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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Collaboration is Key at Esther’s Place

Posted on June 11th, 2018 by

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

One of my favorite comments from Gift Shop visitors is the observation that the Shop is ever-changing and dynamic with something new to see whether you visit once a year or once a month. I take pride in this feedback because there is much behind-the-scenes work that goes into our changing displays and merchandise.

Much of this effort is led by JMM’s Deputy Director Tracie Guy-Decker, who works hard to develop new custom products, meet with vendors, and develop creative merchandising ideas such as our “But First, Coffee” sale. But so much of the day-to-day rearranging and creative merchandising is done by our wonderful Esther’s Place volunteers. They are the ones who help me create new displays, and tackle daunting organizational projects such as fixing inventory issues and re-arranging boxes and merchandise in shop storage.

In honor of JMM’s upcoming annual volunteer appreciation event, I couldn’t resist sharing some of our Shop volunteers’ projects and achievements. Here are some of the highlights:

New Non-Kosher Mezuzah Scrolls

Long-time Esther’s Place volunteer Maxine Cohen recently took on the re-design of our free, non-kosher, mezuzah scrolls.

Maxine designed a computer template that could be easily printed double-sided so that both sides of the parchment are featured. She also came up with the idea to print the scrolls on yellow, parchment-style paper—giving them a more authentic, nicer look. These scrolls are also smaller and fit better into our smaller mezuzot. (Note, we also offer beautiful kosher parchments for $36.)

New and Changing Displays

In addition to our new scrolls, we also have many new mezuzot in the Gift Shop and volunteer Robin Kaplan has played an integral roll in merchandising these new items. Whatever your price point and personal tastes, I’m sure we can find the perfect mezuzah for you and this is all thanks to the volunteers who help me keep up with the constant flow of new inventory.

Volunteer Laraine Fisher also helped merchandise this display, adding our new selection of tallit clips, while former volunteer Doreen Eisenberg lent a hand to our display of anodized mezuzot.

Robin also helped develop our Shavuot display a few weeks ago, somehow maximizing the small amount of shop real estate available (no easy feat!) during this busy time when our Amending America exhibit merchandise was also on display.

Robin also merchandised our new supply of greeting cards.

Public Programs

Volunteer Rachel Jablon ran the Gift Shop during one of our busiest public programs of the year so far: the launch of new book On Middle Ground. At that program we sold over 40 copies of the book. Also, Rachel frequently gives the most detailed and thoughtful explanations of the various books and Judaica on sale for our inquiring customers.

Shop Administration

Volunteers Laraine Fisher and Jacob Davenport help with much of the attention to detail and day-to-day organization of Esther’s Place—everything from refining shop systems and inventories and managing records to keeping our display supplies organized and accessible to both myself and our program/education staff.

Laraine also recently updated our children’s reading corner to feature our book titles for little artists and makers.

At Esther’s Place, we are here to share in your excitement and discovery as you experience the Museum, to help spark your curiosity in Judaism and Jewish history, and to help you find beautiful and special mementos of your visit. I simply could not work towards these goals without the Esther’s Place volunteers – thank you!

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Celebrate Upstanders at Esther’s Place!

Posted on April 27th, 2018 by

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

At Esther’s Place (JMM’s Gift Shop), we love “upstanders” (defined by Oxford Dictionary as “a person who speaks or acts in support of an individual or cause,” commonly understood as the opposite of “bystander”). At Esther’s Place, we celebrate courageous civic engagement in everything from books about daring rescues and escapes during the Holocaust to our beautiful and inspiring See America products that recognize the beginnings of the Jewish community in Baltimore and the strength of those who worked to build, organize, and fight for equal rights for the Baltimore Jewish community.

From the exhibit: “The Constitution is a sacred document…Over the years, we have tried to make it more and more inclusive. We cannot turn back.” -John Lewis, 2006

So naturally, we were excited to celebrate JMM’s latest exhibit, Amending America, in the Gift Shop. We absolutely love our new civics titles that tell important stories of real-life upstanders such as Clara Lemlich, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel.

Here are some of our favorites alongside some of the direct connections to the Amending America exhibit:

The Youngest Marcher: The Story of Audrey Faye Hendricks, a Young Civil Rights Activist – by Cynthia Levinson, Illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton.

This children’s title tells the story of Audrey Faye Hendricks who, as a nine-year-old, spoke out against Birmingham’s segregation laws, joined the pickets and was ultimately arrested and sent to jail.

I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark – by Debbie Levy, Illustrated by Elizabeth Baddeley.

This children’s book is a delightful history of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s long history of speaking her mind, using her voice, and dissenting to the discrimination and prejudice she faced as a Jewish woman seeking to make her mark in the legal world. Our upcoming Annual Meeting on May 17 will be a larger exploration of Justice Ginsburg’s life and accomplishments as we hear from I Dissent author Debbie Levy and Mary Hartnett, co-author of My Own Words. Sign up to attend the program here.

Brave Girl: Clara and the Shirtwaist Makers’ Strike of 1909 – by Michelle Markel, illustrated by Melissa Sweet.

This children’s title chronicles the achievements of Ukrainian immigrant Clara Lemlich, addressing topics such as activism, labor rights, safe working conditions, immigration, women’s rights, and education.

This book and others can also be enjoyed in our Amending America reading corner, located in the exhibit itself.

From the exhibit: “A government is invigorated when each of us is willing to participate in shaping the future of this nation.” -Barbara Jordon, 1976

As you’re browsing our great selection of civics titles, don’t forget to check out our gorgeous children’s book about the Lloyd Street Synagogue, The Synagogue Speaks by Anita Kassof, illustrated by Jonathon Scott Fuqua.

This children’s book tells the story of the Lloyd Street Synagogue from the perspective of the synagogue itself—as it grew and moved through its career as founding Baltimore synagogue for the Baltimore Hebrew Congregation, to St. John the Baptist Lithuanian Catholic Church, to synagogue for the Shomrei Mishmeres Ha Kodesh congregation, all the way to museum and educational site. Charmingly, the upstanders in this story are the many individuals who acted to keep the Synagogue building alive for the communities that it would shelter and support.

We’ve got so many great titles on display!

Our next book talk, on May 3, also celebrates upstanders as it features the story of America’s efforts to save European Jews during the Holocaust, as told by Rebecca Erbelding’s new book, Rescue Board: The Untold Story of America’s Efforts to Save the Jews of Europe.

Learn more and sign up to attend the program hereAnd don’t worry, we’ll have copies of this one in the shop for you too!

Finally, for many upstanders, coffee and sustenance are essential.

So please, visit the Gift Shop and be inspired by the civics titles available, then check out our “But first, coffee” display, where you can find a huge selection of beautiful, whimsical, and commemorative mugs (some heavily discounted!) to help kick start your civic aspirations.

 

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