A Year of Jewish Learning: A Tu B’Shvat-inspired Reflection

Posted on January 14th, 2019 by

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

Almost exactly one year ago, I began work at the Jewish Museum of Maryland, helping to run the Gift Shop and support the hardworking Board of Trustees—as well as support visitor services, admin, and other Museum functions as needed. My first merchandising display and my first blog assignment celebrated Tu B’Shvat, the Jewish New Year for Trees. Tu B’Shvat marked for me not only the beginning of a new job, but a new world of learning about Jewish religion and culture.

The past year saw me attend my first service (Rosh Hashanah at my husband’s family’s synagogue in Fairfax, Virginia), purchase a mezuzah (a Hanukkah gift for my husband), upgrade from a homemade paper Seder plate to a real one, and discover my own family connection to the B’nai Israel Synagogue building. The year began with a simple display and blog post about Tu B’Shvat and ended with a lovely comment from my husband on Hanukkah: his favorite thing about me working at the Jewish Museum of Maryland is that we now share something new. I also had countless wonderful conversations with JMM visitors who taught (and continue to teach) me new things every day.

I think my own internal JMM calendar will always begin with Tu B’Shvat—the beginning of my first Jewish year of learning. Using Tu B’Shvat to mark time is quite appropriate since the holiday, which falls on the 15th of the month Shevat, marks the opening of a new fruit-bearing cycle for trees in Israel. Tu B’Shvat celebrates both the literal tree and its fruit, and the tree as a metaphor for humanity.

This month, in the lead up to Tu B’Shvat on January 20, Esther’s Place Shop will mark the holiday with displays celebrating the natural world and humanity’s connections to it. Since Tu B’Shvat 2019 marks the beginning of my second year at JMM, I tried to approach the holiday in a broader and deeper way by researching the Tu B’Shvat Seder, which typically involves consuming fruit and nuts in honor of the holiday’s lessons and discussing the connections between agriculture, seasonal change, and the human experience.

Last year, our display emphasized trees, but this year, in addition to featuring our beautiful Tree of Life products, I hope to think more broadly about the meaning of Tu B’Shvat and the metaphors of trees, fruits, and seasonal change in our lives. After reading a number of Tu B’Shvat Seder suggestions, I was inspired to think about Esther’s Place products that explore growth, productivity, possibilities, protection for the world we inhabit, and mystery and the pursuit of new knowledge.

The display will include tableware and Judaica that honors the fruits of Tu B’Shvat and the beauty and possibilities of the natural world, like this Pomegranate Mini Pot by Michael Aram (left) and this Flower Blossom Bowl by Quest Collection (right).

It will also feature new recipes for fruits and vegetables, essays about food ethics, nature-inspired wisdom, and nature-themed objects to inspire social justice goals. Vegetarian dishes are a popular choice for Tu B’Shvat dinner, and you’ll find many great options among our cookbooks.

At Esther’s Place, many of our products ostensibly feature the natural world, but really at their core, they celebrate the interconnectedness of people and their environments. They are designed to be treasured and passed down, to spark conversation and reflection, to transform memories into art, and to infuse beauty into ritual—to name just a few.

Tu B’Shvat is a special time to contemplate our relationships to nature, and for me personally, the beginning of a new cycle of Jewish learning and growth in my role at Esther’s Place. I look forward to what this New Year of Trees will bring at JMM, including new experiences, learning opportunities, and “fruitful” endeavors.

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Vendor Spotlight on Local Jewelry Artist Carolyn Buckman

Posted on December 31st, 2018 by

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

Welcome to the latest installment of our Vendor Spotlight series: a piece highlighting local jewelry artist and longtime JMM supporter, Carolyn Buckman. You may recall reading a volunteer spotlight on Carolyn back in 2017 that described her contributions as an Esther’s Place Shop volunteer. This time, I’m pleased to feature Carolyn Buckman as a Shop vendor.

To assist me with this piece, Carolyn agreed to offer details on her creative process, her past and current projects, and her favorite JMM experience. And after reflecting on Carolyn’s answers, I was struck by the subtle connections between her jewelry-making practice and our upcoming exhibit, Fashion Statement, on view April 7 to September 15, 2019. Fashion Statement will explore the ways fashion and clothing amplify our identities, affiliations, and personal messages. And no Esther’s Place wearable better exemplifies this idea than Carolyn’s jewelry, which radiates personal expression and meaning.

Carolyn creates a range of necklaces, bracelets, and earrings for Esther’s Place, the JMM Gift Shop. Each piece is bright, bold, and one-of-a-kind, suggesting a wearer who is confident, unique, and full of personality.

In describing her process for gathering materials, Carolyn confirmed my suspicion about the importance of uniqueness in her work. Carolyn explained she is constantly browsing the local suppliers for stones, beads, and other items that make up her jewelry, as well as searching online for materials outside the area. She shared, “My goal is to design and create jewelry that isn’t available at chain stores.”

In fact, Carolyn’s jewelry-making practice also plays a valuable community service role in Baltimore. Carolyn shared, “Currently, in addition to crafting necklaces, earrings, and bracelets for the Jewish Museum, I have been creating jewelry that I donate to oncology patients at Johns Hopkins Hospital.” Carolyn has also done similar work for Sinai Hospital and Northwest Hospital in the past and hopes to resume working for these communities soon. These service projects stimulated Carolyn’s interest in the jewelry craft 10 years ago.

Carolyn’s brand and her products also speak to and honor her passion for the local Jewish community and the JMM. Her favorite JMM experience has been volunteering in the Gift Shop, especially putting out stock, setting up displays, and utilizing props to showcase merchandise. As a designer/vendor, Carolyn enjoys learning more about the techniques used in producing craft items through her work in the Gift Shop. “Most of all,” she said, “I like meeting the visitors and helping them to select from the excellent merchandise that is available for sale.”

Carolyn’s products sell quickly at Esther’s Place, and she is continually working to replenish our supply of unique, beautiful wearables. If you’re looking for bright new year’s colors that make a bold, community-focused statement, Carolyn Buckman and Esther’s Place have you covered! And don’t forget we have a wide range of jewelry pieces beyond Carolyn’s collection that are perfect for showing the world who you are.

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Vendor Spotlight: Seven Questions with Author Mark Carp

Posted on November 19th, 2018 by

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

“Reality is what we make it,” Mark Carp in Naomi’s “AMERICAN” FAMILY.

November is National Novel Writing Month and in celebration, we are delighted to feature Esther’s Place vendor and long-time JMM Member: Baltimore author Mark Carp. Carp has authored numerous novels that explore the complexities of individuals, relationships, and societies, and frequently take place in historical settings. Carp has written seven books (including six novels) and holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Maryland and an MS degree from Johns Hopkins University.

I recently met Mark Carp when he delivered his newest novel to the Gift Shop, a book titled Mr. Show Business.

The book tells the story of former TV star Jackie Goldheart and his last chance at stardom via an unexpected family connection; this latest book follows another recent publication, Naomi’s “AMERICAN” FAMILY, which tells of two Jewish teenagers and their vast ambitions when they immigrate to the United States in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Other Carp titles found at Esther’s Place include The End of Hell, The Extraordinary Times of Ordinary People, Abraham: The Last Jew, and Segalvitz.

Local novelist Mark Carp.

I was intrigued to learn more about this Baltimore writer who enjoys turning his creative insight and lens onto Jewish culture and experience, and so I posed to him seven questions. Below is what I learned.

My first question to Carp was about his creative process. Carp shared that he gets up at 5am to write. He explained further: “The process starts with a germ of an idea and then I let my instincts, formed from experience and/or research, take over. In my writing, I try to hold nothing back. I believe the writer must be unafraid and have the integrity of his beliefs.” In response to my question about his current projects, Carp explained he is working on two novellas to be published together and which, “reflect the social, political and philosophical climate of today.”

The Baltimore and Maryland Jewish communities inspire Carp’s work primarily through his personal experience. He said, “I’m a product of this environment and my nurturing and experience seems to be prevalent in my work.”

I also asked for a little-known fact about Carp’s creative process. His fact: he doesn’t believe in fate, yet believes he was fated to write The End of Hell, a World War II novel about two Jewish soldiers who are among the liberators of Dachau. The End of Hell is available for sale at Esther’s Place.

Carp’s favorite stories, in his own words, are those where “there are inherent conflicts which must be overcome, though there are seldom perfect solutions.” He added, “I have often been inspired by stories where the real-life characters, because of their wisdom, have prevailed in spite of incalculable odds.” In response to my question about how his books are best enjoyed, Carp told me, “Read with care and think about the meaning of the stories.”

 For my final question, I asked Carp to share a favorite JMM experience. He shared three—including two exhibits and a public program: “the Voices of Lombard Street exhibition, the World War II exhibition [Ours to Fight For: American Jews in the Second World War] and a talk on Louis Brandeis.”

In addition to diving into a Mark Carp book, celebrate Novel Writing Month at Esther’s Place with two more novels recently featured at our public programs. On November 13, we held a book took with author Georgia Hunter, exploring her bestselling novel, We Were the Lucky Ones, and earlier this year, in July, we held an author program with Victoria Kelly, author of Mrs. Houdini: A Novel. Copies of both books are available at Esther’s Place.

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