It’s not too late to decorate!

Posted on December 9th, 2015 by

In a previous existence, I was in charge of decorating an historic house museum for “the holidays” every December.  This usually meant Christmas decorations, since it was a house built in the early 19th century for a family of Episcopalians.  However, the house is also the main museum of the Montgomery County Historical Society (Rockville, Md.) so we did our best to change things up, and incorporate the holiday traditions of 20th and 21st century County residents.

Thus, in 2013 we decorated the parlor as if it were ready for a 1960s Chanukah celebration. I borrowed era-appropriate menorahs and dreidels from a few County families, but other elements were harder to come by.  Thank goodness for the internet and the public library, which provided me with some examples of vintage decorations (and the history behind them).  I found several variations (like this one) on bright and colorful “Happy Hanukkah” banners, which would suit the parlor walls – so, being well-versed in having to invent ‘antique’ decorations, I made my own banner.  Here it is, hanging on the wall of the circa 1815 Beall-Dawson House, above an 1840s pianoforte.

Photo courtesy of Montgomery History, Rockville, Maryland.

Photo courtesy of Montgomery History, Rockville, Maryland.

Why am I writing about this now, two years later?  Well, for one thing, it’s a chance to show off my craft skills; for another, it’s an opportunity to encourage you to look for – and make noise if you do not find –  Jewish history within ‘general’ history museums. But really, it’s because some of the sources I used in 2013 came from the JMM collections, via our online database, and last week I came across two of those fabulous images again:

Elayne Fedder, Bernice Friedman, Myrna Cardin, and Belle Legum at the JCC Volunteers’ Chanukah Party, circa 1970.  Donated by the JCC.  JMM# 2006.013.456

Elayne Fedder, Bernice Friedman, Myrna Cardin, and Belle Legum at the JCC Volunteers’ Chanukah Party, circa 1970. Donated by the JCC. JMM# 2006.013.456

Chanukah crafts at the JCC, circa 1970.  Donated by the JCC.  JMM#2006.013.274b

Chanukah crafts at the JCC, circa 1970. Donated by the JCC. JMM#2006.013.274b

These great photos prompted me to delve a little further into the collections, looking for even more holiday decorations.  Alas, we do not have an original paper banner, but I did find some helpful hints for making your own décor.  Many of the contemporary sources advise parents to make Chanukah – though not the most important of holidays – a bright and festive time for their children. Much has been written about the whys and hows of Chanukah celebrations in modern America, and I can hardly hope to cover it all in one blog post; but for now, it’s worth noting that as private and public Christmas decorations became more and more popular in the mid 20th century, so too did Chanukah decorations.

For example, in The Jewish Home Beautiful (The National Women’s League of the United Synagogue of America, 1941), the authors advise the liberal use of crepe paper flowers and streamers, or even “a large dreidel made out of parchment or crepe paper of many bright colors;” they continue, “the color scheme should be predominately orange, the usual color of the Hanukkah candles, with green or blue as a complementary color.”

In Happy Chanuko, a 1943 picture book written by Jane Bearman and published by the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (our copy was collected by Baltimore educator Louis L. Kaplan), the young protagonists are posed in front of a variety of decorative pieces, like this crepe paper streamer and electric Star of David.

“Happy Chanuko”, 1943. Louis L. Kaplan collection, donated by Efrem Potts. JMM#1995.192.158

“Happy Chanuko”, 1943. Louis L. Kaplan collection, donated by Efrem Potts. JMM#1995.192.158

Holiday decorating is not for everyone, and yes, Chanukah has already begun; but if this post has inspired you, I say it’s never too late to decorate! I’ll leave you with some instructions, and encouraging words, from the 1947 Hanukkah syllabus of the Holiday Institute for Jewish Mothers:

Decoration ideas, including wall streamers and a large star, from “The Holiday Institute for Jewish Mothers: Hanukkah,” (Bureau of Jewish Education, Buffalo, New York, December 1947).  Rabbi Uri Miller Collection, donated by Jerome Kadden.  JMM#1995.173.032

Decoration ideas, including wall streamers and a large star, from “The Holiday Institute for Jewish Mothers: Hanukkah,” (Bureau of Jewish Education, Buffalo, New York, December 1947). Rabbi Uri Miller Collection, donated by Jerome Kadden. JMM#1995.173.032

“There are so few ready-made decorations for Hanukkah one can purchase, and what fun would that be anyway! So with family cooperation, a little creativity and materials such as crepe paper, paste etc., it is surprising how well we can express our ideas. . . . We hope you will enjoy creating Holiday fun.  This is your Decoration Committee signing off and wishing you all a very Happy Hanukkah.

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

 

 

 

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Thanksgiving Preparations; or, A Festive Platter, 1930-37

Posted on November 9th, 2015 by

As Thanksgiving approaches, thoughts turn to family celebrations and all the preparations that go with them: making travel plans, or – if  you’re the host or hostess – choosing recipes, decorations, and serving ware.  After all, presentation is just as important as the food itself! If you’re feeling like your best china (or your favorite portable casserole dish) has been seen too many times before, now’s your chance to look around for something a bit different in advance of the holiday. May I suggest something with vintage flair, like our golden pheasant platter?

Donated by Bonnie Hoback, JMM 1994.139.1

Donated by Bonnie Hoback, JMM 1994.139.1

Full disclosure: I originally intended to write about turkeys, and was pleased to discover that we had a turkey platter… only to find upon closer examination that, no, it’s not a turkey.  No matter; our friend Pheasant looks jolly enough, if a trifle startled, and the platter has a nice little story.

Slightly startled pheasant.

Slightly startled pheasant.

The dish was made by the Pope-Gosser China Company of Ohio in the 1930s. In that decade, the company got into the business of selling customized promotional pieces: plates, dishes, and mugs with a pretty picture and the name of the shop. For small stores around the country, these pieces served as permanent advertising (reminding you of their fine goods with every meal) and, if given away or sold for a tiny price, they also made a nice customer perk. In this case, our platter was made for Checket, Gerber & Co., a clothing and furniture store on N. Gay Street, Baltimore.

“Compliments of Checket-Gerber & Co., Furniture – Clothing, 237-39 N. Gay St.”  Yes, the first e in “Checket” is printed upside down.

“Compliments of Checket-Gerber & Co., Furniture – Clothing, 237-39 N. Gay St.” Yes, the first e in “Checket” is printed upside down.

Checket,  Gerber & Co. was a partnership between Jewish businessmen Henry W. Checket, Benjamin P. Checket, and Jacob Gerber.  I’ve not found much about these gentlemen (other than that two of them belonged to Shaarei Tfiloh Congregation), but looking through various Baltimore City directories can help trace the evolution of the company. The shop originated with Henry’s father Hyman Checket, who had a clothing store on E. Baltimore St. in the early 1900s; Henry and Benjamin (perhaps a cousin?) were working for him by 1908, and Jacob Gerber joined the firm in the early 1910s.  By 1926 the store had moved from E. Baltimore to 239 N. Gay St., and in 1930 the listing includes the storefront at 237.  Gerber left the partnership by 1937, for that year’s directory lists it simply as Checket & Co Furniture, on N. Howard.

The platter was donated by Bonnie Amend Hoback, whose mother Louise acquired it during one of her shopping trips in East Baltimore and – based on the worn condition, including chips in the rim and some light staining under the glaze – used it for some years.  Mrs. Hoback recalled, “My mother took me shopping in the 1930s on Gay Street. It was around Thanksgiving. I remember the many kindnesses shown to us. The children were always given something. My mother bought me a coat at this store, and a very kind gentleman took care of us. There was a potbelly stove on each floor . . . . They knew us as customers because my family shopped on Gay Street and Lombard Street all the time [although] our family was not Jewish.”  These pleasant memories prompted Mrs. Hoback to donate the platter to the museum in 1994.

…And, while looking through the Jewish Times for a Checket, Gerber & Co. advertisement (no luck) I found my turkeys after all:

Here’s the cover image for the November 18th, 1932 Baltimore Jewish Times.  Happy Thanksgiving!

Here’s the cover image for the November 18th, 1932 Baltimore Jewish Times. 

Happy Thanksgiving!

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

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Yom Kippur 2015 / 5776 Or What Lyme Disease Taught Me About Fasting

Posted on September 22nd, 2015 by

Regular readers of my guest blogs on the Simon Family JCC site will know that I often write about the Jewish holidays as I experience them (again) through my 3-year-old daughter’s eyes. Indeed, my thoughts about Rosh Hashanah last week followed that theme. For Yom Kippur, I am feeling slightly more self-reflective.

The most recognizable component of Yom Kippur, the “Day of Atonement,” to the non-Jew is likely the fast. Traditionally, Jewish people fast for the 25 hours of the holiday. This fast is meant to be a complete fast, and the rabbis tell us it consists of abstaining from five things: food, water, washing or anointing the body, sexual intercourse, and wearing leather shoes.

In my memory bank of 38 Yom Kippur observances (and maybe a few lack thereof), I have this deeply rooted understanding that we fast from the sustenance of the body in order to focus all of our attention on the sustenance of the soul. In Seasons of Our Joy, Arthur Waskow writes, “The mouths not used for food were used for chanting praise to God” (p. 33). (Regular readers will by now recognize this as my go-to reference on the holidays.)

I’ve been thinking a lot about that idea—that we are asked to somehow suppress our physical selves in preference to our spiritual selves—because of my experience right before Rosh Hashanah this year.

On the Friday before Rosh Hashanah (which, you remember, began on a Sunday evening), I discovered a growing, hot, red rash that looked much like a bullseye, just above my left knee. It was precisely the same spot where, about 10 days prior, I’d removed a tiny tick. My trip to the urgent care provider confirmed my fear: this is Lyme disease.

color photo of tick species known to carry lyme disease.

Not the most attractive of bugs, is it?

The good news for me is that I caught it very quickly. Once I complete my three-week course of antibiotics, I am likely to have no lasting effects of the disease. Still, it was not an easy experience for me. I had extreme body aches and headaches, swollen eyelids, and what felt like cotton shoved cruelly into the recesses of my skull. The pain-killer provided short islands of tolerable pain in a sea of excruciating pain. Further, I happen to get nauseated when in extreme pain. So in addition to the pain, I was physically ill many times.

I actually was fasting from most of the 5 things from which the rabbis tell us to abstain (I did shower many times, since the hot water gave me small respite from the headaches).

I was not thinking of God. Nor was I praying, unless you count “please, God, let me not throw up again” or “please, God, let me make it the next hour until I can take more pain meds.”

When, after a full three days on the antibiotics, I woke up on Rosh Hashanah day (Monday), with only the slightest trace of a headache, I certainly did say a prayer of thanksgiving. (Though if I’m honest with myself, I’m not sure if I was praying to God or to Alexander Fleming and his miraculous discovery.) The timing of the whole experience made me very curious to see more about what the rabbis have to say about this fast that I—and millions of other Jewish people—am about to undertake. (Though I will not execute a full fast, as I will definitely be ingesting enough food and water to consume at least three capsules of amoxicillin on Wednesday.)

In Leviticus, (JPS translation), we read:

The Lord spoke to Moses saying: Mark, the tenth day of this seventh month is the Day of Atonement. It shall be a sacred occasion for you: you shall practice self-denial…” (23:26).

The root of the word the JPS translators render “self” (in “self-denial”) is nefesh, a word often translated as “soul,” but may more accurately be translated as “ego” or “person.” Though the JPS’s choice of “self” is certainly more poetic. What I find most interesting about the word choice—in both Hebrew and English—is that the Torah does not say “afflict your bodies” or some other construction that speaks mainly to the physical.

My tick-borne affliction of the body was not one that I chose, and so it did not allow the sublimation of my ego/person/self in place of the greater good that is my community and the divine.

On Yom Kippur itself, from bemas the world over, Jewish people will hear words that will speak to this truth. The Leviticus portion I excerpted above will be followed by a reading from Isaiah (57:14 – 58:16) in which the prophet angrily tells the community that a fast that consists of an empty belly is not enough. In God’s voice he asks, “Is such the fast I desire, / A day for men to starve their bodies?” (58:5).

The prophet goes on to answer his own question:

No, this is the fast I desire:

To unlock the fetters of wickedness,

And untie the cords of the yoke

To let the oppressed go free;

To break off every yoke.

It is to share your bread with the hungry,

And to take the wretched poor into your home;

When you see the naked, to clothe him,

And not to ignore your own kin. (58:6 – 58:7)

The fast of Yom Kippur is not to just to withhold the bread from my belly, but to share it with the hungry. It is not just to afflict the self, but to repair the world. For how can we have compassion for the hungry if we always have a full belly? How can we recognize our own privileges—whether they be full bellies or pain-free mornings or any other host of comforts we take for granted—if we never take the time to acknowledge them?

Once again the ancient voices reach into the present—and, I hope, my future—and surprise me with their wisdom.

For all those who observe, this year I will not wish you an easy fast. Rather, I pray that we all achieve a meaningful fast. Shanah Tovah u’Metuchah, wishing you a good, and sweet, new year.

This post was originally published at http://www.simonfamilyjcc.org/yom-kippur-what-lyme-disease-taught-me-about-fasting/

Tracie Guy-DeckerA blog post by Associate Director Tracie Guy-Decker. Read more posts from Tracie by clicking HERE.

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