Knishes.

Posted on May 30th, 2012 by

A blog post by Program Manager Rachel Cylus.

Baked, flaky golden pockets filled with potato, broccoli, kasha, meat, or anything savory.   We couldn’t have a program entitled, “Knish History 101: The Life and Times of the Knish”, without a taste or two of this delectable pastry itself.  In the days leading up to the talk on May 20th, with knish enthusiast, Laura Silver, we figured it would be a lot of fun to have a knish tasting.  But where exactly would we find a suitable assortment of local knishes?

Finally, I received an insider tip in the form of a phone call from a loyal JMM patron.  “You have to call Sion’s Bakery!” she told me.  Sion’s knishes were apparently as big as baseballs, with a homemade dough and tasty potato filling.  They could feed eight people!

I was a bit nervous to call and ask for a donation, but before I knew it, I had donations of knishes from Sion’s Bakery, The Knish Ship, Hoffman’s Catering, Attman’s and a lady named Anita Baum, who had owned The Knish Shop for many years.  But the knishes would have to be picked up from each location – thus the Knish adventure came into being. 

Fortunately for me, a chance encounter with a colleague interning at the Smithsonian provided me with a willing and able co-adventurer.  Although Nadine was just visitingBaltimorefor the weekend and would not be able to attend the Knish program, she was eager to run all over town picking up knishes in return for a lift to the National Aquarium (almost as exciting a destination as the many Knish locations alongReisterstown Road). 

Sunday morning at the crack of dawn (more like 10:30am, but it felt early), I arrived inHuntValleyto pick up Nadine.  Then we headed toReisterstown Roadto begin our adventure.  First stop: The Knish Shop at508 Reisterstown Road.  It had the feeling of an old-fashioned deli counter with all sorts of salads and sandwiches in addition to the rows and rows of knishes in all sorts of flavors.  We were handed a heaping catering tray filled with thirty huge knishes. 

Then it was off to Sion’s Bakery.  Everything looked tasty and sugar-coated in Sion’s, which is mostly a traditional bakery filled with rainbow cake and chocolate tops (picked up half a pound for my dad to sample – he reported them to be quite good).  These knishes came in a bakery box.  If I hadn’t know better, I would have thought there was a cake inside! 

From there we hopped on the highway, as the next part of our adventure was a bit of a Knish Chase.  Hoffman’s Catering was more than willing to provide knishes, if we didn’t mind picking them up from one of their catering jobs… at the Belvedere Hotel.  Nadine and I sure weren’t dressed for the wedding we were about to nearly crash.  Fortunately we were whisked into the back kitchen and given another huge tray of knishes.  

From there I dropped off Nadine at the Aquarium and headed to Attman’s.  Fortunately Attman’s is just across from the JMM, so it was easy enough to walk right over from work.  Amid jars of pickles and metal meat slicers, I waited patiently for even more knishes. 

Thanks to the handy JMM toaster oven and the full-size oven over at B’nai Israel, we were able to slice and heat the knishes as Laura Silver amused and entertained our audience of 75 knish-lovers and took them from Baltimore to New York to Israel to Poland in a search to understand Knish heritage, and to hear from Anita Baum about her experiences as former owner of the Knish Shop. 

Once the talk was over, the audience descended upon a long table brimming with steaming knishes.  It was a feast!

 

 

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Happy Earth Day!

Posted on May 2nd, 2012 by

A blog post by Program Manager Rachel Cylus.

It all started a few months ago with a lively conversation in the West Wing about Peeps Dioramas.  If you haven’t heard of Peeps Dioramas (where have you been??), they are a national edible art competition each spring celebrating the popular Easter candy, Peeps.

“If only there were a Passover equivalent!” we exclaimed.

That is how the idea of “Ginger ‘Bread of Affliction’ Houses” was born.  Matzah – also referred to in many Haggadahs as the bread of affliction, is a pretty great building material, although it can be pretty crumbly and delicate, hence “ginger”.  Eventually we would like to have an edible art contest based around matzah, but for this year we decided to stick to Matzah House building.

With a little tweaking and some input from our colleague, Kim Jacobsohn at the DBJCC, the Earth Day Counts program began to take shape.  Just after Passover and right in the middle of the Counting of the Omer, Earth Day is the perfect time of the year to talk about Feeding the World from a Jewish Food perspective.

During Passover we spend a lot of time giving extra consideration for the foods that we eat.  Does it rise?  Does it have cornstarch?  Is it made with soybean oil?  Considering that Kashrut has a lot of rules and regulations to begin with, on Passover the rules multiply ten fold, it seems.  And with it, we find ourselves selling off chametz – leavened products, and buying new… well, everything.

But what about after Passover is over?  What happens to all the food we just can’t stand looking at one more day?  Why not turn it into edible art and celebrate how food ends up on our tables in the first place.

For this program we had seven family friendly activities.  First and foremost, of course, Building Matzah Houses out of leftover matzah and Passover candy.  The kids were pretty creative, even if many of the houses had to remain 2-dimensional objects of wonder.  We used cake icing to stick everything together, and the weird and wacky candies of Passover made for great decoration.  By making them edible, we even got a few participants who were ready to snack on some matzah again.

We also celebrated the foods we can eat, in the form of a Seven Ancient Species Taste Test.  Participants were invited to try the seven foods of the bible which were used in sacrifice at the ancientTemple.  We tried dates, figs, olives, grapes, pomegranates, wheat and barley in multiple forms and guests were invited to fill out surveys and tell us what they thought of these special foods.

Then we used two of the seven species (wheat and grapes) to make sandwiches for the needy.  With help from our friends at the Jewish Volunteer Connection, we donated pb&j sandwiches that we made together to Our Daily Bread and the Helping Up Mission.

Since wheat and barley are key elements in the Counting of the Omer, we decorated calendars to keep track of the days between Passover and Shavuot, when the Israelites would bring offerings to the temple.

All in all it was a great day, with around eighty people showing up to take part in the festivities.  The next Family Fun Day at the Jewish Museum of Maryland is July 1st when the Sol Food Bus will be arriving to teach us about Urban farming.  See you then!

*All photos by Will Kirk.

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Field Trip to Pikesville

Posted on February 15th, 2012 by

A blog post by Program Manager Rachel Cylus.

Like all school students, as a child I looked forward to field trips – a break from the usual routine, and an opportunity to see something, new, different, exotic.  Growing up in Baltimore’s Jewish suburbs in the 1990s, Pikesville was just about the last place on my mind that would have qualified as a field trip.

But yesterday, as part of the third class of “Staging the Suburbs” at JHU, that is exactly what we did.

As eight students, Hopkins Professor Jennifer Kingsley, Museum director Avi Decter, class instructor Laura Tomes and I arrived at Hopkins’ Mason Hall, we found instructor Dean Krimmel already in conversation with our van driver, Joel.  Joel, as it turned out, was a local Jewish guy who had grown up in precisely the neighborhoods we planned on visiting – how perfect!

Dean, as it turned out, envisioned more than just a trip along the Jewish northwest trajectory out of the city, he had arranged for a bit of time travel.  Each student and Professor Kingsley was assigned the identity of an actual Jewish Baltimorean who decided to move to the suburbs in the 1950s.  Each was given an index card with their new name and a short biography detailing their current living situation, profession, family status, and reasons for moving.  Laura, Dean and Avi played housing developers prepared to “sell the suburbs”, and I was given the role of housing realtor, Helen Goldberg (yup, my grandma!! See February 6th blog posting).

From the moment we began, it was clear that the students had really taken their 1950s identities seriously, pairing up with their “spouses”, and discussing their housing priorities.  Ryan (Freshman) portrayed a 45 year old wife and mother, and dedicated himself to finding a neighborhood with good schools for his middle school age children.  Amanda (Sophomore) and Evan (Junior) took on their role as “newlyweds” earnestly, worrying about whether their meager incomes would ever allow them to move their young and growing family out of their parents’ home.

Our adventure to the suburbs began as we headed towards Druid Hill Park.  Driving along lower Park Heights Avenue, students were challenged to see the neighborhood as they would have in the 1950s, when the World War I era homes and synagogues were part of a predominantly Jewish neighborhood.  Today this part of Baltimore City is mostly an African American neighborhood, and although many of the synagogues retain architectural elements related to their past use (star of David windows, engraved ten commandments), they are now churches.

When we reached the 3700 block of Park Heights, we passed one of the childhood homes of my grandmother at 3701.  Now a Baptist Church, my grandmother lived in this house until it was sold to the Trenton Democratic Club, an important political organization in Baltimore for many years.  She remembers it as a wonderful house to throw parties in.

The first suburban neighborhoods that we visited were near Cross Country Elementary school.  The wooded hills were speckled with red brick bungalows, split levels and cottages.

These modest homes on little plots were a stark comparison to the row homes and front porch culture of the city.  As we continued further along Park Heights Avenue the synagogues grew larger and the separation between residential and commercial districting became more apparent.  From Sugarville to Ranchleigh to Smith Avenue, the housing diversity of the suburbs was clear.

I was amazed by how different these oh-so familiar streets and places seemed to me.  A field trip to Pikesville suddenly seemed far more interesting that I expected.  The houses and synagogues and schools became more dynamic as Dean explained how and when they were developed and I allowed myself to imagine moving to Pikesville before the ease of the Expressway, the Beltway and even Northern Parkway, when the suburbs may have seemed more like the boonies.

The field trip ended with a stop at Miller’s Delicatessen for a snack and discussion (potato knish and Dr. Brown’s Cel-Ray soda).

Was the move to the suburbs the the beginning of the breakdown of the Jewish community?  Or just an opportunity to reimagine it?

As the grandchild of the generation who moved to the suburbs, it is hard for me to imagine Jewish Baltimore without Pikesville, or for that matter, Pikesville without Baltimore Jews.

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