Author Archives: Lindsey Bridwell


Latest Helmsley Grants Target Israeli Innovation



The Helmsley Charitable Trust has announced more than $9.6 million in grants to four Israeli institutions, bringing the trust’s philanthropic investment in the Jewish state to a total of $131.8 million since 2009.

“These grants demonstrate our continuing philanthropic approach toward Israel,” Helmsley trustee Sandor Frankel said in a statement. “They strengthen Israel’s scientific, technological and medical research, benefiting the nation’s top tier institutions and academics. They also help to solve problems leading the global agenda. These grants will support Israeli innovation so it will continue to make Israel and the rest of the world a healthier and safer place for all.”

The trust is also funding the publication of a “fact-based historical record of the 2014 Gaza war” to support “IsraelZs image in the world as a free and democratic nation defending its citizens.”

The four institutions receiving grants this month are the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, whose $1.5 million grant will be used to develop land and water utilization strategies; the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, whose $2.24 million grant will fund the recruitment of biomedical science faculty; the Weizmann Institute of Science, whose two grants totaling $5.74 million will be used in the fight against inflammatory bowel disease and the development of magnetic resonance imaging protocols; and the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.


Knish: In Search of the Jewish Soul Food

102414_mishmash_bookBy Laura Silver
Brandeis, 300 pages

The history of the knish represents more than just the lineage of a fried, dumpling-like food. It demonstrates the often-central role of food in communities and cultural legacies.

Laura Silver knows that all too well. She has consumed knishes on three different continents, and her exhaustive research on the iconic potato treat has resulted in her new book. When she started her knish book project, Silver had no plans for an intercontinental journey, though she did plan to go to Vineland, N.J., home of the Pasta Factory, the company that purchased the famous knish recipes of Mrs. Stahl’s bakery.

As a young girl from the New York borough of Queens, Silver vividly remembers heading to Mrs. Stahl’s in Brighton Beach for knishes.

“Mrs. Stahl’s was our go-to place, but there were certainly knishes in other places,” she says. “When I grew up in Queens, there were many Jewish delis around. Mrs. Fanny Stahl was born with the Yiddish name of Feige. She started the knish shop and ran it until her death.” Silver is considered the world’s foremost expert on the knish. But can she say where the first knish came from?

“I don’t think it’s possible to know exactly who made the first knish,” she said. “It was before 1614, the first recorded history of the knish, which is in a poem in the Polish language. It comes from a town called Krakowiec, which is in modern-day Ukraine in what would be the Pale of Settlement.”


Party Hardy


Heidi Hiller (right), owner of Innovative Party Planning in Owings Mills, and her event planner, Tally Johnstone, show off an assortment of custom decorations.
(David Stuck)

When it was time for his bar mitzvah, Zachary Stein, son of a successful Hollywood talent agent, was given a “Titanic”-themed bar mitzvah party. The affair, which cost a half-million dollars, featured a model of the Titanic with the words, “Mazel tov, Zachary” scrawled on the front of the ship. Among other wacky gimmicks, the party featured a wet T-shirt contest and a rap-version of “Hava Nagila” performed by a famous hip-hop artist. Zachary entered the party announcing, “I’m king of the Torah!” But relax. It’s only a movie. Still, “Keeping up with the Steins,” a 2006 comedy that pokes fun at the over-the-top b’nai mitzvah celebrations that have become commonplace in the past several decades, is not all that far from the truth in some affluent Jewish communities. For the rest of us, however, money (and taste) tend to be important considerations. An array of Baltimore event professionals have some advice on keeping costs down while still having an event that reflects the personality of the b’nai mitzvah child.

“Find out what events actually cost,” says Heidi Hiller of Innovative Party Planning in Owings Mills. “Before you enter into a contract, make sure you read it and understand what isn’t covered. So many go into contracts thinking only about the rental of the place, the food, and the alcohol. That’s only half the cost of an event. The other half quickly adds up. Depending upon the kind of entertainment, dècor, photographs … sometimes those things cost more than 50 percent. Break it all down and then prioritize.”

Caterer Charles Levine, who owns Charles Levine Caterers and Glorious Kosher, agrees. “It’s all about priorities,” he says. “When someone calls us, we talk philosophy. We need to know, ‘What’s your vision? What is the most important element to you? Where do you want to put your money?’”

Once priorities are set, Levine says that going with a full-service caterer will ensure high-quality food and excellent service. Because he is familiar with local venues and experienced with so many different types of events, Levine says his staff can “lead the party,” sometimes making a party planner unnecessary. And since he has strong relationships with other vendors, he may be able to advise families on where to get the best prices on items such as party favors.

“Staff is not negotiable,” says Levine. “Staff makes the party.”

Levine also notes that clients may save money by holding a party in the time between meals. “We can do a great dessert and cocktail party, or late night hors d’oeuvres,” he says. “Maybe they don’t need to rent an expensive space, or maybe they can limit the number of people they invite,” he adds.

Among the b’nai mitzvah-related costs that clients often forget to take into consideration, says Hiller, are synagogue and party attire for the bar or bat mitzvah and other members of the immediate family. At Jan’s Boutique, in Cherry Hill, N.J., owner Paul Virilli’s staff always begins customers’ searches for the perfect bat mitzvah dress by asking them if they are on a budget. “We don’t assume that everyone wants to spend $5,000 on a dress,” says Virilli, who notes that his store carries dresses at price points from $99 to $4,000. “No matter where you shop, let them know your budget. An intelligent sales staff will keep you within your budget.” Virilli also encourages shoppers to go to stores that offer many options and to take their time. “Don’t rush the decision. We are the biggest store in the region, and we love it when customers look around.”

Hiller also urges clients to comparison shop. “Some venues include more than others. Do your homework!” If families are looking for ways to decrease costs, she suggests omitting party favors. “Maybe they don’t need that. You can use the D.J. giveaways instead. Be creative. If you or someone in your family has some special talent, maybe you can do some of the dècor by yourselves. “Remember, when it comes to dècor, you pay for labor, materials and creativity. Do whatever you can do ahead of time. Otherwise, you’ll be forced to pay for things you might have been able to do yourself.”

Bat Mitzvah girl one day, bar or bat mitzvah guest another … and another … and another…
Once Jewish children reach the age of 12 or 13, in addition to their own bar or bat mitzvah, chances are they will be attending many of their friends’ b’nai mitzvah celebrations as well. Being fashionably dressed for all those parties can cost a small fortune. Thankfully, help is on the way.

On Sunday, Dec. 7, from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., Join for Teens, in collaboration with CHANA, will sponsor a “Priceless” dress event at the Mitchell David Teen Center in Owings Mills. The event will offer brand new special-occasion dresses for girls at no charge. For additional information, visit


Tasty Trending



The days of bar mitzvah bagel brunches and backyard pizza parties are over. From cupcake trucks to chocolate fountains, bar mitzvahs have gotten bigger and grander in the Baltimore area.

“I have seen crazy things at bar mitzvahs,” says Linwoods restaurant sous-chef Abby Chaconas. “We have had people rent out the entire restaurant, hire their own sushi bars and bring in ice sculptures. At one of our off-premise bar mitzvahs, the family hired Justin Bieber as a performer.”

Offering both on-and off-premise catering services, Linwoods, located in Owings Mills, serves an upscale menu to satisfy even the pickiest of bar mitzvah families. With a huge emphasis on off-premise catering, Linwoods hires specific chefs to work only on outside events.

“We tailor the menu to meet the family’s needs,” says Chaconas. “We have plenty of vegetarian, gluten-free and vegan options as well. People have been getting fancier though. People used to order burgers, and now they ask for tenderloin.”

As dietary trends like gluten-free, vegan and vegetarian cuisines become more in vogue, Mt. Washington Tavern event coordinator Mary Booker adjusts the menu as needed to ensure every guest walks away happy.

“We start with the host’s vision and budget and work backward,” says Booker. “We have seen more and more dietary restrictions recently. While some have finger food on the kid’s menus, others have completely vegetarian bar mitzvahs.”

With social media on the rise, Booker comments that some tech savvy hosts are developing their menus based on internet searches.

“Many people bring in pictures of food they see on Pinterest and Instagram and ask us to make it,” says Booker. “Catering has definitely come into the 21st century.”

Searching for something sweet? Look no further than Iced Gems.

The Baltimore-based company specializes in cupcakes, cakes, cookies and desserts. The winner of the 2014 Taste of Three Cities, Iced Gems creates a wide range of mouth-watering treats using organic milk, free-range eggs and sugar. Cupcakes have exploded in popularity in recent years, so it is no surprise that Iced Gems owner and baker Christine Richardson has noticed an increasing number of customers selecting cupcakes as the finale to the bar mitzvah meal. Gluten-free and vegan cupcakes are also available, ensuring that everyone enjoys dessert regardless of dietary restrictions.

“We offer over 210 cupcake flavors, from chocolate-dipped twinkie to strawberry fudge sundae,” says Richardson. “We have noticed that more people choose cupcakes over cakes. Cupcakes are more portable. You can take them home with you instead of waste half a cake.”
Richardson also creates tons of themed cakes that are special ordered for bar mitzvahs.

“Last week, we created an EMT ambulance cake for a bar mitzvah,” she says. “We also offer 15 to 20 celebration cakes. If you dream it, we can bake it.”

Joining the food truck frenzy, Richardson owns two of her own trucks and brings them to bar mitzvah parties. She parks the trucks in front of the ballroom and guests line up outside to receive their desserts.

“Food trucks are insanely popular,” she says. “They bring an extra layer of excitement to the parties.”

Many catering companies offer exclusive dessert packages and tailor-made dessert tables.

“Every menu for every one of our parties is unique,” says Booker of Mount Washington Tavern. “Last week, we had a dessert table filled with caramel apples, s’more sundaes, mixed berry crisps and an assortment of cakes. You never know what you will find.”

Looking for a healthy dessert option? Edible Arrangements has made waves customizing healthy desserts. Since 1999, the company has been creating fruit concoctions that mimic flower bouquets. With representatives in Pikesville, Owings Mills and Randallstown, the nationwide company has become increasingly popular at Baltimore b’nai mitzvot for their delicious, beautiful centerpieces and fruit-filled dessert tables.

“It is a more healthy approach to dessert,” says Edible Arrangements Pikeville store manager Sylvia Buckson.

According to Buckson, “one of our most popular spreads for bar mitzvahs is our fruit festival. The spread includes pineapple daisies, strawberries, honeydew, cantaloupe, grapes and orange slices.”

For those with a sweet tooth, Edible Arrangements also offers creations covered in chocolate and other toppings.

“We dip our fruit in chocolate, sprinkles and other fun toppings,” says Buckson. “Why not make fruit fun?”

Well, there you have it folks. If you dream it, Baltimore caterers will cook it. Bon Appetite! And Mazel Tov!