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.

Frustration After 50: Trying to Find That Dream Date

Group meetings can help navigate the dating scene after age 50. (istockphoto.com/Juanmonino)

Group meetings can help navigate the dating scene after age 50. (istockphoto.com/Juanmonino)

On a recent weekday morning, life coach and psychotherapist Ava Barron-Shasho pointed to the sofa in her cozy Pikesville office.

“I’ve had so many people in my practice sit on that same spot on that same couch and say exactly the same words,” she said. “‘Why can’t I get a date? What’s wrong with me? Am I going to be alone for the rest of my life?’ I knew that if I put  together a group of people who were all trying to navigate the dating scene, they could help one other and see that they weren’t alone.”

That’s how Dream Dating 50+, a bimonthly group for middle-aged men and women trying to navigate the dating scene, started.

Group member, Sherry H., 56, who asked not to use her last name, said one reason she joined Dream Dating was to get some clarity on dating etiquette. Sherry, who is divorced, said she was  uncertain about when it was reasonable to allow a man into her home, and more generally, whether to trust men she meets on the internet. “People aren’t who they say they are,” she said, and noted she tries to “check people out to the best of her ability.”

Sherry finds it comforting to know  she is not the only one dealing with the frustrations of dating over 50.

Steve S., 60, also choosing to remain anonymous, is another group member. He said he’s been dating regularly since his divorce five years ago. Though he has met many women, he hasn’t found anyone exactly right for him.

“Dating at our age is a double-edged sword,” Steve said. “It’s easier because you aren’t looking to have kids together or necessarily to share finances. You just want a companion to enjoy doing things together. On the other hand, at our age, people are set in their ways. Everyone has their own lives.”

Sherry and Steve are both Jewish, though the group is open to people of all faiths. Both say they are not religious, yet both prefer dating others who are Jewish.

“I dated a non-Jewish woman who was really sweet,” Steve said. “But something was missing. … When she started talking about Christmas, I just couldn’t relate.”

“Being Jewish is up there,” said Sherry,  referring to her list of attributes for a  future mate. “It’s not about religion, it’s about culture. Jews have a different sense of humor, you know? I was brought up with a little bit of Yiddish, and this guy I dated looked at me like he didn’t know what I was talking about.”

Sherry believes that the internet has made people unmotivated about leaving their homes to meet others.

“The internet is a blessing and a curse,” she said. “I think people go shopping [on the internet]. They make a date and if something better comes along they cancel. Whatever happened to people fixing you up? No one does that anymore.”

Barron-Shasho said she’s aware that the internet is the main source for dating nowadays. She addresses that in the group.

“One night, someone showed us his dating profile, and the other members gave feedback,” Barron-Shasho said.

“Everyone wants to meet someone on the internet, but I asked them to consider what else they are doing to meet new people. There are so many ways to meet people  if you’re willing to go outside of your comfort zone. A couple of people said they were willing to try that but weren’t willing to do it alone. So two women in the group have gone out to a singles event together.”

That didn’t go so well.

“There was nobody there,” Sherry said. “Here’s the thing. Where do the single Jewish people go? I think the temples should offer singles events.”

During another session the group  discussed whether they were willing to make changes in order to be in a relationship, Barron-Shasho recalled.

The internet is a blessing and  a curse. I think people go  shopping on on the internet. They make a date and if  something better comes along they cancel. Whatever  happened to people fixing you up? No one does  that anymore.” — Sherry H., member,  Dream Dating 50+

 

“Most people said, ‘I’m at the age where I accept myself. I love myself. I don’t want to change.’ On the other hand, one person said, ‘If you tell me that I’m doing something that is off-putting [to potential dates], I might change that.’”

Barron-Shasho said people in the group run the gamut from those who date constantly but don’t meet anyone who’s right for them to people who don’t have dates because perhaps they’re more selective or are ruling people out too quickly.

“Sometimes people will see someone online and ask themselves, ‘Do I like his looks?’ That will determine whether they contact him,” Barron-Shasho said. “I suggest that people look at other qualities as well as looks, and I also recommend that they date a person more than once. Relationships aren’t like instant mashed  potatoes, I say. They’re not just ‘add water and mix.’”

Since Dream Dating is a coed group, men and women are able to share their perspectives with one another, helping each other to interpret the sometimes mysterious behaviors of the opposite sex.

“One woman in the group was talking about how she wanted a man to treat her when they were dating. She wanted daily texts,” Barron-Shasho said. “Well, a man in the group said, ‘No. If you’re expecting a text every day, that’s too much work for a man.’ It helped her to get a man’s perspective.”

“One time we talked about flirting, Barron-Shasho said. “I asked them, ‘What’s a good line?’ A man in the group said, ‘Compliment me on something I’m wearing. Nice tie, nice shirt. That’s all you have to do.’”

As group leader, Barron-Shasho, who has 20 years of experience, said she brings a positive and hopeful outlook to the sessions.

“Just because it hasn’t happened yet, doesn’t mean it’s not going to,” she said. “And

for now, Steve and Sherry are both pleased that they are each being fixed up with a friend of the other. Let’s see how that goes.”

Dream Dating 50+ is accepting new members. For more information, visit avabarronshasho.com.

The Wonders of Timna and the trip of a Lifetime

Karen Blum (fourth from right) poses for a photo in Timna Park with (from left) her uncle, Bob Chudnow; her mother, Lois Infeld; her aunt, Teri Chudnow; her husband, Jeff Blum; her uncle, David Chudnow; her cousin, Elizabeth Chudnow; Mayor Udi Gat of the Eilot Region; and park manager Hagit Gal.

Karen Blum (fourth from right) poses for a photo in Timna Park with (from left) her uncle, Bob Chudnow; her mother, Lois Infeld; her aunt, Teri Chudnow; her husband, Jeff Blum; her uncle, David Chudnow; her cousin, Elizabeth Chudnow; Mayor Udi Gat of the Eilot Region; and park manager Hagit Gal.

In the early 1980s, my grandfather committed to helping make Israel’s Timna Park a first-class international tourist attraction to be enjoyed by generations of visitors. Some 30 years later, I was able to witness his legacy, as my family and I dedicated the park’s new visitors’ center in March.

There are several stories circulating that explain how my grandfather became involved with the park. The legend,  according to some Israelis, is that my grandfather was wandering the Negev when he came across Timna’s beautiful scenery and had a vision. The truth, while still impressive, is a little less romantic.

A Milwaukee-based attorney, construction company owner and philanthropist who was a stalwart supporter of Jewish National Fund and its Israeli land development projects, my grandfather, Avrum Chudnow (z’l), was in Israel in 1983 for a JNF assembly when he first became interested in Timna, according to my uncle, David. At the time, the 17,500-acre park, located about 17 miles north of Eilat, was still fairly primitive, with some stunning sandstone rock formations akin to those seen in the national parks of the American Southwest, but not much else. Despite its beauty and its historical significance — the park is home to the world’s oldest copper mines dating back to the fifth century B.C.E. — not many visitors went there, in part because of its location and climate. Temperatures are often 90 to 110 degrees.

The new center, located just inside the park entrance,  provides interactive overviews and explanations of the  historic copper mines  scattered throughout the park and also can be used as a  social hall for special events.

 

During that trip, my grandfather visited Moshe Rivlin, then the world chairman of JNF and its Israeli arm Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael (KKL), in his Jerusalem office when Rivlin took a phone call. Not one to sit idly by, Grandpa poked around and pulled some rolled up, dusty blueprints off a bookshelf. Rivlin told him to ignore them; there had been an idea to build a manmade lake at Timna, but because the park sat in the middle of the desert, the plan was determined to be impossible.

Impossible? That got my grandfather curious. “If I get you the money, will you build it?” he reportedly asked. The reply was yes. They shook on the deal.

When Grandpa returned home he began fundraising, raising monies across the U.S. and donating substantial sums himself. With this financial backing, the Israelis succeeded in building a 4-acre, 6-foot-deep lake at the park, using water from the flooded, defunct copper mines. My grandparents attended a dedication ceremony for the lake in 1986. But Grandpa was inspired to do more. He had ideas for additional attractions and exhibits, and as he became first too ill and later too old to travel, my uncle, David, helped oversee these additional projects.

Over the past three decades Grandpa and other relatives, including my great-uncles and great-aunts, uncles and aunts, parents and cousins, supported the building of the lake and purchase of paddle boats; an auditorium with an IMAX-type movie that explains the history of the Timna mines; and assorted educational exhibits located throughout the park that  explain the rock formations, the history of copper mining and tools of the era and the ancient engravings discovered on some of the rocks.

Today the park, developed by JNF-KKL and the Eilot Regional Council, along with numerous  others, also features hiking and biking trails, campsites, a restaurant and gift shop and a replica of the tabernacle that G-d commanded the children of Israel to build. Some 9,000  ancient mining shafts can be seen throughout the park, along with the remains of copper smelting furnaces dating back to ancient Egypt. Timna boasts 150,000 visitors a year and is ranked the No. 1 area attraction on TripAdvisor.com.  Locals hope the building of a new airport in Eilat, scheduled to open in 2017, will bring even more tourists to the area and to Timna, creating additional revenue and jobs.

On March 20, my husband and I had the pleasure of joining my mother, two of my uncles, an aunt and a cousin to dedicate the visitors’ center — the last park project underwritten by my grandfather, who died in 2005. We spent a perfect sunny, 70-something degree day touring the park, escorted by Hagit Gal, the park manager, and Shahar  Hermelin, JNF’s director of tourism.

A minibus shuttled us to a number of locations throughout the park, including a natural sculpture called The Mushroom, for its mushroom-shape appearance caused by erosion of the sandstone. We heard from Erez Ben-Yosef, an archaeologist from Tel Aviv University who has conducted several digs within Timna, finding ancient textiles and other materials dating back 3,000 or more years. From there we viewed and hiked around other giant rock formations in the park including Solomon’s Pillars, a natural cliff wall named after King Solomon. Everywhere we took photos, marveling at the park’s splendor.

During a traditional Israeli lunch at the park’s restaurant we were joined by Udi Gat, mayor  of the Eilot Region, before visiting the gift shop and trying the paddle boats on the lake. After some time to rest, we headed to the visitors’ center.

About 100 people including representatives from JNF/KKL, the Eilot Regional Council, and local kibbutzim, as well as park employees, joined us for a beautiful opening ceremony. My mother and uncles unveiled a placard outside the building. An Orthodox rabbi blessed the center and hung a mezuzah. Uncle David cut the ribbon, and we were in.

The new center, located just inside the park entrance, provides interactive overviews and explanations of the historic copper mines scattered throughout the park and also can be used as a social hall for special events.

The park put on a beautiful event with food, drinks and live music. My uncle addressed the group, as did Hermelin, Gat, and Danny Atar, world chairman of KKL. Russell Robinson, JNF’s CEO, sent greetings via video. And  Ms. Gal presented us with digital photo frames containing a slide show of park pictures.

Dancing to “Hava Nagila,” I almost had to pinch myself: Was I really here in the park I had heard about for decades? When the evening with our new friends wound down, the minibus drove us back to Solomon’s Pillars, lit up at night, for more photo opportunities before we headed back to our hotel.

My mother said for her it was the trip of a lifetime. I had to concur.

Karen Blum is a local freelance writer.

Miriam’s Cup Runneth Over, Filled with Associated Women’s Spirit

women's-seder-1

Photo by David Stuck

The camaraderie and kinship among more than 300 celebrants was palpable at Temple Oheb Shalom, site of the Associated Women’s “The Freedom to Create Passover Experience” this month.

“Being in a room with 320 women is the most empowering feeling in the world,” said Susan Manekin, who co-chaired the event with Jill Max. “There’s just nothing better than that and celebrating before the holiday. It was for women and about women.”

Hors d’oeuvres and drinks preceded the Passover experience (the event was not a seder nor was there official breaking of matzoh, they explained, because it happened prior to Passover), and panel displays filled the lobby offering glimpses into the creative work of many Israeli women. Attendees learned about the accomplishments of scientist Ada Yonath, 27-year-old technology futurist Dr. Kira Radinsky, serial entrepreneur Orit Hashay, savvy businesswoman and sustainable packaging developer Daphna Nissenbaum among others.

“I’m hoping there’s something they have during the seder that I can bring back to our seder,” at home, said Sharon Caplan beforehand, who attended with her sister, Paula Freeman.

Caplan’s hopes were fulfilled, beginning with a beautiful take-home haggadah created especially for the event.

Timbrels were gifted to each attendee and played to invoke the spirit of Miriam. The crowd of 320 broke out in dance and song during the event. (David Stuck)

Timbrels were gifted to each attendee and played to invoke the spirit of Miriam. The crowd of 320 broke out in dance and song during the event. (David Stuck)

Local artist Smadar Livne’s sumptuous, colorful imagery fills its pages, as do stories that highlight contemporary work from women who have the “Freedom to Create’”in Israel such as Ruth Dayan, who founded Maskit, a women’s clothing design company; the students of the Ma’aleh School of Television and Film and the Arts in Jerusalem; the designers at the Megemeria School of Jewelry; and the Technion, which recently held a conference inviting teen girls from all over Israel to participate.

But women’s stories were infused even deeper into the telling of Passover through original text in the haggadah, including four questions from four daughters — the wise, the rebellious, the simple and pure, and finally, the one who cannot ask. Participants also read powerful stories that correlated with the four cups of wine, each celebrating the lives of biblical women — those who made the Exodus possible, the matriarchs, the scholars, the religious leaders and even the activists — all whose stories, not surprisingly, echoed the accomplishments of many women who filled the auditorium that day.

“I have to say I’m so thrilled to be here with so many great interesting women,” said Amy Rotenberg, who attended with her friend, Orlee Kahn.

“It’s really a great opportunity a couple of weeks before the actual holiday, which is so labor intensive for us gals, to have a chance to sit down, think about the meaning of Passover and the themes of freedom,” Rotenberg said.

Mezumenet, the all female Jewish a cappella group from the University of Maryland, College Park, entertained during the Associated Women’s “Freedom to Create Passover Experience.” (David Stuck)

Mezumenet, the all female Jewish a cappella group from the University of Maryland, College Park, entertained during the Associated Women’s “Freedom to Create Passover Experience.” (David Stuck)

“And focusing on some of the women in the story who are often overlooked, like Yocheved and Miriam,” Kahn added.

Many attended along with the women’s groups they’re affiliated with from the Associated, such as the Heart to Heart Israel Mission, the Jewish Women’s Giving Foundation, Dor Tikvah and Chapter Two.

“The best part of it is, even though it’s an Associated event there are women who have never been to an Associated event before,” co-chair Jill Max said, happy that the affair is a vehicle for such wide outreach. “There are girls who are 11 and women into their 80s and 90s,” she added.

Many mothers and daughters attended together, and there were some multigenerational celebrants as well, such as Amy Harlan, who was there with her mother, Linda Kaufman, and her daughter, Stevie Harlan.

“I’m so blessed to be able to include my mom and my daughter, and the fact that we’re all here together celebrating as women is really powerful,” Amy said. “I like the way that [the event’s readings have] been giving the female bent on how important women are in Jewish life. And even though in the Bible and hagaddah women’s roles have been played down, we really are the strength and the backbone.”

It’s really a great opportunity a couple of weeks before the actual holiday, which is so labor intensive for us gals, to have a chance to sit down, think about the meaning of Passover and the themes of freedom.
— Amy Rotenberg

Accents Grill catered the meal; Mezu-menet, an all-female, Jewish a cappella group from the University of Maryland College Park, entertained with live singing; and more than 30 volunteers helped bring the whole occasion to fruition. Nina Rosenzwog, the 2016 Associated Women’s Campaign chair, publicly thanked The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore’s professionals: Bonnie Garonzik, Esha Janssens, Pamela Martin, Amanda Max, Melinda Michel, Alisa Rank and Elizabeth Schuman, who all helped in the planning too.

Manekin, who also serves on the board of Jewish Volunteer Connection, was especially proud of ‘Seder in a Bag,’ a project created by Associated Women and assembled the day of the Passover Experience. Each of the 36 bags included a painted seder plate and silk matzoh cover, the makings for matzo ball soup, a mason jar of dirt and parsley seeds to grow bitter herbs, fresh horseradish root, Shabbat candles and a hagaddah. The bags were donated to CHANA and to Jewish Community Services for special needs clients.

“I got an email from Ellen Fox, at CHANA,” Manekin said, “telling us that the women cried when they got the bags. [She said] they were touched that somebody actually thought of them” for the holiday.

The energetic highlight of the event was when, for about 20 minutes, the roomful of women rose from their chairs to sing and dance around the room, playing timbrels provided for each guest to invoke the spirit of Miriam.

Miriam’s energy could truly be felt that day among the Associated Women.

mgerr@midatlanticmedia.com

Navigating Your Own Map: Torah Study Firmly in Hands of Student

Rabbi David Fohrman

Rabbi David Fohrman (photo by Melissa Gerr)

Rabbi David Fohrman wants you “to be floored by the depth of the Bible” and to plumb those depths firsthand, but not solely through the interpretations of Talmudic scholars such as Rashi and the Ramban.

Fohrman presented his third book, “The Exodus You Almost Passed Over,” which employs his simple yet sophisticated approach to study, to an audience of about 200 people last week at his “hometown shul,” Congregation Shomrei Emunah.

Fohrman developed his methodology over years of learning and teaching in Baltimore, first as a student at Ner Israel Talumudical Academy and then as an instructor at the Johns Hopkins University and through his synagogue. One of the book’s benefactors is Silver Spring, Md., native Alan Broder, who has also donated about 1,000 of Fohrman’s books to the Melvin J. Berman Hebrew Academy and the University of Maryland, College Park, among other institutions.

The tools are serious and sophisticated,
but they are also deceptively simple.

— Rabbi David Fohrman, author,
“The Exodus You Almost Passed Over”

There are two familiar ways to study the Bible, says Fohrman, who now resides in Woodmere, N.Y. One is through academics, which can lack spirituality and “tends to be silent as to questions of meaning.” The other is through sermonics, where an authority presents information that is somewhat predigested for the student.

“I’m trying to do something in between the two, to take serious literary tools and look [directly] at the text,” he says. “The tools are serious and sophisticated, but they are also deceptively simple.”

For example, Fohrman urges students to read a passage and ask, “Where have I heard these words before,” seeking out where the Bible repeats itself and thus linking different narratives by using words, phrases and ideas that resonate.

“It’s basically the Torah’s way of saying if you want to understand ‘A’ over here, you’ll see it over here in ‘B,’” he says.

Another technique is, ‘Which of these things is not like the others?’ where four things might be referenced in a Bible story, yet three of them seem connected, and one is clearly out in left field.

“So, the set is not what you think it is,” he asserts. “There’s a different headline for the set, and it includes this fourth [seemingly unassociated] thing too. As you get better with the techniques, it becomes “second nature and seems simple. You feel like you can come with your own mind to this. … You can use the method and engage it with your own brain.”

Fohrman says his newest book enlists these tools and “is structured like a mystery novel that leads you through the text. It’s not like a textbook. It’s intended to draw people into the story and immerse them, and like any good novel, they can walk around and touch the world [as if] they’re there.” But each person discovers their own personal takeaway.

The purpose of the book, Fohrman said, is to combat an all-too-familiar scenario: At a Passover Seder, suddenly it’s late, and everyone is rushing through details to get to the meal. Who actually gets to talk about the Exodus story itself?

“So this [book] was an attempt to create an analysis of the actual biblical story of the Exodus, where you could read it and take your time, then come to the Seder having done some study about what the Exodus means and what some of the elephants in the room are in the story … such as why do we even call it Passover? Why not call it Independence Day or call it Freedom Day? It’s the whole birth of our people as a nation. This book is like a travelogue of my personal journey through these questions and how I’ve grappled with them, and [it’s about] putting them out for another intelligent reader and saying, ‘Here’s what my travelogue looked like, and now make your travelogue.’”

Fohrman continues, “It’s easy to get lost because there are all these really smart people over the ages [such as] Rashi, the Ramban, [and one might ask] who is little old me? But with these tools you can arm yourself and your brain to really attack the text and confront it seriously.”

Uncovering layers of personal meaning in a text makes it more relevant in surprising ways, he says.

Ruth Shane, who attended the event, is a biologist at Johns Hopkins University and also teaches Torah at Shomrei Emunah. She has studied with Fohrman for years.

Making connections on your own “is part of the joy of learning Torah this way. You really accomplish something — you dig and you dig, and then there’s that Aha! moment when it all fits together,” she says. “And you just tingle inside because you can almost hear God whispering in your ear, ‘Yes, you found it.’ I can’t believe how much more I’ve learned by doing it this way.”

Shane attended Bais Yaakov, where she studied text with a formalized approach, and says, “Discovering it for myself has given me an enhanced appreciation of the commentaries. Because now I understand how they do what they do. And they’re not God, they’re human beings. And they’ve worked really hard to come up with what they’ve come up with, and they argue with each other. And now I feel like I can put in my two cents too.”

Rosemary Warschawski, senior vice president of exlnz (an organization devoted to high-level coaching), has known and studied with Fohrman for about 20 years and appreciates his “bringing together of so many different disciplines and making [them] relevant to Torah, so that Torah then becomes something that is ancient but all encompassing — but entirely up to date. And that’s exciting. [Studying with Fohrman is] always text based, but is never only text based.”

mgerr@midatlanticmedia.com

Jewish Women’s Renaissance Project Expands Israel Trip to Mothers

Ministry of Diaspora Affairs director general Dvir Kahana (fifth from left) and Jewish Women’s Renaissance Project founding director Lori Palatnik (fifth from right) attended a March 20 reception announcing the expansion of the Momentum trip program for Jewish mothers going to Israel. (Provided)

Ministry of Diaspora Affairs director general Dvir Kahana (fifth from left) and Jewish Women’s Renaissance Project founding director Lori Palatnik (fifth from right) attended a March 20 reception announcing the expansion of the Momentum trip program for Jewish mothers going to Israel. (Provided)

More than 5,600 Jewish mothers from 26 countries will now have a chance to visit Israel over the next two years as a result of a new initiative of the Jewish Women’s Renaissance Project and Israel’s Ministry of Diaspora Affairs.

On March 20 during a  reception at the AIPAC Policy Conference, the two groups announced a $12.5 million  expansion of the organization’s Momentum program, a Birthright-like trip that sends Jewish mothers, who have a child under 18, to Israel for a nine-day excursion aimed at helping mothers become more in touch with their Jewish heritage. Other than the cost of the airfare, the trip is free.

Since 2014, the JWRP has partnered with the Ministry of Diaspora Affairs in supporting half of the cost of the trip, which founding director and Rockville resident Lori Palatnik said came after a series of meetings with the ministry and its declaration that “you’re what we’ve been looking for.”

“We both have the same goal, to strengthen Jews in the Diaspora, to strengthen Jewish communities,” Palatnik said. “And we both agree that the best way to strengthen the Jewish community is to inspire the Jewish mother. … You  inspire the Jewish mother, you inspire the whole family.”

Palatnik and director general of the Ministry of Diaspora Affairs Dvir Kahana were on hand at the reception last week. Kahana said the hope  is for Momentum trips to continue growing and include women from a variety of  ethnicities.

 

You inspire the Jewish mother, you inspire the whole family.”
— Lori Palatnik

“The ministry considers Momentum to be a game-changing project, and so we’ve decided to partner with JWRP,” he said. “Not only do we provide equal funding, but we also work together as full partners — both in strategic planning and program execution.”

Kahana added that the ministry also supports Birthright and Masa Israel trips.

It was with the goal in mind of putting Jewish women more in touch with their heritage that Washington-based JWRP was founded in 2008 and began the Momentum project, sending more than 7,000 women to Israel in eight years.

JWRP founding director Lori Palatnik said the key to strengthening the heritage of Jews is through the Jewish mother. (Provided)

JWRP founding director Lori Palatnik said the key to strengthening the heritage of Jews is through the Jewish mother. (Provided)

The trip typically includes iconic sites such as Masada, the Western Wall and Safed, which were part of Baltimore resident Debra Weinberg’s trip last October. Weinberg, who sits on the board of The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore, said there were 200 women on her trip that included North Americans as well as a group from St. Petersburg, Russia and secular Israelis.

Weinberg had been to Israel numerous times before but said this trip put her in touch with “Israel’s soul” through a number of seminars, such as “Keeping the spark alive,” “Our roles as Jewish mothers,” “Jewish values for kids” and “Shabbat: heaven on earth.”

“Deeply profound conversations with new friends were at the heart of this trip,” she said. “Where else are you told that you complete God’s world and are challenged to consider what each of us can contribute to this world?”

Weinberg said a low-cost trip is part of the incentive for women to go, but for those who experience Israel for the first time, it is an especially moving experience.

“One woman who is a convert and sent her children to day school was especially moved at the Kotel,” she said. “Her children had been able to travel to Israel as students, and she wished to explore Israel after hearing about their journeys.”

Weinberg said last week she received a letter that she had written to herself before the trip highlighting what she wanted to accomplish and said it is now clear that the Momentum project succeeded in “turning inspiration into action.”

“New friendships were  created, our love for Israel was deepened, and many of us took baby steps in trying a new mitzvah,” she said. “We pledged to accept greater  responsibility for our community and our organizations and committed to make Jewish learning a priority.”

dschere@midatlanticmedia.com

Less is More When Leading a Seder

(istockphoto.com/Karaidel)

(istockphoto.com/Karaidel)

If you are leading a Passover seder for the first time this year, the key may be to start small, according to many Washington, D.C.-area rabbis.

“One of my best pieces of advice for the seder is to have a number of people there that you feel you can actually have a conversation with,” said Rabbi Scott Perlo of 6th and I Historic Synagogue.

Perlo remembers leading one of his first seders at Camp Ramah in California while he was a rabbinic student and said the scene was “pure chaos.”

“It was 150 people who had come to Camp Ramah for the week to spend Passover there,” he said.

For beginners, Perlo says a better approach is to host a seder in your home and recommends becoming familiar with a haggadah that you are most comfortable with.

“Haggadot are the most user-friendly of all Jewish books,” he said. “They give you step-by-step instructions.”

Perlo emphasized it is not necessary to know every prayer traditionally said at the seder, adding that designing your own haggadah using haggadot.com is a good place to start. The site allows users to pick and choose from a variety of themes and traditions typically observed during the seder. There are even templates from which to choose, such as one designed by Becca Goldstein of American University Hillel for a social justice-themed seder that is focused on the Black Lives Matter movement.

“If you’re leading seder, I think your job is to make the Passover story come alive for people,” Perlo said. “That means first it has to come alive for you. Read the story and understand it in a way where the story of the Exodus speaks to you.”

Facilitating good conversation is the key to a fulfilling seder, said Rabbi Laura Rappaport of Temple B’nai Shalom in Fairfax, Va. Rappaport said the haggadah is more of a script that was written centuries ago as a guide for Jews who were not sure what to talk about on Passover.

“What they should be preparing is a really interesting night of conversation about the themes,” she said, “either their personal lives or what’s going on in society.”

This year, Rappaport will have no shortage of company, as she is leading six seders including her own family seder, a senior adult seder at the JCC of Northern Virginia and one at her congregation. She said the task of making a seder fulfilling for so many different groups is not difficult because the themes of freedom and personal journey are universal. In the past she has related the themes of Passover to politics, family life and personal growth.

“I might share a few quotes that strike me a particular year and how it reflects on them,” she said. “I feel like a seder leader is there to facilitate an experience that is relevant for the people there.”

For example, Rappaport said this year, “welcoming the stranger” is a particularly pertinent theme, as it relates to feelings about immigration and the refugee crisis. Most importantly though, she thinks about the meaning of having family together for a seder.

“Seder should not be a heavy experience,” she said. “It should connect with you spiritually and emotionally. So I think it’s a nice part of seder if you can connect with family or close friends with which you have seder every year.”

Perlo too said the Passover themes often spark lively discussion. He said he often asks questions such as, “Who would you be in the Passover story if it happened today?” and “Where do you see the Exodus story in everyday life?”

“The best conversations usually come up with disagreements about what the story means,” he said.

Perlo said this approach to a more intimate seder allows people to have conversations about “the biggest ideas in the world across a small dinner table.” This year, 6th and I is encouraging younger Jews to host seders in their homes as part of an initiative called “Seders Across DC.” The synagogue is collaborating with an organization called OneTable, which normally helps people host Shabbat in their home by partnering with on-demand grocery services such as Instacart that allow people to order premade food and accessories.

Because the first night of Passover falls on April 22, a Friday night, OneTable chose to engage with seder-leading efforts as well this year. In addition to OneTable, Motis Market will also provide food and supplies for $20 per person.

“We’d like to encourage as many people to have seders in their homes as possible,” Perlo said.

dschere@midatlanticmedia.com