Oh, Brothers! Musicians hit the right chord with city music gear store

Brothers Music co-owners Ian (left) and Brian Goldstein (Chrissy Abbott)

Brothers Music co-owners Ian (left) and Brian Goldstein (Chrissy Abbott)

As a longtime musician residing in the Baltimore area, 35-year-old Ian Goldstein always had one rather critical problem: the shocking lack of stores that sell musical gear.

The obvious solution? Goldstein, along with his brother Brian, decided to establish a music store of his own.

Brothers Music officially opened June 13, 2015 at 2112 N. Charles St., just outside of Charles Village and the Johns Hopkins University Homewood campus.

“I had the idea because I knew there was no other music store in Baltimore,” Goldstein claimed. The only other store he’s aware of in the general region is Ted’s Musicians Shop, which specializes in classical instruments and principally provides for students of the Peabody Institute.

“Apparently, they do have a guitar for sale,” Goldstein chuckled, “but it’s been sitting there for about 20-plus years.”

Although “there’s little repair shops here or there that might also have a guitar for sale,” Goldstein contends that his is the only store where patrons can fully satisfy their basic musical instrument needs, when it comes to guitars, basses and synthesizers.

Brothers also rents turntables for the DJ/electronic musician, and they provide both used and new instruments as well as an arsenal of needful accessories.

Originally from Columbia, Goldstein received his master’s degree in legal and ethical studies from the University of Baltimore in 2014. For the past six years, he’s worked as a government affairs specialist for the National Association of County and City Health Officials in Washington, D.C.

This vocational trajectory followed Goldstein’s nearly decade-long performing as lead singer and  guitarist of local rock band Evolve.

According to Goldstein, the group was fairly prominent in the Towson and Annapolis areas in the mid-2000s and enjoyed regular airplay on radio station 105.7, which has changed call signs and formats numerous times over the past two decades.

“I kind of retired from playing in bands,” Goldstein said. “But I’m OK with sitting behind a desk all day if I own a music store: I’m still cool, I’m still cool!”

While living in Washington from 2008 to 2011, the erstwhile rocker would come up to Baltimore every weekend “because it had the best parties, the best concerts and the best music scene” in his opinion.

“To go out to D.C. at night was costing me a fortune, too, so I was never going out there anyway, I wasn’t meeting people, and people weren’t that interesting because all the artists were in Baltimore,” Goldstein added.

He realized that if he moved to Baltimore, his rent and expenses would be far lower than what he was paying in Washington, and he has lived here ever since.

Goldstein took the volatile  nationwide reaction to the death of Freddie Gray that some have called the “Baltimore Uprising” of April 2015 as “a call to action” that inspired him to find a way to help the community he’d grown to love so passionately.

“It’s the only outlet I know as far as adding my own contribution,” Goldstein said about doing his part to bolster the struggling midtown economy.

Goldstein firmly believes that opening up independent businesses such as Brothers will continue to revitalize the city and turn Baltimore into more of a central destination spot.

As someone who makes his “bread and butter” through an unrelated full-time job (with brother Brian working full-time as a Baltimore City elementary school teacher), the store has been a way to invest in the community on an almost wholly  altruistic level.

The money Goldstein and his brother receive from sales predominantly goes to their one employee (with the brothers working mainly on weekends just to help out when they’re available).

In addition to the regular food and coat drives run through the store, Goldstein also sees Brothers as a productive “safe space” for community youths seeking reprieve from the often rough street life outside.

Goldstein will sometimes work with and mentor young Baltimoreans who come to spend time in the store. He promised one regular habitué that if the boy were to come in and practice electric guitar on a regular basis for four months straight, Goldstein would buy the guitar for him.

“He’s a quiet kid who doesn’t belong on the streets,” Goldstein said. “These are kids who live in public housing, who grow up in dangerous neighborhoods. I’m happy to take those kids in. If you want to learn how to play guitar and you don’t have access to one, I’ll find one for you.

“Other kids come in and are like, ‘Can I play the drums for five minutes?’ ‘Of course you can!’ It’s telling kids it’s OK to come in and shop or just hang out. I’m not going to kick you out.”

Goldstein admits that there are the occasional “punks” who come in and don’t stay long: “We’ve had a couple of those, but they know they’re not going to get away with anything while we’re there.”

There’s a direct connection for Goldstein’s philanthropic mindset with his Jewish  heritage, he revealed.

“I celebrate Judaism as a race and a culture more than as a religion,” Goldstein said. “I think that Jews have always had an interest in inner cities … and not just as landlords. I understand people are born into those difficult situations and can’t always get out of them.”

Goldstein went on to say that whether he’s teaching kids who come in to play instruments or occasionally taking them to baseball games and dinners, his primary mission is to prove to them that “if you play the game, follow the rules, put your head down and go to school and graduate, you can do exactly what I’m doing. I try to instill that in every kid I come across.

“I think this does have a correlation to Judaism as far as having empathy for others.”


An die Musik to Host Singer-Songwriter Series


Paul Margolis and John Shock will perform Jan. 7, kicking off a singer-songwriter series at An die Musik.

An die Musik, known for its local concerts featuring jazz and classical musicians, is adding another type of musician to its 2017 lineup — the singer-songwriter.

On the first Saturday of every month in 2017 the music venue will feature a local singer-songwriter act in a series called Folkal Point. The series kicks off Jan. 7 with Paul Margolis and John Shock. Tickets for all the concerts will be $10 to $15 each, depending on the act.

The idea took shape when Henry Wong, An die Musik owner, realized that there weren’t many places for local singersongwriters to play regularly.

“A lot of these musicians are being forgotten in our culture,” he said.

He approached Paul Margolis, who plays at the venue a few times a year, about putting on a series like this. As luck would have it, Paul’s wife, Deena Margolis, had a background in putting together small folk shows and offered up her time. Once that was settled, everything just fell into place — Margolis had the whole of 2017 booked in two weeks.

Several years ago, Margolis was finding it really difficult to find a place where she could go, sit down and enjoy an acoustic concert. So she decided to set up her own. She reached out and contacted musicians in the Baltimore and Washington, D.C., metropolitan areas and started putting on shows in her own home. She eventually stopped when the series grew too popular and more friends of friends of friends she couldn’t necessarily vouch for wanted to
come to her home.

Now, Margolis has put those home concert series skills and contacts to good use.

folkseries2“I’m hoping that people know that this is a really warm and welcoming place to come and listen to music — really listen to music,” she said.

Most of the musicians are local to the Baltimore area, although a few are from Washington, D.C., and Virginia, and they range in age, style and genre, including folk, indie, country and bluegrass. Among the featured artists are Baltimore favorite Caleb Stine, husband-wife duo The Honey Dewdrops, local acoustic duo Birdhouse, Baltimore up-and-comer Letitia VanSant, and bilingual D.C. folk rock group Elena & Los Fulanos.

“I can tell you I got incredible musicians,” Margolis said. “Whether [people] like them or not, they’ll recognize the talent.”

Both Margolis and Wong felt An die Musik is perfect for this kind of series because it is simple
and intimate. Seating just 75, the space is small and “quirky and bohemian,” as Margolis puts it.

“We consider An die Musik as a place for the community where the music is,” Wong said. “We don’t do anything else. You pay for the music, it’s what you’re here for.”

Because An die Musik concentrates on just being a great music venue, it doesn’t provide food. Instead, it partners with a number of local restaurants so that, with a voucher (that must be picked up at An die Musik), concert-goers can get discounts on meals before or a ther shows. Margolis says those who want to attend can even arrange valet parking if they contact her prior to a show. Thee goal is to make it as easy as possible for people to come and have a good time, she said.

The plan is for the series to become a yearly program, and Margolis has already started booking for 2018. And Wong is excited to be able to feature musicians who represent a kind of quintessentially American genre of music.

“People can go to the symphony or the opera, but this is a different type of music,” he said. “It’s a very American kind of music.”

For more information and to purchase tickets, visit folkalpointconcerts.com.


The Charmery Chills Out with Doughnuts

The Charmery's David Alima (left) and Center Cut Doughnuts' Josh Kowitz. (photo provided)

The Charmery’s David Alima (left) and Center Cut Doughnuts’ Josh Kowitz. (Provided)

Hampden ice cream store The Charmery has a delicious treat in store for those looking for another way to celebrate Chanukah this year.

On Friday, Dec. 30, from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m., the store will once again collaborate with pop-up Center Cut Doughnuts to offer, while supplies last, a unique twist on the seasonal sufganiyot.

“This is a really festive time of year, so we’re just throwing another festive thing in the mix here,” said David Alima, who has owned The Charmery with his wife Laura for the past three-and-a-half years. “This should be a lot of fun.”

Customers can enjoy the limited edition treats based on the seasonal, sweet fried dough delicacy that honors the Chanukah miracle of menorah oil lasting for eight magical nights in three equally magical ways.

Firstly, there’s sufganiyot by the dozen (available for pre-order, as well). Patrons can also purchase a special sufganiyot sandwich, which includes Charmery raspberry ice cream stuffed in the middle. And, lastly, the truly adventurous can try a sufganiyot shake.

“We’ve never done a doughnut shake before!” Alima said triumphantly, adding that the process involves a scoop of vanilla ice cream, Trickling Springs milk and an entire sufganiyot thrown in for good measure.

“It’s flavored by the doughnut’s jelly,” Alima said, “and then you’ve got the little bits of doughnut itself at the bottom.”

Charmery has multiple times in the past granted space to Center Cut’s pop-up, which has appeared regularly at the Hampden Farmer’s Market for the past two years, and is run by 34-year-old Reisterstown resident, Josh Kowitz.

Kowitz will be opening up his own Center Cut storefront around the corner from The Charmery in mid-January at 3528 Chestnut Avenue, the space previously occupied by B. Doughnut.

“I’ll say that David and Laura have been a huge help in getting my thing off the ground,” Kowitz said. “Without them, I probably wouldn’t be opening up my own brick and mortar, because they’ve allowed me the space to have a pop-up alongside them. It’s definitely their manifestation.”


All I Want for Christmas Is … Chinese Food and a Movie



Chinese food and a movie on Christmas: It’s become a cherished Jewish tradition across the nation, and Baltimore is certainly no exception.

Sonny Lee, owner of Sonny Lee’s Hunan Taste, estimates that being strategically located in Reisterstown, he has amassed a following of customers over the past 15 years that is “90 to 95 percent Jewish. Their habit is always to celebrate Christmas in a Chinese restaurant.”

“Usually the busiest day is Christmas,” Lee said. “Much busier than New Year’s Eve.”

Grinning puckishly in his characteristic scholarly glasses, dandyish bowtie and “executive chef” button-up shirt with  simple, immaculate white apron, the  65-year-old born in Shanghai and raised in Hong Kong approximates that at least 400 customers come in to eat or order takeout over Christmas and Christmas Eve.

The question becomes an obvious one: Why not cater to kosher Jews?

There was that cherubic smile again: “Those people live in Pikesville,” he giggled. “And rabbi [mashgiach] is too expensive!”

Sonny Lee (Mathew Klickstein)

Sonny Lee, owner of Sonny Lee’s Hunan Taste (Mathew Klickstein)

A master culinary artist who specializes in delightfully crunchy Sonny Crispy Shrimp, sweet and succulent orange chicken and his mouthwatering Peking duck that bring in customers from as far as Philadelphia, Lee’s rationale for avoiding a kosher kitchen goes beyond the  financial.

“Too much trouble! And I’d have to hand over my kitchen!” he said.

“It’s very challenging,” laughed Amy Fan, who has managed the two-decade old kosher glatt Chinese restaurant David Chu’s China Bistro since 2006.

“We have to fight for fresh broccoli,” Fan erupted, when first asked about the difficulties of running a fully dedicated Star K-approved restaurant.

If the mashgiach — who Fan confirmed does not work cheap — discerns that even one head of broccoli in a case is unclean, the entire order must be discarded.It makes cooking up dishes with broccoli, a staple of many favorite Chinese entrees, both costly and sometimes impossible.

Vegetables with leaves, such as broccoli, are more prone to being tainted by bugs, Fan said, and therefore David Chu’s must on occasion find non-leafy substitutes such as snow peas and string beans.

“It doesn’t happen a lot,” Fan said. “But it’s part of the business.”

Other kosher rules David Chu’s must strictly follow include allowing no dairy (since this is a meat restaurant) and closing early on Shabbat so the mashgiach can leave for services (which means having to work harder and faster on Shabbat and similar observant holidays).

Additionally, no one is permitted to bring in outside food; this includes employees on break periods/lunches at the restaurant.

“The staff has worked here very long, so they know the rules,” Fan said, noting that “No.1 rule, though, is you can’t turn on the fire yourself.”

Yes, even the most basic element of the kitchen — turning on the heat — can only be left in the hands of the mashgiach.

Lee’s right, then: It is both costly and a lot of trouble handing over one’s kitchen to a mashgiach. So why do it?

“People need me!” Fan said. “The [Jewish] population here. They say, ‘I have a big party, Amy. I need a big party!’”

To Fan, local Jews need that hearty General Tso’s chicken and warm and moist beef lo mein that is ready and waiting when all the other restaurants are closed on Christmas in particular.

“Yeah, of course lots come on Christmas and Christmas Eve,” Fan said, approximating as many as 1,000 customers during the holiday, which the restaurant is expecting to double this year, as Chanukah and Christmas fall on the same day.

“So heavy volume, in kitchen: Everyone going to die!” chuckled the Taiwan-born, 60-year-old Steve Chu, owner of Pikesville’s Jumbo Seafood Restaurant, about the intensely busy days ahead for his staff on Christmas Eve and Christmas.

Jumbo Seafood has been around since March 1993, and in that time, according to Chu, he has seen enough of a crush over the holidays to boast: “On Christmas Eve: 98 percent Jews. On Christmas: 99 percent.”

It’s likely Chu and his staff will cook for as many as 1,300 customers this weekend.

“Wow!” Chu exclaimed. “Most crazy days of year!”

Chu has been opening up and running Chinese restaurants around the country in such locations as Virginia Beach, Dallas, and Duncan, Okla., so he’s become an expert on the “what’s” and “how’s” of customer motivations.

But the looming “why” question remains elusive to him.

“I don’t know if it’s a Jewish tradition or what,” Chu said, “but most American restaurants are closed. When they come every year as kids, they come back from school over holidays when they’re older, and then they come back when they’re adults with their own kids.”

Kelly Yang has managed the 3-decade-old Mr. Chan Asian Bistro in Pikesville for the past five years and agrees that the reason the vast majority of the 450 customers she expects to serve over Christmas and Christmas Eve are Jewish is largely a generational one.

She further mused that Chinese, like the Jews, have their own calendars and holidays, with many of the former closing down their restaurants early on the Chinese New Year normally around February in lieu of Christmas.

Lee too sees an affinity between the Jewish and Chinese people, one based on the unfortunate reality of discrimination. He recalled the anti-Semitism in this country that was especially prominent back in the ’40s and ’50s.

“Jews were welcomed in Chinese restaurants on Christmas,” he said, smiling again that this “habit” was then passed down from generation to generation, as observed by his fellow Far East food purveyors.

The value both Jews and Chinese people put on family is another similarity, Lee said, which is perhaps the clearest reason why the two come together so well during the holiday.

“Some feel we are their lost tribes!” Lee laughed. “They say, ‘Sonny, we have a lot of lost tribes. Maybe you are one!’ I think so too!”


Chanukah Sweaters are Now a Thing — And I Love Them

Launched in 2012, Geltfiend was an innovator in the Hanukkah sweater scene. (Jay Diebel/Carin Agiman/Geltfiend)

Launched in 2012, Geltfiend was an innovator in the Hanukkah sweater scene. (Jay Diebel/Carin Agiman/Geltfiend)

NEW YORK (JTA) — Ever since I moved here from Israel, every late November felt like the beginning of a month-long assault. Every store, business and doctor’s office blared Christmas songs, streets were decorated with ostentatious light shows and seemingly everything became green and red — which, as an art school grad, I found personally offensive to my design sensibilities.

Then there were the Christmas sweaters. I admit I have a love of tacky knitwear — but I couldn’t get behind these garish monstrosities that flaunted a holiday that I didn’t celebrate but couldn’t escape from.

So I was thrilled when, three years ago, I saw a friend at a holiday party wearing a cozy sweater with a familiar pattern on it — dreidels with Hebrew letters, perfectly if garishly designed. I ran across the room and accosted her. “Where did you get that sweater?!”

That was the beginning of my love affair with Chanukah knitwear. I now have about half-dozen Chanukah wearables. My favorite is a cardigan called “The Spinster,” the same one I saw at that party, with big, nostalgic corozo buttons. Yes, I have way more sweaters than I probably need, but I treasure them. They feel like my armor in the war that Christmas seems to be waging against me every time the holiday season comes around.

Since then, the Chanukah knitwear market has grown significantly. While there are fewer Chanukah sweaters than the Christmas variety — for obvious reasons —  nowadays you can find everything from cute cardigans at Target done up with hanukkiot and boxed gifts to more controversial pieces, like the borderline misogynistic one sold (and later pulled) at Nordstrom last year. There’s an abundance of cheap, cheerful Chanukah options on Etsy — heck, even Whoopi Goldberg jumped on the Chanukah sweater bandwagon this season with a cutesy, bejeweled octopus design.

The Chanukah sweater, like American-style Chanukah itself, is a custom that expanded in a “what about us?” reaction to Christmas celebrations. “Ugly Christmas sweater parties” have been a thing since the early 2000s, although it wasn’t until a decade later that Time magazine noted the trend in an article declaring that “the tops are bigger than ever, but in a very hipstery, oh-so-ironic way.”

That first Chanukah sweater I spotted was the brainchild of Carin Agiman, a graphic designer in California. In 2012, she launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund Geltfiend, a sweater line featuring high-quality Chanukah knitwear with smart designs.

From left: Seth Rogen, Anthony Mackie and Joseph Gordon-Levitt star in Jonathan Levine's "The Night Before" (Courtesy of Columbia Pictures)

From left: Seth Rogen, Anthony Mackie and Joseph Gordon-Levitt star in Jonathan Levine’s “The Night Before” (Courtesy of Columbia Pictures)

“I had spent the previous Chanukah looking for Chanukah sweaters to wear to ugly Christmas sweaters parties because I couldn’t quite stomach the idea of wearing a Christmas sweater,” Agiman told me. “I didn’t want to be that person who just waited for someone else to make the thing that I really wanted, so I took the money from my tax refund and had samples made at this factory in L.A.”

Agiman then put together a photo shoot with the sweaters called Santa’s first Chanukah, assembled a video and launched her Kickstarter campaign. She got full funding, over $20,000.

She worked with a California-based manufacturers, making sure every little detail was perfect. “You’re dealing with these huge machines, if you want the pattern to land in the right place, that takes a lot of work,” she said. Many of the sweaters were inspired by mid-century designs, and everything from the fit to the names, like “Spinmaster,” were meticulously crafted.

Agiman saw her ideal client as “Someone who cares about the quality of the things they buy and they wear,” she said. “They want something that’s clever and not so obvious, someone who is really into being Jewish and the cultural aspect of it, not necessarily religious.”

But her customers ended up being more eclectic she expected — she got quite a few orders from Orthodox Jews, and from non-Jews too. Even Matisyahu reportedly has a sweater, she said.

Agiman kept the business going for four years — three years as a side gig, and then, in 2015, as a full-time job. But despite the positive response to her designs, she couldn’t make Geltfiend a viable business.

By the end, Agiman said, “I think we sold over 5,000 sweaters, over $400,000 worth of sweaters,” yet “we barely broke even.”

“I felt proud of it,” she added. “I gave it all that I had. It felt like a good note to end things on. I’d rather do something that I love and then let it go.”

Making sweaters is a complicated business. Unlike t-shirts, which you can design and manufacture in a matter of days, knitwear is usually manufactured overseas and in big quantities. There are mandatory minimums. It’s hard to get a business off the ground. But one Jewish sweater maven managed to get it done.

A year before Agiman launched her line, Evan Mendelsohn, a lawyer, and his friend Nick Morton, an endodontist, founded a sweater company called Tipsy Elves.

“We’d always enjoyed dressing up and wearing fun holiday clothes and we realized there was no one making fun apparel,” Mendehlsohn said. So, they decided to launch their own holiday clothes company. That year, they sold 5,000 sweaters, he said.

The next year, Mendehlson quit his job. You may have guessed by the name — Tipsy Elves doesn’t just peddle Chanukah wares. It sells Christmas sweaters — lots and lots of ridiculous Christmas sweaters. But they make Chanukah sweaters, too. This season, they have about six of them. Including one that you might recognize as the one Seth Rogen wore in the film “The Night Before.”

Unlike Agiman and me — who are Chanukah purists — Mendehlsohn has a much more lighthearted approach to the holiday sweater dilemma.

“My dad is Jewish and my mom is Catholic, so I was raised doing a little bit of both,” he said.

As for Agiman — who’s still shipping leftover Geltfiend stock via Amazon — she’s kept the Chanukah spirit alive: “The food is my favorite, the sufganiyot, the latkes, the gelt!” she said. “I think I’m just really really in love with that.”

Chanukah Concerts Kick Off with Klezmer

 Charm City Klezmer performs at Creative Alliance on Dec. 29. (File Photo)

Charm City Klezmer performs at Creative Alliance on Dec. 29. (File Photo)

While Chanukah’s traditions can sometimes get lost in the chaos of the holiday season, local organizations and congregations are making sure to keep tradition front and center, starting with the music.

A number of the various area concerts will feature klezmer bands, known for playing traditional Yiddish and Jewish music derived from Eastern European folk music.

In fact, the word “klezmer” is a Yiddish compound word derived from two Hebrew words that literally mean “musical instrument.”

Rabbi Velvel Belinsky is bringing a klezmer band from New York City to town to play at Cheder Chabad on the evening of Dec. 24.

“The band [members] are Russian themselves,” he said, “and it’s cool because they are still playing traditional instruments [such as] accordion and flute. These are traditional klezmer musical instruments. The community is very excited because we have never had anything like this.”

According to Belinsky, the band will be playing songs that people might know from their grandparents, played with instruments that would have been found in a shtetl or small town.

“It will be lively during a time when everything else is closed up anyway,” he said of Christmas Eve, which shares the date with Eruv Chanukah this year. “It is the most boring night for Jews the entire year, and we want to liven that up.”

For more information, visit bit.ly/ArielConcert.

>>While Chabad is bringing a traditional group of klezmer musicians from out of town, the Creative Alliance is partnering with Charm City Klezmer, “the best klezmer dance band in the area,” according to Josh Kohn, Creative Alliance’s performance director.

Led by husband-and-wife team Judith Geller and Michael Raitzyk, Charm City Klezmer boasts a “tradition of not-so-traditional klezmer music with roots in Jewish East European culture,” according to the event teaser.

“This is an annual event we do, partnering with Charm City Klezmer,” said Kohn. “They have been doing the event for as long as we have been in existence at our current location.”

Attendees can expect an upbeat and interactive concert on Dec. 29. Geller will teach traditional Yiddish dances to the audience, and as she teaches the basic moves, the band will play a song that the dance goes with.

“Originally, [klezmer] was dance music, not concert music,” explained Raitzyk. “It was played for simchas and weddings. This concert is a giant dance party; no one sits down. We teach Yiddish dances, Israeli dances.”

Raitzyk, a multi-instrumentalist who plays guitar, which is not traditional to klezmer, sees the event as a cultural celebration.

“It creates instant community,” he said. “All are welcome when we dance together as brothers and sisters in celebration. It renews our hope and spirit and keeps the culture alive.”

For more information, visit bit.ly/CCKlezmer.

>>An Die Musik is also hosting an annual Chanukah concert on Dec. 28 featuring the Seth Kibel Quartet, “a genre-bending klezmer band,” according to the venue’s website. Kibel was named Best World Music Instrumentalist by the Washington Area Music Association from 2003 through 2011.

Henry Wong, An Die Musik founder and owner, said that Kibel, a Baltimore native, has been performing at this annual concert for the last six years.

“People should come if they like classical music, anything like ‘Fiddler on the Roof,’” said Wong. “The music brings a lot of memory and tradition. It is wonderful music and is great for Jews and non-Jews alike.”

“I hope people will come to connect,” he continued. “You have to respect the heritage being passed on. We don’t want this culture to cease to exist. People have to understand that it is a different type of holiday situation, and this music perfectly represents it. People will leave feeling happy and looking forward to the New Year. It is good to end on a high note.”

For more information, visit bit.ly/Kibel.

>>For those who are seeking a less traditional holiday celebration, the Gordon Center is bringing the husband and wife team of Eric Lindberg and Doni Zasloff to perform with their two bands, Jewish bluegrass outfit Nefesh Mountain and the family-friendly Mama Doni Band on Dec. 24 and 25, respectively.

“The first night of Chanukah is a bluegrass concert open to families. It is more of an adult concert, truly a fusion of bluegrass and old-time music with Jewish tradition,” said Zasloff. “Bluegrass has been a love of ours for a long time, and Nefesh Mountain is the realization of our love for both Jewish culture and bluegrass music. There are all kinds of acoustic folk music. We really love that and have adopted our Jewish beliefs to fit the world of bluegrass.”

“If you already love bluegrass, you’ll love the show,” added Lindberg. “If you don’t have any experience with it, after the show you will love bluegrass. It is really exciting to be playing this huge concert with Nefesh Mountain. We are really the authority for and the pioneers for what is really true Jewish bluegrass music.”

The Mama Doni Band’s concert will be kid friendly.

“It will have dancing and exciting songs; it’s very high energy,” said Zasloff. “There are Chanukah classics as well as our own takes on some songs. People will be up and about engaging the little ones. Chanukah is such a beautiful time to be grateful for family and friendships. Music is the best way to celebrate that sometimes.”

For more information, visit jcc.org/gordon-center.

For more information on additional events in the local area, visit http://jewishtimes.com/55567/55567/special_coverage/chanukah/

For information on events local synagogues are hosting, visit bit.ly/2gEYkNP.


Transcending The Music

(Erica Hamilton, Erica Abbey Photography)

Jonathan Leshnoff (Erica Hamilton, Erica Abbey Photography)

If Pikesville-based composer Jonathan Leshnoff hasn’t taken you on a experiential journey while you’re listening to his music, he hasn’t done his job.

Or so he contends in the liner notes to his recently released album containing world premiere recordings of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra & Chorus performing his “Symphony No. 2” and “Zohar.”

Both pieces were inspired by the deep, abiding religious conviction of Leshnoff, an  Orthodox Jew who The Washington Post referred to as “clearly one of the more gifted young American composers around” in 2013.

Leshnoff received his Ph.D. in composition from the University of Maryland in 2000 after undergraduate studies at the Peabody  Institute and Johns Hopkins University, where he studied both composition and anthropology. He has been a professor at Towson University since 2001.

“I’m originally from a little suburb of New York called New Jersey,” Leshnoff said with a laugh.

“I moved to Baltimore 25 years ago for school and never left. Towson has been very supportive, I really enjoy the students here, and the Baltimore community has been a great match for my family.”

Though Leshnoff said he grew up observing Conservative Judaism, after his time at Johns Hopkins, he left a “different person” due to his deeper  investment into Judaism.

“I like to say I entered Hopkins without a yarmulke on my head and left with it on,” as Leshnoff summarized his transition into practicing Orthodox Judaism, which has become a linchpin for both his personal and professional life.

Although Leshnoff has been so observant for nearly as long as he’s lived in Baltimore, he experienced an inner struggle with being able to express what he felt was a substantial overlap between his Jewish studies and musical passion.

“The soul of this was not able to express itself until just recently,” Leshnoff said.

It was only a few years ago that Leshnoff realized music and Judaism are not only  directly related, but indeed are not separate entities.

“Spirituality is in touch with something that is not audible, and music is also connected to something that is not audible,” Leshnoff said, well aware that the latter component of his revelatory formulation may not make sense at first blush.

He elaborated that it’s perfectly salient when one thinks of how we not only hear music, but feel and experience it as well, each of us on a different level and through our own individual mindset.


(Atlanta Symphony Orchestra)

There’s an affinity here with how one subjectively experiences his or her spirituality, leading Leshnoff to believe he was ready to put pen to paper and create his musical scores, including “Zohar,” which takes its name from the primary text of the Kabbalah.

“It wasn’t a collision [of Judaism with music] but a collusion,” Leshnoff said. “‘Integration’ is the word I like to use.”

The two aforementioned works on his new release are in fact part of a “10-piece multiyear meta-project that parallels the fundamental building blocks of Jewish spiritual thought.”

Both “Symphony No. 2” and “Zohar” were commissioned by the ASO and Robert Spano, who has been the prestigious orchestra’s music director since 2000.

Spano first became aware of Leshnoff through an artistic form of kismet bordering on beshert.

In 2001, an orchestra in Philadelphia was readying to perform Leshnoff’s flute concerto when the conductor turned out to be too sick to  attend.

“There was a whole rush of flurry,” Leshnoff said. “Who’s going to conduct? Who’s going to conduct?”

The ASO’s Spano was brought in at such a last minute that he had to learn the entire concerto on the plane flying into Philly. This, without ever having heard it performed.

“He comes in at 10 a.m. to rehearse, then conducts the performance from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. the same day,” Leshnoff said, with a still resonating  astonishment in his voice.

The performance received a terrific response, Leshnoff continued, with the composer joining the orchestra members and Spano onstage for a well-deserved bow.

Leshnoff laughed that when Spano and he were stepping toward the green room, the latter asked Leshnoff, “Wait, who are you?”

The two became fast friends and regular collaborators from that moment onward. Spano has, in fact, not only conducted Leshnoff’s works (including those on the latest album), but he performed a Leshnoff piano piece at no less than Carnegie Hall.

“I’m so grateful for him,” Leshnoff said. “You can’t learn a piece on a plane a few hours before the performance without getting it intuitively. He  really gets it.”

ASO’s vice president for artistic planning and operations Evans Mirageas well  remembers when Spano came back “glowing” from performing and conducting Leshnoff’s work.

“He told us, ‘We need to play those pieces, and we need to commission him,’” Mirageas said.

Mirageas spoke with Leshnoff who declared that he wanted to write a big symphony, to which the former  enthusiastically replied, “OK! Write us a big symphony!”

The ASO would go on to premiere “Symphony No. 2” in Atlanta in fall 2015, with “Zohar” being performed at Carnegie Hall to mark the 100th birthday of internationally acclaimed musician and former ASO music director Robert Shaw on April 30, 2016.

“That was the highlight of my musical life,” Leshnoff  recalled.

Mirageas revealed that the ASO is already speaking with Leshnoff about writing something for the organization’s 75th anniversary in 2020.

“We want to continue working with Jonathan,” Mirageas said. “We just want to find the right subject, and knowing Jonathan’s fertile imagination, that topic will appear.”


Israeli Cuisine on the Screen

Roger Sherman and Michael Solomonov filming chef and journalist Ruthie Russo (Provided)

Roger Sherman and Michael Solomonov filming chef and journalist Ruthie Russo (Provided)

Israel arguably has one of the hottest food scenes in the world, but Baltimoreans don’t necessarily have to travel overseas to get a taste.

“In Search of Israeli Cuisine,” a movie documenting a culinary journey throughout Israel, is being screened at the Gordon Center on Sunday, Dec. 11 at 4 p.m., presented by the Baltimore Jewish Film Festival. The event will feature Roger Sherman, director and producer of the film, as a special guest speaker, in addition to live Israeli music and Israeli snacks.

The film captures a culinary scene that could only happen in Israel with its extreme climate difference between the green north and the arid desert of the south. In addition, more than 150 cultures have come to Israel throughout history, some of which remain, bringing with them their unique food traditions.

At its birth in 1948, Israel was one of the poorest places in the world. “People would have yelled at you for talking about fine cuisine even 40 years ago; it was about survival then,” said Sherman. Now, Israeli chefs are traveling the world, coming back and opening restaurants, he said. “The street food is remarkable; the bread is as good as in Paris.”

Sherman originally went to Israel as a last-minute stand-in on a food press trip. He didn’t have high expectations but was blown away by the food he discovered.

“I came back and started telling people about this amazing place and the people I had met,” said Sherman. “People didn’t believe me, I was laughed at. I thought, ‘Wow, they didn’t know about any of this, just like I hadn’t.’ It was just a great subject to make a film on.”

Every day was a surprise for him on that trip, he said.

Shai Seltzer’s farm near Mount Eltan features a cheese cave that dates to the 2nd Temple era. (Provided)

Shai Seltzer’s farm near Mount Eltan features a cheese cave that dates to the 2nd Temple era. (Provided)

“I was completely naïve,” he said. “For example, there are 350 boutique wine stores in Israel that are winning critical acclaim globally. The only difference between this kosher wine and a wine made in a top Bordeaux chateau is that a religious, Sabbath-keeping Jew is the only one who can come in contact with the wine. Nobody knows this stuff. The cheese in Israel is a quality like you would find in a small town in France or Italy, but it never leaves that region.”

The movie delves into Israeli cuisine from both a historical and geographical perspective. The film’s guide is Michael Solomonov, chef and owner of Zahav in Philadelphia, which serves what is considered to be some of the most authentic Israeli cuisine in America.

“I instantly realized he was my guy,” said Sherman, who was introduced to Solomonov by a mutual friend. “He was born in Israel and raised in Pittsburgh. I realized in talking to him that I needed someone who understood all of the cultures and could put himself in the situation.”

Solomonov’s story is an important and poignant part of the film. When he returned to Israel, he was unskilled. Unable to find work, Solomonov passed a bakery with trays of a pastry called a bureka, which he recognized because his grandmother made them. He walked in and got a job there — that was the beginning of his cooking career.

“Throughout the film, Solomonov looks to establish a real connection with the land of Israel through his food and cooking,” said Alyson Bonavoglia, director of the Jewish Film Festival and special projects at the Gordon Center. “They travel the whole country, and the motivating question is really, ‘Is there an Israeli cuisine?’”

Solomonov would say yes, and in the film, he explores what exactly it is.

“It is a multicultural society, and that is definitely reflected through the food,” Bonavoglia said. “He speaks to chefs with food influenced by so many different cultures. There is a real focus on preparing food very freshly, so everything that you see is locally sourced. It is a beautiful movie because you get to see different parts of the country, and it is really about how food connects the land and the people.”

The film is booked in 90 festivals globally through next year.

“One bit of warning to everyone who comes,” said Sherman. “Do not come hungry because you will be hungry by the end of the film. Reviews have been mouthwatering.”


Spin a Gimel with These Great Gifts for Kids

Hanukkah Dreidel and GeltNothing’s more memorable than a bad gift.

Themed holiday socks, a singing wall-mounted bass or basically anything you’ve ever seen on an infomercial at 3 a.m. can round out that list pretty well.

And when it comes to what to get your young children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews and the like, you certainly don’t want to disappoint and make for a rather lackluster holiday.

But finding the perfect Chanukah gift for kids doesn’t mean mega toy monster trucks or Tickle Me Elmos (remember those?).

A truly meaningful gift combines the spirit of the holiday, a little bit of pizzazz and a dash of educational value (sorry kids, but your parents will agree with me on this one).

deforma-building-blocks-1-photo-from-amazon-comMaking the Menorah

For the Lego generation — and those passing it on to their kids — Deforma Building Blocks (ages 6 and up) are a fun way to allow kids to create their own menorah.

Shaping the menorah is educational too, helping kids to practice problem-solving techniques and motor-development skills. Plus, who doesn’t love building blocks?

The set is just over $20 and can be bought on Amazon.com.

Holiday Sweaters

It’s always nice to show up to a holiday party with a little swag, and nothing is cuter on kids than ironic Chanukah sweaters (right?).

Etsy.com is the best place to go for just the thing, whether they’re “You Spin Me Right Round” onesies with cartoon dreidels or your run-of-the-mill ugly sweaters that say “Happy Hanukkah.”

Some people on the site even custom make “My 1st Hanukkah” bibs and baby shower gifts.

Some other personal favorite graphic tees: “Little Latke Lover,” “Jewish Christmas” featuring a Chinese takeout box or “Jew Chainz” with long gold necklaces printed on the shirt with a Jewish star and chai pendant.

hanukkah-nail-decals-midrashmanicures-com-bBody Art

Now don’t get carried away, we’re not talking about tattoos and the like (your bubbie would have a conniption). But for those approaching bar and bat mitzvah age — those delightful preteen years — temporary metallic flash tattoos will make their friends envious.

Temporary flash tattoos have been all the rage in the past year — even for adults — and Modern Tribe creates Jewish ones like a hamsa, latkes, dreidels, menorahs and so on. They can be purchased at ModernTribe.com for $12.95.

On top of that, nail art is super popular, and that means — you guessed it — people are painting latkes on their fingernails.

But for those a little less artistically inclined, you can buy nail art stickers with images like Judah Maccabee, gelt or Chanukah candles.

Chanukah season is officially on its way — and on your fingertips.

Hanukkah Nail Decals are $11.99 at MidrashManicures.com.

Sweet Tooth

Kids don’t want just any chocolate. They want cool chocolate — er, right?

The popular Dylan’s Candy Bar in New York City (and several other locations across the country) has decadent sweets for the holiday, ranging from your typical gelt and chocolates to decorative-themed Chanukah cookies.

You also can’t go wrong with Mensch Mints or the Mensch Hanukkah Cookie, featuring that signature Jewish beard. Or really just chocolate works, am I right?

Check out DylansCandyBar.com to order.

mad-libsJoke Books

For kids, really nothing is funnier than replacing average text with the word “boogers.” And with “Hanukkah Mad Libs,” that laughter never has to end.

The notorious fill-in- the-blank stories have 21 options to rewrite the lighting of the menorah and the spinning of the dreidel — more than enough to occupy eight nights of Chanukah.

You can purchase the book on Amazon.com.

Games and Cuddly Thingskosherland-board-game-bed-bath-and-beyond

To get kids off their phones and video games to enjoy a little more family time, try a simple board game. But not just any board game: Kosherland.

Kosherland — yes, the “O” in Kosherland is a bagel — is a beginner’s game for Jewish kids, following Jewish themes, culture and tradition. You can buy it for $12.99 at Bed Bath & Beyond.

While you’re in that same aisle, pick up a copy of the Jewish Old Maid Card Game too.

If your child prefers stuffed toys to board games, Bed Bath & Beyond also sells the Dancing Hanukkah Puppy for $19.99 — “a plush dachshund dressed in a blue winter scarf and knit cap, carrying a Hanukkah menorah on his back” that plays music and dances — or the $29.99 Hanukkah Bear with 20 mini-lights, a bowtie and kippah.

You can’t go wrong with any of these options for the Festival of Lights.

Rachel Kurland is a reporter at the Jewish Exponent in Philadelphia, an affiliated publication of the Baltimore Jewish Times.

Great Buys for the Jewish Music Lover in Your Life

cohenLeonard Cohen, “You Want It Darker”

Canadian Jewish singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen — best known for his songs “Suzanne,” “Bird on a Wire” and “Hallelujah” — has just released his 14th studio album. Cohen, who died in November at age 82, and his vocal style has changed as he’s aged, but it’s still a powerful instrument.

Unlike so many cringeworthy late-career entries from legendary performers (Sinatra and Elvis come to mind), Cohen’s new album is a stunner, full of rich, exquisite orchestration and haunting melodies.

In a recent New Yorker profile, Cohen professed himself ready to die, and indeed the songs on this new album delve into mortality and endings, sometimes from a very Jewish perspective. Yet, the album, despite its title, isn’t dark. Rather, it feels filled with hope and love and longing. It would make for a knockout gift.

dylanSpecial Edition “No Direction Home: Bob Dylan” 10th Anniversary Deluxe Box Set

If Leonard Cohen has an American analog, it’s probably Bob Dylan, though he once told Cohen that he considered himself a better writer than Cohen. The 2016 Nobel Prize committee apparently agreed, bestowing its prize for literature on Dylan — the first musician to receive such an honor.

Now, to celebrate the 10th-anniversary release of “No Direction Home,” Martin Scorsese’s critically praised documentary about Dylan, a box set is available for purchase for Dylan completists.

The box set includes two-disc Blu-Ray edition and two-disc DVD edition in a deluxe portfolio; three 8×10 lithographic photo prints; and a special edition Bob Dylan magazine featuring historical articles and photos. The Blu-Ray and DVD have an additional two-plus hours of never-before-seen footage, including classic Dylan performances and an unused promotional spot.

For those who don’t necessarily want all the mishegas — they just want to see the movie — it’s now available for viewing on iTunes for the first time. Either way, it’ll help explain that Nobel choice.

drakeDrake, “More Life”

Here’s one for the young R&B and hip-hop fan in your life — a new project by Drake, the Canadian Jewish (on his mom’s side) heartthrob responsible for such earworms as “Hotline Bling.” The 30-year-old, who’s dating Pennsylvania native Taylor Swift (shikse alert!), last released a full-length album, “Views,” in 2015.

His new project is reported to be a “playlist project” — at least that’s what Drake is calling it right now — with all original music, though details are scant and the release date is simply “sometime in December.”

So far, three songs from “More Life” have been made available on iTunes, with more to come, so the best gift in this case might be a late-December iTunes gift card.

beautifulphoto-joan-marcus“Beautiful: The Carole King Musical”

“So Far Away.” “You’ve Got a Friend.” “(You Make Me Feel) Like a Natural Woman.” “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling.” “I Feel the Earth Move.” “Up on the Roof.” It’s hard to list all of the blockbuster hits that singer-songwriter Carole King — born Carol Klein — wrote over the years, both for herself and for other groups.

The Broadway musical “Beautiful” chronicles King’s journey as the nice Jewish girl who comes to New York at 16 to the mature woman who’s transformed American music with her songs.

The “Beautiful” soundtrack won last year’s Grammy for Best Musical Theater Album, and the show was nominated for seven Tony Awards. King herself has said the show is “effing awesome.” Treat the Brill Building fan in your life to a day trip to New York and two tickets to the show. $99 orchestra seats are available for select performances.

streisand“Barbra Streisand: Redefining Beauty, Femininity, and Power”

Speaking of Jewish songstresses, there’s no one who quite compares to Barbra Streisand — singer, writer, actor, director and activist.

The longtime Democrat, who’s married to actor James Brolin, recently told Australia’s “60 Minutes” she would emigrate to that country or Canada if Trump won the presidency. Such statements tend to engender either rage or admiration among Streisand watchers, but there’s no question that the “Yentl” director is a fascinating personality.

Though she doesn’t have a new album out, a recent biography by Neil Gabler (author of “An Empire of Their Own: How the Jews Invented Hollywood”) examines Streisand’s life through the prism of her Jewishness.

“No one is better equipped to ponder the Jewish origins of Streisand than Gabler,” said Jewish Journal’s Jonathan Kirsch of the trim bio, which was published by Yale University Press.

Liz Spikol is a reporter at the Jewish Exponent in Philadelphia, an affiliated publication of the Baltimore Jewish Times.