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

Poetry Place

Sunday is Mother’s Day, a day for giving flowers and cards, a day for spending time with family. But for those whose mothers have passed away, Mother’s Day can be filled with grief and reflection.

“I’m not normally a poet, but after my mother died, I looked for ways to express my grief,” said Roslyn Zinner, a local therapist and artist.

mom mosaic2high res

Mosaic of Betty Jane Ehudin by Roslyn Zinner

In 2011, when her mother, Betty Jane Ehudin, was in her late 80s, Zinner created a colorful mosaic to depict her mother. But after Ehudin passed away in 2012, Zinner wanted to speak about her mom through words rather than through stone and tile.

While Zinner regularly writes lighthearted verse, it was not until three months after her mother passed away that she wrote “Endurance,” her first serious poem. “I decided to put down on paper what she had been through,” Zinner said, reflecting on the first stanzas of her poem. “I wish her last years had not been so difficult.”

After adding more stanzas about her mother’s younger years, Zinner felt that her poem offered the reader a true and thoughtful picture of her mother.

“I try to keep her alive by [thinking] about what she would say and how she would react to things that are happening,” she said. Three years later, “I think of her a little bit every day.”

Zinner advises others to creatively express their thoughts about their own mothers.

“Don’t worry about whether you have talent,” she said. “It doesn’t matter. The  important thing is to express yourself.”

Zinner suggests that adult children “keep the memory alive anyway you can, by talking about [your mother], writing, sharing stories and doing something that would make your mother proud.”

Endurance By Roslyn Zinner

 In memory of my beloved mother, Betty Jane Ehudin, Nov. 26, 1924
to Aug. 30, 2012

Soaked, softened, and shucked,
padded and shimmed,
battle weary from skirmishes with orthotics
My mother’s feet.
Pried opened and unclogged,
stented, cauterized, catheterized
bypassed
My mother’s arteries.

Scanned, monitored, measured, calibrated,
decongested
coaxed into playing nicely with the lungs,
My mother’s heart.

Tested and retested,
needled into tubes.
pressure treated
Thinned and thickened and thinned again.
Life sustaining and dangerous
My mother’s blood.
Incised and gutted of disease
The rosy remainder bullied into
working with the heart.
her breath medicated,
nebulized, and oxygenated.
My mother’s lungs.

Long before she endured
the declines of her body

She was
a young Jewish girl named Betty
growing up in a
poor, secular, loving family.
She was
a New Yorker, a little sister,  an A student.

Wartime.
A father with heart disease.
The family moved to Miami
where she met
a handsome soldier on the beach.
They wedded in the rabbi’s study
moved to Baltimore and
planted their sapling marriage where
she was embraced
by his Yiddishe momma and papa.

Always first to each other
Dad birthed and nurtured
an ad business.
she birthed and nurtured
three daughters.
My mother, the family’s nerve center.

An early Federal Hill homesteader
shop owner, real estate agent,
world traveler to
China, England, Switzerland,
and many islands
My mother’s adventures.

After nearly 50 years together
When Dad died
she felt like
half the tree of her life was
lopped off.

But small, new buds sprouted.
At nearly 80 years
she moved,
painted her walls lavender
worked a little job for extra cash
and enjoyed cocktails
with new friends.
My mother’s resilience.

She spoiled us with her apple cake,
crispy outside
moist inside
But in her mirror
the traditional bubbie never  appeared.
Cooking, said my mother
is so overrated.
While her peers avoided email
she tracked her funds in Quicken
shopped online and
wore bright batik jackets.
My mother’s modern spirit.

Bruised by chronic disease
like an overripe pear
whose sticky juices start to drip
while the whole remains solid and sweet
My mother’s heart.

Outspoken yet kind
When the flow of her breath
required oxygen
Her reservoir of tact
began to dry up
But even then
ever present in her gut
coiled and ready to spring forth
My mother’s love.

Jennifer Rudick Zunoff is a Jewish  storyteller, educator and coach.

 

Money, Social Media, Memories Rule Matrimony Trends

(©iStockphoto.com/SStajic)

(©iStockphoto.com/SStajic)

A wedding is one of the most important days of a person’s life. And like many other things today, the hottest trends in weddings are dominated by technology and its ability to capture the moment and how to keep costs down to avoid many of dreaded bills that can follow.

“I think that with the internet, people see what’s out there more,” said Heidi Hiller, owner and creative director of Innovative Party Planners, an Owings Mills-based special events planning company. “They aren’t just opening a magazine. Now you see all these crazy [options for] lighting, draping, flowers, caterers. … You can get carried away.”

In addition, celebrity nuptials and their planners have plastered social media with only the finest shots of their special days. This means for most people who roam their favorite A-lister’s Pinterest page, they are in awe of the beautiful photos — but not so much by the price tag.

“We have a budget conversation with anyone who is charge of contributing money,” said Diana Venditto, owner of Eventi, a Towson-based full-service event planning company. “We tell them, ‘If this is the look you like, this is the cost. If this is the band you like, this is what it costs.’ Money isn’t a comfortable conversation, but you have to have it up front and get it over with.”

Hiller echoed Venditto’s comments and added that few of her clients have a realistic budget in mind when they first approach her about planning their wedding. Despite how costly photographers can be, Hiller said photography is one of the first things she thinks about when it comes to trends.

Money isn’t a comfortable conversation, but you  have to have it up front  and get it over with.”  — Diana Venditto, owner of Eventi

 

“Who brides pick as a photographer is a huge a decision for them,” said Hiller who explained that people no longer want posed photographs in front of solid-colored backgrounds. Instead many couples are looking for “wedding moments,” where photographers capture the small, intimate interactions between the couple and their guests that made their special day just a little bit more memorable.

Some couples let their guests compile photos for them.

“A lot of people are using hashtags for their weddings and [putting them] on print materials like invitations or menus,” said Sandy Sanders, who works for Mount Vernon-based Feats, an educational, social and corporate event production company. After the event, the couple can use the hashtags as a tool to find all the moments their guests captured throughout the day.

Then there is the complete opposite approach. Some couples ask their guests to enjoy the moment for what it is, which means cellphones should be turned off or left in the car.

“Some people don’t want their wedding all over Facebook,” said Hiller.

While it might fly in the face of the incessantly social, technology-obsessed millennial, there is also a practicality to asking guests to leave photography to the professionals. It’s not uncommon for an overeager photo-taking guest to ruin a professional’s perfect shot simply by getting in the way.

The Knot, a website that surveys brides and grooms every year on the cost of their weddings, found that Baltimore and Washington, D.C., wedding photographers on  average charge between $2,500 and $3,000 per event.

“Intimate” is a trend that extends beyond the photographer. Venditto said she encourages couples to “take the time to write a personal note or a memory they have” with each guest as a way to make large-scale weddings feel more personal.

Regardless of all the small details and how they come  together, Hiller said the key to a wedding is “it’s not about what goes wrong, it’s how you deal with it.”

jkatz@midatlanticmedia.com

Baltimore’s Oldest Acting Social Club Ready for Its Close-Up

Male members of the Paint and Powder Club perform in drag during last year’s production of “Judge Judy: The Musical.” (Provided)

Male members of the Paint and Powder Club perform in drag during last year’s production of “Judge Judy: The Musical.” (Provided)

For being one of the oldest acting clubs in the country, the Paint and Powder Club doesn’t take itself too seriously. But then, it’s hard to be too serious when performing shows with names such as “Judge Judy: The Musical,” “King Willy’s Court” and “Hijinx at the P and P Saloon.”

The Paint and Powder Club is a Baltimore social performing arts organization founded in 1893. It raises money for local charities through its annual variety show — this year, a 40-year retrospective called “Best of the Bits,” to benefit the Linwood Center and the Susan Cohan Colon Cancer Foundation.

Writer/director Rod Clark, former director of Paint and Powder shows for nearly 20 years starting in 1981 and now back in the director’s seat once more, called this year’s show “up-tempo, fast, funny and crowd-pleasing.”

There’s also a new piano player this year in Dick Schroeder, who was the longtime pianist at Krieger Shechter Day School of Chizuk Amuno. Legend has it he may (or may not) be the inspiration for the character of Schroeder in the long-running comic strip “Peanuts.” He was a piano player in San Francisco during the time Charles M. Schulz would have been there, and the names do offer an impressive coincidence.

Older people still got it.”
— Amber Parks, Paint and Powder scholarship student and a senior at George Washington Carver Center for Arts

Schulz has said the character was inspired by a childhood friend, but that’s no reason to get in the way of a good origin story.

Each show’s idea often comes from that year’s president of the club. And, since this year is current president Frank Fiske’s 40th anniversary in the club, he wanted to celebrate by reliving some of the, well, best bits.

Fiske, 63, joined out of college at the behest of his father, who was also in the club. Many of the members are in their 60s to 70s, but the ages range all the way from 18 — each year, they have a couple of scholarship students who participate — to 93.

Many joined the club because of family, like Fiske, or because they went to a couple of shows and got recruited. That’s how they roped in Eileen Chiat and her husband, Jerry, who have been members now for about 10 years.

“A woman [at a club event] came over, put her arm around me and said, ‘You guys are coming to audition,’” Eileen said. So they did. Jerry performs in the shows, and Eileen stage manages.

The club has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars over the years for various charities. Linwood Center, an organization providing services for people with developmental disabilities, has actually been one of the chosen charities a few times before; its executive director, Bill Moss, is a member of the group.

The Susan Cohan Colon Cancer Foundation, a national organization based in Baltimore that raises money and awareness for colon cancer support and treatment, is a first-time partner charity with Paint and Powder.

“We’re very selective who we align ourselves with,” said David Cohan, the president of the foundation. “And we were honored to be selected by Paint and Powder.”

The club was originally only open to men. Women were allowed to audition for parts in the 1930s, but it wasn’t until the ’90s, 100 years after its inception, that they could become full members.

Since the early days were men-only, the club has a long tradition of men dressing in drag for female characters — which continues to this day. True to form, this year’s show does feature at least one drag line. And Fiske, according to Moss (and several others who chimed in agreement), puts all the other men to shame with his shapely legs.

No one in the club is a professional thespian, but that doesn’t stop them from having a lot of fun, along with the audience.

“It’s hard work,” Eileen said, “but there’s great camaraderie.” The goal, she said, is always to “have fun and be successful for the charities.”

The club seems out to prove that age really is just a number. Though most of the members are older, they’re out there singing and dancing those showstoppers with the best of them.

“It’s not just young people who can put on a good show,” said Amber Parks, one of the scholarship students and a senior at the George Washington Carver Center for Arts and Technology. “Older people still got it.”

Shows take place May 13 and 14 at the Scottish Rite Masonic Building.

“Come because it’s a fun show, it’s good food, it’s an open bar, and it’s for a good cause,” Fiske said.

hmonicken@midatlanticmedia.com

That time ‘Hamilton’ Creator Lin-Manuel Miranda Sang in Hebrew

“Hamilton” creator and star Lin-Manuel Miranda performs “To Life! (L’Chaim!)” from “Fiddler on the Roof” at his wedding in 2010. (Screenshot from YouTube)

“Hamilton” creator and star Lin-Manuel Miranda performs “To Life! (L’Chaim!)” from “Fiddler on the Roof” at his wedding in 2010. (Screenshot from YouTube)

Raise a glass! The 2016 Tony Award nominations were announced May 3, and the revolutionary Broadway megahit “Hamilton” collected the lion’s share, with a record-breaking total of 16.

Creator and star Lin-Manuel Miranda himself received three nods, for best original score, best book and best lead actor.

This makes it official: Whether we’re talking about the 18th or the 21st, “Hamilton” is the show of the century — which is about how long you’ll have to wait to get tickets.

In the meantime, while you suffer through the interminable wait, we’ve got you covered: You can watch what’s probably the greatest wedding toast in the history of wedding toasts.

At his 2010 nuptials, Miranda called on the entire wedding party to serenade his “beshert,” Vanessa Nadal, with a surprise performance of “To Life! (L’Chaim!),” the iconic showstopper from “Fiddler on the Roof” — which, incidentally, was also nominated for three Tony Awards today, including one for best musical revival.

Sweet and spot-on, it’s no shocker that Miranda’s song-and-dance performance was on par with an actual stage number. Several Broadway vets took  part, including music direction by “Hamilton” collaborator Alex Lacamoire (now up for best orchestration). Apparently, Miranda arranged and rehearsed the whole thing secretly in a matter of days.

“Fiddler,” of course, is one of Miranda’s favorite shows — he appeared in his school’s sixth-grade production and identified it as one of the biggest influences for his 2008 Tony-winning musical, “In the Heights.” Not long ago, he plucked the three actresses who play Tzeitel, Hodel and Chava from the current Broadway revival for a special rap-enhanced rendition of “Matchmaker” at Ham4Ham, the free sidewalk performances Miranda coordinates for the crowds lined up for “Hamilton” ticket lotteries.

That Miranda hits the hard “chet” in “l’chaim” just right may be because in elementary school, as he told The New Yorker, “all my friends were Jewish,” and he was also no stranger to singing and dancing at over-the-top Jewish events. As he told The New York Times vows clumn, he met his wife — an MIT-trained scientist who is also an attorney — before his first Broadway bonanza, and he was paying the rent by performing at bar mitzvahs.

“I was literally one of those guys who shows up in a black satin shirt and tries to get kids and old people to dance,” he said. “It was bleak.”

The future, of course, is bright, and the toasts to “Hamilton” and Miranda — a MacArthur Fellow and winner of last month’s Pulitzer Prize for Drama — are only just beginning.

Yet it’s possible that no performance will top the one he orchestrated at his own wedding.

“That’s what will be my real legacy,” Miranda told Mo Rocca last year on CBS Sunday Morning. “It’s one of the things I’m proudest of in my life.”

 

Feel the Rhythm of the Flow of Flamenco

Yolit Yospe-Kachlon (Yolit Flamenco)

Yolit Yospe-Kachlon (Yolit Flamenco)

Yolit Yospe-Kachlon doesn’t just feel the emotions when flamenco musicians sing and play guitar. She dances them.

“When you hear a flamenco song, you don’t have to understand the words to feel the emotions,” Yospe-Kachlon said, following a four-hour teaching and rehearsal stint at a Rockville, Md., dance studio last week.

Israeli-born, Yospe-Kachlon grew up on Kibbutz Nahal Oz, about a mile from Gaza, where she worked in the fields and tended the cows. She began dance lessons at about 7 or 8.

“We took the bus from the kibbutz to a big school of dance,” she said. “When I was 14, I went to a [boarding] arts school in Mitzpe Ramon in the desert.” But by age 16, her knees were shot.

“I was told never to dance again,” Yospe-Kachlon said, noting that she left the school and its dance program and returned to her home school intent on finding a form of dance that could accommodate her sensitive knees.

“Someone told me there’s a flamenco class that I should try. I thought to myself, with my knees and all that stomping — but I gave it a try.” That moment changed her life. “I was 17 when I took my first flamenco class. The first time I stepped into that studio, that was it for me. That was the form that I needed.”

She immersed herself in the dance form that was born more than 500 years ago in Spain and Portugal, an outcome of a shifting fusion of migrant populations. She did whatever she could, taking classes with children and adult beginners just to progress and deepen her experience.

After settling in Rockville 11 years ago, Yospe-Kachlon returned to flamenco, opening a studio in her home and starting a small company last year.

On Saturday evening Yospe-Kachlon will present a traditional flamenco show, a tablao, at the Huckleberry Gallery in Rockville. The dancing is authentic, based on improvisation and deep, unspoken communication between musician and dancer rather than choreographed steps.

“A tablao is a piece of wood that we dance on,” she said. “It is a very intimate kind of performance: There is no stage, no lights and no curtain. We’re right there, between the people. It’s also not rehearsed like a polished performance.”

This form hearkens back to flamenco’s early roots, which have a surprising Jewish component. “We call it flamenco puro. It’s the pure form of flamenco that emphasizes improvisation over memorizing steps. The musicians won’t know what I’m dancing and I won’t know exactly what they will be playing. It’s a lot of communication through the dancing, and it’s a very important part of flamenco.”

Flamenco, Yospe-Kachlon explained, grew from a collection of influences and cultures.

“The gypsies, the gitanos [Romani people living in Spain] left India and went to Russia and Romania, to Arab countries and Morocco,” she said. “Then they arrived in Spain and Andalucia while the Arabs were starting to leave and going into Morocco and Tangiers. So all these cultures, all these influences, they collected along the way and created this thing that we know today as flamenco.”

Yospe-Kachlon continued: “Jews were living in Spain and Andalucia, and the music and the davening and the melodies were influencing the flamenco music. The dance typically followed the music.”

The important point to note, she said, is that flamenco was not created for big theater stages with fancy costumes and elaborate lighting and scenery. “It was a street dance, a real form of street art. People would stand around and clap, and if [someone] had a guitar, they would play, or someone would sing and someone would dance.”

The result — everything heard from the window got incorporated into the songs and music. That’s where the Jewish influence entered flamenco, Yospe-Kachlon said. On the street, musicians and dancers would pick up melodies and voices from the synagogue, which they incorporated into their improvisations.

One of the most famous flamenco songs, “Peteneras,” has two versions. One tells the story of a young woman who is too beautiful for her suitors: her seductive powers caused them to perish. “They died, and she died,” Yospe-Kachlon said.

“The other version states that she is Jewish and those men could not be with her because she was Jewish — then they died, and she died.” Some flamenco scholars attribute the tune and rhythm to songs of Sephardic Jews.

Saturday’s program at Huckleberry Gallery will feature mostly traditional flamenco-styled improvisations. Popular Washington, D.C., flamenco dancers Edwin Aparicio and Kyoko Terada, with Yospe-Kachlon, will be accompanied by musicians Hector Jose Marquez and Ricardo Marlow. Surrounding the dancers and musicians in this intimate space is the flamenco photography of Steve Johnson, who has been documenting the local flamenco community for a number of years.

“It doesn’t matter what your background is or your beliefs,” Yospe-Kachlon said. “Flamenco really brings everyone together in a very dear way. It’s a little victory over all the mess that’s going on around the world.”

Tablao, An Evening of Flamenco and Fine Art with Yolit Yospe-Kachlon

May 7, 7:30 p.m.

Huckleberry Gallery,

12051 Nebel St., Rockville.

Also, June 5 at 12:30 p.m., D.C. Feria de Sevilla outdoors at the Music Center at Strathmore. The outdoor festival is free and open to the public.

For more information, visit yolitflamenco.com.

 

Lisa Traiger is a performing arts freelance writer in the Washington, D.C. area.

Saying Yes to the Dress and more

Marketing Promotion


(©istockphoto.com/ONimages)

(©istockphoto.com/ONimages)

Before the “to have and to hold,” there is usually the “to plan and to chart.” Planning a wedding is no easy task, and what’s popular can change as quickly as your Pinterest board.

Thankfully, there are a few current trends to provide some wedding guidance. The one overarching theme: vintage. Traditional, classic looks and ideas are back in style. So, moms, dust off that old wedding dress for your daughters — it might be exactly what she’s looking for.

Everyone already knows that it can be a lengthy process in finding the perfect wedding dress (unless it’s Mother’s Vintage), but there’s another type of dress that requires time and effort — the mothers’ dresses. The mothers of both bride and groom (or bride and bride or groom and groom) are important parts of any wedding, and they don’t have it quite as easy the fathers, who are putting on their best suit or renting a tux.

Jan’s Boutique in Cherry Hill, N.J., specializes in exactly this type  of dress. It has an inventory of more than 10,000 dresses in sizes 000 to 34, making it a hub for people in the surrounding areas, including  Baltimore.

When it comes to mothers’ dresses, classic and sophisticated is the name of the game in recent years, said Paul Virilli, one of Jan’s owners. “We’re seeing a lot more [dresses] that are clean — no rhinestones, no embellishments,” he said.

People frequently underestimate the amount of time it takes to get a dress. It’s likely the store will have the exact style with the exact color with the exact size, so there needs to be plenty of time to order and have any alterations made.

Virilli’s best advice? “It’s never too early to start shopping.”

The throwback to the classics is true not only with dresses, but also with catering.

“People are going back to traditional, which is so interesting,” said Nancy Sachs, the director of catering for Simply Elegant in Pikesville. “If you stay in the business long enough, you see things come back around.”

More couples are renting vintage furniture, such as old farm tables or purposefully worn-looking chairs, and serving from them.

In terms of food, food stations are very popular, Sachs said. This could include anything from a raw bar or mac-and-cheese bar to a mini-station (with mini-sirloin and Portobello burgers) to a coffee station.

Candy stations, often collected in a brightly colored piece of vintage furniture, make for a live uniqueness to a lot of spaces, Sachs said. Couples are looking to put their own signature on a venue and the wedding itself, she added.

“Most of the time these days, it’s really the bride and groom driving the train,” she said, as opposed to previous years when it was often parents who had a lot of say.

When it comes to choosing the venue, there are many  options. Outdoor weddings, or those hosted in large barns, are very popular among couples. Bars, hotels and country clubs offer other popular choices.

A growing trend, however, is choosing places for those events leading up to the wedding such as engagement parties, bridal showers, the pre-wedding hair and makeup for the bride and bridesmaids and “first-look” photography.

Lisa Gardner, director of sales and marketing at the  recently opened Ivy Hotel in Baltimore, said she’s seen a number of brides use the Ivy for the pre-wedding getting ready, since it includes a  spacious spa.

Additionally, “first-look” photography — when the groom sees the bride for the first time — is definitely on the increase, Gardner said, with numerous couples using the Ivy’s location for that moment.

Planning a wedding is stressful, but keeping in mind some of the recent trends can take some of the burden off in idea-generating, making it easier to get from the “to plan and to chart” stage to the final desired “to have and to hold.”

‘Seinfeld’ Star Jason Alexander Talks Judaism, Show Biz

Jason Alexander (Provided)

Jason Alexander (Provided)

It was the afternoon before the first seder and Jason Alexander had his plans figured out.

The “Seinfeld” star, born Jay Scott Greenspan and best known for his role as George Costanza, isn’t particularly observant; neither is his friend who he was spending the first night of Pesach with.

“We have the strangest evening coming up because a very good friend of mine who is a lapsed Jew, a Buddhist, feels like we should do something. I think we’re going to say ‘God’ four times and then eat whatever,” he said. “And then tomorrow night I have a real seder so my mother won’t be mad.”

The star of stage and screen speaks at Baltimore Hebrew Congregation’s Night of the Stars on May 12. The event benefits BHC’s youth community.

The Jewish Times caught up with Alexander to hear about his Jewish upbringing, his Middle East peace work and his theater and television career.

 

What was your Jewish upbringing like?

I was raised in a house that was an odd combination of observant and not, so we lit the candles on Shabbos, but we didn’t really do anything else. We lit a candle. We had a kosher house, and we certainly didn’t break any of the kashrut laws. We’d go out to a Chinese restaurant and my father would have shrimp with lobster sauce, [and I’d think] what the hell’s going on?

I was bar mitzvahed in a Conservative synagogue that leaned more toward the Orthodox side. I was not thrilled with having to go through that Hebrew school education. I can read Hebrew, but I don’t know what any of it means, which is a great metaphor for my Hebrew education.

I have to come the conclusion that I have enormous spirituality and little religion. Religion as a formality does not represent how I believe we should be celebrating our creator. If you ask what my spirituality was, you’ll find it’s very much in accord with Judaism.

Could you tell us about your work with OneVoice International?

Their mission is constantly changing is as everything in the Middle East, but OneVoice is basically an organization that is engaging moderates, both Palestinians and Israelis, in hopes of forming communication alliances that might result in a citizen-inspired peace initiative with the result being an acceptable two-state solution. OneVoice is not idealistic, and I don’t think you’d find anybody in the organization that thinks we’re anywhere near having formidable communication right now. I do love and continue to support the organization, for the people themselves are forming the basis of these negotiations.

What do you make of the American Jewish community’s divisions on issues related to Israel?

There is a split because it’s a very complicated problem. American Jews are a step removed from the reality of the day, and it’s like being an armchair quarterback. What would you think if you were in the thick of it all? That’s the shoes I think I try to put myself in on both sides, with Palestinians and Israelis. I try not to make judgments or assumptions. I try to call things what they are and hold people accountable for their mistakes and point people towards all that is good because sometimes the bad is all we hear about.

How much was “Seinfeld” influenced by Jewish humor?

“Seinfeld” continued proving what has been true as long as there has been comedy in the United States, and that is Jews are funny. If you look at some of the greatest comics and comedic actors in our country, they’re Jews. There’s something about the Jewish culture that creates wonderful comics, wonderful comedians, and that was extended and propagated by our show.

Do you experience a resurgence in fanfare when there’s “Seinfeld” news, such as when the entire series became available on Hulu last year?

Whenever something happens to the “Seinfeld” turf there tends to be a little media blitz for a while. So there was some media stir about the sale to Hulu, and I know that it was accompanied by some traveling version of the set that goes from city to city. There’s a bar that’s opened in Melbourne, Australia that’s dedicated to George.

The weirdness of my life as George is that somehow George and maybe all the characters have become icons in a way, where I’m watching MSNBC and all of sudden my picture is on the screen and someone says Trump is the Costanza of politics because he’s done the opposite of what you should do and he continues to succeed.

What was it like going back to theater after doing “Seinfeld?”

There’s a particular expectation for what a Broadway show is. The audience brings an expectation and an excitement because they believe this is the pinnacle of live theater. Now, if you add to that coming back to it post-“Seinfeld,” where they go, ‘Not only am I coming to Broadway, but I’m coming to see him,’ [there’s a lot] of anticipation, and so that’s the biggest change.

What are you currently working on?

I’m out selling two different film projects, directing the world premiere of a play, doing my standup shows and symphony shows, maybe another theater piece in New York next year. I teach all over the place as well.

It’s like a mélange of crazy projects. When you are in my category, what you are tending to do is develop a variety of projects in a variety of different media and formats, and you have about 12 different irons in the fire at once. You’re constantly developing a lot in a ton of different areas. Right now, it looks like a lot of things are catching fire.

 

Baltimore Hebrew Congregation’s Night of the Stars

Thursday, May 12
7401 Park Heights Ave., Baltimore

Doors open at 7:30 p.m.; show starts at 8 p.m.

Premium seats are $225 and include a cocktail and light supper reception from 6 to 7:30 p.m. General seating tickets are $95, and balcony seating is $65. Visit bit.ly/1ruOsqX.

 

mshapiro@midatlanticmedia.com

Music to His Ears Baltimorean Debuts at Carnegie Hall

Solomon Eichner (photo provided)

Solomon Eichner (photo provided)

Solomon Eichner is about to do something on Saturday that very few 27-year-olds — very few people of any age — can claim: play his debut concert at Carnegie Hall in New York.

Though he now lives in South Carolina, Eichner’s local roots run deep. He’s a Pikesville native who attended Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School. Growing up, he and his mother lived with his grandparents, Gail, a Holocaust survivor, and Mark Fleischmann, whose home included a beloved piano.

“Growing up in Baltimore and Pikesville I was sort of in this bubble, this Jewish bubble, where all the people around me I related to, and they supported me,” Eichner said. “And now, moving away, I do miss that home feeling — there’s not too many Jewish people in South Carolina.”

Despite his current passion and accomplishments, Eichner was a normal, recalcitrant child when it came to practicing ; but his mother, Marlene, insisted — even attending lessons with him.

“I actually never thought he would pursue music as seriously as he has,” she said.

He also kept it to himself. When Marlene went to pick him up from school once, and he was surrounded by friends, she asked if he was planning to perform in an upcoming talent show.

“His friends were all surprised. No one knew he even played,” she said.

Thankfully, he’s grown up since then.

“It’s because of her I play,” Eichner said. “But, when I was younger I used to go to Baltimore Symphony concerts downtown and I would see these famous pianists come and play with the orchestra, and they would really inspire me.”

“Growing up in Baltimore and Pikesville, I was sort of in this bubble, this Jewish bubble, where all the people around me I related to, and they supported me.”

— Solomon Eichner

It was sometime in high school that his attitude changed about his music, eventually attending the Manhattan School of Music for his bachelor’s degree.

He couldn’t stay away from his hometown for long, however. Eichner completed his master’s degree at the Peabody Institute of the Johns Hopkins University and he and his longtime girlfriend, Rebecca, were married.

Despite the Baltimore area being home for both of them, they moved down to South Carolina so that Eichner could pursue his doctorate of musical arts at the University of South Carolina. He has one semester left.

“It was a good fit here because I’ve already been to conservatory and now I’m at a university, where I’m getting different experiences — teaching, accompanying people,” he said.

While completing his degree, Eichner has competed both nationally and internationally, and it was through winning the Golden Key Debut International Piano Competition that Eichner will perform at Carnegie Hall.

Remarkably, this isn’t his first time onstage at the renowned concert hall. He participated in the American Fine Arts Festival at age 17, where he, among many others, played one piece during a concert there.

“The hall has so much history. All the great performers have come through there, and yeah, I’m excited,” Eichner said. “The hard work is paying off.”

Aside from his Carnegie performance, Eichner will perform on June 5 for the Music in the Great Hall series from the Chamber Music Society of Maryland. He will play with two friends — Jacques-Pierre Malan on cello and Nikita Borisevich on violin — as a trio. Tickets are not yet available.

Eichner is a romantic at heart, when it comes to his composers, that is. His favorites include Chopin, Liszt and Brahms. He demurs, however, when asked if he has a favorite piece to perform.

“Every year, I have a new program with new pieces that I play, depending on the engagements that I have,” he said. “I always love the pieces that I am playing at that moment.”

For Eichner, it always comes back to the music. It’s why he does what he does.

“It has the ability to really connect all of us together,” he said. “It embraces all of these different emotions and feelings that the composers had and the audience I play for can relate to. It’s something that touches them. It’s very personal.”

 

 hmonicken@midatlanticmedia.com

Not a Gnome or a Wizard, Just a Guy Who Likes to Wave

You can’t miss him.

David Alt stands with his signs on the spot where he waves to cars passing by on Park Heights Avenue. (Marc Shapiro)

David Alt stands with his signs on the spot where he waves to cars passing by on Park Heights Avenue. (Marc Shapiro)

From the PVC pipe and cinderblock contraption that displays bold-print messages such as “Shabbat Shalom,” “Happy Spring” or the occasional advertisement for Fox TV show “MasterChef Junior,” to the tangle of green mesh surrounding the area, to the array of string dolls and other homemade crafts that populate the lawn, and finally to the man himself, donning worn-out overalls, faded flannels, a beanie and a white beard resembling Gandalf’s (a comparison he himself drew) and standing front and center in his driveway on Park Heights Avenue waving to passers-by — needless to say, it is quite a spectacle.

The object of Pikesville urban legend, David Alt, 73, is affectionately known by the community as the Park Heights gnome or “that guy who waves to us on Park Heights Avenue” or the wizard of Park Heights, among other names. While most who encounter Alt would likely agree that seeing him in his driveway brightens their day or makes them smile, the entire community seems to shrug its shoulders with regard to who this guy is and why  he stands there. The growing curiosity with Alt’s back-story has inspired much folklore and speculation.

“I have heard that he suffered a loss and because of this, he likes to watch people drive by, specifically the school bus that stops by his house,” said Adee Jakob, 18, a graduate of Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School and a freshman at Emory University.

Audrey Monroe, a senior at Beth Tfiloh, said that she has heard that “he waves to all that pass because he looks very similar to a character from the popular show “Duck Dynasty’ and he wants to mess with people.”

“Word is that [he] … waves at everyone who drives by, especially the buses from Bais Yaakov School for Girls. Apparently, he customizes his greeting signs just for them,” Monroe added.

So now, the real story behind this local celebrity.

Alt, an only child and a former draftsman, has lived on his property since he was 7 years old. One afternoon three years ago, after the death of his mother, Alt stood in his driveway waiting for the mail. After a few minutes, Alt experienced the first of many interactions with the community.

“[A] big white van drove by, and there was this one girl sitting in it, and she waved. So I waved back, didn’t think anything of it,” Alt said. “From there, it escalated to five or six vehicles, to 10 or 20 vehicles.”

Since then, his popularity has skyrocketed. Alt said that when it all started, he didn’t bother counting. “But after a while I thought, how daggone many of these kids are waving?” Alt said with a chuckle. Now, he said he counts anywhere between 50 to 60 vehicles that wave to him daily.

In addition to smiles, honks and waves, Alt has received all manner of gifts, including cookies, lollipops, Slurpees and various other snacks. Some of the most interesting treats he has received, however, have come from the Jewish community, he said, though he is not Jewish.

“One time, around Chanukah, I got this little bag tossed out at me with little chocolate gold coins,” he said, referring to gelt. “I got a small loaf of bread one time, and the next time it had three apples and about five little jars of honey.”

He has even received an entire eight-pack of pull-apart challahs — “Love those things!” he said with a smile.

“I have no idea what I’m going to get from these characters. I enjoy it, but I’m not asking for it. I’m not trying to be out there peddling, but they just do it, and it boggles my mind,” Alt said.

Alt supposes that this strong connection with the Jewish community in particular stems from the good wishes he expresses on Jewish holidays via the large PVC pipe signage that he assembles in his yard. He has put out signs for Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Passover, Chanukah and Shabbat.

Along with the many edible gifts he has enjoyed, Alt has also received numerous letters in his mailbox, many of which he dates and carries with him in a small portfolio he stores in the back pocket of his overalls. The cards have messages such as: “When you wave to us, it cheers us up, and when we wave to you, we hope it cheers you too,” or simply, “You’re funny, have a great weekend!”

A few of the cards are even signed “from your friends at Bais Yaakov.”

Some include inquiries such as one that reads “I love [what] you do, but why do you stand outside like that every day?” — the same question that many others are asking.

At this point, Alt knows the schedules of when the local schools get out and the prime time to stand outside and wave. You can find Alt outside Monday through Friday in the afternoon, “when the weather is decent.”

“I mean, what the heck, I don’t have anything else to be doing. I figure that if they enjoy it, then what the heck,” Alt said.

Meital Abraham is a senior at Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School and an intern at the Baltimore Jewish Times.