Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The Hanukkah Guests: A Lovely Story to End the Holiday

This blog comes to us from Samira, our Manager of Strategic Initiatives, who recently had an unexpectedly lovely Hanukkah moment while at the Association for Jewish Studies meeting.

On the first night of Hanukkah, I found myself in Baltimore, having dinner with the Paula E. Hyman Mentoring Program. It was the last night of what had been, for many of us, a busy conference.
We gathered in the back room of the Black Olive, a charming Greek fish restaurant owned by the Spiliadises, an elderly couple who greeted us as guests at their home. 

Anne Lapidus Lerner, the director of the program, had called ahead to make sure we could light a menorah all together.  When we arrived, we found that our hosts had arranged for us to have a table with a piece of tin foil laid out, ready to protect the table cloth from falling wax, and a box of matches.  One of the participants, Vanessa Ochs, lit the menorah and discussed the ritual, and we all chanted the blessings then sang “Maoz Tzur.” At some point, I realized that we had an audience. Mr. and Mrs. Spiliadis and several of their wait staff were standing in the doorway in reverence.

When we were done, as they brought the appetizers than Anne had ordered ahead of time, Mr. Spiliadis excitedly announced that in honor of the first night of Hanukkah and our presence in the restaurant, his wife had made a “special, Greek latke” to replace the restaurant’s normal side dishes. Mrs. Spiliadis had spent time researching recipes online and lovingly doing prep work in order to present us with a thick sweet potato pancake, full of Greek spices, and served with a side of Greek yogurt.  The proud and delighted hospitality made that potato pancake one of the best I have ever eaten.

As we left, Mr. Spiliadis stood in the hallway shaking our hands and marveling, “A Jewish festival holiday! In my restaurant! My Greek restaurant! This is what makes America great.” As he shook our hands, he told us that we had honored him, his wife, and their restaurant by coming to celebrate with them.  

I never knew the late Paula Hyman, for whom the mentoring program is named, but she was one of the best scholars of American Judaism of her generation. When I posted an abbreviated version of this story to Facebook, her students and her daughter told me how much she would have loved the encounter.

Spend December 25 with Us: Win Two Tickets to Joshua Nelson and His Kosher Gospel Choir

Come join us on December 25 for a full day of concerts, tours, and exhibitions.  
Click on the link below to win two concert tickets
to hear Joshua Nelson and His Kosher Gospel Choir

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Menorah Saved by Polish Jewish Community Near Auschwitz

In honor of Hanukkah this month, we will spotlight one of the Auschwitz Jewish Center's most treasured artifacts: a menorah. The AJC is the Museum's affiliate in Poland. We invite you to learn more about their important work.

In 2004, Polish archaeologists began a dig at the site of the former Great Synagogue in Oświęcim, just a few minutes’ walk from the Auschwitz Jewish Center.
More than 400 objects were discovered during the excavation, including a menorah, which became a symbol of the AJC and their work. It is believed that the Jewish community buried these objects before Nazis destroyed the synagogue in November 1939.
In addition to the menorah, other objects were found: candlesticks, the Ner Tamid (Hebrew: Eternal Light) lamp, a plaque listing names of individuals who likely were synagogue donors, and other object fragments.
Today, a plaque marks the site of the former synagogue and its ruins. As the largest and most important Jewish house of prayer at the turn of the twentieth century in Oświęcim, the 2,000-seat Great Synagogue – and its surviving artifacts – symbolizes the vibrant Jewish life that once existed in the town.

Sign up for the AJC's newsletter to read more stories like this one and to learn about their programs, exhibitions, and educational offerings.

Photo courtesy of the AJC.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Preserving History at Mystic Seaport

This blog comes to us from Chris Freeman at the Mystic Seaport. 
We're so grateful for everything they do to preserve this history.

Howard Mansfield wrote that, “Good preservation is the life preserver thrown to us in a shipwreck.  Good preservation keeps us in touch with the graces of this life….But true preservation is like the hand that shelters a fire from the wind.  It protects the spark of life.”

So it was and is with Gerda III.  During her working days she protected life. Her people took great risks to save their fellow man, because it was the humane thing to do.  Now as a museum ship she embodies and preserves the important stories of her crew and her passengers so that future generations may remember them and we hope learn from them.

However, the fact that Gerda III survives to carry this story forward is in itself a demonstration of the power and importance of good preseveration.  The story of Gerda III is something of a contradiction, being at once a singular, remarkable story of heroism and at the same time a rather common tale.  History is replete with stories of ordinary people accomplishing extraordinary feats and that is largely the story of Gerda III.  

Mystic Seaport, The Museum of America and the Sea; is proud to have been asked by the Museum of Jewish Heritage to take on a stewardship role to maintain the artifact that is Gerda III but also to carry forward her important stories.  Moored to the wharf at the Museum, she attracts a good deal of attention.  She has also attracted a passionate group of volunteers who commit their time to maintaining her. 

On a recent October weekend, volunteer Howard Veisz led a small group of Mystic Seaport volunteers who are part of the Mystic Seaport PILOTS** on a day long work project to apply some fresh paint to Gerda III.    After a full day of work around the Museum, the PILOTS convened for dinner, socializing and a special presentation.  At the October gathering the evening presentation was the story of Gerda III, delivered by Howard.  One of the PILOT volunteers had this to say about his experience that weekend:

“Dear Howard….It was an honor to have the opportunity to work on a vessel with such a proud history.  I thoroughly enjoyed your evening presentation and have shared my recollections of Gerda III's history with many of my friends and co-workers since my return. ….The Mystic Seaport PILOTS program has always provided me the opportunity to work with staff and volunteers whose love for Mystic Seaport and commitment to the preservation and interpretation of maritime history is inspirational.” 

**The Mystic Seaport PILOTS are a group of active Museum members who volunteer their time two weekends each year to work alongside the professional staff and other regular Museum volunteers at a wide variety of work projects throughout the Museum.

Photos courtesy of Mystic Seaport.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Sharing Culture Through Food

With Thanksgiving just a few days away, there is one subject that’s on everyone’s mind – food. If you’re looking for new and delectable additions to your Thanksgiving Day table, or perhaps simply a new way of making an old favorite, then the participants of our Interfaith Living Museum may be able to help you. Each year, fifth grade students from Jewish and Muslim schools in New York City learn about each others' religions and cultures and curate an exhibit that showcases their own family’s traditions. As part of this program, the students also put together a cookbook of their favorite family recipes. From Egypt to Latvia, these dishes represent a diverse array of cherished family traditions:

Goulash (Egypt)
1 lb. of lean ground beef
½ medium onion, finely chopped
½ package of phyllo dough, finely chopped
½ cup of butter
½ cup of milk (any kind will do)
1 egg
Spices (parsley, basil, Italian spices, salt and pepper) – really any variation will do, just be sure to include some salt and pepper
Shredded 3 cheese

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease the pan (9x13”) and place half of the phyllo sheets in the pan and set the other half aside. Sauté ground beef and onions until they are cooked through and sprinkle on some spices and drain excess oil. Place beef and onions onto the phyllo sheets in the pan. Cover with the other half of the phyllo sheets that were set aside earlier. Cut into small squares. Mix together butter, milk, and eggs and sprinkle over sheets. Place in the oven for about 25 minutes or until the top becomes golden. Sprinkle on some cheese and let it melt. Eat and enjoy!

“This recipe was given to my dad when he was a kid. When he eats it, it reminds him of his mother. When I went to Egypt, my aunt gave it to me for the first time. Whenever I eat it, it reminds me of my aunts.”

-          Nouraldeen, Al-Ihsan Academy

Moroccan Fish (Morocco)
2 lbs. of white fleshed fish (preferably filets)
10-15 tomatoes, peeled and minced
5 red, yellow, or green peppers
10 cloves of garlic, chopped
2-3 tsps. of cumin, to taste
4 tsps. of paprika, to taste
2 tsps. of turmeric
Salt and pepper, to taste
½ - 1/3 cup of olive oil
1 cup of white wine (optional)

Warm olive oil in a large deep pan with paprika until paprika is brown. Add peppers and garlic until tender for 3-4 minutes. Add tomatoes and (optional) white wine, and leave to simmer for 20-30 minutes. Add water to thin sauce as needed. Cover fish with cumin and turmeric and add to sauce to simmer 20-30 minutes uncovered. Add salt and pepper. Eat with quinoa or rice!

“My great-aunt was Moroccan, and so I am part Moroccan. Every Shabbat that my family hosts guests we make this recipe.”

-          Elan, Kinneret Day School

Mandel Broidt
3 eggs
1 tsp. of baking powder
1 cup of sugar
1/3 finely chopped nuts (optional)
1 cup of vegetable oil
½ package of chocolate chips
3 cups of flour
Cinnamon and sugar

Cream the eggs, sugar, and oil. Add flour and baking powder. Add nuts and chocolate chips. Dough will be sticky. Flour your hands and form into four loaves. Place on a greased cookie sheet. Sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar. Bake at 350 degrees until barley brown (roughly 20 minutes). Cook very slightly, and slice on diagonal, turning pieces onto their sides. Cool oven to 325 degrees and return pans to oven and bake again until light brown and crispy (roughly 15 minutes).

“My savta (grandmother) was at her friend’s house in St. Louis and they served these Mandel Broidt. She asked for the recipe and has been making it ever since. That was about 40 years ago. She passed it down to everyone in the family. We have it a lot when we all get together and it is special to everyone.”

-    Bella, Solomon Schechter School of Manhattan

Bassboussa (Algeria)
1 cup of semolina
2 cups of shredded coconut
½ cup of sugar
1 cup of plain yogurt
1 cup of melted butter
½ tsp. of baking powder
½ tsp. of vanilla powder
Warm honey

Mix all of the dry ingredients (semolina, shredded coconut, sugar, baking powder, vanilla powder). Add all the liquids (plain yogurt and melted butter). Pour that in a medium sized tray (10”). Put it in the oven. Preheat oven up to 300 degrees. Keep it in the oven for about 30 minutes. Bake it until you see the top has browned. Remove from oven and pour the warm honey. You can decorate it or make it flavorful by adding any nuts you like or some shredded coconut.

“This recipe (Bassboussa) was invented by the Turkish people when they were in Algeria in the 1800s. They make Bassboussa for special occasions like holidays. This recipe spread throughout the country of Algeria and it soon became very popular. Usually many Algerians like to enjoy it with refreshments, especially coffee and tea.”

-          Imen, Al-Ihsan Academy

For more information on the Interfaith Living Museum and to learn how you can support this important work on December 2, Giving Tuesday, please visit www.mjhnyc.org/givingtuesday

Photo by Melanie Einzig.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Help Us Give Muslim and Jewish Fifth Graders Something to Celebrate on Giving Tuesday

This blog is from Amanda, our Manager of Curriculum and Teacher Programs.

Last April, in a bowling alley in Queens, two 5th graders exchanged email addresses written on napkins.  It doesn’t sound like an extraordinary event. Many kids across the country stay in touch with their friends via email. But a seemingly ordinary event like this one became less so: one of these students was Muslim, and one was Jewish. They go to religious schools in different neighborhoods. It is very likely the two might not have ever met, but both were participants in our Interfaith Living Museum program.

The Interfaith Living Museum program brings together 80 fifth graders from four schools, two Jewish (Solomon Schechter School of Manhattan and Kinneret Day School) and two Muslim (Al-Ihsan Academy and Islamic Leadership School). Over the course of a semester, the students work together to learn about how artifacts can teach us about heritage and bring in artifacts from their own homes to teach each other. They visit the Museum of Jewish Heritage, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, a mosque, a synagogue, and each other’s schools. To help students get to know each other better, we also have a Social Day, in which the students get the opportunity to bowl, eat pizza, and get to know each other in a less formal environment. The program culminates in an exhibition of their artifacts, arranged thematically (“How We Pray,” “Food and Faith,” etc.). We hope that they learn more about their own backgrounds, as well as learn more about each other and find that despite differences, there are many similarities.

And we also hope that, as a result of the time spent together, friendships like these form. More rewarding than seeing students articulate lessons learned about their heritage are the lessons learned about each other, most importantly that it is possible, despite the differences they perceive, to form friendships and find common ground. Without the Interfaith Living Museum, these students would not have had the opportunity to meet and form these friendships.

There is no cost to the schools to participate in this important program. In order to continue providing funding, the Museum is asking for donations to help keep the program free for participants. We hope that you will join us in supporting the Interfaith Living Museum on December 2, Giving Tuesday. For more information, please visit www.mjhnyc.org/givingtuesday

Photo by Melanie Einzig