieval philosophy (which I loved) and Mishnaic legal arguments (which I decidedly did NOT love). Maybe because my love affair with coffee started while I was poring over Jewish texts (and one of my two favorite coffee houses claimed to be “where God drinks coffee”), there’s a lingering association in my mind between Jewish texts and my favorite warm beverage.

In fact, I recently decided I wanted to calligraph the Hebrew word “Halleluyah” (loosely translated, according to my rabbi, as “Yay, G-d!”) using coffee as my ink.

I also had a travel mug made for myself that inserts coffee (as commentary), into the famous passage from Mica 6:8: “Do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly before your G-d.”

(I’m thinking of having these mass produced for sale at Esther’s Place. Let me know in the comments if you’d be interested.)

A colleague and I have decided to celebrate warm beverages in Esther’s Place with a display of our many mug offerings. We’ll also support our celebration by participating in #MugShotMondays on the interwebs (which I am assured is a real thing that people do about their mugs).

In preparing for this endeavor, I decided to do a little research to support my internal association between Jewish texts and my love of coffee. I went looking for rabbinic sanction of my love. I found a book entitled Jews Welcome Coffee: Tradition and Innovation in Early Modern Germany by Robert Liberles (Brandeis, 2012). Liberles reviews all of the arguments for and against coffee, especially on Shabbat, but my favorite response was the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century understanding that without coffee, Jews “would be unable to enjoy the Sabbath properly.”

Whether you drink it on Shabbat, during the week, or, like me, drink it every day, and even if you (gulp) prefer tea, I encourage you to check out the mugs we have to offer in Esther’s Place, and to follow (or join in!) our #MugShotMonday social media campaign over the next several Mondays.

Our office keurig just doesn’t have the same sort of glamour as these vintage urns, does it? JMM 1998.47.36.6

Now, if you’ll excuse me, my mug is empty, and I need to remedy that.

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What’s in (and on) a Seder Plate? JMM Staff Share Esther’s Place Favorites

Posted on March 23rd, 2018 by

A blog post by JMM Office Manager and Shop Assistant Jessica Konigsberg. For more posts from Jessica, click HERE.

During Passover, the Seder plate is, for many, the symbolic heart of both the meal and the ritual, carrying five or six items that help tell key parts of the Passover story: karpas (often parsley), charoset (sweet fruit), maror (often horseradish), zeroa (roast lamb shankbone), and beitzah (egg). Some Seder plates also contain a second bitter herb known as chazeret. And some plates may also hold an orange or other contemporary addition that conveys a social justice message and recognizes the contributions of specific members of the community, including gay and lesbian and women members of the Jewish community.

At Esther’s Place, we strive to carry Seder plates in a wide variety of styles and price points, including glass plates, ceramic plates, and even a unique and beautiful “folding” Seder plate.

The Seder plate is often a piece of great beauty, pride, and personal meaning within the home. And in honor of this, a small group of JMM staff picked out their favorite Seder plates on sale at the JMM Gift Shop, Esther’s Place, and shared a few thoughts on why they love their chosen plate and/or how they would incorporate the plate into their own Passover celebrations. Here are their selections and stories.

Tracie Guy-Decker, Deputy Director:

The Futura Seder Plate by Jonathan Adler is not only my favorite one in the Gift Shop, it is also the actual Seder plate used by my family. I first saw the plate in an internet ad, which took me to the website of the Jewish Museum Shop (the New York museum). I fell in love instantly with the plate’s mid-century aesthetic, particularly the central atomic-looking figure—and promptly bought the plate first for myself. Then I figured out how to buy it for Esther’s Place. In fact, this plate is the reason that Esther’s Place carries Jonathan Adler products (which include other beautiful and unusual Judaica and tabletop items). The plate goes with my family’s Sputnik-style dining room light fixture and mid-century-style table, perfectly complementing our dining room—both in terms of style and ritual.

Lindsey Davis, Interim Program Manager:

I love metallic and shine, so when my eye caught the Seder Plate on Pedestal by Israel Giftware Designs I knew I had found my favorite. There’s something harmonious about the mix of silver, gold, and bronze. These metals are typically isolated from one another, and I loved the risk of the designer to put them adjacent to one another and result in something so beautiful. I think the design is reflective of my own Seder table, where there always seems to be an added guest, someone new, a friend stopping by, and an extra chair being pulled up at last minute. Regardless of how fragmented all the pieces may be, they make sense together—similar to this Seder plate.

Jessica Konigsberg, Office Manager & Shop Assistant:

My favorite Seder plate is our Porcelain Tree of Life Seder Plate because it is most reminiscent of the Seder plates that my husband and I have used during each Passover we’ve shared together. To clarify, until recently, my husband and I had never owned a real Seder plate. Each year, my creative, resourceful husband makes us a disposable Seder plate using a white paper plate and colorful print-outs from the internet—one for each of the six items to be displayed on the plate. The Tree of Life Seder Plate reminds me of the bright, friendly illustrations that have come to characterize our humble Seder plates. I also love the Tree of Life imagery and symbolism generally; in particular, the idea of trees representing humanity and human aspiration resonates with me and seems to fit well with the meaning of Passover.

Tracey Dorfmann, Director of Development:

This Seder plate appeals to me because the spring motif was executed through beautiful craftsmanship. I love the combination of metalsmithing styles and patinas.

Marvin Pinkert, Executive Director:

I chose the KidKraft Passover Set. I particularly liked the two-piece afikomen. At my Seder, I’ll be saying “Next year in Jerusalem” and then out of hearing range of my son and daughter, “…maybe, the year after that a grandchild to share this afikomen with?”

The Passover holiday, which remembers the story of the Jewish people’s salvation from slavery in Egypt, is one of liberation, and the Seder is often, fittingly, a reflection of personal expression. We hope you’ll stop by Esther’s Place to experience some of this beauty and self-expression through our many beautiful and distinctive Seder plates and other table accompaniments, including Elijah’s Cups and Miriam’s Cups (the latter is a Seder addition honoring women), salt water dishes, horseradish dishes and more. How does your Passover table tell the story of the holiday and of your household and loved ones? We would love to hear.

And as you prepare for the upcoming holiday, don’t forget to check out our online collection database to enjoy the many special Seder plates in our Museum collection. Click here to explore the collection. If you stop in to the JMM library in the next couple of weeks, you can get a closer look at one of those Seder plates!

This olive wood Seder plate was brought to Baltimore from Palestine in 1909 by Sophie Szold. Gift of Jastrow Levin, JMM 1988.141.1

 

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National Reading Month at Esther’s Place:

Posted on March 14th, 2018 by

Memoirs of a Jewish Baltimore childhood, courageous acts of rescue and escape, trailblazing women, and more!

A blog post by JMM Office Manager and Shop Assistant Jessica Konigsberg. For more posts from Jessica, click HERE.

March is National Reading Month—a  celebration of the joy and importance of reading—and a great opportunity to explore some of the many great titles that we carry at the JMM Gift Shop, Esther’s Place, titles exploring topics ranging from Baltimore local and Jewish history, to Women’s Studies, to Holocaust Studies, as well as reference and general interest. We also carry several beautiful and engaging fiction titles for children that feature themes we celebrate at Esther’s Place such as memory, imagination, and of course, friendship and family in its many forms.

If you haven’t visited in a few months, you’ll find many new and exciting books perfect for gift giving or your personal library. At Esther’s Place, we truly have something for everyone—whether your tastes are historical, poignant, challenging, educational—or whimsical and fun.

One of our newest Baltimore Jewish history title is My Shtetl Baltimore by Eli W. Schlossberg. After reading just the first few lyrical chapters of this book, I was completely immersed in Mr. Schlossberg’s childhood world.

The book reads like a personal love letter to Baltimore and the tight-knit Jewish Orthodox community that made Baltimore feel like home for the author. The book feels like a joyful and nostalgic celebration of Baltimore Jewish life and I look forward to continuing through Mr. Schlossberg’s compilation of fond reminiscences of his upbringing and family in 1950s and 1960s Baltimore.

After journeying through Mr. Schlossberg’s memoirs, celebrate Women’s History Month (also this month) with a copy of Phoebe’s Fantasy: The Story of a Mafia Insider Who Helped Rescue Jazz. Phoebe Jacobs was a prominent publicist and fixer for many of the country’s pre-eminent African-American jazz musicians, including Baltimore’s own Eubie Blake. Jacobs uplifted both the artists and the industry of jazz through her ingenuity, singlemindedness, and empathy; according to author Hugh Wyatt, “she lived and dreamed jazz; [the] musicians were her heroines and heroes.” Pick up your copy to learn more.

After your vivid visit into the world of Phoebe Jacobs and the jazz industry, go on an epic journey of escape and rescue with Margret and H.A. Rey, creators of the beloved children’s book character Curious George.

The Reys were German Jews who fled Paris in 1940 on bicycle, taking with them their children’s book manuscripts. Though technically a young reader publication, The Journey that Saved Curious George: The True Wartime Escape of Margret and H.A. Rey by Louise Borden, illustrated by Allan Drummond (currently available at Esther’s Place) is a simple, beautiful, and captivating telling of the Reys’ story that effortlessly appeals to readers of all ages. Plus, it’s only $7.99 and filled with illustrations and reproductions of historic photos and documents. As I’m writing this post, we are down to our final copy of this popular title, but don’t worry, we’ll be ordering more soon!

As you continue your historical journey, consider spending time in the dangerous and heroic world of Jan Karski with paperback, Karski: How One Man Tried to Stop the Holocaust. We added this book to our Shop offerings as an accompaniment to the current (ending this month) temporary exhibit highlighting diplomats recognized as Righteous Among the Nations. Though Karski’s story is not one of the nine featured in the exhibit by Yad Vashem, his story has a local significance because he spent his later years teaching at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. and is well remembered for his teaching work. His earlier years (and the subject of the book) were spent working for the Polish underground movement and undertaking heroic missions to alert the world to the atrocities of the Holocaust.

Themes of survival and memory also abound in many of our other book offerings, such as Memories of Survival by Esther Nisenthal Krinitz and Bernice Steinhardt. This book is popular at Esther’s Place, likely due to its moving illustrations of embroidered panels and deeply personal story of author Esther’s Krinitz’s experiences during the Holocaust.

Also known for their beautiful illustrations are our many children’s titles by Baltimore-based author and illustrator Nancy Patz such as Babies Can’t Eat Kimchee (by Patz and Susan L. Roth)—a story about transition, anticipation, and imagination…when a baby sister comes along.

To create your own visual memories, pick up one or more of our new Story Lines books: Amazing Mom, Grandma is a Superhero, and Grandpa is Magical (we’ll soon have one that celebrates Dad too, but it’s currently on back order).

These books contain engaging stories with blank pages for the owner or gift giver to add accompanying illustrations (or even clippings and additional captions as one creative visitor suggested).

Another great option for recording your treasured memories is our new holiday find: No Seder Without You: Passover Past and Future by Joan Goldstein Parker (due into Esther’s Place very soon), which includes, in addition to the illustrations and author’s childhood memories, several blank pages for the owner to journal their own Passover Seder experiences.

If any of these books sound like your perfect National Reading Month project or gift, don’t delay in heading over to Esther’s Place to grab your copy. The books are available until sold—though of course—if you (our valued reading community) love the books we’ll absolutely order more. The books of Esther’s Place are vehicles of memory—both for remembering and elevating the many untold stories—and for finding, connecting, and recording your own.

And don’t forget to keep up to date on our upcoming book signings, including the release of new JMM book On Middle Ground in April, via our Events page.

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