Monday, March 29, 2010

Passover Around the World

While this post could be a commentary on how new rituals get added to Seders, it isn’t. It could be a discussion of what contemporary trials and tribulations enslave us now, but it isn’t that either. It is merely an observation.

An observation that while part of the Jewish community will turn off the computer, the BlackBerry, the iPhone, the Droid, and leave Facebook status updates status quo over Passover, another part of the community will participate in the first “Passover Seder Around the World.” It’s a Passover Seder facilitated by under the auspices of They are hoping to get participants from at least a dozen countries in multiple time zones. People can sign up in advance to read. The press release says all you need in a computer with Internet access. (I would add 4 cups of wine, but that’s just me.)

The story of Exodus via webinar. Go know.

Wishing you and yours a happy and meaningful Passover.

Friday, March 26, 2010

A Survey of Delis Far and Near

Today’s blog is from Elissa Schein, director of public programs, who is sharing some great moments from our “Save the Deli” program last Wednesday.

"Why do Jewish delis need saving? After all, the food is notoriously fattening. So what if there are fewer corned beef and pastrami sandwiches being consumed by already overweight Americans? Who would really care?" Those were the opening questions posed by cookbook author and food blogger Arthur Schwartz to life-long deli obsessive David Sax, the author of Save the Deli: In Search of Perfect Pastrami, Crusty Rye, and the Heart of Jewish Delicatessen. If our audience’s response is any indication, there is a lot worth saving when it comes to delis, and in his cultural history of Jewish food and vibrant travelogue, David explains why.

“You go into a deli to feel like you’re at your Aunt Zelda’s house. This is the food we know, where we came from. People can lose their language, their religious practice, but food is the last vestige of cultural identity,” says Sax. The evening felt a little like a Seder table, with audience members packed tightly together weighing in on what’s acceptable and what’s not when it comes to deli etiquette. Schwartz noted, “It’s hard to come by an authentic deli experience these days. If a Kosher Martian was to arrive in NYC today, he would think that sushi was Jewish food.”

Audience members learned some important deli facts from Sax, who toured the world, interviewing deli owners and famous deli lovers like Ed Koch, Ruth Reichl, and Mel Brooks. The best rye bread can be found at Zingerman’s Bakery in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and although David refused to say who serves up the best pastrami, audience members (with a few dissenters) agreed that the best pastrami in New York is still at Katz’s, where it is hand sliced and cured the old fashioned way.

Katz’s may now be getting competition from a new generation of deli owners. While smoked meat was referred to as “the bastard child of corned beef and pastrami,” Mile End Deli, a new deli in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn is offering their own Montreal-style home cured meat… moist, delicious and overflowing on rye bread with a smear of Gulden's mustard for $7; both David and Arthur say it’s definitely worth the trip to Brooklyn.

But if you’re in our neck of the woods, check out Izzy and Nat’s on South End Avenue, where many intrepid audience members trekked after the program. One diner, who came in from Long Island, told the catering manager that the pastrami sandwich was worth the schlep.

All in all, an evening with a lot of food for thought.

P.S. David’s book was nominated for a James Beard Award in the category of food literature. We’re rooting for you, David!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

P is for Passover and Procrastination

Today’s blog is from Lisa Safier, who is sharing some shopping joy. You could say she is shopping naches.*

It’s now less than a week until the start of Passover. Procrastinators like me are beginning to think about how to make this year’s seder meaningful and engaging for guests, encouraging deeper questions rather than “How much longer until we eat?” and “Do we have to finish the seder?”

I went downstairs to The Pickman Museum Shop at the Museum of Jewish Heritage and found a treasure trove of haggadahs for all denominations and points of view (traditional to vegan), and guides full of ideas about how to make seders relevant for different ages. Best of all, the Shop staff, Warren and Peter, are very knowledgeable and steered me to just what I needed. I also found a beautiful trivet made in Israel as a gift for my mother who is preparing to host 50 people over the course of two nights.

Here’s a special offer for you, dear readers: If you mention “MJH Staff Blog,” you’ll receive a 10% discount on purchases in the Shop or online. This discount may not be combined with other offers and is valid until March 29 (Note: The Shop and Museum close at 3 p.m. on the 29th.)

My absolute favorite item in the shop: something every seder can use -- cute, little, green frogs. You can get a bag full for $3.99.

Best wishes for a meaningful Passover!

The image above is a haggadah created for use at a seder held for soldiers in the 42nd infantry division of the American army, which was nicknamed the "Rainbow Division” to reflect its diversity when the unit was formed in 1917. Click on the photo to learn more from our online collection.

*In Betsy's absence, we are trying to fill the pun void.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Did you hear the news?

In today's New York Times special "Museums" section, there is a feature written by Steven Heller about our upcoming exhibition, "Project Mah Jongg." He describes in great detail the history of mah jongg, its influence in Jewish-American life, and how the exhibition will chronicle both the commercial and social history of the game.

Steve conducted interviews with Melissa Martens, our fab curator, and Abbott Miller, a partner at Pentagram, who is the exhibition designer. The entire article appears here and is a very enjoyable read. If you're a fan of mah jongg, or you know people who are, plan to visit May 4 through January 2, 2011.
Here's an even better idea. If you become a member of the Museum of Jewish Heritage - A Living Memorial to the Holocaust before April 19, you will receive an invitation to the Members Preview Day. You'll see the show before anyone else. Think about how much fun that would be...

We have some terrific Mah Jong programs happening in conjunction with the exhibition. On May 16 we will welcome comedians Cory Kahaney, Jessica Kirson, and self-proclaimed "Oriental Yenta" Esther Goodhart for "The Future Mah Jongg Players of Majestic Isles," an afternoon of comedy and stories about mah jongg and the people who are crazy about it.

On November 7 we will host a program with our colleagues at the Museum of Chinese in America about Jews and Chinese Food. Arthur Schwartz (who will be here next week schmoozing with David Sax), will discuss why Jews and Chinese food go together like, well, Jews and Chinese food. The program will be followed by a walking tour of Chinatown.

And we'll be selling some pretty cool stuff in the shop, too.

We have more plans in the hopper. You will just have to keep checking the website, logging on to Facebook, or subscribing to the blog's RSS feed for updates.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Thanks for Everything, Catherine

Today’s blog comes to us from Catherine Bleu, University of Washington Communications major and an MJH intern. We threw a lot of work at Catherine, whose last day was yesterday, and to top it off, we asked her to blog about what she enjoyed the most.

I just completed a ten-week internship in the Communications Department of the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York City. While the title of the Museum does contain “A Living Memorial to the Holocaust,” it’s so much more than that. The Museum of Jewish Heritage aims to honor the memory of those lost, but also celebrate their lives. Many events are held at the Museum’s Edmond J. Safra Hall, many of which get turned into podcasts and video clips.

For the past couple of months, I have been editing and posting these clips to the Museum’s YouTube channel, and it has been one of the highlights of my experience. Video clips hold a special place in my heart; I watched my first clip in July 2005. Ever since that first episode of Diggnation, I have been a faithful viewer of Internet programming. I can now say that I have personally edited, created, and posted over a dozen video clips. Editor’s note: And it wouldn’t have happened without you, Catherine.

Check out some of Catherine’s work here:

Photo by Catherine Bleu from a recent trip to Chinatown.

Library Query Answered

Our most excellent colleague Jennifer Roberts let me know that she has a NYPL library card even though she is a resident of a state just across the Hudson River. She reports that if you live, work, or go to school in New York State, you, too, can get get a library card from the NYPL.

New Battery Park City Branch Library Manager Billy Parrott confirmed for me that books borrowed in Brooklyn must be returned to a Brooklyn branch and the same goes for Queens, as those two boroughs have separate library systems. So even though a Brooklyn Library Card won't help you out in Battery Park City, if you work or go to school in Manhattan, Staten Island, or the Bronx, you are eligible for a New York Public Library Card.

Thanks Billy and Jen!

Image found on Creative Commons.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Read ‘em and Weep (Tears of Joy!)

We’re terribly excited by the opening of the brand new, 11-years-in-the-making, Battery Park City branch of the New York Public Library, located at 175 North End Ave. It’s in the same building as Mercy Corps and Poets House.

According to our friends at the Tribeca Trib (we love their E-Trib Updates), the library is 10,000 square feet and boasts a collection of more than 23,000 books, CDs and DVDs, with new materials still being added by the hundreds every day. In addition to a children’s story hour, they will have adult author readings, computer classes, and when the weather is nice, programs in the backyard in Teardrop Park. They’re open Mondays and Wednesdays from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Tuesdays and Thursdays from noon to 8 p.m. and Fridays and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

As a Brooklyn resident, my first question was, “Can I get an NYPL card and use this library and check things out?” Not sure where to turn, I noticed that the NYPL website has a “Chat with a Librarian” function. I have to believe that no one who participates in an online chat is going to be the kind of librarian who shushes people. Unfortunately, my deadline for posting this blog is here, and I haven’t heard back from the librarian. When I do, I’ll post the answer. Do you know the answer?

Remember, Daylight Saving Time begins Sunday. We resume "5 p.m. Fridays" starting next week.

This great historic image of the Central Information Desk at the NYPL was found on Creative Commons. / CC BY 2.0

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Not Really The Face of Evil

Congratulations to Christoph Waltz for his Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his performance as the truly creepy, unsettling, double-dealing, and downright evil Hans Landa as portrayed in Inglourious Basterds. When we screened Inglourious Basterds here last summer, Mr. Waltz did not join Quentin Tarantino, Eli Roth, Melanie Laurent or Diana Kruger (she was in the lobby, most of the audience didn’t get to see her).

Because he wasn’t there, the audience could not ask how he felt playing “The Jew Hunter.” In an interview in Time magazine last week, Mr. Waltz said he “ignored the Nazi part” of the role. When asked to clarify, he said:

“My opinion about it would have interfered with the character. What I know about it is historical information. A person who lived in 1944 didn't have the historical evaluation of this whole event, this whole catastrophe, this whole disaster. Also, for the character himself, I thought it was not that relevant. I found him very early on to be nonideological. He's a detective. He's not really a Nazi. He's just wearing the uniform.”

His response has been the basis of some debate here. He is an actor, not an historian, and he can use whatever motivation he chooses to create his character. And, of course, our audience should be able to separate the character from the actor. I think if Mr. Waltz had shared those thoughts on our stage, the protestations from the audience would have drowned him out.

In other Oscar news, if you enjoy seeing every movie nominated for an Academy Award, you’ll be pleased to know that we will be screening A Serious Man (nominated for Best Picture) on June 2 and Ajami (nominated for Best Foreign Film) on July 28. These two offerings are part of our new summer film club. You’ll hear more about that in the weeks to come.

Image found on Creative Commons

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Don’t keep your comments to yourself

When we started this blog in 2008, our hope was to share glorious insights and meaningful experiences from our visitors. Comments come to us in many forms. There is a printed comment card that one can fill out, a place on the web where you can drop us an e-mail, a comment kiosk where visitors can add their messages in a book, and for younger visitors there are cards and colored pencils with the invitation to draw a picture or write a message.

Some comments reflect a sober tone: “Thank you for this experience. Sometimes one needs to go far from home to connect to one’s history.”

Others are more hopeful: “My knowledge was limited about religions and world struggles. But thanks to this Museum, I am now an advocate on the matter.”

Others reveal a lighter mood: “Jews rock.”

But we received a card this week that Liz, our director of education, reported on in a meeting. In red colored pencil it says:

“I[sic] gave me a headache, but I appreciate Jews more.”

We’ve all had a pretty good laugh over this one.

Image above was found on Creative Commons.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Fish Tales

When I casually read the headline that Sec. of State Hillary Clinton was embroiled in a gefilte fish tariff hullabaloo, I thought it was a fish tale conceived of in the spirit of Purim. Nope. According to the JTA, nine containers of Asian carp from an Illinois fishery have not been released to Israel customs because Israel wants to slap a 120% duty on the fish. The matter must be resolved before the first Passover seder on March 29.

I will be honest; I am not a fan of gefilte fish. It doesn’t matter if it’s your Bubbie’s recipe from Latvia or some vegan interpretation accompanied by a chutney. I’d rather have a nice slice of melon, thank you. However, I was amused to learn that the fish used to make gefilte fish in the State of Israel is from the State of Illinois, and that the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee is involved.

Here is the full article from Ha’

I’m still not convinced it’s not a Purim spoof.