My Yiddisha Make Ahead Thanksgiving

Photo Credit: flickr.com/photos/pulaw/6657544211

Photo Credit: flickr.com/photos/pulaw/6657544211

Thanksgiving is a national holiday that Jews can truly embrace. After all, it is not a religious holiday. Spiritually, however, it is reminiscent of Sukkot — a time to be thankful for a bountiful harvest. The secret to planning a successful Thanksgiving feast is to choose a menu with as many dishes as possible that can be made in advance. Since Shabbat comes the day after the holiday, and since Shabbat cooks are used to advance planning, you can easily extend your Thanksgiving feast into Shabbos and beyond. First off, be sure to roast an extra-large turkey so you will have plenty of meat left over. Then on Shabbat, use frozen puff pastry to make succulent turkey pot pies for Shabbat. I always make a large batch of turkey soup and freeze it to serve on future Shabbats with challah.

I also make my mashed potatoes one day in advance. I pour a thin layer of non-dairy creamer on the bottom of my crock pot when serving the potatoes, which keeps them moist and saves oven space. I love to use the bags of small cut carrots. I place them in a plastic bag with a few teaspoons of olive oil, and a little salt and pepper and shake to coat. I then roast them at 400 degrees until they’re soft and starting to brown. This can be done two days in advance. When ready to reheat, place them on an oiled cookie sheet and drizzle with maple syrup; roast in the oven until glazed and brown.

An easy to plan and prepare starter buffet course for Thanksgiving is a Charcuterie Platter. This is pronounced “shar-KOO-tar-e:” and just saying it aloud correctly will make your guests think you attended Le Cordon Bleu! Hard to say, but so easy to do. Using a wooden board makes it look rustic and inviting. Simply place an assortment of olives, grapes, assorted sliced salami, cornichons and other pickled veggies on the platter and serve with whole grain mustard and cocktail or baguette slices of bread.

It is also easy to make pumpkin fillings in advance for rugelach or hamentashen style desserts. How about Pumpkin Spice Krispy treats for the kids? You can find recipes online for variations of the old Rice Krispy Treats. I love the one below. Adding pureed pumpkin certainly makes a gooey sweet a bit healthier!

For Thanksgiving place cards, pick some not-too-dry leaves outside and write names on them with magic markers. Place the “name leaves” on the napkin or above the plate. Forget fancy flowers; place colored fall leaves around candles or a pumpkin for a seasonal centerpiece. We usually go around the table and have everyone give two to three things for which they are thankful before we eat. Jews are all about personal gratitude and this Thanksgiving, make everyone’s known to all your guests.

TIPS:

* Always have a jar or can of store-bought turkey gravy on hand to increase your own.
* Have enough good plastic containers for leftovers. The foam separated ones can be used for guests to take home some leftovers (have the kids decorate them in advance).
* If you’re not into making homemade gravy, go to a deli and purchase a pint of beef and a pint of turkey gravy.  Mix together for a really good substitute!

EASY MAKE AHEAD GRAVY

(Meat)
6 tablespoons butter or margarine
6 tablespoons flour
4 cups chicken broth or 4 cups turkey broth
salt and pepper
pan drippings from turkey

In a medium saucepan, melt butter or margarine and whisk in flour.

Cook over medium-high heat until flour is incorporated and white bubbles begin to form on the top of the “roux.”

Cook the roux for 2-3 minutes after the white bubbles have formed, whisking constantly.

Gradually add the broth, whisking constantly until the gravy is thickened and comes to a boil.

Remove from heat and season with salt and pepper.

At this point, you can cool, cover and refrigerate the gravy base for as long as 4 days. Reheat in a medium-sized pan. When turkey is done, skim off fat and pour drippings into gravy base and bring it to serving temperature. Makes 4 cups.

BEAUTIFUL INDIVIDUAL SWEET POTATOES

(Pareve)
4 large sweet potatoes
1 tablespoon butter
1/4 cup finely chopped onion
1 cup fresh or frozen cranberries
1/3 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup cranberry juice
1/4 teaspoon salt, divided
1/2 cup chopped walnuts, toasted
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/4 teaspoon pepper
2 tablespoons minced fresh chives

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Scrub sweet potatoes; pierce several times with a fork. Bake one hour or until tender. Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, heat butter over medium-high heat. Add onion; cook and stir until tender. Stir in cranberries, syrup, cranberry juice and 1/8 teaspoon salt. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer, covered, 10-15 minutes or until berries pop, stirring occasionally. Stir in walnuts and mustard; heat through. When cool enough to handle, cut each potato lengthwise in half; sprinkle with pepper and remaining salt. Top with cranberry mixture; sprinkle with chives. 8 servings.
* Sprinkle with the nuts just before serving.

Note: To toast nuts, bake in a shallow pan in a 350̊ oven for 5-10 minutes or cook in a skillet over low heat until lightly browned, stirring occasionally.

PUMPKIN SPICE RICE KRISPIES TREATS

(Dairy/Pareve)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter or margarine
1/4 cup canned pumpkin puree
1 10 ounce bag kosher mini marshmallows plus one cup
1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Pinch of allspice
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
Pinch of kosher salt
6 cups crispy rice cereal

Grease a 9×13-inch baking dish (or a smaller dish — see Note below).

In a heavy saucepan or Dutch oven, melt butter or margarine over medium-low heat. Add the pumpkin puree and continue to cook until it is warmed through. Fold in 10 ounces of the marshmallows, stirring frequently until almost completely melted. Stir in vanilla, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg and salt and remove from heat. Allow the marshmallow mixture to cool 10 minutes; fold in the remaining cup of marshmallows. Continue to cool the mixture for another 20 to 25 minutes until it is room temperature (failure to cool the mixture will result in soggy rice crispy treats.) Add the puffed rice cereal and stir, using a silicone spatula, until combined.

Press the mixture into the greased rectangular baking dish. Let set for 30 minutes before cutting and serving. 12 servings.

• Note: This calls for a 9×13-inch dish here, but I often use an 8×11-inch because I like taller treats. Any size in this range should do.

Ilene Spector is a local freelance writer.

Remembering A Survivor

Recently deceased Holocaust survivor Anna Jacobs tells the story of how she and her brother Kalman attempted to escape the Warsaw Ghetto as video moniters (right) show the process of him being painted as part of The Memory Project.

Recently deceased Holocaust survivor Anna Jacobs tells the story of how she and her brother Kalman attempted to escape the Warsaw Ghetto as video moniters (right) show the process of him being painted as part of The Memory Project. (Photo Provided)

“Today would have been my mother’s 92nd birthday,” said Fred Jacobs, Pikesville resident and son of heroic Holocaust survivor Anja Huberman  Jacobovitz (aka Anna Jacobs).

Though Anna passed away from congestive heart failure a mere three weeks before Jacobs spoke to the JT on Friday, Nov. 11, he recalled her memory with a refreshing joie de vivre.

“My mom was very loving and soft,”  Jacobs said, adding that though “she would lose her temper every once in a while,” Anna cultivated a home with him, his father and his brother and sister that was the definition of haimish.

“When you lived in the Bronx,” Jacobs said, “there were other families who were survivors, and we always had people around, which felt very good.”

“There was a really strong sense of community. All of my mom’s friends seemed almost like parents. You could go to anybody’s house and get a meal.”

Jacobs went on to say that as a young person growing up in such a home and community, it was nevertheless rare for him to speak with his mother about her experience in the Holocaust.

Which is remarkable, considering she escaped from the Warsaw Ghetto not once but twice.

“The first time she went back into the Ghetto voluntarily to save her brother, Kalman, from the hands of the Nazis when he got caught on the tram,” wrote Jacobs’ older brother, Harold, in his  eulogy presented at Anna’s funeral in Miami, Fla., on Wednesday, Oct. 26.

“The second time,” Harold continued, “Anna the teenager went over the wall alone.” It was here where Anna met and “charmed a very capable young inmate who one day stole a kiss, and true love blossomed within this hellish place.”

Survivors Anna and Jack married and eventually had Harold, Fred and, later, after leaving Germany for New York, daughter Roz.

“The Nazis murdered her entire family and imprisoned her in forced labor camps,” Roz wrote on the website for her nonprofit organization Memory Project Productions, which is dedicated to remembering survivors such as her mom, “but the only revenge she ever wanted was to create a family and bring good people into the world.”

Jacobs said that a strikingly “funny” notion he has about having grown up with his mother and father as survivors is that he “never really felt  different” even when he was in school later in life with those who were not survivors or Jewish.

“When I moved to Baltimore, somebody asked me to join a ‘children of survivors’ support group,” Jacobs said. “I went to a couple of meetings, and there were all these stories of people with problems and feelings of isolation and fears. But for some reason, I never had that.”

Jacobs said due in large part to the warmth and comfort his mother helped maintain in his household and upbringing, he never had those feelings of doom, gloom, anger and fear that might be associated with such a closeness to this horrendous affair in the epoch of the global citizenry.

Roz, a longtime artist who lives in New York City with her wife and Memory Project partner, Laurie Weisman, had a different take on the impact the Holocaust had on her mother growing up.

“I was much more curious about what happened, especially as I got older,” Roz said. “I always knew what had happened, but then around age 16 I started to understand the significance of the Holocaust, my identity and what it meant to be the daughter of a survivor.”

“Every individual has a different way of dealing with the trauma,” she said.

From left: Laurie Weisman, Anna Jacobs and Roz Jacobs.

From left: Laurie Weisman, Anna Jacobs and Roz Jacobs.

“As I reached a certain age, I began questioning the important things in my life that have been significant,” Roz said. “One of those things recurrently is that my parents had survived one of the most horrible things of all time: the genocide of an entire people.”

“I didn’t even know how to deal with that,” she said. “How do you convey something that is un-conveyable?”

After 30 years of interviewing her mother and, eventually, friends of her mother  and other survivors, Roz and Weisman decided they “wanted to do something special, something that would convey the power of my mother, something that would show what an amazing person and storyteller she was … how joyful she was, even with all of this baggage she had.”

By telling the story of one Holocaust survivor in particular — via what became both the 2012 book “Finding Kalman: A Boy in Six Million” and companion documentary “Finding Kalman” screening on PBS (and, locally, MPT) — Roz and Weisman felt they could “individualize the whole thing; telling individual stories is a way to begin to grasp the enormity of what happened.”

In remembering her mother and her response to the film, continuing series of art projects and other works dedicated to telling the story of Holocaust survivors, Roz  recalled that her mom was, in the end, “cooperative and then when she saw how we manifested it all and that [the  documentary] was playing all over the world, she was very proud of it.”

“And then, of course, she would say, ‘I’m doing all this work and not getting any money!’” Roz laughed at the recollection. “And we would say, ‘Well, we aren’t either! We’re really good at not making money!’”

What mattered in reality, Roz said, was that “people cared. People cared to hear her story and the story of others.”

For more information on Memory Project Productions, please visit their website.

mklickstein@midatlanticmedia.com

BT High School Gets ‘Lost in Yonkers’

Miriam Reid (left) as Bella “has worked very hard on her character,” said theatrical artist director Diane Smith. (Photos courtesy of Beth Tfiloh)

Miriam Reid (left) as Bella “has worked very hard on her character,” said theatrical artist director Diane Smith. (Photos courtesy of Beth Tfiloh)

Miriam Reid, a junior at Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School, has always belonged in the theater.

At 16, the twee, pixie-haired and bespectacled Harrisburg, Pa., native sporting a purple bowtie, has already been acting for nearly a decade.

Having performed in no less than 13 musicals via the JCC in Harrisburg (which puts on two musicals a year), Reid is diving in head first to nonmusical theater production, starring as the appropriately fey Bella Kurnitz in Neil Simon’s 1991 Pulitzer Prize-winning  “Lost in Yonkers.”

As this year’s fall play, “Yonkers” runs on Tuesday, Nov. 15 and Thursday, Nov. 17 at the campus’s Rosen Arts Center/Mintzes Theatre from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.

“Originally, it was the music,” Reid said about the theater realm that so completely imbued her at such a precociously young age. “I love singing. But then I got really into straight theater, because it’s a stage, right? I have so many memories involving theater that it sort of became ingrained in my being.”

Junior Miriam Reid as Bella

Junior Miriam Reid as Bella

Reid has “always sung,” adding that she only received professional singing lessons (“a gift from my bubbie and zayde”) for a year. She would like to pursue music as a full-time career — also playing the piano, something she hopes will lead to her involvement in a band or professional work in the musical theater.

“This is something I’m good at and something I like doing,” Reid said. “It’s always nice when those two things overlap. I like that the theater is a place where I can shine … however much that may sound incredibly egotistical. But there it is!”

Though she said she feels particularly comfortable on stage, Reid detailed how she challenged herself to bolster her not unsubstantial performance skills, which are apparent at first blush during an emotionally intense rehearsal of “Yonkers” on the late afternoon of Monday, Oct. 31.

Reid’s Bella is one component of a, for better or worse, dysfunctional family living together in Simon’s 1942 Jewish New York enclave.

In the original play, she’s  described as “simpleminded” and “childlike,” but BT’s theatrical artistic director and  instructor running this show, Diane Smith, said, in the contemporary idiom, Bella would be considered “on the spectrum” or autistic.

Freshman Coby Ziv as Jay  Kurnitz (left); and senior Benjamin Balfanz as Uncle Louie

Freshman Coby Ziv as Jay Kurnitz (left); and senior Benjamin Balfanz as Uncle Louie

“Miriam has worked very, very hard on her character,” Smith said. “We have talked a lot about Bella, and Miriam has done a lot of character study. She does some things on stage like nervous movements with her fingers and stuff that she brought in herself and which I told her to keep doing.”

Smith and Reid both said that the latter drew a great deal on both a Broadway performance of “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” the group saw last summer  together in which the protagonist is autistic and personal research into various persons Reid knows who live with the aberration.

“I feel like I really needed to do the particular mannerisms justice,” Reid said, confessing she had in fact been “a little wary” about making the portrayal too much of a “caricature,” as she put it.

“I don’t want to make that part of her personality into a joke,” Reid said. “Because it’s not.”

It’s one element of the emotional intensity of the play that Reid and her fellow cast members embody so poignantly as evidenced by said rehearsal only days before the show and after a mere six weeks of hardcore, dedicated preparation.

“This show does have some fantastic characters,” Smith said.

One such additional character is “Uncle Louie,” played with an effortless panache and sangfroid by 17-year-old BT senior Benjamin Balfanz.

“I really like him [Uncle Louie],” Balfanz said of his  nuanced and slightly anti-hero gangster role. “I think he’s the funniest character. He may not be the most complex, but he has the biggest personality. I think he’s the most fun to play.”

Balfanz hadn’t read or seen “Yonkers” before taking on the part, but he said that he has since seen the 1993 film adaptation starring Mercedes Ruehl as Bella and Richard Dreyfuss as Louie.

I have so many memories  involving theater that it sort of became ingrained in my being.”  — Miriam Reid

 

“It was pretty good,” Balfanz said. “I appreciated how Louie was [featured] on the cover  instead of any other character. That was nice.”

Already having an idea of what the character would be in his mind before screening the film, Balfanz said he wasn’t  impacted too crucially by Dreyfuss’ performance. Instead, the trope of the “gangster accent” he employs throughout the performance likely came from a cartoon whose name he couldn’t conjure up but which led him to feel, “Yup, that’s the voice.”

“That was basically right, and then I just kept practicing it more and more,” Balfanz said. “And it kind of developed by itself.”

Working on a play that is both a period piece and challenges the young actors to present themselves in ways that require such dogged development as Reid’s and Balfanz’s is exactly what 14-year-old freshman Coby Ziv — playing lead Jay Kurnitz — said is one of the most valuable aspects of working in the theater.

“I used to be shy, but once I got into acting, I was able to step outside of my comfort zone, and then I was able to do that socially away from the theater as well,” Ziv said.

“I don’t know how to explain it,” Ziv added. “But I like acting because it allows me to be someone I’m not. Acting in general has really impacted my life; it’s fun, and I would encourage anyone who has thought about it to follow their dreams.”

When asked what he hopes the audience will get out of the show, Ziv simply beamed with an endearingly pat answer: “I hope they like it!”

“There’s no particular way  I want [the audience] to be  affected by [the show],” said  Balfanz. “But I do want them to feel something. I don’t know: maybe they’ll cry at the end. I hope they experience multiple emotions. I hope it’s not, ‘Well, that was the school play.’ I hope they’re actually affected by it.”


“Lost in Yonkers” runs Tuesday, Nov. 15 and Thursday, Nov. 17 from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. at Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School’s Rosen Arts Center/Mintzes Theatre, 3300 Old Court Road. For tickets and more information, bethtfiloh.com/bttheater.

 

mklickstein@midatlanticmedia.com

‘Old Jews Telling Jokes’ at BHC Mathew Klickstein

(Photo provided)

(Photo provided)

Granted a blazing stamp of approval from no less than Mel Brooks, the 2012 off-Broadway smash hit “Old Jews Telling Jokes” is coming to Baltimore for a day in which audience members will have not one but two opportunities to enjoy the nostalgia and humor so many others around the country and, in fact, world have experienced with the show.

“Old Jews,” a 90-minute comedic romp through Jewish heritage that is appropriate only for those 18 and over (due to suggestive/raunchy humor and adult language), will be presented at the Baltimore Hebrew Congregation-Dalsheimer Auditorium at 1 p.m. and 5 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 13.

“Having grown up and around the Catskills kind of Jewish humor, this show had an immediate emotion appeal for me,” said producer Jay Kholos of the comedic revue that includes a kind of reinterpretation of classic Jewish jokes along with a few songs.

“That’s probably what attracted me initially and from a business standpoint,” said Kholos, whose company, Orchard Street Productions, is based out of Nashville, Tenn., and is focusing mainly on marketing and promotion for this particular run involving a cast of New York and Philadelphia actors.

Kholos, whose own stock company of actors has been touring with “Old Jews” for the past two years, said he’s not alone in his emotional connection to the material.

“What people tell me is they get a very nostalgic feeling for what Jewish theater used to be like and what they grew up with,” he said.

“For younger audiences, it brings them back into the stuff their grandparents told them. Jewish humor is a part of Jewish life, and that’s a big part of what the show is about.”

Director Matt Silva, who notes he’s not Jewish but was raised Roman Catholic in a predominantly Jewish community, said he “laughed my butt off for 90 minutes straight” when he first saw the performance off-Broadway in New York.

“It was absolutely hysterical,” he said about the show he’s been directing around the country with his team for the past two years.

“The challenge,” Silva said, “is: How do you take the play, which is a bunch of words in a script, and turn it into a show that can be enjoyed in a  theater through a full experience?”

There’s more than merely having a fun time when it comes to experiencing “Old Jews” in the way Silva aspires toward.

“I think there’s something to be said about riotous laughter,” he said. “It relaxes our body and releases endorphins you didn’t even know you needed to release. It’s needed; it’s deeply human. The show is a terrific reminder that laughter is human and necessary.”

“Especially with our political climate right now, the show is very good at pointing to the fact that laughter will get us through,” Silva added.

The show also has a direct connection to one of the godheads of the Jewish comedic world, with Kholos’ daughter (a playwright herself) being married to Brooks’ son, Max.

“It’s an honor to make Mel Brooks laugh,” Kholos said about Brooks’ take on the project.

As summated by the producers: “If you’ve ever had a mother, visited a doctor or walked into a bar with a priest, a rabbi and a frog, ‘Old Jews Telling Jokes’ will sit in the dark, give you a second opinion and ask you where you got that.”

“Old Jews Telling Jokes” will run at Baltimore Hebrew  Congregation-Dalsheimer Auditorium, 7401 Park Heights Avenue, on Sunday, Nov. 13 at 1 p.m. and 5 p.m. For more  information and ticket sales, visit playhouseinfo.com or call  1-844-448-7469. For group  discounts (12-plus), call 1-615-400-7793.

mklickstein@midatlanticmedia.com

Marc Summers Reflects on 30 Years in TV, ‘Double Dare’

Marc Summers (provided)

Marc Summers (provided)

Marc Summers is one of the most memorable personalities of many millennials’ childhoods, who knew him as the host of Nickelodeon game show “Double Dare.” He impacted the lives of that generation significantly; earning a devoted audience that grew up with him and followed him from one project to the next.

For those who don’t know, Summers has been a bigwig in the world of television for nearly 30 years. He helped to pioneer both Nickelodeon and the Food Network, burgeoning their success by hosting and producing “Double Dare” and narrating and producing “Unwrapped,” each a staple program of their network from the start.

This year marks the 30th anniversary of “Double Dare,” which will be occasioned by the release of a documentary about Summers and a 30th anniversary “Double Dare” special on Nickelodeon. According to Summers, “The special will air the night before Thanksgiving. I have no idea what it will entail, but I know there will be clips from the original audition, and a lot of people that I know will be brought on.”

Summers, who turns 65 on Nov. 11, grew up in Indiana and always knew that he wanted to be an entertainer. For some inexplicable reason, he noted, famous television hosts invariably come from the Midwest, citing David Letterman (also from Indiana) and Johnny Carson (Iowa) among others. “All the guys who were successful as hosts seemingly came from the Midwest,” he said.

“The goal was to be on ‘The Tonight Show,’” said Summers. “It was the gold standard, the Taj Mahal. If you make it on there, it means you made it.

Watching his rise to stardom on TV, one may never have realized that Summers, born Marc Berkowitz, was in  a Jewish household and was inspired to become a rabbi as a kid. “At my bar mitzvah,” he said, “I felt that I was performing. Instead of going to football games as a kid, I was going to synagogue.”

“I got the TV bug and went to talk to Rabbi Weitzman of Indianapolis Hebrew Congregation, who had started his  career in entertainment,” said Summers. “I told him that I wanted to be a rabbi but also to be a performer. Regardless, I wanted to help people. He told me, ‘As a rabbi, you can help a small congregation a lot, but as a performer you can help a lot of people a little.’ I decided that I would rather help a lot of people, so my path was set.”

I wanted to be a  rabbi but also to be a  performer. Regardless, I wanted to help people.” — Marc Summers

 

Summers got his start in  entertainment when a friend began to teach him magic. “I joined the school’s magic club and was president by eighth grade,” said Summers. “We would do convocations for the school, which I could emcee, and it put me on stage. I would take jokes from comedians I had watched on ‘The Tonight Show.’ I went to college and did anything to get stage time. I put myself through college as a magician; my parents paid for my tuition; everything else was on me. On weekends I would find magic gigs making $25 for a half-hour. I would get on stage and have more guests than talent.”

In 1973, Summers, then 22, moved to Los Angeles to begin his career as an entertainer. He would supplement his income with performances at the Magic Castle, and in 1976 he began performing at The Comedy Store alongside future legends such as Robin Williams.

Summers quickly realized that he wasn’t going to be as good as those he was performing with. After one of the shows, he approached Lorenzo Music, who did warmups for “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.” He lied that he had experience and got called to do the warmup for a new pilot called “Doc” a few weeks later.

“After that, I became the king of warmups,” Summers said. “I would do warmups every day, making [up to] $5,000 a week in the early ’80s, but I also learned how to play the game. The lifespan of a warmup guy is two to three years. The job is to entertain the audience during breaks.”

He recounted a time when his act was garnering more laughs than the program so the producers actually paid him to keep quiet.

“After a few years, I felt stuck,” he said, “and luckily that’s when ‘Double Dare’ happened.”

A friend, who was a ventriloquist, told Summers that he got a call from “Double Dare” but that he didn’t know Nickelodeon; he asked Summers to go audition instead. “I was the first guy to audition in Los Angeles, and they brought me back for call-backs,” Summers said.

“They narrowed it down to two but couldn’t make a decision. Back in those days, Nickelodeon was in the early stages with producers younger than I. As the old man of the group, I came up with the concept of going to New York, putting each of us in a studio with kids and playing the game. At the end of the game, the other guy asked, ‘Do you want me to do something else?’ However, I said, ‘We’ll be back with more “Double Dare” after this,’ and threw it to commercial. I just did what I saw Bob Barker do my whole life. They thought it was more professional, and I ended up with the gig.”

“My job has always been producer-esque, solving problems,” Summers continued. “When we moved to Orlando, Nickelodeon asked me to produce the show too. I said yes right away, although I didn’t know what that meant other than more money. I learned on the job what it meant to be a producer — hiring, firing and putting a show together. Obviously, they saw quality  in me, I just had to fine tune aspects of it.”

For the last 11 years, Summers has been a producer at the Food Network, working on an array of projects including “Unwrapped” and “Restaurant: Impossible.” Allen Salkin, the author of “From Scratch: The Uncensored History of the Food Network” and a former correspondent for The New York Times, described Summers as “a central, important player in the history of the Food Network, as an on-screen personality and an off-screen producer.”

“Unwrapped” is the show that brought real success to the Food Network — it still holds the record for the show that they have produced the longest. Summers attributed some of its success to his devoted audience from “Double Dare.”

“They knew that I had a following from ‘Double Dare.’ The kids were at an age where there was a carryover effect,” Summers said. “Dick Clark had it, Bob Barker had it. The joy of not being a one-hit wonder, it’s very cool. There was definitely a right place, right time aspect, but it never hurts to have programming executives know you draw an audience.”

Salkin explained: “What happened with ‘Unwrapped’ was that it came about in a time when the Food Network was trying to broaden its  appeal. As we know now, food isn’t just how to make it — it is associated with childhood, family, identity. The brilliance of ‘Unwrapped’ was that it hit squarely on both nostalgia and pop culture. It wasn’t Mario Batali telling you the history of an obscure piece of pasta; it was a show in which they seemed every week to visit where they make the candy bars from your childhood.”

“There is something so comforting and easy to watch about the process, collecting the ingredients and producing them, and Marc is such an easy-to-digest everyman,” Salkin continued. “Marc himself evoked nostalgia by being from a show that people remembered as so much a part of pop culture.”

Summers was working with a production company in Philadelphia when he came across “Dinner: Impossible” — it was the second program that they produced. Since then, Summers has become one of Philly’s faces of fame. Although he no longer works or lives in the city full time, he is still active in the community.

Nowadays, Summers is performing a one-man show, cleverly entitled, “The Life and Slimes of Marc Summers.”

“I have accomplished a lot TV-wise,” he explained, “but I always wanted to do live performing.” Coincidentally, Summers met a producer who had once auditioned for “Double Dare.” “I told him I wanted to do theater, and a few weeks later I got a call asking if I wanted to play Vince Fontaine in ‘Grease.’”

During the production of “Grease,” Summers met two young entertainers named Drew Gasparini and Alex Brightman, the latter of whom was nominated this year for a Tony Award for his role as Dewey Finn in “School of Rock” on Broadway. Having grown up watching Summers on TV, the two were eager for the opportunity to pick his mind. “For three years, every few weeks, we would go out and they would ask me stories,” Summers recollected. These stories would lead to “The Life and Slimes” show.

“Last December, a script was given to me, and I found out I was booked. It takes us through my life until today,” Summers said. “Alex wrote the show, Drew wrote the music. For me, the real struggle was memorization. My goal was that if I could make one person cry in the three weeks the show first ran, I would know I did my job. We got standing ovations and people weeping. Many places throughout the show, I break down and cry. It is just an emotional time. I thought that I would be fine after having read it in my bed, but when I performed it for the first time, I had to stop twice because I got so emotional. It happens when you pour your guts out.”

dnozick@midatlanticmedia.com

Cris Jacobs Celebrates New Album with Hometown Show

Cris Jacobs (Photo provided)

Cris Jacobs (Photo provided)

For the hometown album release show of the poignant, blues-tinged “Dust to Gold,” Cris Jacobs wanted to give his Baltimore fan base a different kind of show, one that would truly allow the songs to shine and the audience to take in the music in an intimate setting.

In great contrast to the bar-room and standing-room-only shows Jacobs fans are used to, the guitarist and vocalist and his band will take the stage  at the 550-seat, acoustically pristine Gordon Center for Performing Arts in Owings Mills on Saturday, Nov. 5 to celebrate the Oct. 21 release of Jacobs’ second full-length album.

“I’ve seen some really great shows there over the years. … I’m very excited,” Jacobs said. “The acoustics are great in the room. I’m excited to change it up for a night and not play in a rowdy bar. People can really take in the songs and digest  it. For this particular show, I wanted something [with] a little more intimate feeling.”

Since taking over the JCC performance hall four years ago, Randi Benesch, senior managing director of arts and culture at the JCC of Greater Baltimore, has been trying to find the right fit for a Cris Jacobs show.

“The Gordon Center is a unique venue in Baltimore. There’s not a lot of medium-sized venues like this with great acoustics,” Benesch said. “This is a chance to really sit down and listen and hear his songwriting.”

Amy Helm (Photo provided)

Amy Helm (Photo provided)

Amy Helm & The Handsome Strangers — the daughter of The Band’s Levon Helm and her band — will open the show. Baltimore singer and guitarist Brooks Long, who brings an old school “rock ‘n’ soul” sound, plays an acoustic set in the venue’s lobby from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. to kick things off.

As on “Dust to Gold,” the show features Jacobs’ heavy-hitting band of John Ginty on keys, Todd Herrington on bass, Dusty Simmons on drums and Jonathan Sloane on guitar, all established musicians in their own right. Jacobs, whose band saw a rotating cast of musicians in recent years, said he looks forward to continuing to build chemistry with the same group of musicians.

“The rhythm section is super funky, but they’re also very sensitive, song-oriented players,” he said. “So it’s got a really nice soulful, Americana vibe you could say.”

On “Dust to Gold,” Jacobs moves through upbeat, head-bopping blues on “Jack the Whistle and the Hammer” and “Shine Your Weary Light” to the soulful ballad “Cold Carolina” and shows off his lap steel skills on “Bone Digger” and “Turn into Gold.”

“It’s me. It’s got all the elements. It’s got some rock ‘n’ roll, some soul, some rootsy/country/bluesy vibe, some funkiness, some psychedelic, some sweet [songs], some harder edges,” Jacobs said. “It’s me, man: your local schizophrenic musician. It’s continuing the evolution. I never really have settled on one particular genre on purpose. I love it all.”

While Jacobs is right to recognize his diversity of influences, the end result hardly comes off as schizophrenic. Rather, “Dust to Gold” is  Jacobs’ most refined effort to date, with him truly owning his space a singer-songwriter steeped in the blues and soul.

The album also chronicles a major milestone in the Jacobs’ world — the birth of his daughter on Sept. 28.

“I went into the session and pretty much found out right as we began the album that we were pregnant, so I wrote this tune, a little lullaby, to the  unborn baby,” he said. Jacobs’ wife, Kat, sings backup on the song, “Little Dreamer.”

Longtime supporters of  Jacobs have been giving the album the highest of praises since its release.

“I think it really marks further evolution of his singing, songwriting and musical abilities, and he has a great band playing with him,” said Ben Greenwald, a former chair of the board of The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore who chairs the board of Believe in Music and sits on the boards of the Pearlstone Center and University of Maryland Hillel. Greenwald has been following Jacobs’ career for 15 years, since the early days of Jacobs’ previous band The Bridge, who broke up in 2011 but still play together a few times a year.

“It’s been great to see him sort of break out on his own and get the notoriety and play with all these musicians across the country who want to play with him and have recognized his abilities,” Greenwald said.

Among the musicians Jacobs has opened for in recent years are Steve Winwood, the Steve Miller Band and country and roots singer Sturgill Simpson. Jacobs is also half of the songwriting duo behind Neville Jacobs, a project that features New Orleans’ Ivan Neville, the son of Aaron Neville and leader of funk band Dumpstaphunk. Jacobs said the group is aiming to release its long-awaited debut in 2017.

“There’s some really good momentum in that camp right now,” he said. “It’s all lining up.”

At the Gordon Center, Jacobs hopes to get Helm on stage for a few tunes, especially since they have shows together in Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C., on the previous two nights to work up some momentum. The two struck up a musical friendship earlier this year at the festival Jam Cruise, where Jacobs played “I Wish I Knew How it Would Feel To Be Free” with Helm, who hadn’t performed the song since her  father died in 2012. Inspired by Nina Simone’s 1967 version, Levon Helm recorded the song in 2009 on his “Electric Dirt” album.

Helm, who is currently preparing material for a new album and touring through mid-November, was introduced to Jacobs by Neville, who invited the two of them to join Dumpstaphunk for a cover of The Band’s “Don’t Do It” during Jam Cruise.

“Hearing Cris sing, I knew immediately that this was someone who is a powerful musician and someone I was very excited to collaborate with,” Helm said via email.

It was Jacobs who invited her to sing with him the song  popularized by Simone, which he’d been performing during his own shows.

“It was very moving, uplifting and joyful to sing that song with Cris and was one of the highlights of my Jam Cruise experience!” Helm said.

Benesch called Jacobs and Helm two of her favorite  musicians.

“Their voices are so honest and soulful, just really real,” she said, “and I thought that could be a perfect night in the Gordon.”


The Cris Jacobs Band with Amy Helm & The Handsome Strangers play at the Gordon Center, 3506 Gwynnbrook Ave., Owings Mills, on Saturday, Nov. 5. Pre-show entertainment starts at 7 p.m., and the show, which is co-presented by the Charm City Bluegrass Festival, starts at 8 p.m. Tickets are $26 in advance and $31 at the door and be can be purchased at bit.ly/2f9WsLx.

 

mshapiro@midatlanticmedia.com

Persistence of Vision Hometown hero Jason Michael Berman overcomes with ‘The Birth of a Nation’

Jason Michael Berman (Photo provided)

Malcolm Gladwell dedicates a rather lengthy portion of his New York Times bestselling 2013 book, “David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants” — detailing how great adversity often leads to even greater success — to the irrepressibly contrarian notion that certain learning differences, such as dyslexia, may actually make for a more robust spirit in a person living with said aberration.

“An extraordinarily high percentage of entrepreneurs are dyslexic,” Gladwell definitively writes, zeroing in on the juggernaut career of one of Hollywood’s longtime top moguls, Brian Grazer, who is dyslexic, meaning his brain struggles to interpret what it is he’s reading in a cogent way.

And as Gladwell suggests, being a special breed of entrepreneur, Grazer as producer is not alone in succeeding so wildly despite — if not, as it’s posited in Gladwell’s book — perhaps because of his unique learning difference.

“Due to this learning difference, my passion for film came very early on,” said Baltimore’s own native son and producer on the rise Jason Michael Berman about the direct connection he too sees clearly.

Having grown up in Pikesville, where he attended Beth El Congregation (which dedicated the Berman-Rubin Sanctuary in his family’s name this past September), the 34-year-old Berman launched quickly as a bright, flaming comet from one coast to the other, exploding on the scene in Los Angeles, where he graduated from the University of Southern California’s nationally top-ranked cinema and television program in 2006, trained at one of the most prestigious talent agencies in the world (William Morris) and after a series of selfsame Sammy Glick-esque endeavors, rose to becoming one of the “Top Ten Producers to Watch” according to no less than the industry trade publication Variety in 2011.

It was clear early on that Jason Michael Berman would be a director or producer. “He had more ideas than I could fathom,” said Jemicy School teacher Lisa Needle. (Photo provided)

It was clear early on that Jason Michael Berman would be a director or producer. “He had more ideas than I could fathom,” said Jemicy School teacher Lisa Needle. (Photo provided)

Living in Los Angeles these days, Berman has produced a prodigious procession of projects, most notably 2016’s cause célèbre Oscar contender “The Birth of a Nation.”

“What I gained from being dyslexic was that I was an overachiever,” Berman said, in line with Gladwell’s and Grazer’s own assertions that struggling with typical schoolwork leads some dyslexics toward a brambly path they must blaze on their own in discovering a singular way through that will, in the end, teach them to be more  capable of overcoming such hurdles in the extra-scholastic realm of the industrial rat race or, in this case, the unforgiving hurly-burly of Tinsel Town.

Berman’s indefatigable propensity toward cinema at a preciously young age was a  radiant projection of his “wanting to be in film because it was easier for me to express how I felt through making movies than writing.”

Whereas reading and writing might have been challenging for Berman in his early years, making and watching movies was second nature just as early on, as though he was born with a video camera in hand and viewfinders sprouting from his scopophiliac eyes.

“I’m sure he’ll love it that I’m saying this, but because he’s so persistent and has so many ideas, Jason can be …” Berman’s dance and drama instructor at Owings Mills’ specialized Jemicy School Lisa Needle said, calculating the best descriptive before spurting out through a fusillade of laughter, “exasperating.”

Jason Michael Berman, producer Benjamin Renzo, co-producer Ryan Ahrens, executive producer On set in Savannah, GA.

Jason Michael Berman, producer
Benjamin Renzo, co-producer
Ryan Ahrens, executive producer
On set in Savannah, GA. (Photo provided)

It’s actually the second time she used the word — both times in a fit of laughter at the thought — during the interview in describing what might otherwise euphemistically be called the adamantine tenacity of her former student and longtime friend.

Needle, who’s been at Jemicy for 25 years and is now the lower middle school’s art department chair, said this is “one of those weaknesses that is really a strength,” chuckling that when Berman reached out for her to speak with the JT, if she hadn’t gotten back to him, he would have kept contacting her until she finally connected.

It’s not really a joke, but merely a character trait of Berman’s that he himself sees as integral to his impressive career built on the foundation of an  almost inhuman perseverance that all but disallows him from taking “no” as an answer.

“I’m very grateful to have had the opportunity to teach him,” Needle said, her laughter having subsided into the audible sound of eyes watering with pride. “Jason has changed my worldview and the way I  look at children, what they’re capable of.”

Needle went on to describe a series of telling anecdotes chronicling Berman’s blossoming at Jemicy: his constructing an elaborate crane system with his late science teacher Joe Chidester in order to film a student play (which, Needle was sure to point out, happened to star Berman’s sister); his writing a letter to Sony in aid of requesting video equipment donations that, to the surprise of many including Needle, turned out to be fruitful and helped to establish the film program Berman started; and, most revealing to Needle, the time when, while merely a second-grader, Berman essentially took over a student play involving a kind of “Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure” journey through history a la a flying time machine.

It was, in fact, the first instance in which Needle referred to Berman, lightheartedly as  it may have been, as at times  “exasperating.”

“Every single day, this little boy I had only known for about a year came in with new ideas for the time machine and the play,” Needle said.

Left to right: Producers, Kevin Turen, Jason Michael Berman, Nate Parker, Preston L. Holmes. (Photo by Aaron L. Gilbert)

Left to right: Producers, Kevin Turen, Jason Michael Berman, Nate Parker, Preston L. Holmes. (Photo by Aaron L. Gilbert)

As jubilant as Needle was by Berman’s innovative mind and exhilarating enthusiasm, she did finally have to pull the pint-sized filmmaker-to-be aside to remind him that one day he would be a director, but on this day, she was the one in charge.

Needle recounted how at the time, Jemicy didn’t necessarily hand out grades but would instead turn in “narratives” of a sort to parents, with Needle including in hers to Berman’s mother the fact that it was clear one day the shining prodigy would be a director or producer because “he has more ideas than I could possibly fathom.”

More than 15 films later, Berman stands at the forefront of what has been a most singular experience for an independent film in this country with his latest, the period piece slave revolt drama based on the life of near mythical hero (or villain, depending on the stories you read about him) Nat Turner, “The Birth of a Nation.”

Considering the provocative nature of the film and the roller-coaster ride the course of its release has taken from its record-breaking Sundance premiere sale to Fox Searchlight to today in which the film’s former stellar reviews have taken a turn due in large part to a cloud of controversy surrounding the director and co-writer’s past, there’s no question, as Berman himself contends, his role as one of five producers on the project continues to put his ever-developing chitinous mettle to the test.

The cast and crew from “The Birth of a Nation" (Photo provided)

The cast and crew from “The Birth of a Nation” (Photo provided)

“It was definitely an arduous process and pushed my limits as a producer,” Berman said. “But we put a great team together and were inspired by [director/lead actor] Nate [Parker] as a terrific leader of 400 people. We ultimately created a powerful movie we’re all very proud of.”

Needle shares in Berman’s and his crew’s pride, which she marvels at as “this incredible thing he has accomplished, this dyslexic kid who made a work that blows me away.”

Berman would meanwhile agree with Needle’s assessment that, “I do believe without a doubt, had he not gone to Jemicy, he wouldn’t have had these opportunities. Nobody else would have said, ‘Yeah, you can be a movie producer’ when he was in second grade.”

For an online exclusive on Berman’s take on the reception to ‘The Birth of a Nation’, visit bit.ly/2e5Mxb0.

mklickstein@midatlanticmedia.com

Local Artist, Rabbi Displays Mosaics at Gallery

Rabbi Gila Ruskin of Temple Adas Shalom has been making mosaics for about 10 years, many of which are eminently displayed in various Jewish institutions in Baltimore.

It started out with her creating little crafts to give as gifts. However, after making a tray for someone’s wedding and incorporating their family heirlooms into it, an artist sitting next to her at the wedding said, “You know, that’s art. You should be making art, not just gifts for people.”

“I had never really thought of myself that way, but it really opened things up for me,” said Ruskin. “I started making mosaics based on Jewish and biblical themes and song lyrics and prayers. Sometimes I just make something to teach a concept. It completely changed the way that I was doing mosaics.”

Fast-forward and Ruskin now proudly displays a collection of work solely her own in the Hoffberger Gallery of Baltimore Hebrew Congregation. Most of her work uses what she calls “found objects — things you find in the thrift shop, things you find lying on the ground or things that people give you.”

“For example,” she said, “a friend of mine’s mother passed away and I ended up with some of her costume jewelry, which I began using in my pieces. It  became a way for that person to live on through the art. I started to encourage people to bring me things, anything. Now wherever I go, even at services, people will hand me bags with plates that they dropped or old jewelry or something for me to use in my work.”

“I started collecting lots of little things. I put my materials in jars, so I have a jar of fruit, a jar of moons, a jar of sea life, etc. The shelves at my house are covered with these jars filled with stuff by colors, by  category — it’s a wacky artist’s toolshed.”

All of Ruskin’s works are heavily layered before the mosaic is applied. She builds up her canvas with screening material such as wire mesh, then adds mortar to help build it up. This is how she achieves the three-dimensionality of the pieces.

Following are Ruskin’s comments about her mosaics and inspiration, particularly pieces that she made with or for specific people and organizations in mind.

 

book-of-lifeBook of Life
“Two years ago, I did my first project with a group of people. Everyone that came to Rosh Hashanah that year [at Adas Shalom] participated in making the Book of Life. People would come and drop some glue and some little stones and those represented their deeds in the Book of Life. I like this one because I remember the scene of everyone in the congregation putting down the glue and dropping pieces, it started completely empty, and by the time the holiday was finished, it was completely filled.”

 

rainbowAlternative Rainbow
“I gave this mosaic to CHANA. We all talk about the rainbow and how it  includes everyone, but there are people who feel that they aren’t included in the rainbow, so these are all alternative colors. It’s not the typical rainbow; this is magenta and gold and chartreuse and teal, all of the off colors. Throughout the piece, there are faces of people — you have to look carefully — who feel that they don’t fit in with the rest of the rainbow.”

“[The mosaic includes] a blessing you say if you see someone who looks  different. That prayer really spoke to me, so everything about this is alternative. Instead of a dove that you normally see with a rainbow,  it is this big, clunky bird. The sun is also black, and it is mirrored. If it is eye level, you can see yourself in the piece. I really wanted a mirrored look for this reason so I specially ordered the blue mirrored tiles.”

 

how-abundantHow Abundant Are Your Works
“One of my congregants was in Israel working on a dig and brought me some shards which made up this particular mountain in the mosaic. For this other section, I was in Sonoma and picked these up off the ground. This is based on a verse in psalms, ‘how abundant are your works,’ so I tried to include as many species as possible in it — there’s a frog, there’s a dinosaur, there’s even Road Runner from the cartoons.”

day-god-madeDay God Has Made
“I made this piece when my daughter got married. It is partially based on tnai’m, a tradition where mothers-in-law break a plate at the engagement of their children. Each of the parents brought a piece of china from their own family, we broke the four plates together, and they gave them to me, and I made this. They wanted this verse, ‘this is the day that God has made,’ also from psalms.”

simchat-torahSimchat Torah
“This Simchat Torah piece is kinetic. I just wanted to show joy and happiness through color. I tried to re-create a pink sky that I saw in Wisconsin, which was just beautiful.”

Kadosh
“Kadosh Kadosh Kadosh is the mosaic that I just completed. I wanted to create something just in white, so I took the verse from Isaiah where it says ‘holy, holy, holy’ and talks about the angels all flying around. There are a lot of angels all through the piece. I really just tried to capture the feeling of everything being pure and holy.” JT

“Judaic Mosaics” by Rabbi Gila Ruskin runs through Oct. 24 at the Hoffberger Gallery at Baltimore Hebrew Congregation, 7401 Park Heights Ave., Baltimore.

dnozick@midatlanticmedia.com

‘Licensed to Ill’ Turns 30 Performers, scholars rap about hip-hop’s Jewish-American masterpiece

Y-Love (Y-Love: credit???; Beastie Boys cover: Screenshot)

Y-Love

The notion that one of the seminal shibboleths of the hip-hop realm was produced by three white Jewish punk rockers from the upper echelon of New York’s sybaritic elite may appear at first glance, euphemistically, disharmonious.

How curiouser and curiouser it must seem to many that the album that first launched hip-hop — a fulminating artistic expression of under-represented and (in many cases) poverty-stricken black youths in Queens and the Bronx — into mainstream pop culture was  indisputably the Beastie Boys’ “Licensed to Ill,” the first rap album to top the Billboard chart back when it burst onto the scene as the group’s debut album 30 years ago this Nov. 15.

These 30 years later, it’s nearly  impossible to avoid the influence and direct sounds of the inaugural work of these three Jewish boys, with the album’s perennial and downright ubiquitous hits “(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (To Party!),” “Girls,” “No Sleep till Brooklyn” and “Brass Monkey” making it of little wonder “Licensed to Ill” went Platinum (selling 1 million copies) less than a year after its release and Diamond (selling 10 million copies) in 2015.

In celebration of this auspicious  occasion for both the hip-hop milieu overall and the group specifically, sadly now lacking one of its three core members after the premature passing of Adam “MCA” Yauch in 2012, both novitiates and longtime listeners alike can purchase a new reissue of the vinyl pressing starting Friday, Oct. 14.

In 2003, Rolling Stone named the album No. 217 on a list of the “500 Greatest Albums of All Time,” 10 years later calling it the best debut album of all time.

Among its seemingly unending litany of accolades, “Licensed to Ill”  remains the only album by a Jewish rap group to have received “5 mics”  (a perfect score) by hip-hop’s oldest periodical and gold standard The Source.

beastielicensed“I probably was an immediate fan of the Beastie Boys,” wrote Baltimore-born rapper, writer, activist and speaker  Y-Love (who is currently touring) via email. Real name Yitz Jordan, Y-Love converted to Judaism in 2000 and has since incorporated Yiddish and Hebrew lyrics into his productions.

He also happens to black, which made little difference to his affinity for “Licensed to Ill” as an inquisitive young man who “felt [he] could identify with [the Beasties] more than most other rappers, even as a kid, which may sound incongruous to hear regarding the first white major rap group.”

Although Y-Love would move to Brooklyn in 1999, his “first  encounters with Judaism would all be with the Baltimore Jewish community — from seeing a ‘Happy Passover’ commercial as a child, which piqued my curiosity about all things Jewish at age 7, attending my first Shabbat services at Johns Hopkins University at age 14, attending shuls in Park Heights in high school” and eventually “rhyming initially in yeshiva in Ohr Somayach in Jerusalem (as a way to learn better with my cavruta/study partner, an MC from Long  Island).”

Throughout this period of spiritual awakening for the burgeoning cross-cultural rapper on the international rise, Y-Love saw the video for the Beasties’ “(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (To Party!)” — which has since become, for good or ill, beyond wildly successful in the commercial sense and transcended to being  anthemic for at least two generations of listeners — when he was still in elementary school “probably during the brief period when my family had cable as a kid.”

I don’t know if we can truly envision what hip-hop would be like in 2016 were it not for Jews.” — Y-Love

 

“I remember thinking that the people I was watching on the screen were probably the coolest people I could imagine in my young mind. … When I would go to summer camp, ‘Girls’ was pretty much a theme song — anyone who didn’t know it by the beginning of camp would have it memorized by the end by sheer osmosis.”

As “ironic” as it might be (in Y-Love’s words), one of the rapper’s first public performances was belting out his own rendition of “Girls” at his camp’s talent show along with his bunkmates.

There’s less an ironic bent here in considering the fact that, when explored more thoroughly, Jews have had an undeniably crucial role in the development of hip-hop from its earliest boom-box blasting days.

“I don’t know if we can truly envision what hip-hop would be like in 2016 were it not for Jews,” Y-Love said.

“Jews have been involved in hip-hop since the very beginning, both on stage and behind the scenes. Would Run DMC and Aerosmith have ever collaborated had [pioneering Jewish producer and co-founder of integral label Def Jam, which put out “Licensed to Ill”] Rick Rubin not brought it up? When would black hip-hop artists have debuted on MTV?”

Fervent in his understanding that “Jews of all colors have contributed at all points of all points of hip-hop history,”  Y-Love notes that “on a larger scale, Jews have been arm-in-arm with communities of color fighting for social justice for generations; given that hip-hop is such a voice of struggle and for social change for communities of color and other communities, it makes sense that such strong solidarity would also express itself mutually.”

Adam Bradley, one of the foremost scholars on hip-hop and associate professor of English at Boulder’s University of Colorado, agrees with Y-Love that the Beasties and “Licensed to Ill” in particular “inhabit this place in hip-hop that is a pivotal moment” that helped to promulgate the very real  intersection between African-Americans and Jews as “people under pressure facing challenge and oppression.”

Traveling around the country as he does as a much sought-after expert on such subjects, Bradley recently presented at a Freedom Seder that celebrated multiculturalism. It was here, Bradley said, that he really  understood that “the power of the art of the language is so central to both of these populations, and so rap seems a natural place to locate that confluence between the black and Jewish community.”

On a highly technical level, Bradley expounded upon the connection between these two cultures as represented by the intersection of rap via the art form’s “wordplay, rhetorical flourishes, chanting and love of storytelling” which he points out are all “common legacies for these groups of people.”

From this larger global perspective, as Bradley put it, “these three kids in ’86 put this album out” and yet, perhaps more “ironically” still, “wore [their Jewish] tradition very lightly, not really paying attention to it.”

Even today, Bradley reflected, many listeners see the Beasties as a “white rap group” more than they might as a “Jewish rap group.”

West Coast Jewish-Latin hip-hop artist Josh Norek concurs that the Beasties “were not perceived by the masses as a Jewish rap group [even though] all members were  assimilated Jewish Americans.”

Norek, also a co-host of  nationally-syndicated NPR show “The Latin Alternative,” said that all the members of his now more or less defunct Hip Hop Hoodios (the latter word a play on the Spanish word for “Jews,”  judíos with rap argot “hood”) were aware of the Beasties’ lack of explicit Jewish signaling in their work and media persona.

Having been a part of the only group that had a punk hip-hop Chanukah song that went into heavy rotation on MTV Latino, it’s no wonder that Norek confesses he “never related at all to white rappers” per se, such as Eminem.

Norek feels whether directly or not, there’s a kind of subconscious nod to the Jewish sensibility for humor and playfulness in the work of the Beasties, meanwhile, especially on such albums as “Licensed to Ill” where the trio were “being openly wise asses.”

This is something Norek and his own hip-hop crew could and did completely relate to and something he feels he sees less of in more standard “white rapper” fare, which he referred to as often being “more dark and extreme.”

Though Norek may not have been particularly spellbound by “Licensed to Ill” on first listen as an 11-year-old who saw the record as embodying more of a “fratrock mentality,” he does feel that one of the reasons it remains the Beasties’ bestselling album 30 years later is, in fact, “because it was a rock album too.”

Hence why he feels the  obvious question of “cultural misappropriation” here with three rich, white Jewish boys seemingly co-opting a black musical expression “from the streets” a la what has been levied in the past at, say, Elvis Presley (rock ‘n’ roll) and the Rolling Stones (the blues), is a moot one.

Norek, in fact, sees the monumental success of the Beasties at this time (and, indeed, throughout their enduring career) in “Licensed to Ill” having “a rock sensibility for a larger white audience” for whom the more arcane, underground hip-hop/rap realm may have been in those early years less accessible or palatable.

“The Beastie Boys were that group who could play [alternative rock festival] Lollapalooza but also were down with [spiritually and aesthetically crucial rap group] Tribe Called Quest,” Norek said.

Y-Love agrees that as someone whose “first musical affinities were all for rock music, starting with hard rock and moving to metal and punk rock,” he “may have gravitated toward the guitar and hardcore vocal styles of the Beasties without even knowing. And as a teenager into punk rock and radical politics, learning that BEASTIE was an acronym for Boys  Entering Anarchistic States Through Internal Excellence only solidified their position in my mind.”

“Most hardcore fans respect them because they were true to themselves and didn’t try to put up a front,” Bradley said, adding that part of the Beasties’ “broadening of that community” came from their inclusion in lyrics new references that hadn’t made it into hip-hop before such as actor Abe Vigoda and comedian-filmmaker Jerry Lewis.

“Hip-hop is about that vernacular process,” Bradley said. “Taking something inherited and making it your own, hence the idea of ‘sampling’ in the music, taking something someone else already did and making it your own through innovation.”

In a way, then, the Beasties’ and “Licensed to Ill’s” Cuisinart sampling of various (and at times ostensibly contrapuntal) aesthetics and cultures is perhaps one of their most indirect Jewish signifiers in consideration of the connection here to the same mentality of reinterpreting, melding and playfully poking fun at same in the Jewish-dominated realm of Vaudeville — in many ways the precursor to pop culture and entertainment in this country — back in the early 20th century.

Despite clarion examples of and claims about rap’s being at times homophobic, misogynistic and, indeed, anti-Semitic,  Y-Love feels that the genre is today “only becoming more inclusive, both in terms of listener demographics and in terms of content.”

“When you have the sense that rap can travel — which has to do with race and sound — it’s all tied up in its being a music for everyone and everything,” Bradley said. “The Beastie Boys, along with Rick Rubin, were really instrumental in that process.”

mklickstein@midatlanticmedia.com

Chicken Soup for the Gold

A happy group of Cook-Off participants (Provided)

A happy group of Cook-Off participants (Provided)

The Jewish Museum of Maryland served up something piping hot and tasty on Sunday, Oct. 9.

In association with its immersive “Beyond Chicken Soup: Jews and Medicine in America” exhibit exploring the intersection of medicine and Jewish tradition/culture that began in March and runs until January, the museum held the first-ever Great Chicken Soup Cook-Off in a dashing attempt at finding the very best chicken soup recipe in the state of Maryland.

Although there were a few no-shows at the final moments before samples of the various soups in competition were  ladled out to public tasters popping in to enjoy the festivities, museum executive director Marvin Pinkert reported that there were 14 contestants originally signed up to take part.

There were three categories for entries, including the six contestants who signed up to compete for the best “traditional” soup, six contestants who signed up for the best  “alternative” chicken soup recipe and two who signed up to compete for the best chicken soup recipe in a special category called “free-from,” in which chefs — all amateur, it should be pointed out — were to leave out one key ingredient from the garden variety chicken soup concoction in a bid for a kind of vegetarian, vegan or gluten-free machination.

Wearing a black tie festooned with a cartoon chicken at its base, Pinkert told the JT that it was five years ago — around the time he took on his role — that the museum presented a similar competition called GefilteFest. At that event, professional chefs (three, to be exact), were tasked with creating a uniquely branded gefilte fish, with the winner producing a gefilte fish “fried hot dog,” as Pinkert described it, using  red horseradish as a ketchup substitute.

chickensoup3_10-14-16Since that time, the museum has expanded its operating hours from 16 to 35 hours a week, and Pinkert hopes such competitions as the GefilteFest and Great Chicken Soup Cook-Off will continue into the future.

“It’s a way to bring people into the museum who wouldn’t normally come in,” Pinkert said, adding that not all of the contestants involved in the cook-off are Jewish and yet there’s a definite connection, he feels, between chicken soup as a kind of “Jewish penicillin” and the longstanding heritage of the culture itself.

There’s in fact an element of the “Beyond Chicken Soup” exhibit that specifically highlights the medicinal qualities of such soup that did at one time boast the colloquial moniker “Jewish penicillin.”

“I think it’s a great chance to share in both tradition and  innovation, celebrating food that is part of the Jewish tradition in both a culinary and medicinal way,” Pinkert said.

Adam Yosim, originally from North Carolina and in Baltimore for two years as an Emmy-nominated reporter for Fox 45, gave what he called a “Jewish twist” to Tom Kha Gai in boiling up a batch of his Tom Kha Chai for the “alternative” category of soup entries.

It may seem strange, melding traditional Thai coconut curry soup with “broth that you’d find in your grandma’s soup,” but it resulted in something Yosim referred to as “a melting pot of yumminess.”

Yosim confessed that he had originally intended on entering a “traditional” soup, but when it was relayed to him that there were already too many contestants entering that portion of the competition, he thought he’d see if he was up to the challenge of doing something a little off-kilter.

The gambit clearly worked, as Yosim would end up taking home the trophy for best soup in the “alternative” category.

chickensoup6“I love to cook,” Yosim said, noting that though he has competed in additional foodie competitions in the past — one in Kentucky, for example, in which he took home a “big chicken trophy” — the contest at the museum was for him all about fun, something he had been made aware of rather last minute by his fiancée who works for The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore.

“Feel free to jazz up your soup with some accoutrements,” Yosim said in handing over a sample of the opalescent brew teeming with delicious-looking chunks of veggies and chicken.

Such “accoutrements” were an essential part of Marcie Cissel’s “traditional” chicken soup, which she jokingly  referred to as “minimalist.”

“You’ll need some salt and pepper,” she said, handing over her sample and chuckling that, “The recipe is shorter than the directions to make it!”

On the flip-side of such “minimalism” was Amy Fossett’s Maryland Style Chicken Soup, which was entered in the “alternative” category and which, she said, was a typical crab soup without the crab (replaced, of course, with chicken). Fossett took home the People’s Choice trophy at event’s end, a prize based on those attending who were not official judges.

Soup tastings started around 1 p.m., with docent-led tours of the Lloyd Street Synagogue and B’nai Israel taking place along with an interactive set of culinary activities at a table nearby the main proceedings and hosted by Edible Eden Baltimore Foodscapes.

Voting for best chicken soup closed at approximately 2:45 p.m., with the awards ceremony taking place shortly after.

In speaking about what it meant to be brought in as one of the judges, WTMD DJ Sam Gallant mused, “Aren’t we all experts of chicken soup?”

He said that as a longtime fan of the museum, when he first heard of the competition, he contacted the staff and asked how he could both personally and professionally become involved. He would later become not only a judge, but an award ceremony emcee.

“There’s something about chicken soup that makes me really happy,” Gallant said.

“I don’t think I was expecting to necessarily learn anything about it or be blown away by some crazy soup recipe,” he continued.

“It was more about the classics, what might remind me of bubbie’s recipe. And that’s what I was looking for: something that would make me think of my grandfather’s apartment. A certain carrot or onion that snaps me back there.”

Overall winner Betsey Kahn told the JT she had been making her Good Old Fashioned Chicken Soup “for years and years” and hadn’t expected to win.

“When my name was called, I thought, ‘That’s my name!’”

Kahn said the win felt “fabulous” and she was beaming throughout the final award ceremony. The feeling of delight was certainly contagious.

“Depending on how this goes,” Pinkert said, “we may do something like this every fall. I’m pushing for kugel next year.”

For a list of the winners and recipes, visit bit.ly/2e4T6Gn.

mklickstein@midatlanticmedia.com