Our Favorite Esther’s Place Stories

Posted on October 12th, 2018 by

This month’s edition of Performance Counts is from Office Manager and Shop Assistant Jessica Konigsberg. To read more posts from Jessica, click here. To read past editions of Performance Counts, click here.


At Esther’s Place, we hope to provide that personal touch to your JMM experience—the opportunity to slow down and reflect on the exhibits and tour and find special items to take home with you so that you might continue that spark of curiosity with a great book, treasure that moment of connection with a personal memento, or relate a favorite story to a loved one via the perfect gift.

After starting 9 months ago as JMM’s Shop Assistant, it has been my great pleasure to get to know the stories that make a JMM experience meaningful and the products that capture our visitors’ imaginations—or even just make them laugh. So I was delighted to write this month’s Performance Counts and to take a deep dive into the Gift Shop to discover our visitors’ favorite Esther’s Place stories and how we at JMM been evolving and growing to meet these needs.

What stories have been shared or suggested, requested, or unexpectedly beloved this year in the Gift Shop by our valued visitors? To answer that question, let’s look at some of the top sellers (by quantity) from the previous Jewish calendar year!

In the past year, we’ve held many book talks, making for an especially engaging and edifying year of stories, ranging from beloved tales of Jewish Baltimore to the cultural contributions of Jewish punk music to the intriguing career of Harry Houdini. Our top-selling title for the year is new Jewish Baltimore history book, On Middle Ground: A History of the Jews of Baltimore (by Eric Goldstein and Deborah Weiner) with an impressive 72 copies sold since the book’s release in April.

Our next best seller, at 40 copies, is our favorite quirky Judaism primer, Did Jew Know by Emily Stone. The suggestion to carry Did Jew Know in the Gift Shop came to us from volunteer docent Howard Davidov—just one example of the valuable contributions our volunteers make to the stories of Esther’s Place. In third place on our bestsellers list is the charmingly-illustrated children’s book, I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark by Debbie Levy, illustrated by Elizabeth Baddeley; with 34 copies sold, I’m delighted to know we are collectively uplifting Jewish women’s stories and sharing them with younger generations.

While performing inventory this year, I became deeply acquainted with our Gift Shop’s astounding supply of JMM catalogs and publications—a treasure trove of knowledge, research, and uniquely-JMM stories, photos, and ephemera. It came as no surprise that our best-selling JMM publication was Voices of Lombard Street—a truly evergreen story that so many of you have chosen to take home, share, and re-visit through this beautiful catalog. We sold 29 copies in the past year.

In April 2018, we developed a special display and social media campaign around our many whimsical mugs and our staff’s collective love of coffee and tea. The display is titled But First Coffee (or #ButFirstCoffee), and the social media campaign utilizes the hashtag #MugShotMonday—a Monday social media tradition. To date, we’ve shared 19 #MugShotMonday posts on Twitter and Instagram (and many on Facebook too), each one involving artful arrangements and heartfelt tributes to the caffeinated beverage.

This year, we also worked particularly hard to respond to a frequent request we had been hearing in the Gift Shop—the request for custom Maryland or Baltimore Jewish products. After introducing our line of See America products featuring the Lloyd Street Synagogue in January, we developed the humorous and uniquely-Baltimore mugs and magnets pictured here. 

Our most popular product so far is the “Oy Vey Seasoning” magnet with 51 sold, each one helping to share the story of German Jewish refugee Gustav Brunn’s Old Bay Seasoning invention and its famous Baltimore origins. Later this month, we expect to welcome our latest custom offering into the Gift Shop—postcard sets featuring Upstanders, Athletes, and Pets from the Collection of the Jewish Museum of Maryland.

While many of our bestsellers were easy to predict, several products delighted us this year with their unexpectedly warm reception. The most striking was our selection of magic tricks, merchandised in connection with our exhibit Inescapable: The Life and Legacy of Harry Houdini (currently on display). From the exhibit opening on June 24 through to Rosh Hashanah 2018, we sold 82 individual magic tricks and 24 magic trick sets—and no doubt contributed to countless home magic shows and budding magicians.

Many of you ordered Esther’s Place merchandise from afar, and we were delighted to send our products and stories as far as California, Arizona, and even Germany this year. To place phone orders and have products shipped to you, please call us at Esther’s Place at 443-873-5179 or email jkonigsberg@jewishmuseummd.org.

We look forward to another year of unforgettable stories, products that make us smile, and the invaluable input of our valued visitors, volunteers, and Esther’s Place customers.

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Vendor Spotlight: Artist Nancy Patz

Posted on September 27th, 2018 by

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

As my September blog contribution, I’m delighted to feature a longtime Gift Shop vendor and JMM collaborator: Baltimore artist, illustrator, and children’s book author Nancy Patz. Many of Nancy’s popular children’s books are available at Esther’s Place Gift Shop, including To Annabella Pelican from Thomas Hippopotamus, Sarah Bear & Sweet Sidney and her newest offering, The Elephant with a Knot in His Trunk, written with Dr. Stuart Sheer.

Patz is a Baltimore native who went to Forest Park and Goucher before graduating from Stanford University. Her paintings and drawings have been featured in exhibits at the Jewish Museum of Maryland, the Peale Museum, the Baltimore Museum of Art and numerous galleries, and she often speaks to school groups and teachers on the art of the picture book. Patz is the mother of two wonderful daughters and six “absolutely terrific” grandchildren.

Patz with copies of her latest children’s book, The Elephant with a Knot in His Trunk, written with Dr. Stuart Sheer. Elephant is available for sale at Esther’s Place.

I suggested a few questions that Nancy might respond to, and she eagerly accepted the opportunity to share about her current project, an exhibit about memory and loss soon to be displayed as a part of Reimagine End of Life—a weeklong, community-driven program in New York City exploring questions about life and death. These events will be held October 27 to November 3, 2018.

Nancy’s current project has its roots in a 2010 Jewish Museum of Maryland exhibition called Nancy Patz: Her Inward Eye.

Nancy shared:

“Now, eight years later, paintings, drawings, and poems from the section called Remembering My Mother have been brought up from my basement, unwrapped, re-curated, re-wrapped and will be exhibited in New York in October.

My mother, Fanny Jonas Patz, died of cancer in 1947. She was 41. It took me almost 50 years to begin to write and paint her back into my life. I wrote poems about her. I drew her portrait from old photographs, painting in different mediums and different styles. Sometimes I wrote poems on the drawings. Sometimes I drew drawings on the poems.

I cherished this sad, happy, bittersweet experience, and I returned to it again and again for more than 15 years, as I re-imagined my mother and the part she played in my early life. My new exhibit, now called All About My Mother, is one of more than 250 events in which collaborators will explore the subject of death and celebrate life from many perspectives.

Mother and Me: Strathmore Ave. by Nancy Patz, from her upcoming show All About My Mother.

On the evening of October 31, Rabbi Elana Zaiman and I will walk through my exhibit, discussing with each other and with visitors Remembering the Dead and the Living: Sharing Their Stories and Ours. (FYI, Rabbi Zaiman is the daughter of Rabbi Joel and Ann Zaiman – a lovely unexpected Baltimore connection!)

It pleases me deeply that this meaningful part of my original JMM exhibit will be seen again. The moment also gives me a chance to lift my glass once more in praise of JMM’s former Associate Director Anita Kassof, former Curator Karen Falk, Director of Learning and Visitor Experience Ilene Dackman-Alon, former Deputy Director Deborah Cardin, and the rest of the incredible JMM Team for their expertise in creating that original exhibit years ago.”

Thank you so much to Nancy for sharing this update. Nancy Patz’s children’s books are a staple at Esther’s Place, where we love their themes of friendship, adventure, acceptance, and self-discovery as well as their memorable illustrations. We also carry two adult books by Patz—18 Stones (co-authored by Susan L. Roth) and Who Was the Woman Who Wore the Hat? Both offer thought-provoking and poignantly imagined Holocaust stories that address themes of connection and loss.

Stop by Esther’s Place today and pick up a Nancy Patz book! Each one is a vibrant celebration of storytelling and the creative place where imagination and memory meet. Patz’s books make a perfect gift for a loved one—young or old.

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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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