Something old and something new: Adventures in shop inventory!

Posted on July 4th, 2019 by

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


The annual shop inventory at Esther’s Place is a daunting task. Though we’re a relatively small operation, our stock is extensive. We’ve got books, toys, games, souvenirs, homewares, art, jewelry, and Judaica in every size, style, and price point—so the individual inventory items are quite numerous.

It’s a big job. But it’s also fun and edifying, and the best possible chance for busy staff and volunteers to slow down and get to know the inventory in a deeper way.

We conducted our inventory count over June 12 and June 13 with the invaluable assistance of five wonderful summer interns and two brave and seasoned Shop volunteers. And since we counted more efficiently this year (thanks Google Sheets!), we had a little energy left at the end to share some of our discoveries and new inspirations for the coming fiscal year.

My favorite discovery, buried deep inside the box of custom JMM postcards, was a postcard I’d never seen featuring a photograph of 1963 East Lombard Street by John McGrain. Up to that point, I had been unaware we had a postcard showcasing our beloved historic Lombard Street (the subject of permanent exhibit Voices of Lombard Street), and naturally the newly discovered postcard now occupies a prime spot at the counter!

While counting and searching inventory items on the inventory worksheet, some of the more descriptive and whimsical inventory names caught our eyes and made us smile. Featured below from left to right are the “spider bullet” mezuzah, swiss cheese mezuzah, chimes mezuzah, and waterfall Kiddush cup and candle holders.

A new term, “jacquard,” also caught my attention during the count and led me to a deeper appreciation of some of our artisan items. The Shop features two “jacquard specks” scarves and a hamsa hanging described as “royal jacquard.” Jacquard, I learned, is a complex, raised weave made on a special loom invented by Joseph Marie Jacquard. Florals, such as the image depicted on our Royal Jacquard Hamsa, are popular jacquard designs. Learn more about textile arts on July 14 during a hands-on workshop with shop-featured silk painting artist Diane Tuckman. More details on the workshop here.

The count also got us quite excited about some of our new merchandise, including car mezuzahs (a returning favorite), and shofar necklaces (a brand-new inventory item).

The yearly inventory also serves as a great reminder of interesting and handy products that haven’t been featured recently, or that our customers might not always remember we have.

Two examples are our gift enclosure cards (only $0.75 or $0.95 each and the perfect accompaniment to your gift purchase) and some of our older local history reads by valued community members, including A Life Worth Living by Ralph A. Brunn and Uncommon Threads by Philip Kahn, Jr.

Thank you to all JMM team members who gave their energy and attention to our inventory count. Visitors, stop by Esther’s Place to welcome in the new fiscal year and discover inventory items old, new, and newly “re-discovered”!

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Reading with Talia: Looking for Me

Posted on May 23rd, 2019 by

Our Visitor Services Coordinator, Talia Makowsky, is highlighting books currently available in our shop, Esther’s Place. Today’s featured book is Looking for Me in this Great Big Family by Betsy R. Rosenthal. To read more posts from Talia, click here.


In the book Looking for Me in this Great Big Family, Edith Paul is trying to figure out who she is. As a young girl growing up in Depression-era Baltimore, it’s hard enough for Edith to learn what kind of person she wants to become. To make it more complicated, Edith has a big family. There are twelve children, to be exact. With six boys and six girls, Edith is stuck right in the middle of them all.

Situated in the midst of all these different personalities, Edith writes poems to help express how she feels about her family, the good and the bad. The book, based on true stories from the author’s mother, is a collection of these lyrical poems. The poems in the book are all from the perspective of Edith over the course of a year, as she laments the ending of summer, stands up to the school bully, and tries her best to take care of her younger siblings.

This sweet book is an easy and honest read, perfect to share with your family!

Rosenthal’s writing is personable and honest. These poems feel authentic, especially since they are based on true stories. In addition, Edith shares her emotions freely with us, even if she’s feeling upset with her family members or with her situation in life. She doesn’t shy away from these moments of frustration, admitting that she’s gotten angry when her little brothers and sisters don’t listen to her. Edith also openly shows us her desire to figure out who she is, in her great big family. She compares herself to her older siblings, revealing what she admires about them or what she dislikes. She also imagines the life of her friends, especially the ones who don’t have as many brothers and sisters. Edith wonders what it would be like to not have to share the bed with her sisters, or to have brand-new shoes instead of hand-me-downs.

Despite her complaints, Edith’s family is the central part of her life. We can see this, as she’s incredibly conflicted when she finds out the history of how her Bubby came to America without her mother. Edith decides to avoid her in order to punish Bubby Etta. But Edith’s promise to not talk to her Bubby becomes harder as she misses stopping by on her way home from school, especially wanting the special treats her Bubby makes just for her.

This theme of family, and all the complications involved in loving her family, is a big part of what Edith tries to figure out, as she figures out herself. She likes being known as the “good little mother”, helping out with chores and younger siblings. However, she questions whether she deserves this title when she gets mad at her younger sister over a misunderstanding. Edith’s feelings come to a head when she loses a member of her family. Her reactions to this moment underscore how difficult it is to manage the stress of everyday life when normalcy is lost. However, this situation leads Edith to find new ways to connect with her family, and even help her to figure out who she wants to become.

This book is a thoughtful and easy read, making it a perfect gift for younger folk around the ages of 10 – 12. It’s also a great glimpse into the history of Baltimore, especially in a neighborhood like Jonestown, with the unique perspective of Edith leading the way. It even features photos of the real Edith Paul, as Betsy Rosenthal recounts what it was like to collect these stories. I found it easy to relate to Edith, even with our own differences, as she shares her desire for belonging and identity. I recommend it to anyone, older or younger, who’s interested in an honest and caring voice, of a girl trying to understand the world and how she fits in.

Come check out this, and many more books, in our Museum gift shop! We often have new additions to our collection.


Interested in picking up the book today? Stop by Esther’s Place, the gift shop at the Jewish Museum. We have it ready for you to grab or to gift to someone else!


 

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Passover is a community effort at Esther’s Place!

Posted on April 1st, 2019 by

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


This year, Passover shopping has been going strong at JMM’s Esther’s Place since February, with visitors inquiring about gifts and Judaica well before Passover merchandise officially graced the Shop floor. Passover is the holiday that commemorates the liberation of the Jewish people from slavery in ancient Egypt and is celebrated this year from April 19 to April 27.

At Esther’s Place, helping visitors find the perfect gift (whether for a loved one, or themselves!) is one of our favorite things to do. Our staff and volunteers are passionate about engaging with visitors and figuring out exactly what each person needs and how we can help. Esther’s Place staff take note of special requests and feedback and make sure it informs our purchasing decisions year to year. Our efforts are the collective result of input and creativity from volunteers and staff, requests and ideas from visitors, and valued relationships with vendors old and new.

Last year, we learned our visitors wanted more options for Haggadah (the Passover Seder text), particularly for younger readers. In response, we expanded our selection to appeal to a range of ages, Seder styles, and price points. Our selection this year includes the 30minute Seder (an affordable option with bright, engaging illustrations), My Very Own Haggadah (for younger readers), popular choice The (unofficial) Hogwarts Haggadah, and A Family Haggadah II: A Seder Service for All Ages. We also tried the Passover Haggadah Graphic Novel by Jordan B. Gorfinkel and Erez Zadok and have already sold the copies we ordered!

We were also delighted to pursue the recommendation of our resident book advisor—volunteer docent Howard Davidov—who recommended a cookbook with year-round and Passover-styled recipes featuring the culinary star of the Seder table: matzo (unleavened bread). Find tasty-looking recipes for matzo nachos, matzo pizza, and more in Matzo: 35 Recipes for Passover and All Year Long. (Howard also recommends perennial Esther’s Place favorite Did Jew Know!)

We also received a call from an old vendor, Cookie & Nudge Books, with a recommendation to offer the new book Gracie’s Passover Surprise—a gorgeous, color-filled paperback about forging new traditions while honoring old ones. Don’t forget to grab a few Gracie and Max-themed coloring pages when you purchase your copy.

In addition to helping visitors select Haggadot, it has been our pleasure to recommend Passover toys and games to inspire both fun and learning. And did you know that six of our popular “Macca Bean” soft toys are specialty themed to celebrate Passover? We have Muttzah, Gefilte, and Maroar to name a few.

The beautiful thing about holiday shopping at Esther’s Place is that visitors need not feel restricted to holiday items. We have many meaningful products that capture the essence of a tradition or story. For example, we have many children’s books that speak to Passover themes of freedom, redemption, and beginnings. Thank you to a recent visitor for reminding me how widely our books’ themes can apply!

Additionally, visitors can add creative flair to their Seder tables this Passover by exploring our tableware and finding the perfect bowl for horseradish or tray for matzo. Thank you to the Shop volunteers for helping me think creatively about what qualifies as Passover Judaica!

Esther’s Place volunteers have made enormous contributions in celebrating Passover in the Shop this year from suggesting creative ways to merchandise tableware items, to re-imagining our children’s section to highlight imagination and fun, to helping every Seder plate put its best (figurative) foot forward and shine alongside complementary Kiddush cups, candlesticks, saltwater bowls and more. Thank you Rachel, Maxine, Seth, and Laraine!

When visitors ask about or comment on our buying process I often tell them that we have “a lot of fun” doing it. This is true of course, but the real fun occurs when we have the chance to share the work with our community of visitors and benefit from their valuable feedback.

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