Transcending The Music

(Erica Hamilton, Erica Abbey Photography)

Jonathan Leshnoff (Erica Hamilton, Erica Abbey Photography)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

zohar_12-09-16_credit-rob-phipps-atlanta-symphony-orchestra

(Atlanta Symphony Orchestra)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

mklickstein@midatlanticmedia.com

Israeli Cuisine on the Screen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

dnozick@midatlanticmedia.com

Spin a Gimel with These Great Gifts for Kids

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Holiday Sweaters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hanukkah Nail Decals are $11.99 at MidrashManicures.com.

Sweet Tooth

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

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

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

Check out DylansCandyBar.com to order.

mad-libsJoke Books

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

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

You can purchase the book on Amazon.com.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Great Buys for the Jewish Music Lover in Your Life

cohenLeonard Cohen, “You Want It Darker”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

drakeDrake, “More Life”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lighting the Way at Baltimore’s ‘Disney Live!’

(Courtesy of Feld Entertainment)

(Courtesy of Feld Entertainment)

As families arrive at the Modell Performing Arts Center at The Lyric for “Disney Live! Mickey and Minnie’s Doorway to Magic” on Dec. 9 and 10, few will think of the enormous time and effort that goes into creating such an interactive show. A number of elements must come together cohesively to create a finished product that keeps the crowd in suspense and engages families to join in the adventure.

“It really is a magic show; there are several illusions that go on,” said Taylor Knight, who serves as an electrician for the production. Knight has been working with Disney as a lighting specialist on tour for nearly two years.

Knight, who attended Hebrew school and was bat mitzvahed in her hometown of Dallas, first got involved with theater in high school as a scenic artist.

“Lighting is just scenic art with a different medium,” she said. After receiving her degree in theatrical design and production with emphasis on lighting from Oklahoma City University, Knight lived in Israel for a year doing production.

As a part of an internship program, she learned more about Judaism and served as the assistant stage manager for a production of “Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat” that traveled around to different cities in Israel.

“‘Doorway to Magic’ is all about the audience experience,” Knight explained. “It is very interactive, the way that we have lights going, especially when Tinkerbell is teaching the magic words at the start of the show. Tinkerbell comes on and teaches a magic word. The audience will have to shout that word as a part of the show to help characters ask questions and overcome obstacles.”

Knight’s role in the production is to help set the mood for specific scenes with lighting and focus the audience on particular elements of what is happening onstage.

“I typically get to the production seven or eight hours before the first show,” she explained. “It is just the crew; the performers don’t come in until two or three hours before the first show starts. We generally do two or three performances a day. I help unload trucks, I put together lights, props, carpentry and wardrobe — every one works together to get the production ready. After the show, we also have to disassemble the stage.”

According to Knight, setup typically takes seven hours, and tearing the set down takes three hours.

During the show, Knight serves as a programmer for the lighting and sits in the middle of the audience at the lighting console.

“I have general looks for each of the scenes as far as lighting,” she said. “They are different for each scene. For example, it is much brighter lighting for Cinderella and much darker for the evil queen. It just depends on the tone of the scene. I direct each of the moving lights to the point of focus for the scene. There are two on-deck electricians who are on stage that I coordinate with via radio to do things such as fix a broken light or cue a fog machine.”

Knight manages about 50 lights per show.

While the production can keep her out on the road for weeks at a time, seeing the enthusiasm of the audiences makes the time away from home worth it.

“I love seeing the audience members dressed up,” said Knight. “Parents will dress up with their kids, spouses will dress up as Minnie and Mickey. It’s just so touching to be able to see that. It’s very active and high energy. Parents and kids alike come up to me after the shows and say how much they loved it. There really is something for everyone.”

dnozick@midatlanticmedia.com

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