Friday Night at Church A poem in response to tragedies in Tagbha, Israel and Charleston, S.C.

the Shabbos Queen
will go to church
She will walk
within the Land of Israel
until she arrives in Tabgha
She will hold hands with each member
of the congregation at
The Church of the Multiplication
of the Loaves and Fish
She will pray
She will stay
until the
Holy Land is Holy
She will walk
through the United States
until she arrives in Charleston
She will hold hands with each member
of the congregation at
The Emanuel African
Methodist Episcopal Church
She will pray
She will stay
until the
Land of the Free is Free
Tonight is Shabbos
And tonight,
the Shabbos Queen
will go to church.


“Mumbojumbo” by Astral Eyes (Photo by Dan Meyers)

“Mumbojumbo” by Astral Eyes
(Photo by Dan Meyers)

Ever wonder where great ideas — truly inspired ideas that transport and transform the people who have them and their worlds — come from? Great ideas and the unusual visionaries who dream them up are the subject of a new exhibition that opened Oct. 4 at the American Visionary Art Museum.

Described by AVAM’s founder and director Rebecca Alban Hoffberger as a show about life’s “Aha!” and “Eureka!” moments, “The Visionary Experience, Saint Francis to Finster,” includes the work of self-taught artists, inventors, architects, scientists, saints and spiritual leaders of different races, ethnicities, socioeconomic levels and faith traditions who all share the experience of being struck by “some lightning bolt of greater understanding, insight, grace and muse” that inspired their uncommon and majestic creations.

The exhibition, curated by Hoffberger with filmmaker and publisher Jodi Wille, also explores why some human beings are blessed with supernatural capacities for insight and understanding, unusual powers of intuition and the ability to access a degree of spiritual connectedness that for most people remains out of reach.

A tour of “The Visionary Experience” begins before one crosses the threshold of the museum. The building itself, adorned with a 1,920-square-foot mirror-and-glass mosaic, is a work of art designed and installed with the help of at-risk and incarcerated youth trained by community artists. The project began in 2000, and its third phase, supervised by artist Mari Gardner, was completed just in time for the exhibition opening.

Hoffberger said the museum campus, which also includes two sculpture plazas, a wildflower garden, the Leroy E. Hoffberger Speaker’s Corner, the LOVE Sculpture Barn, and an outdoor movie theater, was conceived as a place that should always be open to the public.

“If you come at 3 a.m., you can still hug an egg,” she said, referring to Andrew Logan’s “Cosmic Galaxy Egg” installed outside. As part of the new exhibition, visitors who arrive after closing time can also see visionary artist and classic car collector Steve Heller’s “Stargate,” made entirely of automobile parts.

“Feminine Risin” by Ingo Swann (Photo by Dan Meyers)

“Feminine Rising” by Ingo Swann
(Photo by Dan Meyers)

Upon entering the museum, visitors will see local artist, author, radio host, political activist and one of America’s foremost symbolic muralists, Robert Richard Hieronimus’ painting, “Historic Views of Baltimore, 1752-1858,” a 24-by-4-foot, three-paneled panoramic view of the Baltimore Harbor. The work explores what inspired the founding fathers to conceive of their new country.

The exhibit also focuses on the phenomena of near-death and out-of-body experiences.

“Close encounters with death are often life-changing experiences, common to visionaries,” noted Hoffberger. For example, “Visionary Experience” artist Jason Padgett became a gifted mathematician, physicist and illustrator after a mugging in which he was repeatedly kicked in the head. Artist Maja D’Aoust had her first supernatural experience when she was extremely ill as a 2-year-old, and painter Norbert Kox had his life-changing spiritual awakening after a drug overdose.

The Rev. Howard Finster, a Baptist minister and jack of all trades, was born in Alabama in 1915 (or 1916.) Recognized as America’s most prolific artist, Finster is said to have experienced his first vision at the age of 3, when he saw his late sister, Abbie Rose, descend a staircase from the heavens. She said, “Howard, you’re going to be a man of visions.”

“The Visionary Experience,” said Hoffberger, is dedicated to the centennial celebration of Finster’s birth.

Although his visions began early in life, Finster did not begin painting until age 60, when he heard God speak to him. Before his death in 2001, Finster created 46,000 numbered works; was the creator of Paradise Garden, a folk art sculpture garden in Georgia; illustrated album covers for rock groups REM and Talking Heads and even appeared on “The Tonight Show” with Johnny Carson.

Astral Eyes, born James Weigel, whose piece “Mumbojumbo” appears in the show, heard voices and was diagnosed with schizophrenia. He was fortunate to be homeschooled by his mother, who also heard voices and was able to provide guidance for her son as he learned to manage, and to flourish artistically, despite (or possibly because of) his psychiatric symptoms. Born in 1976, Astral Eyes has enjoyed a successful career as an artist of record album covers and as a clothing designer.

Several paintings by visionary artist and psychic Ingo Swann, a “pioneer in the field of remote viewing” and co-creator of Stanford Research Institute of Remote Viewing and the CIA Stargate Project, is also on display. Swann said his first out-of-body experience occurred during a tonsillectomy at age 3. His work has been shown in the Pan Am Building in New York City and is on permanent display at the Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.

The stories of these artists raise one of the exhibition’s most interesting questions: Are some visionaries mentally ill, or are they instead just more in touch with alternate states of consciousness? The curators conclude that there are no boundaries to what the mind can access, if the thinker is receptive.

For additional information, visit

The Right Call

Orioles fans celebrate before the last out against the Toronto Blue Jays at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on Sept. 16. The O’s clinched the American League East that night with a 8-2 victory. (Tony Quinn/Icon Sportswire 255/Tony Quinn/Icon Sportswire/Newscom)

Orioles fans celebrate before the last out against the Toronto Blue Jays at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on Sept. 16. The O’s clinched the American League East that night with a 8-2 victory. (Tony Quinn/Icon Sportswire 255/Tony Quinn/Icon Sportswire/Newscom)

Jewish baseball fans, journalists, broadcasters and players face a very important decision this week. They must choose between baseball or attending Yom Kippur services.

The Orioles won the American League East title and hosted the Detroit Tigers, winners of the Central Division, in the league’s Division Series opener on Oct. 2. Forty-three south, the Washington Nationals won the National League’s East Division and open their division series on Oct. 3.

The Nationals’ game will be played on Erev Yom Kippur, and Game 2 of that series on Oct. 4, which is Yom Kippur. Game 2 of the ALDS between Orioles and Tigers also will be played on Erev Yom Kippur at Oriole Park.

The Lerner family, who own the Nationals, announced last week that it will not attend any games —  including the playoffs — that fall on Jewish holidays including, of course, Yom Kippur. Neither the Orioles nor the Nationals has a Jewish player.

Major League Baseball Commissioner Alan “Bud” Selig, who likely will be in Baltimore on Oct. 3 and in Washington on Oct. 4, will have to choose between baseball or Yom Kippur. So will Tigers manager Brad Aumus and his star second baseman, Ian Kinsler, who are in Charm City Friday night.

There are other Jewish players in the playoffs who will have to make the same choice: Ike Davis (Pittsburgh Pirates); Sam Fuld and Nate Freiman (Oakland A’s); and Joc Pederson (Los Angeles Dodgers).

Historically, two of the most famous of all Jewish baseball stars, Hank Greenberg and Sandy Koufax, faced the same decision: play or pray.

Greenburg, a first baseman for the 1934 Tigers, was the team’s best player. His Tigers were in the middle of a hot American League pennant race. It was Rosh Hashanah, and he had been pressured for more than a week from rabbis and Jews nationwide, some telling him not to play, others telling him that he could not let down his team.

See Orioles Rally pictures here.

Greenburg chose to play and hit two home runs, including one in the bottom of the ninth inning to beat the Boston Red Sox, 2-1. Nine days later, he sat on Yom Kippur, and the Tigers went on to represent the American League in the World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals. Greenburg had an outstanding Series, but the Cardinals rode the strong arms of standout pitchers — and brothers — Paul and Dizzy Dean to win the championship.

However, it was Koufax who made national headlines in 1965 for choosing “praying over playing.” He wasn’t just any other pitcher; the future Hall-
of-Famer was the Major League’s very best at the time.

He sat out Game 1 of the World Series against the Minnesota Twins. Koufax, one of the most private superstars in sports history, fasted and prayed in his hotel room in Minneapolis rather than draw attention by attending services at a local synagogue.

Don Drysdale took Koufax’s place in Game 1, and the Dodgers lost. Koufax started Game 2, and he too lost. But the Dodgers rallied to win the Series, as Koufax pitched shutouts in Game 5 and the decisive Game 7.

For journalists who have followed the Orioles and Nationals since February, when both teams started spring training, it has been an exciting nine-month, 162-game ride. Yes, the playoffs are what we all had hoped for; and yes, each one of the games is special. But there are far more important matters.

Despite wanting to cover the Orioles and Nationals, I will be attending services at Chizuk Amuno, not only because, to me, it is the right thing to do, but if the great Sandy Koufax can choose to sit out starting Game 1 of a World Series, one of the most exciting experiences in sports, out of respect and love for being Jewish, I can surely miss three first-round playoff games.

Jim Williams is a local freelance writer.

Love: Jewish Baltimore Style

Sometimes, Lauren Katz says, she feels like the “only single person in the universe.”

Sometimes, Lauren Katz says, she feels like the “only single person in the universe.”

After more than a decade of dating in Jewish Baltimore, Lauren Katz is feeling discouraged.

The 30-year-old Owings Mills native has lived in Baltimore her whole life, not withstanding a few years away at college, and she’s had her fair share of experiences dating both Jews and non-Jews in the community.

“I feel like I’ve dated them all,” Katz said, though she has made an effort to avoid friends’ exes and has tried to stay away from men she’s known since they were in middle school together. Now that most of her friends are married and starting families, Katz admitted she sometimes feels like “the only single person in the universe.”

But she isn’t. Matchmaker Mashe Katz (no relation to Lauren) can testify to that.

Katz, who was interviewed in the weeks leading up to Tu B’Av — the minor holiday (on Aug.11 this year) that Jewish tradition for centuries has associated with love and marriage, said she has always had a gift for matchmaking. She’s been making matches since her teens. But she is humble about her talent.

“The One above is the true matchmaker. We are just his emissaries,” said Katz. “It is known that 40 days before a child is born, his match is called out in heaven.”

Katz’s friend, fellow matchmaker Shulamit Gartenhaus, feels similarly.

“I have four kids and when they had to find matches, they didn’t have a hard time. When my youngest got married 13 years ago, I felt thankful to God,” she said.

Aware that not everyone has an easy time finding a mate, Gartenhaus decided to provide God with some help. She said she feels sorry for women who are single and watching their friends get married and have babies.

“There was a need [for a matchmaker] in the community,” said Gartenhaus. “When you make a match you feel like a million bucks. Not only are you creating a new Jewish family, you are also strengthening the Jewish community.”

Not everyone uses a matchmaker, of course, and many in the non-Orthodox segments of the community consider matchmaking a relic from another era. But Tammy Tilson, a psychotherapist in private practice who is also a professional dating coach, said that when it comes to finding a serious relationship, many people need help.

While Gartenhaus and Katz work mainly with young adults, Tilson’s clients are primarily divorced men and women trying to negotiate the singles scene after being out of it for quite some time. In the age of the Internet, dating norms have changed dramatically.

“Sometimes people are reluctant to start [using] online dating sites,” said Tilson. “It may not seem completely natural, but it’s the way of the world and the best tool out there.”

“Sometimes people  are reluctant to start  [using] online dating sites.  It may not seem  completely natural,  but it’s the way  of the world and the  best tool out there.”

“Sometimes people are reluctant to start [using] online dating sites. It may not seem completely natural, but it’s the way of the world and the best tool out there.”

Digital dating
Since JDate first burst onto the singles scene in 1997, online dating sites have cropped up like weeds. In the Jewish world alone, there are countless websites for people of every denomination with clever names such as, and changed its name recently — it’s now called JWed. Many Jewish singles also rely on dating sites that aren’t limited to Jewish singles such as, and

Lauren Katz first got her feet wet with online dating eight years ago when she returned home from college to find that her mother had created an online profile for her on JDate with the headline, “Mother looking for daughter.” Right off the bat, Katz started dating a man she met on the site.

“We dated for four months,” she said. Katz was so impressed with her mother’s matchmaking skills that when she created a paid profile on J-Date three years later, she did so with her mother’s help.

This time, Katz — who would prefer to marry a Jewish guy but has had trouble meeting Jewish men she likes — quickly got a message from a non-Jewish man who was “looking for a Jewish woman.” The couple dated for more than two years before eventually calling it quits.

It’s no secret that mothers can be the best matchmakers for their children. Just ask the founders of, “where Moms do the matchmaking.” Brother-and-sister team Danielle and Brad Weisberg launched the website in 2010 after their own mother convinced them that when it came to matching her son with a “nice Jewish girl,” there was no better marketer than his mother.

Yet, like Gartenhaus, who said her clients, many of whom also use Orthodox dating sites, appreciate “the human touch,” Tilson said the Internet is no substitute for the coaching she can provide.

“Finding a mate is like finding a job. Your [online] profile is your resume,” she explained. “I help people write their profiles and choose their photos. We look at their dating history, and we talk about dating strategies. A lot of people don’t know why they are not successful.”

One key to success, the matchmakers all agreed, is flexibility. Many singles, especially men, place a premium on the appearance of a potential match.

“Looks are important,” said Katz, who also noted that the pool of eligible single men in the Orthodox community is much smaller than the pool of eligible women.”

Gartenhaus said she has one client who is 64 and never married.

“She says, ‘I wish I hadn’t been so picky when I was young.’ So what if he’s a little nerdy?” said Gartenhaus. “Nerds make good husbands.”

Tilson has seen the same phenomenon among her clients.

“Some people have unrealistic expectations. I say if you really want a relationship, it’s not just about attraction,” she explained. “Dating is more complex in your 40s. You have to look at your lives, your kids, your schedules, your location. Do they fit together? There are a lot of good people out there. You have to look outside the box and be open-minded. Perfection doesn’t exist.”

A foot in the door
In the two years he has lived in Baltimore, Sammy Zimmerman, a 32-year-old CPA and law student, has found that it’s been challenging to break into the Orthodox community and difficult to find women willing to look beyond the surface when it comes to seeking a mate.

“It is not a progressive community,” he said. “There’s a lot of labeling, and some people are close-minded. What I find is that before girls get to know you, they’ll say, ‘Oh, he’s too modern,’ or they have to follow the rabbi or check with their parents or their friends to get clearance. I know people say there are a lot of women looking, but they’re not accessible. If they really wanted to meet someone, they would be more flexible. They should focus on the positives — we all have good qualities.”

Going about the dating game with a positive attitude, said Tilson, is important.

“You have to stay positive and be able to deal with rejection. No matter who we are, we have been on both sides of the fence,” she said. “Online dating is a bit of a game. You can’t take it too seriously. Lots of people are online talking and dating lots of people. That triggers tons of anxiety. You’re vulnerable, you’ve put yourself out there. I try to empower and support them so they feel positive about the future and put their best foot forward.”

Katz encourages the men and women she matches to go out more than once. Generally, she said, after the first couple of dates, clients will call Katz to discuss how the date went. After the third or fourth date, she said, “they know if they’re not getting anywhere.”

On the other hand, if a relationship is progressing after the third or fourth date, Katz encourages them to continue seeing each other and to call if they need her assistance.

Both Gartenhaus and Katz said they don’t charge a fee for their services. However, if a successful match comes from their efforts, the family gives “a nice gift.” Sometimes, said Gartenhaus, families ask their rabbis what they should pay.

“Each side pays something,” she said. “It could be a smaller gift like a serving plate or it could be $1,000 from each family.”

Tilson’s date-coaching fees vary depending upon what services she provides.

“I charge about $100 hourly, but I also offer packages,” she said. “For example, I might write a profile, help them role-play how to act on a date, go shopping with them. Some people don’t have time to screen thousands of [online] profiles. I might do that for them. Lots of people have social anxiety; a lot of what I do is to build their confidence. I help them to pace the relationship appropriately so it develops from online to offline. I can hold their hand every step of the way if they want that.”

Plenty of people
That kind of support hasn’t been necessary for 25-year-old Andrew Collins of Baltimore. He said he’s had no trouble meeting women to date in his hometown.

“For me, there are plenty of people to meet,” he said. “It’s a social town, lots of bars, clubs, music.”

And although Collins, a home loan consultant, is Jewish and grew up attending Beth El Congregation, he cannot remember ever dating a Jewish woman.

“There is no conscious reason,” he said. “I hang out with Jewish girls and girls who are not Jewish. Most of my friends are Jewish. Whether a girl is Jewish or not is one of the last things I care about. As long as she is a good person.”

Collins is also not a fan of online dating and doesn’t like the idea of being fixed up by friends or family. He acknowledges that these practices work for others. For example, Collins’ sister recently married a man she met on JDate.

Do his parents mind that he doesn’t date Jewish women?

“I think my parents feel about the same way I do,” he said. “My mom would probably prefer I marry a Jewish girl, but, at the end of the day, she really only cares if I’m happy and that [my prospective wife is] a good person.”

Chana Bernstein has given up on online dating sites, preferring to meet people through family and friends.

Chana Bernstein has given up on online dating sites, preferring to meet people through family and friends.

Chana Bernstein, 30, a marketing professional with Living Social, no longer uses matchmakers or online dating sites. Matchmakers haven’t really “gotten” her, and those she has met through online dating sites were disappointing. She has dated a lot since moving to Baltimore three years ago but said she prefers to meet people through friends and family.

Bernstein is reluctant to label herself when it comes to her level of Jewish observance but said she is somewhere between Orthodox and modern Orthodox.

“I would say I have my feet in both the religious and secular worlds, and I straddle them successfully,” she said.

Bernstein, who was once engaged, said she is looking for a man who is “mature, has gotten his life together and is goal-oriented with a stable personality. Otherwise, he can just be someone I enjoy being with.”

She keeps an open mind.

“I won’t know until I meet him,” she said. “I think I could mesh with a lot of people. One of our rabbis gave a talk at a Shabbos meal recently and I liked what he said: ‘There’s no harm in going out; it’s not a promise to get married. Just go out, you’re not losing anything and you might gain a lot. That person may surprise you.’”

Tu B’Av: What’s it all about?
“Tu B’Av is a minor festival in the Jewish calendar and takes place on the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Av,” said Rabbi Deborah Wechsler of Chizuk Amuno Congregation.

“The most popular story about Tu B’Av is probably from the Talmud. On that day, unmarried girls were said to go out into the vineyards in borrowed white dresses and find mates. The dresses were borrowed, so that the poor girls who couldn’t afford new dresses wouldn’t feel embarrassed,” said Wechsler. “The only practical way it is observed today is that the tachanun, the penitential prayers, are omitted from the service on that date.”

If people would like to bring Tu B’av back, suggests Wechsler, “they should do a mitzvah and make a shidduch between two people without mates on that day.”

Staff reporter Heather Norris contributed to this report.

‘A Unique Space’

070414_meyerhoffLong before he was booking A-list comedians and musicians at one of Baltimore’s premier venues, Toby Blumenthal could be spotted passing out flyers for upcoming concerts in Northern Virginia.

But for Blumenthal, then a high school student, these weren’t just flyers. He knew that an agent who booked a tour for an artist connected with a promoter, who then found the proper date and venue to hold the show. When those pieces came together and tickets went on sale, people like Blumenthal would hit the streets on behalf of the promoters.

“I was handing out flyers and getting them around town and I really dug deep into who was presenting those concerts that I was handing out flyers for,” Blumenthal, 35, said.

He would later work for that promoter, forge relationships with agents and other promoters and work his way into booking major events at large venues.

Blumenthal is the director of rentals and presentations at the Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, the home of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, a position he’s held for seven years.

“My core responsibility is handling the use of this building and really focusing on reducing the number of dark days,” he said. “The orchestra plans their schedule a year-and-a-half in advance and then I’m handed the calendar, and basically my job is to fill those dates.”

Blumenthal brings about 50 to 60 events a year to the venue, including concerts, comedy shows, private events such as The Associated’s casino night, corporate functions, galas and fundraisers. During Blumenthal’s time at the venue, the Meyerhoff has hosted comedian giants George Carlin, Jerry Seinfeld, Bill Cosby, Jon Stewart, Louis CK and more. Comedian Kevin Hart set a new record for the venue, which holds approximately 2,450 people, selling out six shows in three days in 2012.

As a huge music fan, Blumenthal has facilitated a wealth of artists performing at the venue, including Van Morrison, Tony Bennett, Alison Krauss and Union Station, Jeff Tweedy, David Byrne and St. Vincent and Ringo Starr and His All Starr Band.

Stevenson University’s Baltimore Speaker Series has brought President Bill Clinton, documentary filmmaker Ken Burns and many other iconic figures to the venue.

Blumenthal said it’s his relationship with promoters and agents that help him score big acts.

“Toby is a big reason [we work at the Meyerhoff]. He’s aggressive without being intrusive,” said Seth Hurwitz, chairman of I.M.P. Productions, the company that owns the 9:30 Club in Washington, D.C. and books Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia and the Lincoln Theatre in Washington. “Toby will always come to us first and say, ‘Hey, I’d like to make this happen. Would you like to work on it with me?’ It makes us feel sort of an obligation to make us work with him first.”

Connections with Hurwitz and many others in the industry go back to college for Blumenthal. As a Towson University student, he worked alongside the promoter he passed out flyers for in high school, All Good Presents co-founder Tim Walther, helping out with music festivals and presenting shows at Towson’s Recher Theatre with Walther. Blumenthal also booked concerts for the university with artists such as Outkast, Bob Dylan and Ben Harper.

After college, he went to work for Cellar Door at the Nissan Pavilion in Northern Virginia as the assistant to the booking manager, working on concerts from Baltimore down to North Carolina. Cellar Door is now part of Live Nation and the Nissan Pavilion is now known as Jiffy Lube Live.

From there, Blumenthal came up to Baltimore, his wife Hope’s hometown, to work at Hippodrome after its reopening in 2004. He was working in a similar capacity, booking the venue’s non-Broadway shows and private functions. When the position opened up at the Meyerhoff, he moved to his current position.

“It’s a unique space that can do pretty much anything,” Blumenthal said of the Meyerhoff.

His current job has allowed him to create some of his career’s more magical moments with popular musicians performing alongside the orchestra. Previous collaborations include singer-songwriter Ray LaMontagne and one of Blumenthal’s favorite musicians, Trey Anastasio from Phish.

Upon hearing that Anastasio was interested in working with a symphony while Phish was on hiatus, Blumenthal reached out to the singer and guitarist and spent about six months trying to make it happen, which it did in 2009.

“At times, we would talk once a week,” he said. “It took a solid year to find a specific date that worked for everybody, and it was pretty amazing when it finally happened.”

Blumenthal, who listens to an eclectic array of local, regional, national and international music, also had the opportunity to bring to life music by another of his favorite artists, the Grateful Dead, by spearheading the world premiere of “Dead Symphony No. 6,” which Blumenthal first heard on CD.

The next musician-symphony collaboration is on July 17 with Ben Folds, who will performing his new concerto as well as some of his popular songs with the symphony.

“The organization really is all about exploring the greatest things out there regardless of what genre they may fall into, and Toby’s been a tremendous asset because of the connections and experience he brings for the popular music side of things,” said Matt Spivey, vice president of artistic operations at the Meyerhoff. “He also has deep connection and understanding of the orchestra … and he really bridges that gap for us in a lot of ways.”

And Blumenthal continues to try to find ways to bridge that gap and attract a younger audience to the venue. This summer, the Meyerhoff will host a concert of video game music, outdoor concerts before Beethoven shows and there’s talk of developing new events to bring more intergenerational audiences to the venue.

“I feel like, here, this is the community’s venue,” he said. “So, we want everybody to feel welcome when coming to this building.”

A ‘Rocky’ Road to Stardom

Margo Seibert stars as Adrian in the Broadway production of “Rocky.” (Provided)

Margo Seibert stars as Adrian in the Broadway production of “Rocky.”

Margo Seibert was babysitting when she learned she had been chosen to play the role of Adrian in the first Broadway production of “Rocky,” a musical version of the 1976 Academy Award-winning film starring Sylvester Stallone, who co-authored the show’s libretto.

“The director, Alex Timber, called and said, ‘We want you to have the role of Adrian. You’ll get a formal offer on Monday,’” Seibert, 29, recalled. “I called my mom, and whispered, ‘I got the part.’ I couldn’t scream because the baby was sleeping. As an actor, you have a lot of part-time jobs in between shows.”

The story is a charming reminder that before she landed the role of a lifetime, Seibert was a nice Jewish girl from Glenelg, Md., who began her career performing in school plays in Howard County public schools and got her first professional break at Toby’s Dinner Theatre in Columbia when she was 16. Her first job was assisting the music teacher at the religious school of Columbia Jewish Congregation, where she was a member and became a bat mitzvah.

Margo Seibert is still kind of stunned. “It is so thrilling. Most people told me I’d be here, but I really didn’t know.”

For mother Debbie Seibert, having a daughter on Broadway has been “otherworldly.”

“There’s really no one else I can talk to about it, because so few people have experienced this,” said Debbie Seibert, who still lives in Glenelg. “I knew she had the talent, but I was also realistic about what she was up against. The big joke was that I made her go to American University. They have a great musical theater program, but I told her, ‘You can do as much musical theater as you want, but you have to get your degree in something else. So Margo got a degree in international relations. When she called and told me she got this part, I said, ‘Finally, someone sees what I see!’”

Although she’s been watching Margo perform all of her life, watching her daughter on a Broadway stage was nevertheless deeply moving.

“I had to keep reminding myself I was at the Winter Garden Theatre,” she said. “There is one point in the show when it’s just her on the stage singing, and it’s such a beautiful moment. I just started to cry.”

For Margo Seibert, playing the role of Adrian has been a wonderful journey. “I wasn’t really familiar with the movie, and I didn’t watch it until the fifth or sixth round of auditions,” she said. “It was interesting to find the Adrian in me. I’m a lot more outgoing than she is, but she has a vulnerability that we all have. It causes defenses, and we all express [our vulnerabilities] in different ways.

“In the play, Adrian’s role is expanded, and she really gets to blossom,” Seibert continued. “It’s very fulfilling. Who wouldn’t want to have a role where they fall in love and grow in self-confidence? I love the role.”

Seibert said she is also grateful to have had the opportunity to make her Broadway debut playing a new character in a new show. “This is what I have always done but on a smaller scale,” she said. “If I can have the opportunity to craft new characters and work with writers on brand new pieces, I will be very happy.”

Working with mega-star Stallone has been an extra perk, added Seibert. “It has been amazing and surreal,” she said. “He generously shared stories about his experience writing the screenplay for ‘Rocky,’ and his feedback during the preview process was incredibly helpful to the dynamic between Rocky and Adrian.”

Now that she is a Broadway star, Seibert’s life is busier than ever. “We do eight shows a week and also press events,” she said. “It’s very taxing energy-wise, but it’s so enjoyable. It’s like a marathon.”

Seibert noted that her costar, Andy Karl, also a Baltimorean, has an even more grueling role. “As Rocky, he’s working his butt off,” she said.
The fact that they grew up outside of Baltimore and performed — at different times — at Toby’s has strengthened their onstage bond. “We’ve really formed a kinship,” she said.

While Margo Seibert said she’s very happy living in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, she credits Howard County, her family and her teachers there with helping her to become a successful performer.

“There was such an automatic respect for the arts there,” she said. “My music and drama teachers at Glenelg High School were like second and third mothers to me. High school is such a delicate time, and they were always so supportive. I don’t think I’d be where I am if I had not grown up in Howard County.”

‘For Whom It Stands’

The Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History and Culture is adding to the state’s 200th Star Spangled Banner celebration with a new exhibit, “For Whom It Stands,” which examines the meaning of the American flag in a manner that is “inclusive, culturally diverse and interactive,” according to the museum’s executive director, Dr. A. Skipp Sanders.

More than 25 artists are featured, including Israeli-American artist Dalya Luttwak’s painted metal sculpture “A Tribute to New York,” a piece representing her visual response to unanswered questions that arose for her as an immigrant after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.

Unanswered questions were also the impetus to the museum’s exhibit.

Grace Wisher was a 13-year-old African-American indentured servant in the household of Mary Pickersgill, who sewed the original flag in 1812. Wisher contributed to the making of the flag but little else is known of her story, and her personal effects seem to have been lost to history. Investigating Wisher’s story and others surrounding the U.S. flag and its meaning is central to the theme of “For Whom It Stands.”

A flag is a collection of images, explained the exhibit’s curator, Michelle Joan Wilkinson. It doesn’t necessarily mean anything in and of itself, but when someone says what it means, it takes on significance. “That’s when we find our own mirror image in it,” she said.

Visitors are met with larger-than-life-size photo images that hang in the lobby entrance, created by Atlanta-based photographer Sheila Pree Bright. Printed on flag banner material, 15 people, including Mayor Stephanie Rawlins-Blake, are shown holding the American flag in a manner that illustrates what the flag represents to them. The photos are black and white, but the flag is in full color. One woman cradles a section of the flag, another carries it over his back as if bearing a heavy load, another is on one knee in a prayerful pose, flag draped over her arms.

Inside, more than 100 objects are on display including painting, sculpture, photographs and artifacts that range from historic to contemporary. An interactive sound installation, researched and organized by music curator and vocal percussionist Shodekeh, features various renditions of the national anthem — from Baltimore’s jazz maven Ethel Ennis to Jimi Hendrix and includes interviews with the artists as well.


Created with flickr slideshow.


Luttwak’s piece is in a section that includes work by artists of many different ethnicities to represent the breadth of the American experience.

Luttwak has lived in the U.S. since 1970 when her husband took a job in Washington, D.C. It was after the 9/11 attacks that through her art she responded to feelings the event conjured for her. She said although she felt welcomed when she arrived and had grown to feel a part of America, she “felt always a little bit like an outsider.”

“Something happened with 9/11,” she said. “I asked, ‘Where do I fit in after this horrible disaster?’ So as an artist I went back to the symbolism.”

Luttwak described some of the symbols of her work — the American flag and its colors, white picket fences, and the skyline of New York — things that, according to her, represent the American Dream.

“[Ideas of the American dream], that’s what brought me to this country. Everything was so welcoming and easy, and after 9/11 I re-examined how I felt, who am I in America,” she explained. “I’m an outsider. America became very closed, very suspicious. I re-examined my approach to America, but I was examined by America too.”

Her sculpture in the show, echoing colors and shapes of the American flag, portrays a white New York skyline, red lines ‘in flight’ toward the skyline and blue anchors at the base. White represents hope according to Luttwak, and red represents blood, danger, and action. The square blue anchors at the perimeter of the sculpture stand for stability — to represent that even though under attack, New York (and thus America) is stable at its core and will always rise hopeful regardless, she explained.

Luttwak said there was little interest in the series of seven sculptures entitled “An American Dream” immediately after she created it. “The pain was so deep and so strong, now I’m showing it … years later, so I’ve come full circle.” she said.

Luttwak said that after she finished making the pieces, questions about where she fit in and what America meant for her became more clear. “I was reassured the choice (to come to the U.S.) was the right one and I’ll fight for America. … I’m re-examining my American Dream.”

‘For Whom It Stands’
Wednesday to Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Sunday, noon to 5 p.m.
Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History and Culture
830 East Pratt St., Baltimore

Mixing it Up

Eric Rosen (provided)

Eric Rosen

It was during a family Seder many years ago that theatrical director, producer and playwright Eric Rosen’s free-spirited Jewish father chose to break the news of his secret marriage to Rosen’s Southern Baptist mother. One can only imagine what Elijah must have observed when he visited the Rosen home that night. But whatever the prophet may have seen or heard, the unlikely union produced Rosen, the 43-year-old artistic director of the Kansas City (Mo.) Repertory Theatre and director of “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike,” the Tony Award-winning comedy by Christopher Durang that opened to rave reviews at Center Stage on April 25.

Although Rosen’s mother underwent an Orthodox conversion, after his parents divorced, she drifted back toward her family’s faith. He and his brother grew up in New York and North Carolina and spent time with relatives from both religious traditions. The result, he said, was a feeling of not quite fitting into either world. “I don’t think my father’s family really accepted me and my brother as Jews until we had our bar mitzvahs,” said Rosen.

“It made me ask questions about culture and identity, and I don’t know if I would have been asking those questions if I had grown up in a more homogenous environment,” said Rosen. It also created in Rosen a fascination about Jewish history and the diaspora as well as the Yiddish theater. Rosen believes it was partly his upbringing and the feeling of being “the other” that gave him the “keen sense of observation” that has made him so successful in his work.

“I think a lot of my artistic life is based on the sense of justice and ethics my [Jewish] grandparents taught me,” he explained. “When I came out [as a gay man] I felt I had to do something to move the culture ahead. So in 1995, I started About Face Theatre in Chicago, one of the largest and most successful lesbian and gay theater companies in the country.”

Rosen left About Face in 2008 to take his current position at the Kansas City Rep. Since becoming artistic director there, Rosen has directed “Clay,” “Winesburg, Ohio,” “A Christmas Story, The Musical!,” “Venice,” a musical he co-wrote with Matt Sax, “Cabaret,” “August: Osage County,” “The Whipping Man,” “Death of A Salesman,” and “Romeo and Juliet.” His other writings include “Dream Boy,” “Wedding Play,” “Dancer from the Dance,” “Whitman” and “Undone.” Despite his prolific work in Kansas City and in addition to directing “Vanya” in Baltimore, Rosen has still found time to direct world premieres of “M. Proust” by Mary Zimmerman, “Theater District” and “Take Me Out.”

Currently, Rosen is anxiously awaiting the release of the album from his hit musical, “Venice.”

Barbara Walsh, Susan Rome and Bruce  Randolph Nelson star in Center Stage’s production of “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike,” by Christopher  Durang, directed by Eric Rosen. (Richard Anderson)

Barbara Walsh, Susan Rome and Bruce
Randolph Nelson star in Center Stage’s production of “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike,” by Christopher Durang, directed by Eric Rosen.
(Richard Anderson)

“Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” tells the story of Vanya (Bruce Randolph Nelson) and his adopted sister, Sonia (Barbara Walsh), who live together in the comfortable family home where they grew up. Having spent “the best years of their lives” caring for their aging parents, they are filled with bitterness and regret about what they might have done with themselves. When their movie-star sister, Masha (Susan Rome) shows up at the house with her hot young actor boyfriend (Zachary Andrews), hilarity ensues, as each of the siblings struggle with their own inner demons and their relationships with one another. Based on the plays of Anton Chekhov, and named for his characters, Durang’s script is chock full of allusions to the Russian playwright’s classic works.

When Rosen saw “Vanya” on Broadway, he knew right away that he wanted to bring the show to Kansas City. “It had everything wonderful about Durang married to everything wonderful about Chekhov. I don’t do a lot of picking up last season’s plays but this was an exception for me. And ours couldn’t be more different than the Broadway production,” he said. “The original was so ‘starry.’ It had Sigourney Weaver playing Masha and David Hyde Pierce from “Frasier” playing Vanya, stars everyone knew and we couldn’t repeat it. I needed to have real pros that people wouldn’t necessarily know.”

Some of those “pros” were Nelson, who is actually quite well known to Baltimore audiences, and Rome, who is known for both acting, directing, as the former director of performing arts at the Baltimore Lab School and as an artist-in-residence for the JCC’s Maccabi Artsfest.

Though it may come as a surprise to some readers and audiences, Nelson said that Chekhov meant works such as “The Cherry Orchard,” “The Seagull,” “Uncle Vanya” and “The Three Sisters,” all of which center on the desolate lives of their angst-ridden characters, to be comedies. In contrast, Durang’s “Vanya” is an unmistakable laugh riot. And while those in the know will find the script’s references to Chekhov especially amusing, Nelson believes the family dynamics portrayed in “Vanya” will be relatable for all audiences.

Neither Nelson, nor Susan Rome, who plays Masha, the movie star in the show, saw Durang’s play prior to being cast. Both went about preparing for the role in their own ways. Nelson said he tends to be more of an “outside in actor” whereas most actors start by figuring out a character’s inner workings prior to his voice and physical traits. “So I’m going to figure out how the character walks and what his hair looks like. There’s a lot of shrinking and slowing down in playing Vanya. I gravitate to wild mayhem, so it’s a challenge to play a character like this.”

Rome, who studied Chekhov extensively in college, said she immersed herself in Chekhov, reading a book of his letters to his wife, actress Olga Knipper. “He was fervent, and he wrote about acting and love. They [the letters] so matched with the plays,” said Rome. “I’ve always thought Chekhov was funny, in the way life is funny, the ironies, the extremes …” Playing the role of Masha has been fun for Rome. “Being that huge in an entrance. That’s so not who I am. She’s obnoxious but there’s this vulnerability under the surface. I want people to love hating her.”

Rosen said he is thrilled with the cast he has put together for the Baltimore production. Some of the show’s characters, Spike (Zachary Andrews,) Nina (Emily Peterson) and Sonia (Barbara Walsh) are played by the same actors who starred in the Kansas City production. “I love anything Center Stage does, and I am a huge fan of Kwame [Kwei-Armah, artistic director of Center Stage]. It’s been a great, joyful experience — like a two-month love fest!”

“Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” runs through May 25.

For tickets and additional information, visit

Manischewitz All-Star Cookoff

050914_food1To choose the very best of the best, the Manischewitz All-Star Cookoff began with the finalists from its past seven contests. From these, four were chosen. They submitted recipes for some of the most delicious creations I have ever tasted — and I have tasted a lot of food from contest recipes!

The final Manischwewitz all-star for 2014 was Jamie Brown-Miller from Napa, Calif., for her palate-pleasing, contemporary fusion of traditional Southern chicken and waffles.

The winning recipe makes innovative use of Manischewitz products: Potato pancake mix is the base for the waffles, and matzo ball mix coats the chicken. Smart and delicious.

Jamie Brown-Miller demonstrates her award-winning recipe. (photos provided)

Jamie Brown-Miller demonstrates her award-winning recipe.
(photos provided)

Another finalist, Dr. Joe Carver, won raves for Bubbie’s Noodle Studel. Carver’s dish was creamy and delicious with a few unusual ingredient combinations. The luscious kugel-type dish was definitely not your bubbie’s kugel, but it was a great dairy entrée that even your bubbie would love.

Back home I had to put my own creativity into play for Pesach. Although hard-boiled eggs are always a Seder standard, many people (especially my health-conscious kids) now leave the yolks and only eat the whites. What to do with all those yummy hard-boiled yolks?

I began to wonder what would happen if I put them in the freezer. I scanned the Web, and sure enough, I found recipes using freshly defrosted hard-boiled yolks. I found a cookie recipe that was so easy I couldn’t believe it. They were rich and included butter, but those cookies were as good as any shortbread cookies I’ve ever made. I call them the ultimate recycled shortbread cookies.

Manischewitz will now hold its contest every year. Pull up your old family heirloom recipes and give them a new twist. To enter, visit

$25,000 Winner: Waffled Latkes With Matzo Fried Chicken

Better-Than-Shortbread Easy Cookies
Bubbie’s Noodle Strudel

Tips & Tricks

  • Usually recipes calling for egg noodles can use wide, medium and curled or straight, depending on your choice.
  • Extra-firm tofu must be labeled as such when a recipe calls for it.
  • You can freeze egg yolks for later use. Cool first, and wrap them tightly in plastic zip-lock bag

Ilene Spector is a local freelance writer.

Still Funny (After All These Years)

Comedian/actor Paul Reiser has fond memories of Baltimore and his role in “Diner.” (Provided)

Comedian/actor Paul Reiser has fond memories of Baltimore and his role in “Diner.”

Baltimore will always hold a special place in comedian, actor and author Paul Reiser’s heart. It was here after all, where “Diner,” Reiser’s first movie — and the first of filmmaker Barry Levinson’s trilogy tribute to his hometown — was filmed and took place. In “Diner,” released in 1982, Reiser played Modell, a hilariously neurotic young man who spends most of his time hanging out with his friends at a local diner. Modell and the other male characters in “Diner” were based upon Levinson’s own buddies and his experiences growing up in Jewish Baltimore.

On May 8, Reiser will headline Baltimore Hebrew Congregation’s fourth annual Night of the Stars benefit, which honors Dot and Henry Rosenberg and benefits the E.B. Hirsh Early Childhood Center as well as BHC’s religious school and youth programs.

“That was my first job, like ever,” Reiser said of “Diner” during a recent interview. “It was the first time I ever saw a camera. The whole crew of us were pretty green, so there was this shared excitement. I didn’t know it would be such a big deal. For a first break, it was magical, really.”

Reiser said that although “Diner,” which also launched the careers of Kevin Bacon, Mickey Rourke, Daniel Stern, Steve Guttenberg and Ellen Barkin, wasn’t considered a commercial success at the time, it was seen and appreciated by many people in the film industry.

“When I came to L.A. a year or two later, everyone knew me,” he said.

Reiser, 57, was born in New York City to Sam and Helen Reiser. His father was a wholesale health food distributor. He grew up in the Stuyvesant Town neighborhood of lower Manhattan and attended the East Side Hebrew Institute, Stuyvesant High School and SUNY Binghamton, where he was active in the theater department. Reiser began his career as a comedian during the summers of his college years, performing in nightclubs in New York City. After graduating in 1977, Reiser continued working as a stand-up comedian and was eventually discovered by Levinson.

“I had been taking acting classes for about a year, and I said, ‘Give me a scene and I’ll show you my stuff.’ But Barry said, ‘No, we’re just going to talk,’” recalled Reiser. “He had a very clear image of what he wanted.”

After “Diner,” Reiser appeared in such films as “Beverly Hills Cop” (I and II), “Aliens,” “The Marrying Man” and “Bye Bye Love.” He co-starred in the television series “My Two Dads” but is best known for co-starring, writing and producing NBC’s hit comedy “Mad About You” from 1992 to 1999. The sitcom focused on young, urban married couple Paul and Jamie Buchman and their wacky friends and families. It was well-loved for its honest depiction of married life, and Reiser said it was largely autobiographical. “Mad About You” made Reiser and Helen Hunt stars and won Reiser multiple nominations for Emmy, Golden Globe, Screen Actors Guild and Satellite awards.

In addition to his acting credits, Reiser is also the author of “Couplehood” (1995), “Babyhood” (1998) and “Familyhood” (2011). Reiser, who is married to a woman he met in the early 1980s — “Sometimes you know it’s right,” he said — has two sons, 13 and 18.

“Every day is a beauty,” said Reiser, adding that the idea to write the first book came from taking his comedy act and committing it to paper.

He likes the last book the most.

“There was a big 15-year gap between the second and third book,” he said. “I had two kids and was in my 50s. It was more introspective. By that time, I had things to talk about that were too complicated to do on stage. It was a little deeper.”

Ranked 77th on a Comedy Central list of the 100 Greatest Stand-ups of All Time, Reiser has returned to his roots as a stand-up comedian in the past few years.

“I started as a stand-up but didn’t do it for 20 years. I wanted to get back to it. For a year, I just went to local clubs and worked on my material,” he shared. “I said, ‘Whoever wants to see me, I’ll go.’ People are coming to see me because they know me from ‘Mad About You,’ so it feels as if I am getting together with old friends.”

When he performs at Baltimore Hebrew Congregation, Reiser said it will be like performing for family, or in his words, “like a huge Seder.”

For additional information and to purchase tickets to Night of the Stars, visit or call 443-524-0284.