A Matzah Memory

Posted on March 22nd, 2013 by

MarvinA blog post from Executive Director Marvin Pinkert.

Somewhere along the way in my twenty-five year journey in the museum world, I asked me the question “Can you remember the first exhibit you ever saw?”.  I thought for a moment and answered “Sure I can, I was at a long dinner table and someone held up a plate of matzah and asked mah zot?”  It had all the elements of an exhibit – an artifact of historic significance, label copy in the Haggadah, it was interactive and at least when we got to the Hillel sandwich – multi-sensory.

I share this by way of confession that while I have a theological appreciation for other holy days, none holds a place in my heart like Passover.  I have so many fond memories of seders spent with friends and family that its easy to wax nostalgic about all of them.

There is one seder in my past, however, that truly stands apart.  A night unlike all other nights.  It was 1978, 35 years ago this season.  Passover fell late that year (April 21).  I was in Seoul, Korea serving as a “Junior Officer in Training” with USIA.  At age 25, I believe I was the youngest American officer serving at the post.  So I was somewhat surprised to receive an invitation to the Ambassador’s residence…it was highly unusual for a junior officer to share a social occasion with a senior ambassador.  Nonetheless, as there were only five Jewish American officers in Seoul at that time – the Ambassador, the Deputy Chief of Mission, the administrative assistants to both the Ambassador and the DCM and me – I was invited to seder at the residence.  I can’t remember all the details but I’m sure my wife gave me some helpful coaching on dinner table manners for such a fine event.

The seder began as expected, but shortly after the first cup of wine, an embassy official entered the room and whispered something into the Ambassador’s ear.  Ambassador Sneider rose abruptly and exited the room.  I strongly suspected this was more than a second washing of the hands.  He returned a few minutes later.  After another few prayers and songs, he left the room again, suggesting that we go on with the service.  The up and down pattern continued all the way to the cup of Elijah.  My recollection is that at about this point the DCM may have revealed what was going on.  That afternoon (Korean time) a Korean airliner that had strayed off-course on its way from Paris to Seoul had been fired upon by Soviet aircraft and forced to land on a frozen lake.  The 107 surviving passengers had been transported to Murmansk.  The Russians were refusing to release the passengers.  When the Ambassador left the room he was actually on the phone trying to secure their safe return home.  So on that night, “let my people go” had ceased to be an echo of an ancient exodus, but rather a contemporary reality that had made its way to our seder table. It took two days but the passengers did reach their destination (a much happier ending that the second shoot-down incident five years later).  I’m sure that any American Ambassador would have made the liberation of the passengers a top priority, but for all these decades I have thought that the fact that a Jewish American Ambassador was a part of this effort on the very night of our own people’s commemoration of freedom was very special – a reminder of the universal resonance of our story.

This year I’ll be headed for Boston, as the torch of making seder passes for the first time to my daughter.  Once more I have a feeling it will be a night different from all other nights.

Happy Pesach!

Note:  Please respond to this blog to tell us about a seder that you found particularly memorable.  It’s one more way to share our history!


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Passover in Connecticut: A Kassman Family Tradition

Posted on May 2nd, 2011 by

Kassman family and friends gathered around the table for the Seder.

Passover has come to an end with a harsh return to reality for me and the rest of the staff at the JMM. This year the JMM staff was lucky enough to have the first three days and the last two days of the Passover holiday off from work, making it much easier to travel to Seders near and far. On the Monday before Passover, Rachel Kassman, Elena Rosemond-Hoerr, my dog Wednesday, and I drove up to Connecticut to celebrate the first two nights of Passover with the Kassman family. Being so far away from my family in California, I was really excited about the idea of celebrating with Rachel and her family instead of my own. Plus, she eagerly welcomed my giant beast of a dog Wednesday to join on the adventure, so how could I say no? I was also excited that Elena would be joining us because this was her first Seder experience.

On Monday morning we ventured off in Rachel’s two door car lovingly referred to as “The Jellybean,” and drove the 5-6 hour drive to her family’s home in Connecticut. After a great lunch at a pizza place near Rachel’s alma mater, the University of Delaware, and after spending way too much time in New Jersey we finally made it to the Kassman family’s home.  What initially struck me about the Kassman family was how warm, welcoming, and family oriented they all were. Rachel’s parents live in a house right next to where her father grew up and where Rachel’s grandmother still lives. Her  Great Uncle Moishe lives on the other side of her grandmother’s house. Between the three properties there is a lot of open fields and land, so Wednesday loved romping around the property.

Soon after we arrived on Monday we made our way over to Rachel’s grandmother’s house where the Seders were hosted both nights. We joined Rachel’s cousins, aunts, uncles, and friends, about 25 people in all. Similar to my family the Seder has a leader, but each member took turns reading from the Haggadah. The Kassman Haggadah was interesting in that it was created by about five different families, but the Kassman family was not one of them. I will have to ask Rachel the details of how her family ended up adopting this particular Haggadah.

Rachel and I participating in the tradition of marking each of the 10 plagues with a drop of wine.

I love experiencing other people’s customs and traditions, and these two nights at the Kassman’s were no exception. What I most appreciated about the Kassman Seder was the integration of food into the ceremony. What stuck out the most was this egg soup that was served on both nights. Rather than just eating an egg with some saltwater, which is what my family traditionally does, the Kassman family serves this dish as a soup with chopped up eggs and saltwater. Luckily for me, the Kassmans also serve matzah ball soup, which is my absolute favorite.

Here I am enjoying my tasty matzah ball soup.

Part of our mission while in Connecticut was to document the Seders for our upcoming exhibition on “Chosen Food.” While participating in the Seder Elena was able to photograph the major events of the evening. On the second night it worked out that Elena, Rachel, and I ended up being in the “kids” group and therefore we were tasked with searching for the afikomen, a piece of matzah that is considered dessert and hidden at the beginning of the Seder. I don’t think we would have cared much about finding the afikomen except for the fact that we were not allowed to eat the real dessert, delicious homemade macaroons, until the afikomen was found. Rachel’s brother, Joe, hid the afikomen a little too well and it took us far too long to find it. After about 30 minutes (which seemed like forever) I found the afikomen. My prize? Dessert and 53 cents.

A picture of me after finding the afikomen.

I really had a wonderful time celebrating Passover in Connecticut with Elena, Rachel, and her friends and family. I felt so welcomed and loved and it was great to experience how other Jews carry out the Passover tradition. Next year if I make it back to California to celebrate the Seders with my own family I will be taking a few of the Kassman family traditions with me.


A blog post by Community Outreach Coordinator Rachael Binning.

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Once Upon a Time 1.8.10

Posted on January 18th, 2010 by

The Baltimore Jewish Times publishes unidentified photographs from the collection of Jewish Museum of Maryland each week. Click here to see the most recent photo on their website. If you can identify anyone in these photos and more information about them, contact Jobi Zink, Senior Collections Manager and Registrar at 410.732.6400 x226 or jzink@jewishmuseummd.org.

Date(s) run in Baltimore Jewish Times: 1/8/10

PastPerfect Accession #: 2006.013.1108

Status: Partially Identified. Teenagers around a table and passing a seder plate at a JCC Youth Seder. Left to right: 1. unidentified 2.unidentied 3. Gilbert Kleiner 4. Arnold Tarigan 5. Samuel Esterson 6. unidentified 7. unidentified 8. unidentified

Special thanks to: Morty Esterson, Renee Fromawitz

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