Tasting and Telling Stories at Two Museums

A blog post by Program Manager Rachel Cylus.

We sat around the table together eating delicious foods, telling stories of family and friends, and laughing.  No, I’m not talking about Thanksgiving.  One week before families and friends sat down to turkey and stuffing, the Jewish Museum of Maryland and the Reginald F. Lewis Museum invited Baltimoreans to come together and share a meal and some stories with friends and strangers alike.  Sabbath Tables was a program that was made possible by the Maryland State Arts Council Maryland Traditions program.  It looked at the common thread and unique elements of the Jewish and African American Sabbath meal traditions.

On November 18th, over 80 participants broke bread together at the JMM, enjoying slices of challah, cups of grape juice, and steaming bowls of matzah ball soup (no kidding, the whole Museum smelled like my grandma’s house).  As attendees took seats at tables next to people they may never have met before, Mary Zajac, an expert in foodways and the Food Editor for Style Magazine, discussed the meaning of a day of rest and how it is set apart from the rest of the week.  She facilitated conversations about the memories and stories we all have surrounding Shabbat, Sabbath, or just family dinners.

Then we all headed by foot the few blocks from the JMM to the RFLM with a few stops along the way to discuss the neighborhood.  Arriving at the Lewis, we were ushered into their beautiful theater space.  The food was delicious – sweet tea, fried chicken, string beans, macaroni and cheese, cornbread – a feast.  Encouraged to sit with different people than we sat with at the JMM, everyone got settled around large round tables.  Storyteller Diane Macklin delighted us with memories of her Sunday dinners as a child.  Then participants at each table shared their stories.

It was an afternoon that warmed our souls and brought back memories and stories.  For me and my family it motivated a new tradition at our Thanksgiving table.  We decided to include recipes from members of our family who are no longer with us or who no longer are able to cook their most beloved recipes.  My mother shared her mother’s meat blintz recipe (modified with turkey in place of ground beef for the holiday), and I recreated my great grandmother’s chocolate cake according to the memories of my mother.  Thanks to the MSAC, the Lewis Museum, Mary Zajac and Diane Macklin and to everyone else who actively participated and made our Sabbath Tables program such a success.  I hope everyone had a lovely Thanksgiving.

Don’t miss Esther Fest, on Thursday, December 6th.  As part of our Brews & Schmooze series, our very own Esther Weiner will be cookin’ up latkes and telling stories and jokes.  Come taste the latkes, enjoy our bar (by donation), and meet lots of interesting people.  The event will be at the JMM from 6-9pm, and it is free, so bring a friend or two!

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