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.