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.

 

 

Posted in jewish museum of maryland




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!

Posted in jewish museum of maryland




What’s in (and on) a Seder Plate? JMM Staff Share Esther’s Place Favorites

Posted on March 23rd, 2018 by

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

During Passover, the Seder plate is, for many, the symbolic heart of both the meal and the ritual, carrying five or six items that help tell key parts of the Passover story: karpas (often parsley), charoset (sweet fruit), maror (often horseradish), zeroa (roast lamb shankbone), and beitzah (egg). Some Seder plates also contain a second bitter herb known as chazeret. And some plates may also hold an orange or other contemporary addition that conveys a social justice message and recognizes the contributions of specific members of the community, including gay and lesbian and women members of the Jewish community.

At Esther’s Place, we strive to carry Seder plates in a wide variety of styles and price points, including glass plates, ceramic plates, and even a unique and beautiful “folding” Seder plate.

The Seder plate is often a piece of great beauty, pride, and personal meaning within the home. And in honor of this, a small group of JMM staff picked out their favorite Seder plates on sale at the JMM Gift Shop, Esther’s Place, and shared a few thoughts on why they love their chosen plate and/or how they would incorporate the plate into their own Passover celebrations. Here are their selections and stories.

Tracie Guy-Decker, Deputy Director:

The Futura Seder Plate by Jonathan Adler is not only my favorite one in the Gift Shop, it is also the actual Seder plate used by my family. I first saw the plate in an internet ad, which took me to the website of the Jewish Museum Shop (the New York museum). I fell in love instantly with the plate’s mid-century aesthetic, particularly the central atomic-looking figure—and promptly bought the plate first for myself. Then I figured out how to buy it for Esther’s Place. In fact, this plate is the reason that Esther’s Place carries Jonathan Adler products (which include other beautiful and unusual Judaica and tabletop items). The plate goes with my family’s Sputnik-style dining room light fixture and mid-century-style table, perfectly complementing our dining room—both in terms of style and ritual.

Lindsey Davis, Interim Program Manager:

I love metallic and shine, so when my eye caught the Seder Plate on Pedestal by Israel Giftware Designs I knew I had found my favorite. There’s something harmonious about the mix of silver, gold, and bronze. These metals are typically isolated from one another, and I loved the risk of the designer to put them adjacent to one another and result in something so beautiful. I think the design is reflective of my own Seder table, where there always seems to be an added guest, someone new, a friend stopping by, and an extra chair being pulled up at last minute. Regardless of how fragmented all the pieces may be, they make sense together—similar to this Seder plate.

Jessica Konigsberg, Office Manager & Shop Assistant:

My favorite Seder plate is our Porcelain Tree of Life Seder Plate because it is most reminiscent of the Seder plates that my husband and I have used during each Passover we’ve shared together. To clarify, until recently, my husband and I had never owned a real Seder plate. Each year, my creative, resourceful husband makes us a disposable Seder plate using a white paper plate and colorful print-outs from the internet—one for each of the six items to be displayed on the plate. The Tree of Life Seder Plate reminds me of the bright, friendly illustrations that have come to characterize our humble Seder plates. I also love the Tree of Life imagery and symbolism generally; in particular, the idea of trees representing humanity and human aspiration resonates with me and seems to fit well with the meaning of Passover.

Tracey Dorfmann, Director of Development:

This Seder plate appeals to me because the spring motif was executed through beautiful craftsmanship. I love the combination of metalsmithing styles and patinas.

Marvin Pinkert, Executive Director:

I chose the KidKraft Passover Set. I particularly liked the two-piece afikomen. At my Seder, I’ll be saying “Next year in Jerusalem” and then out of hearing range of my son and daughter, “…maybe, the year after that a grandchild to share this afikomen with?”

The Passover holiday, which remembers the story of the Jewish people’s salvation from slavery in Egypt, is one of liberation, and the Seder is often, fittingly, a reflection of personal expression. We hope you’ll stop by Esther’s Place to experience some of this beauty and self-expression through our many beautiful and distinctive Seder plates and other table accompaniments, including Elijah’s Cups and Miriam’s Cups (the latter is a Seder addition honoring women), salt water dishes, horseradish dishes and more. How does your Passover table tell the story of the holiday and of your household and loved ones? We would love to hear.

And as you prepare for the upcoming holiday, don’t forget to check out our online collection database to enjoy the many special Seder plates in our Museum collection. Click here to explore the collection. If you stop in to the JMM library in the next couple of weeks, you can get a closer look at one of those Seder plates!

This olive wood Seder plate was brought to Baltimore from Palestine in 1909 by Sophie Szold. Gift of Jastrow Levin, JMM 1988.141.1

 

Posted in jewish museum of maryland




Next Page »