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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Season’s Greetings from the Jewish Museum

Posted on December 25th, 2017 by

A blog post by Collections Manager Joanna Church. To read more posts by Joanna click HERE.

Unsurprisingly, the Jewish Museum of Maryland does not have very many Christmas cards in its collections.  We do have a few, though, including two sent by Philip Perlman to his friend Dr. Lucille Liberles around 1940.


Left: “Season’s Greetings,” circa 1939.  Right: “Christmas Greetings,” circa 1941. Both gift of D.C. Liberles. JMM 1980.29.67b, .64b

In 1936, Baltimore native Philip B. Perlman purchased Greenbank Farm, a 90-acre estate (complete with pre-1800 farmhouse) in the My Lady’s Manor area of Monkton, Baltimore County.  A lawyer and former newspaperman, he had earlier served as Secretary of State for Maryland; later he was appointed U.S. Solicitor General – the first Jewish man to hold the position – under President Truman.  In addition to his professional career, he was active in the local museum and art scene, including work with the Walters Art Museum and the Maryland Historical Society. Several sources mention that he had homes on Park Heights Avenue and at the Shoreham Hotel in DC, but his obituary in the Baltimore Sun also referenced his “country home on the Manor.”

Mr. Perlman surrounded by American antiques, possibly at Greenbank Farm. His Baltimore Sun obituary stated, “He acquired a notable collection of antique American furniture which he lodged in his country home on the Manor. He seemed to carry in his head the origins and dates of each piece.” (August 2, 1960)  Gift of D.C. Liberles. JMM 1980.29.72b

Soon after he purchased the farm, Mr. Perlman decided to make it the focus of his holiday greetings; rather than choose a holiday card featuring an illustration of a picturesque American scene, he used a photo of his very own picturesque farmhouse. Though not as ubiquitous as today’s photographic holiday cards, personalized photo cards were certainly available by the late 1930s; these two examples are mass-produced cards, with the name of the farm and the sender printed locally and original photos of the house pasted into the little window inside. (I particularly like the mob of sheep in the foreground of the earlier card; they don’t look terribly festive to me, but I can appreciate the intent.)

“To wish you a Merry Christmas and every happiness in the New Year / Philip B. Perlman,” circa 1939. Gift of D.C. Liberles. JMM 1980.29.67b

“Greenbank Farm / Monkton, Md. / Philip B. Perlman,” outer card design copyright 1940, circa 1941. Gift of D.C. Liberles. JMM 1980.29.64b

These two Christmas cards were sent to Perlman’s good friend Dr. Lucille Liberles, another Baltimore native. Both were Jewish, but Chanukah greeting cards weren’t really a thing at this time (at least not mass-produced ones), and I can see that a public figure like Mr. Perlman might choose to go ahead and send Christmas cards to his mailing list, regardless of his own religious inclinations.

Friends Philip B. Perlman and Dr. Lucille Liberles, circa 1950. Gift of D.C. Liberles. JMM 1980.29.73b

BONUS: Here’s an example of a Chanukah greeting card from the early 20th century … albeit one on a picture postcard of a train station, requiring the writer to make his own greetings:

Postcard: Photographic view of “New Union Station, Washington, D.C.,” published by I&M Ottenheimer, Baltimore. Postmarked Baltimore, December 25, 1910; addressed to Mrs. S. Szold in New York City. “Balto. Dec 22d 1910. Wishing you, and your family, a pleasant Hanucah [sic], and many returns of them. Mit Gruss, F. Gichner.”  Baltimore’s Sophie Szold and her daughter Henrietta were living in New York that year; the sender might have been Frederick S. Gichner of Washington, DC, perhaps visiting his family in Baltimore at the time. Museum purchase. JMM 1993.123.11

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A Family’s Menorah

Posted on December 14th, 2017 by

A blog post by Collections Manager Joanna Church. To read more posts by Joanna click HERE.

This week, my college alumni Facebook group has been running a “show us your menorah” thread. Even better than the fun photos submitted are the short stories about each menorah’s origins and meaning, from heirloom antiques to kids’ craft projects and everything in between. Naturally enough, this got me thinking about the JMM’s collection of hanukiahs.  Each one has a story to tell, whether through information shared by the donor, or physical evidence of use and love.

Two women look over student entries in a menorah contest held by the JCC, December 1978. Gift of the Jewish Community Center of Greater Baltimore. JMM 2006.13.1103

I thought at first that I’d try to identify my favorite menorah for today’s post, and I started going through each catalog record as if it was a contest or an audition. But I couldn’t decide! So instead of claiming a winner, I settled on giving this particular example a few moments in the spotlight.

Silver and metal menorah, created from older pieces in the 1920s and used by the Weistock family of the Ukraine and Baltimore. Gift of Regina Weistock. JMM 1985.26.1

This menorah is not the largest (or smallest, for that matter) one in our collections, nor is it the fanciest or oldest or any other superlative along those lines… but it caught my eye because it looks like it was created out of several pieces, with the contrast between the clean, modern arms and the more rococo-looking base. The lamp consists of eight silver oil cups, plus a brass shamash, on a silver bar atop a repoussé metal base (likely an alloy, perhaps white metal or Brittania metal), with curled silver arms supporting the top.  These disparate pieces are of very different styles, and a close look reveals the various screws and solder holding it all together, but the finished lamp has its own unique look amongst the more ‘typical’ pieces in our collection.

A little further investigation brought to light this story from the donor, Regina Weistock (1912-2006):

“The 8 silver cups that are soldered on the silver bar were used by Reb Levi Itzahak of Berdichev. My parents [Hilda Senenovsky and Hyman Weistock] were born in Berdichev and an ancestor of my father’s bought these silver cups (there were 9 of them) for 3000 rubles. For a number of generations they were handed down to the youngest in the family. My father was the youngest in his family. When he was leaving Russia for the United States [around 1899] an older brother wanted to buy them from him, because he said ‘when you get to America you will become a goy.’ This, of course, did not happen.

“My father died in 1925. By that time we had only the 8 cups. My mother took them to a jeweler by the name of Michaelson and asked him to put together some way so no more would be lost. Mr. Michaelson fashioned the silver bar and side arms and then connected them to this interesting stand. Since my father’s death we stuck candles into the little cups. They are actually made for oil and wick.”

That would likely be Nathan J. Michaelson & Son, who advertised in the 1926 Baltimore City directory as a “manufacturing jeweler” at 722 E. Baltimore Street. We don’t know if the “interesting stand” was a leftover piece in his workshop, or an antique he acquired with the thought of turning it into something else. The pattern is so worn that I’m not sure what it originally depicted; this part definitely warrants a little more research.

Top view

Though Ms. Weistock didn’t expand on the history of the menorah after the 1920s, it clearly enjoyed many Chanukah celebrations. True, the base may have been worn or damaged before Mr. Michaelson put it to a new use, but it seems more likely that much of the wear and tear came thanks to the Weistock family (a large one; Hyman and Hilda had seven children) and their annual use of a treasured heirloom. Many of the menorahs in our collection are broken and/or repaired, reminding us that these artifacts are not simply for show; they were handled, loved, and maintained, for years or even generations, moved from home to home and country to country.

Detail: base

Detail 2: column

In addition to the history of the silver cups, Ms. Weistock added another element that had meaning for her: a connection to the broader world of Judaica and art history.  She concluded her notes, “When in 1949 I visited the Bezalel Museum in Jerusalem I found there a room given over entirely to Hanukiah. In that room is a glass cabinet that contains a few Hanukiah that look exactly as this one and they are labelled as dating circa 1750. Mr. Michaelson must have known of these when he got the base he did for our silver cups.”

Side view

So, JMM blog readers, show us your menorahs! What stories and memories do they hold? (We promise it’s not a contest!)

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