Tuesday, September 27, 2011

In Praise of the American Folk Art Museum

Like many of you, I was saddened to hear of the financial troubles of the American Folk Art Museum. I’ve seen some wonderful exhibitions there of outsider art, art by women, and Americana, but my favorite exhibition was one that relates very much to our own mission. Gilded Lions and Jeweled Horses: The Synagogue to the Carousel, which was on view in 2007 and 2008, traced the journey of Jewish woodcarvers from Eastern and Central Europe to America through their beautiful secular and sacred works. While I’ve always loved carousel horses, I now have a special appreciation because I know that the carousel animals were a testament to a history of survival and transformation for immigrant Jewish artists who transferred symbolic visual elements into a beloved American icon that brings joy to so many people.

I thank the American Folk Art Museum for sharing this and so many other stories with us over the years and I urge you to go and visit. It is free, although donations are gratefully accepted and very much needed.

Monday, September 26, 2011

For New Parents and Babies Living Downtown

You know that moment as a new parent when you realize you’ve been wearing the same sweatpants for at least 30 hours, which aren’t the fancy designer kind, but the kind that are really only for sleeping and lounging, not that you have that luxury? You also realize you are in desperate need for an adult conversation and copious amounts of caffeine and to find other parents going through the same thing? Having a baby can be overwhelming and isolating, but it doesn’t have to be. Starting this Sunday, new and expectant parents living Downtown are invited to bring their babies for a new Sunday morning series at the Museum. Coffee and bagels are included and sweatpants are welcome. We won’t judge.

New Families, New Traditions is designed to create a welcoming space for Downtown Jewish and interfaith parents to share their experiences, create a community, and learn from experts. While children enjoy themselves in a safe play area within the room, or snooze in the stroller, moms and dads can chat over bagels and coffee and explore a range of topics that befuddle new parents, such as sleep (or lack thereof) and how to create an eco-friendly home. All families are welcome. Tickets are $10 per family per program and include a light bagel brunch. (Did we mention the coffee?)

Space is limited and pre-registration is preferred, but if you find yourself free at the last minute, stop by. (family@mjhnyc.org, 646-437-4300). The museum is located in Battery Park City at 36 Battery Place. For more information, visit www.mjhnyc.org/newfamilies.

The first program is:

October 2, 11 a.m.

Sleep deprived? A sleep coach from Dream Team Baby teaches the latest tips for helping your infant or toddler nap and sleep through the night. Dream Team Baby has been featured on NBC’s “Today Show" (watch the video) and has a column on The Bump.

If you have chatted with friends who have older babies, you probably know at least one person who paid a ton of money for a one-on-one session with a sleep coach. They also said it was worth every penny and maybe even saved their marriage or their career. Before you go that route, come this Sunday with your toughest questions.
Stay tuned for information about our Green Babies and December Dilemma programs, or visit us online: www.mjhnyc.org/newfamilies.

Spring events will be announced at a later date.

"New Families, New Traditions" is funded through generous support from the UJA-Federation of New York. Additional support is provided by the Margaret Neubart Foundation Trust.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Getting Ready for the New Year

It’s that time of year again, when we crack open the cookbooks and figure out how to celebrate the New Year and what to feed your loved ones. Whether you like to nosh on honey cake, or apple cake, or prefer your kugel sweet or savory, you are going to need a winning main course that can anchor the rest of the meal. I’d like to suggest the following recipe from June Feiss Hersh’s wonderful Recipes Remembered: A Celebration of Survival. The book is chock full of moving stories from Holocaust survivors and their families, but I also have to say that June writes the recipes that are very easy to follow whether you are a beginner or a balabusta.

Shana Tova from our homes to yours!

Lilly Kaplan’s Chicken Paprikash
This authentic Hungarian specialty features plenty of paprika, which lends a rich red color and subtle spicy flavor to this popular chicken dish. While Lilly uses sweet paprika, for an extra jolt of flavor, add a teaspoon of cayenne or smoked paprika.

Yields: 4 servings, Start to Finish: Under 2 hours

2 medium onions, sliced
4 garlic cloves, chopped
3 tablespoons olive oil
4 pounds chicken parts, on the bone,
skin removed
1 (14-ounce) can chopped tomatoes
1 cup chicken broth
¼ cup white wine
2 teaspoons sweet paprika
Kosher salt and pepper
1 green pepper, cored, seeded and sliced

Heat the olive oil in a large sauté pan, cook and stir the onions and garlic, over medium heat, until lightly browned, about 15 minutes.

Remove with a slotted spoon and reserve. In the same pan (adding more oil if needed), brown the chicken pieces in batches and set aside on a plate. When all the
chicken is browned, add the chicken (not the juice that has collected), onions and garlic back into the pan. Stir in the tomatoes, chicken broth, white wine, paprika, salt and pepper to taste. Top with the green pepper slices.

Simmer, covered, for 45 to 60 minutes, or until the chicken is tender and cooked through. Remove the chicken to a serving platter and bring the sauce to a slow boil. If the sauce is too thin, thicken it by creating a roux. In a skillet, heat 2 teaspoons of oil and then blend in 2 teaspoons of flour, stirring constantly to avoid burning the roux. You’ll want it to be a light blonde color. Let the roux cool a bit,and then stir it into the sauce, cook for several minutes to let it do its thing. If the sauce is still not thick enough, repeat the above process. Pour the sauce over the chicken and serve with noodles or dumplings. See Greta Margolis’ dumpling recipe (see page 274 of Recipes Remembered) or homemade noodles (see page 30of the cookbook).

Paprika can be hot, sweet, and several degrees in between. Look for pure Hungarian paprika, it’s worth the difference. And be sure never to add paprika directly into a dry pan, it will burn quickly as it releases its natural sugar

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Downtown's Newest Memorial

I went to visit the National 9/11 Memorial with my husband on Wednesday. It was a hazy day, yet the reflection of the sun on the granite, the water, and the glass made it warmer and brighter than it really was. Or maybe it was the aura of the place.

It is a truly beautiful and elegant memorial. The sheets of water mask all other ambient noise, not so easy to do when standing along the West Side Highway. The typeface used on the parapet is a classic serif font called Optima, created by Hermann Zapf. You will recognize it from the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC. It is dignified and solemn and entirely appropriate.

My husband, as a volunteer at Tribute, has gotten to know a lot of mothers who lost their sons on Sept. 11. He printed out the locations of their names in advance from the website (although you can also do it at kiosks on the plaza) and we went to visit them, tenderly sweeping our hands over their names. The metal was surprisingly cool to the touch.

When we walked from the South Pool to the North Pool, a gentle breeze picked up and blew water toward us. Seeing the calm water under the parapet flow into its forceful rush to the bottom and then complete its deliberate descent into nothingness reminded me of nothing less than a visual representation of grief. I don’t mean the literal stages of grief as articulated by Elizabeth Kübler Ross, I mean simply that grief at various times in our lives can be a quiet moment of reflection, or hot angry tears, or sometimes it recedes, slipping below the surface only to reappear on anniversaries or birthdays.

I am not the only one to draw this conclusion. Colleague David W. Dunlap, when writing about the testing of the waterfalls in the May 12, 2005 New York Times, wrote: “Rather, they were more like beaded curtains, with a striation that called to mind the vertical bands of the twin tower facades, dissolving in a cascade of tears.”

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Overheard in the Gallery (Well, Really, in the Lobby)

Eleven people showed up for our weekly guided tour of the Core Exhibition. Since reservations are not necessary, we’re never sure who might be here. Today’s guests included 4 folks from Denmark, 2 from Belfast, 2 from Walnut Creek, Calif., and 3 additional Californians from undisclosed locations. One of the visitors from Denmark told us that he had no idea what he was about to see but came on the recommendation of a friend who said that our Museum was one of five MUST-SEES in NYC. We’re right up there with Ellis Island and the Brooklyn Bridge! To our new Danish friends we say: tak så meget!

Monday, September 12, 2011

In the Movies: The Debt

While I am not a film critic or historian, I want to recommend The Debt, a gripping film that I caught over the weekend. Billed as an espionage thriller, the story begins in 1997, as shocking news reaches retired Mossad secret agents Rachel (Helen Mirren) and Stephan (Tom Wilkinson) about their former colleague David (Ciarán Hinds). All three have been venerated for decades by Israel because of the secret mission that they embarked on for their country back in 1965-1966, when their younger selves (Jessica Chastain, Marton Csokas, and Sam Worthington) tracked down Nazi war criminal Dieter Vogel (Jesper Christensen), a Mengele-like character known as the Surgeon of Birkenau, in East Berlin.

What could have been a pulpy revenge tale is actually refreshingly complex and rich with moral ambiguity and strong multi-dimensional Jewish characters. Without giving any of the twists and turns away, I think the most powerful moments took place when the Mossad agents were holding Vogel captive. While Rachel and David are revealed to have lost their families during the Holocaust, they are seen feeding and shaving Vogel with care and treating him like a human being. As David says, “Remember who we are and who we are not.”

Despite everything, at that moment they just want justice for their families and for Israel, and will not let the monster inside of Vogel infect them. I could tell you more, but I'd rather you see the film yourself for the superb acting and for the compelling story. View the trailer.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Let's Give a Hand to Community Board 1

Our friends at Community Board 1 have a very meaningful Saturday planned to commemorate the 10th anniversary of September 11. On September 10th at 8:46am, thousands of people will grasp hands to form a human chain along the waterfront from the tip of Lower Manhattan heading north. There will also be a Wall of Remembrance in historic Battery Park where you can post a message or memento. The 9/11 Memorial Museum will keep a portion of this wall for display for years to come. In addition, downtown non-profits will be hosting special community service projects throughout the neighborhood, and you are invited to get involved and volunteer in the community. Participation in the event is free and open to all, but you must pre-register through the website at www.handinhand911.org. You can learn about the service projects on the site as well.

According to the Downtown Alliance, it will be a great challenge to get around Lower Manhattan on Sunday, so treat yourself to a slightly more mellow day of reflection on Saturday.

If you do find yourself downtown on Sunday, however, please visit the Museum of Jewish Heritage. Admission is free all day and you are invited to visit the Yahrzeit installation and look out at the Statue of Liberty to contemplate freedom and liberty and how valuable they are.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Ambassador for Good

A news release passed by my desk last month and I made a note to save it for this week. The release announces that our own Auschwitz Jewish Center coordinator Dara Bramson has been named a Fulbright Scholar and will be leaving on Monday night to begin her scholarship abroad in Poland. Dara is one of more than 1,600 U.S. citizens chosen for the 2011-2012 academic year.

I was not aware of the history of the Fulbright program until I read that it was created in 1946 by Arkansas Senator J. William Fulbright. The primary source of funding for the Fulbright program is an annual appropriation made by the U.S. Congress to the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. Participating governments and host institutions, corporations and foundations in foreign countries and in the United States also provide direct and indirect support.

Dara, who is studying anthropology at Columbia University, joins the ranks of author Gish Jen, architect Daniel Libeskind, soprano Renee Fleming, and 2002 Nobel Laureate Riccardo Giacconi. No pressure, Dara.

The Fulbright program is the flagship international educational exchange program sponsored by the U.S. government and is designed to increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries. Since 1946, approximately 300,000 students, scholars, teachers, artists, and scientists have been given the opportunity to study, teach and conduct research, exchange ideas and contribute to finding solutions to shared international concerns.

We wish Dara the best of luck and look forward to working with her in this new capacity.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Yahrzeit: September 11 Remembered

Earlier this year we were discussing the appropriate way to observe the 10th anniversary of September 11. We were torn, frankly, because we felt that now that there was a national memorial to commemorate the terror attacks, we didn’t need to add grand gestures. And that is still true, but at a certain point in the spring we determined that we needed to do something for our community.

We created a poignant exhibition for the one year anniversary, curated by Jill Vexler and Ivy Barsky that examined how the anniversary of a death was observed in Judaism. The anniversary of a death is called yahrzeit. The exhibition looked at Jewish responses to the attacks, how Jewish rituals, both joyful and mournful, were observed during that time, and we looked at how the Museum responded.

Remembering how moving that exhibition had been, and noting that our intimate Rotunda Gallery was going to be available in the fall, we agreed that we would create a small contemplative space to allow people to reflect and remember. We re-purposed some of the artifacts from the first exhibition, like an amazing photo taken by the NYPD Aviation Unit moments before the Museum was enveloped by smoke, and Beth Din documents affirming a determination of death.

But there are additions that show the passage of time as well. There is a program from the 2006 dedication of a Torah scroll commissioned in memory of Andrew Steven Zucker, who was last seen on the 85th floor of 2 WTC making a sweep to get colleagues out. His son, Jason Andrew, was born five months after the attacks.

There are quotes from participants in Columbia University’s Center for Oral History 9/11 Narrative and Memory project, including some from former staff members and from Holocaust survivor Frederick Terna. And there is a quote from New York Times reporter David W. Dunlap who described our Robert M. Morgenthau Wing as the …”first significant expression of the cultural rebirth of Lower Manhattan since the attack on New York.” The quote appeared in an article Sept. 12, 2003.

Ilona Moradof led the project team ably and sensitively, and designer Trevor Messersmith created a very warm and inviting space for visitors. The exhibition is on view through Oct. 12.

Graphic based on a photograph by Peter Goldberg.