Some New Twists on the Old Traditions

(David Stuck)

(David Stuck)

All family Jewish holiday dishes have a story: recipes from your mother, grandmother or aunt. The tastes and flavors of our past are what brings us into the  future. I always celebrate the traditional with a few out-of-the-box new recipes for the holidays.

Today, you can find influences of Persian, Asian and Cuban foods on holiday tables. Although meat and/or turkey are usually my entrees, it’s those side dishes that I use to surprise guests. Healthy roasted sweet potatoes can be combined with roasted apples. Add some freshly chopped rosemary, fennel, olive oil and salt and pepper.

Apples are a must, and I recommend the smallest you can get. Here’s how I serve the tiny apples. Cut off the tops and scoop out the apples. Dice the apple “meat” and season with margarine, cinnamon and sugar. Put chopped, seasoned filling back in each apple and bake until soft. After baking, generously drizzle honey over them.  Each person can have their own. Extra slices of apples can surround each plate to scrape up excess honey.

Your honey cake finale can be transformed by using chai tea in place of coffee — a unique and welcomed flavor.

A few days before your dinner, purchase a bunch of grapes, fresh kale and curly parsley to garnish serving platters. Roast the grapes by gently coating them in a plastic bag with a little olive oil and sugar.  Place on an oil-sprayed baking sheet. Bake in a 375-degree oven until they caramelize. Use as a garnish for entrees, side dishes or dessert, cold or warm.

Fish symbolizes the prosperity and knowledge that we hope will come our way in the new year. For gefilte fish, which is usually plated ahead, I like to garnish with something special. Mayonnaise can be enhanced with a variety of flavors. Try adding chipotle chili sauce or simply some lemon juice and fresh dill. “Smear” the sauce across each plate before adding your fish.

As for your chicken soup, you can add a plethora of vegetables to give it some color and zip.  Besides carrots, celery and onion, add turnips, kohlrabi, rutabaga and celeriac. I dice them very small and parboil just to soften, adding at the  beginning of soup cooking (very low simmer, of course). Now comes the best surprise. Use a spiralizer and make “carrot noodles” instead of pasta noodles as a healthier addition to chicken soup.  I parboil them and add the last 60 minutes of simmering soup.

Recently, I watched Bobby Flay make stuffed cabbage on TV.  So I adapted his ideas into my classic stuffed cabbage recipe.  I used savoy cabbage instead of regular and made much smaller rolls.  I added finely chopped pistachio nuts and raw yellow saffron rice to the meat (ground turkey or beef) mixture. In place of regular raisins, I added smaller currants to the tomato sauce. I called it Persian cabbage rolls and got thumbs up for it.

When I have eight or more guests, I always use place cards.  But this year, in order to stimulate some conversation, I will place an appropriate question inside each card for the guest to answer or discuss: ”Why apples and honey? Why round challah?” Write them according to the ages and knowledge of guests.

When the doorbell rings, get out of the kitchen and greet each guest with a big warm welcome! Wishing a good year to you all. May you share plenty of food and family together.

Ilene Spector is a local freelance writer.


ISRAELI CHICKEN
(Meat)

2 chickens, cut into eighths, or equivalent of boneless pieces
2 onions, cut into large chunks
2 lemons
12-16 sprigs fresh oregano
8 cloves fresh garlic, thin slices
Fine sea salt, to taste (I leave it out and it is still good)
Dash of freshly ground pepper
½ cup olive oil
1 cup white wine
1½ cups Kalamata olives, pitted and coarsely chopped
½ cup Kalamata olives, whole, for garnish

> Preheat oven to 450  degrees.  Place chicken in single layers, skin side up, into two 9-by-13-inch baking pans. Add the onion chunks.  Slice the lemons in half lengthwise.  Squeeze the lemon halves over the chicken.  Cut each lemon half into 4 pieces; add to the chicken.  Set aside 4 sprigs of oregano and strip the oregano leaves from the rest.  Scatter the leaves and the stripped sprigs over the chicken. Add the garlic and season with salt and pepper.  Drizzle with the olive oil and wine. Toss the mixture together.  Sprinkle the chopped olives over the chicken.

Bake, uncovered, for 45 minutes to 1 hour or until the chicken is fully cooked. Transfer to platter and garnish with whole olives and reserved oregano sprigs. 8 servings.

NEW PERSIAN STUFFED  CABBAGE ROLLS
(Meat)

1 very large head Savoy cabbage
2 pounds ground beef or turkey
2 small to medium onions, chopped small
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 carrots, shredded on coarse grater
2 celery stalks, thinly sliced
1 cup uncooked yellow or saffron rice
½ to ¾ cup finely chopped pistachio nuts

Sauce:
2-4 tablespoons tomato paste
6-8 cups of your favorite simple tomato sauce, tomato juice or V8 (I like the V8)
¼ cup honey
¼ cup fresh lemon juice
¼ cup small currants, optional

> Cut the core out of the cabbage, but leave it whole. Place it, with the empty core area facing up, in a large bowl. Boil a small pot of water and pour the water over the cabbage, and let it sit for 10 minutes. Or, I freeze the cabbage overnight and then defrost it in the microwave before using. Heat the oil in a very large pot. Cook the onions until they are soft, add the carrot and celery, and sautÈ them for a couple extra minutes — until they are also soft. Season the mixture with salt and pepper, transfer it to a bowl and let it cool a bit. Mix in the meat, rice and pistachio nuts, and season again with salt and pepper. Drain the head of cabbage. Pull off large leaves, and cut out the large vein; if the leaf is very large, you can make two rolls from each; if it is smaller, you can cut the vein out partially and pull the sides to overlap before you roll it into one roll. Pat the leaves dry with towels. Roll about ¼ cup of filling in each small leaf (I like them small) and arrange/carefully layer in a very large, wide pot. Combine sauce ingredients to create a sweet and sour sauce. Taste and add more honey or brown sugar for sweetness. Pour in enough sauce to cover the rolls. Bring to a boil and reduce the heat, letting them simmer, covered on the stove on very low for about 45 minutes. If sauce has thinned a bit, you can heat up any additional sauce you didn’t use and pour it over as you serve the rolls. 8-10 servings depending on size of rolls. Freezes well.

CHAI HONEY CAKE
(Pareve)

3 large eggs
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
½ fresh grated lemon rinds
⅓ cup vegetable oil
1 cup honey
1 cup warm strong chai tea
3¼ cups all-purpose flour, sifted
2½ teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon cream of tartar
1 cup dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1¼ cup flat almonds for garnish

> Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and grease and flour a 10-inch tube pan. Place the eggs, lemon juice, lemon rind, oil, honey and coffee in a bowl of an electric mixer. Mix on low speed until well blended. In a separate bowl combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cream of tartar, sugar and cinnamon with a fork until mixed. Gradually add the flour mixture to the eggs mixture, mixing for about 5 minutes or until well blended. Pour the batter into the tube pan. Bake in the oven for 50 minutes to 1 hour or until a toothpick  inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean.

 

Emmys 2016: The Show’s Most Jewish Moments

Director Jill Soloway and actor Jeffrey Tambor, who both won Emmy Awards for the series “Transparent,” backstage at the 68th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards at the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles. (Steve Granitz/WireImage/GettyImages)

Director Jill Soloway and actor Jeffrey Tambor, who both won Emmy Awards for the series “Transparent,” backstage at the 68th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards at the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles. (Steve Granitz/WireImage/GettyImages)

Put enough Jewish talent and Hollywood brass in a room and you’re bound to create some memorable Jewish sound bites — and the 2016 Emmy Awards on Sunday night were no exception to this rule. From a shout-out to New York Jews to a tribute to late Jewish stars, here are the Jewiest moments from TV’s biggest night.

Jeffrey Tambor used  Hebrew to tell the house band to shut up
In accepting his speech for best actor in a comedy series (for his role as a transgender woman in Jill Soloway’s “Transparent”), Tambor spoke about some of the social issues the groundbreaking show tackles. When the band began to play (signaling that his time was up) Tambor said “sheket bevakasha” — meaning “quiet please!” in Hebrew — so that he could say that transgender actors should be given more jobs in Hollywood.

‘Veep’ producer dedicates win to ‘chubby’ Upper West Side Jews
It might not be so surprising that David Mandel, an executive producer of “Veep,” dedicated the satirical show’s win for best comedy series to “chubby Jews from the Upper West Side or wherever you are.” Mandel was formerly a producer of Larry David’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm” and was a writer during some of the late seasons of “Seinfeld.”

‘Game of Thrones’ creators cleaned up
The “Game of Thrones” books may be written by George R.R. Martin, but the massively successful HBO series based on the fantasy novels is spearheaded by a pair of Jews: David Benioff and Daniel “D.B.” Weiss. The pair helped make history on Sunday, as the lauded series overtook “Frasier” for the most wins in Emmys history (38). Benioff mentioned his wife Amanda Peet — who wrote a children’s book last year about a Jewish girl who feels left out on Christmas — twice in an acceptance speech.

Some legends were honored
Gene Wilder (“Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory,” “Young Frankenstein,” “The Frisco Kid”), Anton Yelchin (“Star Trek”), Abe Vigoda (known for his roles in “Barney Miller” and “The Godfather”) and Fyvush Finkel (a star of the Yiddish theater world and winner of a 1994 Emmy for his role in “Picket Fences”) were all mentioned in the show’s poignant “In Memoriam” segment.

A Jewish-Danish director has her day
Susanne Bier is best known for her Danish feature films, which have garnered Academy Award nominations (“In a Better World”) and spawned American remakes (“Brothers”). But on Sunday she won an Emmy for best directing for a limited series for her work on “The Night Manager,” an AMC miniseries. Bier has an interesting Jewish backstory — her father fled Germany for Denmark in 1933, where he met her mother. When Nazis began rounding up Jews there, her parents fled to Sweden in a boat. She has said her Jewish upbringing instilled in her a strong sense of family.

Rabbi Moishe Mayir Vogel is executive  director at the Aleph Institute-North  East Region.

Baltimore Jazz Alliance Bops into First-Ever Festival

Baltimore native Clarence Ward III will be performing. (Dubscience Photography courtesy of Baltimore Jazz Alliance)

Baltimore native Clarence Ward III will be performing. (Dubscience Photography courtesy of Baltimore Jazz Alliance)

Those who fear there’s been a dismal downbeat in the Baltimore jazz scene have something to swing about.

The Baltimore Jazz Alliance is tuning up for its family-friendly and free jazz festival, which takes the stage on Oct. 1 at Druid Hill Park. The BJA Jazz Festival is ostensibly the first local musical showcase focusing solely on what many believe to be the only American-born art form, pioneered by such luminaries as Charlie Parker, Miles Davis and Benny Goodman.

“Even the events that have some jazz mixed in tend to relegate it to a sideline,” said Ian Rashkin, a software developer for Johns Hopkins University who has operated as president of the BJA for the past year.

Rashkin discovered his passion for jazz by way of performing in punk rock bands as a young Northern Californian prior to his arriving in Maryland 11 years ago with his Baltimorean wife. Rashkin was disheartened by what he saw as jazz being merely “something extra” at music events he attended in his new hometown and felt, along with BJA founder Barry Glassman and longtime habitué Bob Jacobson who initially spawned the concept of the festival, that it was time to give the genre  its own full day in the local limelight.

Rashkin has also found that “there are a lot of people who are interested in jazz but simply aren’t aware of its presence in our town. Our festival is a way of presenting it to them in one big dose.”

BJA’s mission is one of “letting people know about the jazz that’s happening in the area and encouraging more of it to happen in Baltimore,” Rashkin said. “We try to support artists by having, for example,  concerts and producing CDs of local artists, along with a calendar of jazz events, our writing of articles about these artists and local venues in order to let people know more about the music in their community.”

What makes me interested in it is this feeling I get playing jazz  surrounded by all these people. Their happy faces give me this  feeling and energy that’s just right.” — Brandi Scott, Dunbar Jazz Ensemble

 

It was eight years ago that Rashkin joined the BJA, three of the last of which he spent as a board member before recently tackling the role of president. His dedication to the group stems from his personal interest in finding opportunities for live jazz, something that led Glassman — another area transplant — to start the organization in the first place, 12 years ago this month.

“As a new guy to Baltimore, I was surprised that the few places that put on jazz shows were always empty,” Glassman said. “I kept wondering why there weren’t more people coming out to enjoy this surprisingly good music.”

Born and raised in Washington, D.C., Glassman has been retired from the finance industry for nine of those 12 years and said he has been a fan of jazz for nearly all of his 72 years on this planet. Before settling in Baltimore, Glassman spent 10 years in lower Manhattan, where there was a solid and bustling jazz scene that he found lacking in Charm City.

Glassman spent much of his working life “trying to put food on the table during the day and going to as many jazz shows at night as possible,” simply due to his love his jazz. As far as performing, Glassman said he “tried,” chuckling as he recounted bygone days of harboring fantasies about living off of his clarinet and saxophone skills that did at one time lead to an audition for mainstay Roberta Flack’s first project.

“Then I realized all those great ideas in my head will never make it to my fingers,” Glassman said. “So it was time to get a real job.”

Such terra firma fiscal concerns are largely responsible for Baltimore’s languishing jazz scene that Rashkin concedes has dwindled since the halcyon heyday of mid-century local giants Cab Calloway and Eubie Blake.

“There’s a lot of great jazz and talent here, but it’s not the moneymaking genre it used to be or that other live music can be,” Rashkin said. “Actually, live music in general is so difficult for moneymaking these days.”

Hence why, Rashkin reasoned, previous festivals failed to come together: A lack of financial interest and support meant big money problems for promoters, presenters and performers.

“Though we don’t want to lose money, our approach in the festival is to elevate the musicians and give people an opportunity to hear jazz,” Rashkin said, adding that his festival came together only after receiving support from public resources such as Baltimore’s Department of Recreation & Parks and Office of Promotion & the Arts, along with private grants and individual and corporate underwriting, fortified by grassroots crowdfunding.

“Our expectations are realistic,” Rashkin said. “Since we’re not trying to make money, it hasn’t been as daunting of a proposition to put on the festival.”

Baltimore native and professional jazz musician Clarence Ward III, 35, agrees that a star-crossed collusion of finances and preponderant ignorance of jazz has led to the current dearth of interest in jazz.

Ward will perform at the festival with his Clarence Ward III All Stars project, comprised of various world-touring musicians (such as himself) who he refers to as “top notch, ‘A-level’ performers who you’ll get to see for free. Anywhere else, these guys get paid crazy amounts just to play, and so it’s a real positive thing for the city that people will be able to come and see them and a variety of other bands for free.”

Ward sees the BJA and its forthcoming festival as a means of overcoming the hurdle of those who are either unaware of or even unwilling to give this multifaceted music a chance. The latter’s a particularly frustrating claque to Ward who compared jazz to chicken: “You can bake it, you can fry it, you can grill it, so there’s something there for everyone, just like all the different kinds of jazz.”

For Ward, a crucial element here is education and creating platforms for the different  varieties of jazz to be accessible to larger audiences. Many times, he’ll play a specific brand of jazz to those who might otherwise claim to dislike the genre before they realize, “Wait, this is jazz too? This, I like.”

“A lot of people just don’t know any better,” Ward said. “And we gotta change that.”

Ward credits jazz with all but saving his life as a young student at Lake Clifton High School who “ran into some trouble when some guys were looking for me” before his parents transferred him to Paul Laurence Dunbar High, where he was placed in a band class and handed a flute. His parents had told the school he could play … despite the fact this hadn’t been true since he’d been in third grade.

The flute quickly led to an alto sax and, courtesy the tutelage of “father figure” Charles Funn, Ward became adept at multiple woodwind and brass instruments, kick-starting what would become a successful full-time career as a musician who now specializes in the trumpet.

Funn continues to teach and inspire students at Dunbar today, including 16-year-old Brandi Scott who has been playing the trombone for three years and will perform at the BJA Jazz Festival with the Dunbar Jazz Ensemble.

“I didn’t have any idea how to play the trombone, but Mr. Funn appointed me to it and taught me really well,” Scott said. “I’d listened to jazz before, but I wasn’t as interested in it as I am now. I’m really looking forward to the festival; I’m telling everyone about it, and I want people to come and see us play!”

BJA supporter Bob Jacobson is elated that such local jazz figures as Ward and Funn are having an ameliorating effect over the growing contingent of area jazz enthusiasts.

Jacobson started the Jazz For Kids program in 2006 for this very reason, hoping to make the music genre more palatable for young people in the area. Along with the sale of beer, wine, jewelry and the running of arts-and-crafts and clothing booths at the festival, another alternative activity will be Jacobson’s own “Musical Petting Zoo,” which will grant children the opportunity to learn about various instruments that they can handle and play with, guided by an experienced assistant.

“Certainly it’s true a lot of young people might not be as interested in jazz,” Rashkin said, “but the Musical Petting Zoo should be a lot of fun for kids joining us with their families at the festival. We also have a lot of live-wire musicians performing, and they’re going to attract audiences for sure.”

At least one young person couldn’t agree more with Rashkin’s sentiment.

“What makes me interested in it,” Scott said, “is this feeling I get playing jazz surrounded by all these people. Their happy faces give me this feeling and energy that’s just right.”


 

The Baltimore Jazz Festival Alliance Festival is a free, family-friendly event taking place on Oct. 1 from noon to 8:30 p.m. at Druid Hill Park, 900 Druid Lake Park Drive, Baltimore. For more information, visit baltimorejazz.com.

To read an online exclusive about Jews and jazz, visit bit.ly/2crQjry.

mklickstein@midatlanticmedia.com

Documentary’s Message Promises to Inspire at MMAE Event

(mekonen.jerusalemu.org/press-kit/)

(mekonen.jerusalemu.org/press-kit/)

Moses Montefiore Anshe Emunah Hebrew Congregation (MMAE) will celebrate Selichot Saturday, Sept. 24 with a special screening of the recently released film “Mekonen: The Journey of an African Jew.” Production representatives will introduce and discuss the mini-documentary that tells  of eponymous Ethiopian IDF soldier Mekonen Abebe’s homecoming as means of reconnecting with his African roots.

The free event, which is open to the public, will include a  musical Havdalah, an inspirational invocation by Rabbi  Yerachmiel Shapiro and the musical stylings of Cantor Shlomo Abramson, who comes directly from Israel specifically for MMAE’s unique, family-friendly evening gala. Abebe’s commander, Eden Adler, will speak after the film.

“Those who come will feel inspired by the accomplishments of one person who overcame great difficulty,” Shapiro said about the film that he believes will help viewers “realize that they have great potential to not sell themselves short from their life’s mission.”

There’s a terrific connection to the Holy Days in their same central message: remembering  that we should all try, no  matter what challenges come our way, to make a difference and that every day we can decide to be better people, to better our community.” — Nechama Abramson

“Mekonen” presents a spin-off of acclaimed 2014 documentary “Beneath the Helmet: From High School to Home Front,” which explores the experiences of five young Israelis graduating from high school and taking part in their compulsory military service.

“Helmet” is streaming now on Netflix and was produced by Jerusalem U — as was “Mekonen” — a nonprofit company that produces online courses and films, whose primary mission is to promote a better understanding of the complexities  affecting modern Israelis and Jews today. Jerusalem U is also responsible for 2011’s “Israel Inside: How a Small Nation Makes a Big Difference,” which aired on PBS.

Viewers of “Mekonen” are offered an individual storyline of one soldier featured in the film’s predecessor. After being introduced to 20-year-old Abebe, whose aliyah as a younger person was fraught with a number of singular tribulations, viewers travel with him through his at times conflicted but ultimately triumphant return to Ethiopia.

“Many people don’t know that a lot of Ethiopian Jews are coming to Israel,” Shapiro, who has been with his modern Orthodox congregation for the past seven years, said.

“They are told these nasty things about Israel, and the truth is the opposite,” he continued. “It’s very liberal, open to people of different sexual orientations, religions and races. This is just one example of such a story, that of a young man who left everything he knew and made it to this new country. You can’t say everything is perfect in Israel, but if you look at the society as a whole, there is an embracing of various cultures. And this film talks about that.”

Having shown “Helmet” last year, Shapiro said he trusted the judgment of Abramson’s wife, Nechama, who suggested she bring “Mekonen” with her for 2016’s Selichot. As the marketing director for Jerusalem U, the Manhattan-born Nechama (who has lived with her native husband Abramson in Israel since 2005) said her company’s goal is to inspire young Jews.

“We want to instill in them Jewish pride and a love for  Israel,” she added. “We understand that the best way to do that is by telling personal stories, harnessing the power of film to show people who are just like them: young people interested in the same things they are, who have the same value systems.”

Although Shapiro doesn’t necessarily see a direct connection between “Mekonen” and the High Holy Days per se, Nechama respectfully disagrees, illuminating that, as with that of Israel’s and the Jewish community’s overall, Abebe’s is not a simple tale.

“The film shows how he woke up every morning to make his day better; it shows the people who helped him go to high school and become part of the army,” Nechama said.

“There’s a terrific connection to the Holy Days in their same central message: remembering that we should all try, no matter what challenges come our way, to make a difference and that every day we can  decide to be better people, to better our community.”

MMAE Brotherhood’s outgoing president Vito Simone, who has been a member of the congregation for seven years and still  assists with promoting events  there, noted that Abebe’s story  “connects with the experiences of our shul.”

Simone pointed out that MMAE has, for example, raised money to send winter fleeces and hats to soldiers in Israel. A number of MMAE members were themselves IDF soldiers, one member has a daughter who just finished her service, and Simone has a son who was an IDF paratrooper for three years.

He referred to his as “a very active, social shul. Very down to earth and easy for people to blend in and participate.”

MMAE’s rather “warm and haimish” informal sensibility, as Simone puts it, is one reason for their bringing in Abramson as Selichot cantor for the past five years.

Simone praised Abramson’s “unique voice, which carries a special meaning for all of our congregants. There was an  instant connection as soon as everyone met him. I don’t know how to explain it. Even though they may be half a world away, his wife and he are very connected to our shul.”

Shapiro revealed that while going through audition tapes of potential cantors, he was immediately struck by Abramson’s “spectacular” voice.

“It’s not a pure, traditional cantorial voice,” Shapiro clarified. “[Abramson] blends the traditional cantor’s voice with a ‘pop-Israeli’ sound. He plays guitar, he sings from the soul. He gets everyone singing together.”

Simone too is delighted by Abramson’s modern melding of traditional Jewish music, davening and prayers with Beatles songs and other pop favorites.

“This helps bridge the gap between older congregants and younger ones,” Simone said. “It always makes for a very welcoming service.”

Selichot and the screening of “Mekonen: The Journey of an African Jew” take place the evening of Saturday, Sept. 24, starting at 9, with services led by Cantor Shlomo Abramson starting at 10:30, at MMAE, 7000 Rockland Hills Drive, Baltimore. Light refreshments to follow.  For more information, visit mmae.org/events.html.

mklickstein@midatlanticmedia.com

Gordon Center Season Features Collaborations, Programs for All

Cris Jacobs (provided)

Cris Jacobs (provided)

A world-class venue calls for a world-class lineup, and the 2016-17 season at the Gordon Center for Performing Arts does not disappoint.

This season’s mix of dance, music, spoken word, film and family programming from local, regional, national and  international performers means there’s something for everyone at the Owings Mills venue.

“We’re continuing to listen to our audience to hear what they want to see, [and we’re] bringing back some of our  favorites,” said Randi Benesch, senior managing director of arts and culture at the JCC. “As a true community center, we’re trying to find something for all ages and all interests.”

In live music offerings, the Gordon hosts the second year of chamber music series chamber encounters, with two shows in the Gordon Center with  audience members sitting on stage with the artists and two shows in the intimate Performa. The first concert is on Sept. 20.

Opera singer Carolyn Black-Sotir returns to the Gordon on Oct. 30 to perform “Richard Rodgers and His Sounds  of Music” with American Music Theater Artists, Concert Artists of Baltimore and the Greenspring Valley Orchestra.

Baltimore native guitarist and singer Cris Jacobs holds a CD release party for his forthcoming album, “Dust to Gold,” on Nov. 5. The Cris Jacobs Band will perform along with Amy Helm & The Handsome Strangers.

“I love the room, and I’ve  always wanted to play there. I just wanted it to be the right show, and 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 loud, rowdy bar. People can really take in the songs and digest [them]. For this particular show, I want something with a little more intimate feeling.”

He also expects there to be some sit-ins with Helm, as the two struck up a friendship on the Jam Cruise Festival, and the artists will be performing in Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C., the previous two nights.

The Gordon’s annual Martin Luther King Jr. celebration on Jan. 15 features the first collaborative performance between the Maccabeats and Naturally 7, whose music video of James Taylor’s “Shed A Little Light” went viral. Each group will perform a set and then perform the Taylor song together for the first time.

“It will be a really powerful, spiritual, cross-cultural celebration of freedom,” Benesch said.

This season also features the first “Steppin’ at the Junction,” a new collaboration between old-time band Charm City Junction and the Footworks Percussive Dance Ensemble.

In the family-friendly realm of music, The Mama Doni Band performs a “Chanukah Fever” concert on Dec. 25, the first day of Chanukah.

“We’ll get everybody up and dancing, it’ll be a lot of fun,” Doni Zasloff aka Mama Doni said. “For me, [Chanukah] is just about miracles really. … Life is filled with miracles, and sometimes the smallest moments in life can really be the big miracles. Miracles really come in all shapes and sizes.”

Zasloff, who grew up in Rockville, Md., and Eric Lindberg, her husband and musical partner, perform the night before with their Jewish bluegrass band Nefesh Mountain.

“We sort of accidentally started writing Jewish prayers and songs in a bluegrass style,” Zasloff said on the formation of that project.

Other family events include magician The Amazing Max and children’s music superstar Mister G.

For moms, the Gordon Center partnered with The Ivy Bookshop for Mom’s Night Out with author Nicole Feliciano, who will be premiering her new book “Mom Boss: Balancing Entrepreneurship, Kids & Success.” Feliciano will be joined by four other moms who are authors, bloggers and entrepreneurs.

Another new event for the venue is Israel Story LIVE! on Nov. 7. The evening, which Ira Glass calls “the Israeli ‘This American Life,’” uses a blend of live storytelling and mixed media to tell stories of Israelis from all over the country.

February, dance month, features Philadanco, a Philadelphia-based company that blends African-American, ballet, jazz and modern dance.  In  addition to the group’s performance on Feb. 25, performers will be part of a weeklong residency in which they’ll teach more than 500 students in  activities at Towson University and in Baltimore County Public Schools.

The month also features the Baltimore Dance Invitational, in which 10 area companies are selected to perform one original piece.

The season also marks the 29th annual Jewish Film Festival. In addition to the 10 film screenings at the Gordon Center,  Benesch said the organization is working with other regional venues to expand the festival’s reach beyond the Owings Mills venue.

“We’re excited to get it out in the community and expose people to Jewish and Israeli films throughout the city,” she said.

Off stage, the Gordon Center and the JCC offer a wide range of visual arts and performing arts education. A new children’s choir is forming as well.

Nina Rosenzwog, co-chair of the JCC Arts and Culture Council, said she thinks the Gordon Center has the right combination of professionals and lay leaders as well as community input, which has allowed them to put together such a noteworthy season.

“We feel we’ve gotten the word out to new and different people in the community, and we’re going to continue along that path,” she said. “It’s important to me to have people in the community feel that they can make a difference and be involved, and there’s room at the table for everybody. We’re there.”

mshapiro@midatlanticmedia.com

Children’s Author Expands Beyond Jewish Focus

Bracha Goetz’s newest book, “I Want To Be Famous,” is a young boy’s story of self-discovery. (Daniel Nozick)

Bracha Goetz’s newest book, “I Want To Be Famous,” is a young boy’s story of self-discovery. (Daniel Nozick)

Bracha Goetz, a local author of more than 30 children’s books, many Jewish-themed, is best known for her ability to simplify profound ideas in order to help children achieve better understanding.

Originally, Goetz wrote her books without explicitly Jewish themes but added them when Judaica Press decided to publish her work. This month will see the publication of Goetz’s first children’s book that is not explicitly Jewish.

Entitled “I Want To Be  Famous,” the book tells the story of a boy who becomes famous overnight. When his fame dies just as quickly as it began, he realizes that he does not need to be famous to feel good about himself, because being himself is more important. According to Goetz, her inspiration for the book comes from a quote by the motivational speaker Wayne Dyer: “Success is an inside job. The goal is not to be famous, but to fulfill one’s God-given potential.”

The book was also influenced by another quote: “It is so hard to break a habit that when we do, it’s the loudest sound in the universe.” When this child breaks his habit of wanting so badly to be famous, it influences him and his life dramatically. The idea behind the quote is that habits are very difficult to break and that  working hard to change oneself is a profound experience.

In addition to publishing “I Want To Be Famous,” the publishing house is also reprinting seven of Goetz’s older books in their original form, addressing a more general audience as opposed to being directed at the Jewish community. One such reprint will be of “Hashem’s Candy Shop,” retitled “God’s Candy Shop.” The book  addresses the importance of eating healthy.

Another of her books that will be reprinted is “The Happiness Box,” one of her first “classic” books. It is about a grouchy child whose father, rather than putting him in a timeout, decided to put his child in a cardboard box in which “all you can do is think happy thoughts.” As a result of the child’s reflections inside of the box, he becomes a happier person for being thankful for things and eventually realizes that he does not need the box itself to find happiness.

“I love ‘The Happiness Box’ because it reminds me of making a refrigerator box into a playhouse as a kid,” shared Jeanie Loiacono, Goetz’s literary agent. “It is about letting kids get away from electronics and use things they can recycle and be creative.”

Goetz has been writing since she was very young, when she started writing rhymes and poetry. However, her true entrance to the world of writing came when she won a junior writing contest with her submission to McCall’s magazine at 12 years old.

author2Surprisingly, Goetz was not always on the career path that she is today. In spite of having been involved in writing throughout her life, having worked for her high school newspaper as well, Goetz earned her degrees from Harvard University in psychology and social relations. She even  attended medical school for a year but did not return, as she spent a summer interning in Israel and wound up staying for 11 years. In this time, she got married, had children  and even helped to found a settlement in the Judean Hills.

It was in the Judean Hills that Goetz first found her  inspiration to write children’s books. She would sit outside on a bench and write while her young children played on the playground. “I was astounded when I received a letter from a publisher telling me that my book was accepted,” Goetz  recalled. “The diary of Anne Frank influenced me a lot as a kid. But Dr. Seuss was my biggest influence. My favorite books are children’s books.” She has never been keen on reading big novels, preferring to both read and write “deep and profound ideas with as  simple and few words as possible.”

Judaica Press has published a majority of Goetz’s children’s books that have Jewish themes. Nachum Shapiro, the organization’s managing editor, said “something just clicked. She is very easy to work with,  flexible, creative, and she has a fun sense of working with kids, just good insight into children’s minds.”

Goetz’s first published children’s book was entitled, “The Itchy Shabbos.” She was inspired after being beset by mosquitoes — according to Jewish law, even killing mosquitoes on Shabbat is considered work and is forbidden as a result. The book uses the analogy of resisting the urge to kill mosquitoes on Shabbat to teach children about willpower and having the strength necessary to restrain oneself.

She is also heavily involved in writing breakthrough books about difficult topics — she gets commissioned to write them because that is how people know her best. For example, she wrote two children’s books about safety and sexual-abuse prevention. Another book  addresses what a child can do when someone close has passed away and about how to maintain that relationship with the deceased.

“Books about getting kids to interact with parents and do creative things are important,” said Loiacono. “Kids learn by example. Bracha has a wonderful attitude toward learning, teaching and getting kids’ hands dirty; it is fantastic.”

dnozick@midatlanticmedia.com

It’s the Big Hello, Goodbye for Summer Eats

Late summer is truly the best time for produce. Those heirloom tomatoes are plentiful, corn is the sweetest, and all other fruits and vegetables give us their best, as they say goodbye until next year. As Elvis once sang, “It’s Now or Never” — to enjoy the best of Baltimore’s local crops. Unfortunately, all of our best locals are late this year. Blame the weather: a long warm spring; too much rain; not enough rain … whatever. I now have a new respect for farmers who must rely on the weather to keep their crops pristine. But better late than never!

This summer, I learned a lot about roasted chilies and peppers. Fresh chilies and bell peppers can be roasted over a gas flame or on a baking tray under the broiler. The secret is to keep turning them until they are evenly and completely charred. Then place the hot cooked peppers in a plastic bag and close tightly for 15 to 20 minutes. Peel them, scraping off the black char, cutting stems, seeds and veins. The veins are the spiciest part of the peppers. Never rinse them under running water. I wipe with a wet paper towel.

I also bought a cast-iron skillet and use it more and more, in and out of the oven. Although heavy to handle, cast iron makes browning meat, chicken and fish taste crusty and delicious.

My friend, Elaine Lowen, is famous for her delicious lemon squares. The recipe I’ve included is from the book “Cook, Pray, Eat Kosher,” which is exactly how Elaine lives her life.

This may just be the right time for a  delicious pot-luck picnic, as many students are also saying goodbye to summer and hello to school. Here are some suggestions for a successful farewell to summer.


Lemon Squares (©istockphoto.com/enushkab)

Lemon Squares (©istockphoto.com/enushkab)

Luscious Lemon Squares
(Pareve)

Crust:
¼ cup unsalted margarine
⅓ cup powdered sugar
1½ cups flour
Filling:
3 eggs
1½ cups sugar
3 tablespoons flour
⅓ cup lemon juice
Garnish:
lemon zest

> Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9-by-13-inch glass baking dish.
Cream margarine, powdered sugar and flour in mixer and press into glass dish. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes. Filling: Beat eggs until fluffy. Slowly add sugar flour and lemon juice. Pour onto crust and bake for 20 to 25 minutes. Cool and refrigerate to congeal. Before slicing to serve, sprinkle top with sifted powdered sugar and garnish with lemon zest. Freezes very well. 15 to 20 squares.

Grilled Corn and Poblano Salad with Chipotle Vinaigrette
(Pareve)

3 ears of corn, roasted or cooked on a grill to brown kernels
1 fresh poblano chili pepper
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 fresh limes, juiced
1 chipotle pepper in adobo sauce, chopped*
½ teaspoon salt
1 ripe, firm avocado, pitted and cut into chunks
½ cup fresh chopped parsley or cilantro
½ cup red onion, thin half slices

> Cut kernels from corn and place in a large bowl. Cook poblano pepper until the skin blackens all around. Place in a plastic bag to steam. Peel and seed the poblano, cutting into half-inch pieces. I rinse the poblano and pat dry after removing skin and seeds, or not if you like a lot of spice. Add to the corn. In a smaller bowl, whisk the olive oil, lime juice, chipotle pepper and salt together, and pour over the corn mixture. Add avocado, parsley and red onion, and toss gently to coat. 4 servings.

Roasted Chicken (©istockphoto.com/zhekos)

Roasted Chicken (©istockphoto.com/zhekos)

Roasted Chicken Thighs with  Late-Summer Veggies and Pan Sauce
(Meat)

6 skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs (2½ to 3 pounds)
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
½ pound green bean, stems removed (I like the French ones) (2 cups)
10 ounces grape tomatoes (I use assorted colors)
½ large red or sweet onion, cut into half-inch thick slices
½ cup pitted Nicoise or Kalamata olives
2 large garlic cloves, peeled and sliced about 1/8-inch thick
¼ cup dry white wine
1 teaspoon pareve margarine, optional
½ cup loosely packed basil leaves, sliced into half-inch strips

> Generously season the chicken on both sides with salt and pepper. Position 2 racks near the center of the oven and heat oven to 425 degrees. Heat a heavy (cast-iron) oven-proof skillet over medium-high heat on stove. Pour 1 tablespoon of the oil into the hot skillet and swirl to coat. Arrange the chicken skin side down in the pan and cook until skin is golden brown, about 7 minutes. Turn chicken over. If a lot of fat has accumulated, spoon it off and discard. While chicken browns, toss the beans, tomatoes, onion, olives and garlic in a large bowl with the  remaining oil. Season with ¼ teaspoon salt and several grinds of pepper. Spread the vegetables on a rimmed baking sheet. Place the skillet and chicken and the vegetable pan in the oven, with chicken on the higher rack. Roast the chicken until a thermometer in the center of a thigh registers 170 degrees, about 18 to 20 minutes. Continue to roast vegetables until very soft and beginning to brown, maybe another 8 to 12 minutes. Transfer the chicken to a plate, discarding as much juice as possible. Place chicken back into skillet. Set over high heat, add the wine, and boil until reduced to about a quarter-cup sauce, 4 to 6 minutes. Swirl in the margarine, if using (I do). It should be syrupy.  Remove the vegetables from the oven and toss with the basil. Place vegetables on a serving plate or individual plates, and arrange the chicken thighs on the vegetables. Drizzle with the pan sauce. Serve immediately. 4 servings.


Tips & Tricks
• Make edible salad bowls! Take shredded parmesan cheese and spread all over one hot small to medium nonstick pan. When light brown, turn over on a bowl and shape it for a salad bowl. Pack separately for a picnic or travel. Be careful. They are fragile.
• When a recipe calls for “grilled corn” kernels, I often use Trader Joe’s frozen roasted corn. Defrost, pat dry, and it works great.
• For a great sandwich (or challah) spread, finely mash two ripe avocados. Mix in a little lemon or lime juice and salt and pepper to taste. For more spice, add some powdered ranch dressing mix.

Ilene Spector is a local freelance writer.

 

Gene Wilder ‘One of the Truly Great Talents of Our Time’

Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka (Photo by Silver Screen Collection/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka (Photo by Silver Screen Collection/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Gene Wilder, whose likeness became synonymous with the energetic and mysterious chocolatier Willy Wonka, died on Monday in his Stamford, Conn., home of complications from Alzheimer’s disease, according to a widely reported statement from Wilder’s nephew, Jordan Walker-Pearlman. He was 83.

Beyond the movie adaptation of Roald Dahl’s novel “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” Wilder captured audiences with his leading roles in “The Producers,” “Blazing Saddles” and “Young Frankenstein,” all of which he collaborated with fellow legendary Jewish actor and director Mel Brooks.

Brooks tweeted Monday afternoon saying: “Gene Wilder [was] one of the truly great talents of our time. He blessed every film we did with his magic, and he blessed me with his friendship.”

Alyson Bonavoglia, director of the Baltimore Jewish Film Festival and special projects at the Gordon Center for Performing Arts, said Wilder had a unprecedented knack for conveying sadness through comedy. His role as the title character in the classic film “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory,” Bonavoglia said, was perhaps one of Wilder’s most defining character studies.

“He had a real talent for playing a childlike role while being an adult because he came through in a way that children and adults alike could relate to his work,” Bonavoglia said. “He made neurotic acting funny,  absurdly funny for that matter, because of how he conveyed himself.”

Ilya Tovbis, director of the Washington Jewish Film Festival, said Wilder’s work with Brooks “grandly changed the complexion of American comedy and cinema.” With his corky look, subtle humor in everyday situations and wide range of roles, Wilder’s accomplishments are comparable to few others in his field.

“From a Jewish perspective, they integrated Jewish humor, values and cultures into mainstream American culture in a way that is only on par with someone like Woody Allen,” he added.

I’m going to tell you what religion is. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Period. Terminato. Finito. — Gene Wilder

“Young Frankenstein,” which won the pair an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay, moved past the two-dimensional physical comedy that was prevalent at the time to something more complex and multilayered, Tovbis said.

“Wilder always had an outsider’s perspective,” he said, referencing the actor’s time at Black Foxe Military Institute in Hollywood, where, by Wilder’s account, he was the only Jewish boy and was  bullied incessantly. “A lot of his comedy  [incorporates] that lack of ability to fit in.”

Asked about his personal favorite Wilder movie, Tovbis didn’t hesitate.

“’Young Frankenstein,’” he said. “What he did with that movie holds up today. Something like ‘Blazing Saddles,’ which I found laugh-out-loud funny at the time, hasn’t aged as well. I’ve seen ‘Young Frankenstein’ 10 or 15 times and continue get find great laughs from it.”

Gene Wilder starred with Cleavon Little in the 1974 comedy "Blazing Saddles." (Warner Bros./Courtesy of Getty Images)

Gene Wilder starred with Cleavon Little in the 1974 comedy “Blazing Saddles.” (Warner Bros./Courtesy of Getty Images)

Jerome Silberman, who took up the stage name Gene Wilder, was born on June 11, 1933, in Milwaukee, Wis., and was the son of Jeanne Baer and William J. Silberman, a Russian Jewish immigrant. He is survived by his fourth wife Karen Webb and his nephew.

Wilder was married four times, including to Jewish comedian Gilda Radner in 1984. Radner died of ovarian cancer in 1989.

Following her death, Wilder became active in promoting cancer awareness and research, co-founding “Gilda’s Club,” a nonprofit organization providing support to those affected by cancer.

In 1991, he married Karen Webb, a speech therapist who survives him.

Wilder’s family kept his diagnosis of Alzheimer’s out of the public eye for much of his later life, but the statement from Walker-Pearlman revealed Wilder’s deeply personal reasoning behind the  decision, following his passing.

“The decision to wait until this time to disclose his condition wasn’t vanity, but more so that the countless young children who would smile or call out to him ‘There’s Willy Wonka’ would not have to be then exposed to an adult referencing illness or trouble and causing delight  to travel to worry, disappointment or confusion. He simply couldn’t bear the idea of one less smile in the world,” Walker-Pearlman said, as reported by Variety.

Abigail Pogrebin, who authored a book about prominent Jews discussing their Jewish heritage, interviewed Wilder about his religious views.

“I’m going to tell you what my religion is. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Period. Terminato. Finito,” Pogrebin wrote of the interview in Tablet magazine. “I have no other religion. I feel very Jewish and I feel very grateful  to be Jewish. But I don’t believe in God or anything to do with the Jewish religion.”

Justin Silberman contributed to the report.

jkatz@midatlanticmedia.com

Meet the Orthodox ‘American Ninja Warrior’ Training To Be a Rabbi

Akiva Neuman, an Orthodox Jew who is studying to be a rabbi, competes in the Philadelphia qualifying round of “American Ninja Warrior.” (Ninja Warrior: Mitchell Leff/NBC; Family: Emuni Z.)

Akiva Neuman, an Orthodox Jew who is studying to be a rabbi, competes in the Philadelphia qualifying round of “American Ninja Warrior.” (Ninja Warrior: Mitchell Leff/NBC; Family: Emuni Z.)

Like his fellow competitors on “American Ninja Warrior,” 25-year-old Akiva Neuman pushed himself to his physical limits — climbing, jumping and running through an intense obstacle course — in the hopes of making it to the national finals in Las Vegas.

But unlike the dozens of athletes who competed with him at the Philadelphia qualifiers, which aired last month on NBC, Neuman prepared by saying the Shema. He also wore tzitzit and a kippah throughout the competition.

Dubbed #ninjarabbi for the occasion, Neuman is an Orthodox Jew and rabbinical student at Yeshiva University. He  will finish his smicha while he starts  a full-time job at Deloitte in the fall —  yes, in addition to “Ninja” training and studying to be a rabbi, Neuman is also pursuing a master’s degree in taxation at St. John’s University.

Neuman, who lives in New York, did not make it to the next round in Las Vegas.  Still, read on for six interesting facts about the “ninja rabbi.”

 

It’s competitive and athletic, but  it’s not cutthroat, and there’s a certain level of camaraderie required.” — Akiva Neuman

• He found out about the show while at the gym: Neuman was working out at the gym with a friend when he saw “American Ninja Warrior” for the first time. (The show, which was based on a Japanese competition, is now in its eighth season in the U.S. and has something of a cult  following. In fact, The Wall Street Journal recently asked “Is ‘American Ninja  Warrior’ the Future of Sports?”)

“It had my name written all over it — it’s competitive and athletic, but it’s not cutthroat, and there’s a certain level of  camaraderie required,” Neuman says. (The coaches, contestants and viewers cheer each other on.)

“I thought, what’s the worst that happens? I get rejected? So what?”

Neuman also figured that being an  Orthodox Jew could be his hook. He submitted a video that showed him sitting with an open Talmud surrounded by religious books; it also shows him rock climbing and running.

“I love ‘American Ninja Warrior,’” he says in his video. “But I also do this stuff because if I didn’t I’d be on shpilkes!”

Akiva Neuman with his wife, Chani, and son Yaakov Shmuel.

Akiva Neuman with his wife, Chani, and son Yaakov Shmuel.

• But most of his working out is done at home: Neuman says he’s always been athletic and competitive; he was the captain of the soccer and hockey teams at his yeshiva high school, where he also played basketball. But considering that he’s studying for his master’s and rabbinical ordination — and he has a young child at home — his workouts usually have to be done early in the morning or at night.

“I’m probably only working out four or five hours a week, but to build muscle it’s all about consistency, even if you’re just doing a little at a time,” he says.

In Neuman’s must-watch submission video, he’s seen at home making impressive use of a pull-up bar and doing pushups while his 6-month-old son, Yaakov Shmuel (aka Koby), reclines on an activity mat.

And he really does that stuff, he tells us.

“Just 10 minutes a day of physical activity can change your attitude, your health, and it gives you more energy,” he says.

• He’s also a synagogue youth director — with an athletic streak: “I have my days, nights and weekends covered,” says Neuman, who, in addition to studying, works as the youth director at the Young Israel of Holliswood in a suburban Queens neighborhood.

He’s known for getting the kids active.

“We usually start with a game, so the kids can connect, and then we go from there,” moving on to prayer or studying texts, Neuman says.

On Yom Ha’atzmaut he organized an Israeli army-style boot camp for the kids.

“He is always combining physical activity with Torah in ways that motivate and inspire the kids,” says Ronit Farber, a member of the synagogue.

“The first time we met Akiva, we had him and his wife for dinner,” says Rachel Klein, another Young Israel congregant who was one of several community members who traveled to Philadelphia to cheer on Neuman with posters that said “Team Akiva” as well as “American Ninja Warrior” in Hebrew letters. “After dinner, his wife had to drag him home because he was busy playing soccer with our kids all over our house.”

Neuman is also a star performer in the annual Purim shpiel, adds Klein, “dazzling the audience every year with his dance moves, flips, tricks and splits.”

• He takes the fact that he’s representing Jews seriously: “I know that the general feeling is that Orthodox Jews aren’t fit — especially not rabbis. And I wanted to show that that’s not always the case,” Neuman says.

But he knows that by wearing religious garb while filming — it was his idea, and the show was fine with it — he instantly becomes a national symbol of observant Jews.

“I bear it with great responsibility, and I’m also really nervous about it,” he says.

That’s part of the reason Neuman said the Shema right before he started the course.

“I wanted one more experience to be closer to God and was thinking, ‘You have to help me through this, because I’m not just doing it myself,’” he says.

• He sees physical fitness as a matter of Jewish principle: “We’re the people of the book, and that’s our focus. My intellectual growth — both in terms of my Torah learning and secular learning — is the focus for me, too. But we also need to take care of ourselves physically,” Neuman says.

“There’s a commandment that says we have to guard our souls, and the Rambam [Maimonides] elaborates that we’re also commanded to take care of our bodies. We’re scoring points by exercising and fulfilling what God wants of us.”

• Athleticism runs in the family — hopefully: Neuman and his wife, Chani, grew up near each other in Highland Park, N.J. She’s sporty too.

“When we were dating, we used to go to Dave and Buster’s a lot,” he says. “She always beat me in basketball.

“We keep joking that next year it’ll be the rebbetzin’s turn,” he adds.

And the two are banking on the fact that their athleticism will carry on to the next generation.

“We’re waiting for him to crawl first, but as soon as that happens, we’ll have a soccer ball at his feet,” he says of Koby. “We’re actually hoping he runs before he walks.”

The Holocaust’s Youngest Survivors

Holocaust survivors (from left) Eva Clarke, Mark Olsky and Hana Berger Moran were on hand during the annual Days of Remembrance ceremony held in the U.S. Capitol on May 5. (Photo by Daniel Schere)

Holocaust survivors (from left) Eva Clarke, Mark Olsky and Hana Berger Moran were on hand during the annual Days of Remembrance ceremony held in the U.S. Capitol on May 5. (Photo by Daniel Schere)

Hana Berger Moran, Mark Olsky and Eva Clarke, all 71, have more in common than just their age. They were all born in or on their way to Nazi concentration camps, making them among the youngest survivors of the Holocaust. The three are also subjects of the book “Born Survivors,” by British writer Wendy Holden.

They attended the annual Days of Remembrance event in the U.S. Capitol on May 5, and all say they discovered the circumstances of their births at young ages, but did not understand the horrors of the Holocaust until later. Clarke said her mother told her the story in “tiny snippets.”

“I came home from school and I found a brown suede shopping bag on the back of the kitchen door, and it had the letters AN,” Clarke said. “My mother’s name was Anka.” But Clarke’s father’s name didn’t begin with N.

“And she sort of took a deep breath, and she said, ‘You’ve heard about the war. … You had two daddies. One daddy was killed in the war and now you have another daddy.’ That’s all she said.”

Clarke’s biological father was a German who fled the country in 1933 to escape persecution by the Nazis. He met Clarke’s mother in Prague and the two married in 1940 and were sent to the Theresienstadt concentration camp a year later.

“When the Nazis discovered that my mother was pregnant, they made my parents sign a document that said when the baby was born, he or she would have to be handed over and killed,” Clarke said. “Except they didn’t use the word ‘kill.’ They used the word ‘euthanasia.’”

Her brother George was born in Theresienstadt in 1944, the same year Clarke’s family was transferred to Auschwitz-Birkenau. George died of pneumonia at age two months.

“His death meant my life and my mother’s,” she said. “Because had my mother arrived in the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp with my brother in her arms, she would have been sent straight to the gas chamber.”

Clarke was born in April 1945, the same month Auschwitz was liberated. Clarke said her mother weighed as little as 70 pounds when she gave birth.

“She had a very optimistic nature, and despite seeing all the death around her she always thought she’d survive,” she said.

For Olsky’s mother, it was a different story of survival.

“My mother said that about a month before I was born, she found a rotting head of cabbage, and it had things crawling on it, and it smelled awful,” he said. “She said it was the best thing she ever tasted, and she was sure that was part of why she was able to survive. She said one of the German guards saw her pick up the cabbage. Normally she would have been beaten or killed for it. This guard turned out to be kinder than most and stood there and watched her eat it and didn’t say anything.”

Olsky was born on April 20, 1945, in a cattle car on a train that was making a 17-day journey from Freiberg, Germany, to the Mauthausen concentration camp. The Americans liberated the camp on May 5, just as mother and son arrived. Olsky spent his childhood in Germany and Israel.

Now a doctor in Madison, Wisc., Olsky met Clarke and Moran six years ago during the 65th anniversary of the Mauthausen liberation.

Moran, who was born in a forced labor factory in Freiberg, said her mother told her about her birth when she was 8, but did not make a big deal of it.

“My mother explained to me that her parents, her sister and other relatives were killed in the concentration camp, as well as my father, because they were Jewish, and I replied that I want to be Jewish, too,” she said. “Her way of life was not to dwell too much on the horrors and the sadness, but to be very positive. So anything she said was, ‘We’re here, we survived and life is for the living.’”

Author Holden attended the Days of Remembrance event as part of a book tour. She said her project began a few years ago when she learned that a woman in Canada who had had a baby and survived Auschwitz, had died.

“I thought, gosh, I wonder if any babies ever survived the Holocaust,” she said. “And I did a search, and then Eva’s name came up, and by luck she lived an hour from me, so I went and spent a day with her. And at the end of the day, I asked if she would do me the very great honor of writing her great story.”

When the two met, Clarke touched Holden on the shoulder and said she had been waiting for her for 70 years. Clarke then told the writer about Olsky and Moran.

“Once I realized how close they’d become, I knew I’d have to encompass all three,” Holden said. “You can’t identify with 6 million, but you can identify with three young mothers.”

dschere@midatlanticmedia.com