Once Upon a Time…11.24.2018

Posted on August 7th, 2018 by

The Baltimore Jewish Times publishes unidentified photographs from the collection of Jewish Museum of Maryland each week. If you can identify anyone in these photos and more information about them, contact Joanna Church by email at jchurch@jewishmuseummd.org

JMM 2011.29.2018

Date run in Baltimore Jewish Times: November 24, 2018

PastPerfect Accession #: 2011.029.208

Status: Unidentified – do you recognize this young participant lighting candles at a c. 1980 Levindale Hanukkah party?

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The Sweetness of a New Year

Posted on August 6th, 2018 by

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

As the fall Jewish holidays approach, Esther’s Place is gradually transforming its displays to feature beautiful Kiddush cup-candleholder sets, Rosh Hashanah educational toys, shofars, honey pots, and decorative challah covers. As I plan these displays, I’m also exploring and learning about the holidays for the first time.

The first of the upcoming holidays is Rosh Hashanah, a two-day holiday marking the Jewish New Year and starting on the first day of the Hebrew month Tishrei (in 2018, it begins at sundown on September 9). Rosh Hashanah seems like a good place to begin my education because the concept of a New Year is both joyous and relatable; while the specifics of Rosh Hashanah may be unfamiliar to me, the basic process of reflecting on a year lived and looking ahead to the coming year is personally and universally powerful.

Unsurprisingly, as JMM shop assistant, I’m particularly intrigued by the food and the rituals. I learn that at Rosh Hashanah, the challah (bread) is baked in a round shape to symbolize the continuous cycle of life and dipped in honey to express hope for a sweet New Year. The ritual blowing of the shofar (the hollowed horn of a kosher animal) during prayers also speaks to themes of continuity and renewal. Rosh Hashanah is an opportunity for atonement and reflection.

Our burgeoning shofar display at Esther’s Place.

Reflecting on this, I recall my own childhood spent celebrating Chinese New Year (also known as Lunar New Year) with my immediate family, my childhood hometown’s local Chinese Association, and frequently, my aunts and grandma from Malaysia—who often visited at this time of year.

Chinese New Year for my family always included a “steamboat” meal. Steamboat is similar to fondue, where a hot soup is heated in the central steamboat vessel while those around the table dip and cook various chosen morsels of meat, vegetables, and seafood. Though I never knew the reason for our steamboat tradition at the time, a quick Google search taught me that the steamboat’s round shape symbolizes “reunion” and marks the togetherness of the holiday—a nice parallel to Rosh Hashanah’s round challah and similar emphasis on the family meal.

Another Chinese New Year’s tradition for me was the exchange of “red packets”—money-stuffed envelopes traditionally gifted to the children of the family; yes, it’s a great time of year to be young. My brothers and I would approach our elders and then say a customary Mandarin phrase that basically means: “Happy New Year. Give me the red packet.” Chinese New Year would come to mean a time of extra pocket money and big plans.

Red packet time with my family.

My family would also join local Chinese New Year celebrations organized by the Chinese Association. And frequently, my brother Andrew and I would participate in the festival’s lion dance (pictured below). The festival typically concluded with a deafening firecracker display—a spectacle that filled me with both delight and dread as a young child.

A lion dance performance captured in my family album.

After reflecting on my Chinese New Year memories, I realized the best way to learn is through experience. So this year, I’ll enrich my Jewish education by joining my in-laws’ Rosh Hashanah service at Temple B’nai Shalom in Virginia. I hope this will expand my understanding of the High Holidays as well as deepen my growing personal connection to Judaism.

New Year’s celebrations often bring introspection and restoration—as well as the chance to refresh one’s physical space or holiday supplies. Rituals and ritual objects are so much a part of any holiday and truly help create a home or community. Whether you’re looking for beauty and uniqueness or simplicity and utility, we likely have a great option for you at Esther’s Place, and these are just some of the highlights!

Whatever your own connection to “new year,” I hope that Esther’s Place will evoke for you those special New Year’s feelings of reflection, hope, and sweetness. And if it’s time to update your ritual items, I hope you’ll stop by Esther’s Place and find out what we have to offer.

 

 

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Esther’s Place Comes Alive with Celebration and Noisemaking this Purim

Posted on February 22nd, 2018 by

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

At the beginning of the month, Deputy Director Tracie Guy-Decker and I embarked on what I’ve learned will be our bi-annual adventure to the NY NOW gift show in New York City. The gift show serves as an opportunity to meet and reorder with existing vendors and to discover wonderful new vendors and products that could enliven our Gift Shop offerings. The gift show was an exhausting and productive experience where we ordered a range of beautiful and inspiring new Judaica, books, games, and gifts.

But more on these items in a future post—today’s post is all about the delightful (and noisy!) new products we picked up for the upcoming Jewish festival of Purim.

This year, Purim begins the evening of February 28 and ends the evening of Thursday, March 1. Purim encapsulates so much of what makes a holiday or tradition powerful and engaging—story, imagination, and liveliness—which is why I’m so excited to celebrate the holiday in the JMM Gift Shop, Esther’s Place.

Purim is celebrated each year on the fourteenth day of the Hebrew month Adar and recalls the rescue of the Jewish people from Haman, a grand vizier to the Persian King Ahasuerus during the Persian Empire. Haman was incensed when Mordecai (guardian of the King’s new queen, a Jewish woman named Esther) refused to bow to him and ordered all Jews throughout the Persian Empire killed. Esther later courageously revealed her Jewish identity and successfully implored the King to save her people. The King ordered that all Jews be allowed to defend themselves against their enemies.

The story of Purim is told in the Book of Esther or Megillah, which is read in the synagogue for the holiday. Learn the story in more detail from The Little Book of Jewish Celebrations by Ronald Tauber, available at Esther’s Place (JMM Gift Shop). Or find a helpful overview of the holiday in The One Hour Purim Primer by Shimon Apisdorf, also available in the Gift Shop.

Rejoicing and celebration are key pillars of the Purim celebration so one of our missions at the gift show was to acquire a selection of noisemakers (or “groggers”) and hand puppets to complement our existing inventory of Purim-themed dress-up items and other whimsical gifts. The noisemakers are used to drown out Haman’s name during the reading of the Book of Esther, and make for a fun, seasonal gift for the spirited young (or young-at-heart) people in your life.

The Hebrew word for grogger is ra’ashan, from ra’ash, which means “noise” (thanks volunteer Rena for sharing this with me).

We were fortunate to find several varied options at the gift show, including Haman wood groggers, “Happy Purim” brightly-colored noisemakers, and wooden pop-out hand puppets (my personal favorite of our finds because of their vintage, nostalgic feel). Items now on display in the Gift Shop include a wide selection of groggers, some marionettes, Purim gift boxes, and masks and crowns (which cater to the Purim children’s tradition of dressing up).

We also have several great items left over from last year’s festivities, including, possibly, the noisiest of noisemakers, an elegant wood grogger.

A popular food at Purim is hamantaschen, a three-cornered pastry filled (typically) with fruit and rich with potential symbolism of the holiday. The word references “Haman,” the story’s villain; “mohn,” the original poppy seed filling; and “tash,” the pocket-shaped form of the cookie—and is often translated as “Haman’s pockets.” I enjoy hamantaschen (my husband once charmed me with homemade fig hamantaschen back when we were dating) so I’m delighted to better understand their origin and find a good occasion to make them.

Find hamantaschen and other recipes for the holiday in our beautiful Jewish cookbooks, and gather table-making ideas from our extensive collection of beautiful tabletop items. Stop by and share your own great traditions and recipes with us. Other traditions (in addition to the feasting and festivity) include giving to charity and giving special gifts to loved ones.

Purim is a time for whimsy, rejoicing, and celebrating the resilience of the Jewish people, and we hope you’ll find the perfect holiday gifts and inspiration at Esther’s Place. With just a few more days before the holiday, don’t delay in stopping by to pick up your Purim supplies!

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