A League of Their Own: A Jewish Baseball Museum, At Last

This custom baseball signed by Sandy Koufax and other Hall of Famers, including Yogi Berra, is a prized possession in the Jeff Aeder collection.

This custom baseball signed by Sandy Koufax and other Hall of Famers, including Yogi Berra, is a prized possession in the Jeff Aeder collection. (Courtesy of Jeff Aeder)

Hall of Famer Hank Greenberg was a star for The Detroit Tigers. This photo is from 1935. (TSN Archives/Getty Images)

Hall of Famer Hank Greenberg was a star for The Detroit Tigers. This photo is from 1935. (TSN Archives/Getty Images)

When Jews visit the baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., they can learn about the only two members of the tribe who have been inducted into the hallowed museum: Hank “The Hebrew Hammer” Greenberg and Sandy Koufax.

Now they’ll have the chance to find out about the dozens of other Jews who have played in the Major Leagues.

Thanks to the effort of a dedicated memorabilia collector, clearly taking Theodor Herzl’s legendary words to heart — “If you will it, it is no dream” — a Jewish baseball museum is, at last, a reality.

Well, make that a virtual reality.

An extensive new website, The Jewish Baseball Museum, is a veritable Jewish baseball nerd’s dream. Launched on Monday, the site is complete with biographies of nearly all the Jews who made it to the big leagues. There are interviews with former players and prominent baseball-industry types, as well as a timeline of Jewish baseball stories that dates to the 1860s.

The site could be the precursor to an actual Jewish baseball museum in Chicago, according to its creator, Jeff Aeder, a Chicago-based real estate investor and Cubs fanatic.

The Jewish Baseball Museum is a passion project for Aeder, 54, who says he has amassed one of the largest collections of Jewish baseball memorabilia in the country. His collection, which is showcased on the site, comprises some 2,000 objects — among them are a Ron Blomberg bat with a Star of David on the knob and a letter written by Greenberg to a friend during World War II — and approximately 2,500 pre-1990 baseball cards of Jewish players.

Aeder says the website is an opportunity to introduce the stories of older Jewish ballplayers to younger generations.

“Of all the [Jewish] ballplayers who’ve played in the major leagues, everybody always says Koufax and Hank Greenberg,” he said. “But when you learn and read about people like Jimmie Reese [born James Herman Solomon], Al Rosen, Sy Rosenthal, Mo Berg, there are just so many people. And they have unbelievable stories.”

Cleveland Indians star Al Rosen, the American League’s MVP in 1953, used this bat in the 1955 All Star Game. (Courtesy of Jeff Aeder)

Cleveland Indians star Al Rosen, the American League’s MVP in 1953, used this bat in the 1955 All Star Game. (Courtesy of Jeff Aeder)

Take Lipman Pike, who in 1871 became the first Jew to play for the majors — and earned a salary of $20 a week.

Aeder — who with his wife, Jennifer Levine, were named Chicagoans of the Year in 2013 for opening the Wolcott School, a high school for kids with learning challenges — will gauge the reaction to the website before moving ahead with plans for the physical museum. He hopes it will open as early as 2017 in his native Lakeview neighborhood on the city’s North Side.

Aeder said his collection would form the core of the museum’s permanent exhibit.

For now, the site lives up to its title as an “online museum.” Viewers can zoom in for closeups of Aeder’s collectibles and scroll through dozens of videos with footage of classic Jewish baseball moments, from Koufax’s World Series wins to Shawn Green’s four home-run game. Stories and interviews by well-known baseball writers populate the site’s many other sections.

Perhaps surprisingly, Aeder, who says he has a “fairly obsessive personality,” hasn’t spent decades amassing his huge collection. Rather it has taken shape only the past few years, during which Aeder attended auctions, scoured eBay and sent personal letters to owners looking to sell.

Aeder is no stranger to having a successful “hobby” — he’s also the founding owner of Milt’s Barbecue for the Perplexed, a popular kosher barbecue joint near Wrigley Field that serves up old-fashioned ribs and sides and gives its profits to worthy causes. The restaurant has earned the respect of Cubs fans — Jews and non-Jews alike — as well as last year’s Cy Young Award winner, Jake Arrieta.

Aeder’s motto for his labor-of-love ventures sounds like something the late Yogi Berra might say: “If you’re going to do something, do it first class,” he said. “Otherwise don’t do it.”

So here’s hoping another sage’s words will come true. In this case, “the voice” from “Field of Dreams”: “If you build it, they will come.”

ARIEL Jewish Center Celebrates Purim Downtown

Rabbi Velvel Belinsky displays a mix of American patriotism and  Jewish heritage by dressing up as Uncle “Shmuel” during ARIEL’s Purim party at Kali’s Court in Fells Point. (Justin Katz)

Rabbi Velvel Belinsky displays a mix of American patriotism and Jewish heritage by dressing up as Uncle “Shmuel” during ARIEL’s Purim party at Kali’s Court in Fells Point. (Justin Katz)

Uncle Sam, a pirate and a presidential candidate walk into a bar in downtown Baltimore; they spend the night taking photos, shaking groggers and eating hamantaschen.

“Since we started planning the party, we have seen an overwhelming response from our community,” said Rabbi Velvel Belinsky, director of the ARIEL Jewish Center, an affiliate of Chabad-Lubavitch Maryland. “We have a wonderful team of volunteers who have been working tirelessly on  creating this wonderful event.”

About 200 of Belinsky’s congregants, their friends and family gathered at Kali’s Court in Fells Point last Thursday night to celebrate Purim with Dave Sandler — “Detour Dave” of 98 Rock and WBAL — and popular DJs Marat Leon and Tony Smooth.

“It’s unique because it’s an upscale bar. People know this place already, and we obviously bring our own kosher food, but people like it,” said Belinsky. “We have two DJs who are well known in the Russian community.”

This is going to be our first annual big Purim celebration with the whole community  involved. It’s great how the  community comes together for such an event. — Gene Drubetskoy, member of ARIEL Jewish Center

 

The party was sponsored by Berkma-Zagranichny, CPA;  US Motors; S&S Medical; and Certified Title Corporation.

“This is going to be our first annual big Purim celebration with the whole community  involved,” said Gene Drubetskoy, who was dressed as  Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump. “It’s great how the community comes  together for such an event.”

Drubetskoy, who has lived in Baltimore for 26 years, is from Kiev and helped organize the event alongside Brian Goldberg from Owings Mills, who was dressed as Capt.  Jack Sparrow from the movie franchise, “Pirates of the Caribbean.”

The ARIEL Jewish Center acts as a community center for Baltimore’s Eastern- European Jewry, both young and old. The center was incorporated 11 years ago and since then has become well known in Baltimore’s Russian community, including with Boris Meydin, a Baltimore resident for more than two decades who is from the former Soviet Union.

Belinsky, who was dressed in red, white and blue as Uncle “Shmuel,” said attracting younger members of the community was a key purpose of the event, thus the Fells Point location and its proximity to several universities. It was  also open to Jews of all backgrounds and affiliations.

“In many communities you hear synagogues complaining that the younger generation, millennials as they call them, are disenfranchised and don’t feel they are a part of [a congregation],” said Belinsky. ARIEL takes pride in creating programs that are appealing to millennials.”

The festive celebration was an opportunity for ARIEL to be known for something more than its legal battle with some Baltimore County residents concerning its synagogue  location. Belinsky said most people are familiar with the community and knew of the congregation long before the hearings started.

“In the Russian community where we operate, we were known way before [the hearings],” said Belinsky. “I would be very surprised if you would find one Russian Jew in the Baltimore area who doesn’t know ARIEL and doesn’t know Rabbi Belinsky.”

jkatz@midatlanticmedia.com; dschere@midatlanticmedia.com

National Hillel Basketball Tournament Scores Record Numbers

Board members are all smiles after another successful tournament. The National Hillel Basketball  Tournament is student-run and had 18 board members this year. (Lisa Appelbaum of Photography By Lisa)

Board members are all smiles after another successful tournament. The National Hillel Basketball Tournament is student-run and had 18 board members this year. (Lisa Appelbaum of Photography By Lisa)

Bringing in more than 2,400 Jewish collegiate basketball players, coaches and fans from around the country requires an ambitious checklist: 18 go-getting students willing to balance their lives with the details and work required to host a competitive tournament; a concert featuring  Matisyahu and Nadim Azzam; and a seemingly infinite supply of Gatorade.

The National Hillel Basketball Tournament, hosted annually by Maryland Hillel, completed its sixth tourney last weekend, when more than 50 teams from 35 schools came together in College Park with two things uniting them: Judaism and basketball. The event had a list of more than 20 sponsors that ranged from Gatorade and Baltimore-based Under Armour to the Jewish Agency for Israel and Hillel International.

“What’s unique about [NHBT] is that we’re a tournament with a board of 18 students that starts the first week of the [school] year in September, and we work until the tournament happens,” said Joseph Tuchman, tournament chairman and a graduating senior at Maryland who is majoring in finance and entrepreneurship. “These are 18 students who are all go-getters from other organizations [around campus].”

A player from the Stern College for Women tries to fight through Emory University’s defense. (Lisa Appelbaum of Photography By Lisa)

A player from the Stern College for Women tries to fight through Emory University’s defense. (Lisa Appelbaum of Photography By Lisa)

Tuchman, 24, from Silver Spring, got involved as a freshman and has run the show for three years straight. The event, which is fully student run, had a budget of $100,000, all raised and allocated by students.

“To do that, you need to have incredible trust in everyone on the team,” said Tuchman.

He has seen the event grow from 25 teams, 200 athletes and one sponsor to what it is now.

After graduation, Tuchman is getting married and plans to work for Venture Capital in New York City. He is confident in the leadership to which he is passing the torch.

Yeshiva University (Ammar) defeated George Washington University, 46-40, in the men’s championship game, which was dedicated to Ezra Schwartz, a gap-year student who was killed last year in Israel during a terror attack. His sister, Mollie, is a Maryland student.

“It was nice to spend Shabbos with so many Hillels from around the country,” said Mikhael Smits, from Boston, who played for Princeton University. “You get to reconnect with old friends, make new ones and play a little bit of basketball.”

Smits added that he plays for a Princeton intramural Jewish basketball team called Gefilte Swish. The team brought eight members to the tournament and made it to the Sweet 16.

I think this is one of those  perfect anecdotes to say,  ‘We are here,’ We are proud  of Am Yisrael, proud of what  it means to be part of the  Jewish people, and we’re not afraid of facing our identity.” — Rabbi Ari Israel, executive director of Maryland Hillel

 

“The tournament itself is great, but [I enjoy] just hanging out with everyone and the atmosphere of it,” said Uri Pearl, who is from Atlanta and played for Maryland.

Basketball: file photo; Basketball players (Lisa Appelbaum of Photography By Lisa)

Basketball: file photo; Basketball players (Lisa Appelbaum of Photography By Lisa)

Emory University took the women’s championship game, dedicated to Columbia University student Daniella Moffson who was killed in a January bus crash while on a charity mission in Honduras, by  a score of 28-15 over Stern College for Women.

The tournament was created by alumnus Rachel Klausner in 2010.

“I’m loving [the tournament], it’s [set up well],” said Sara Grzebinski, a freshman from Columbia University. “It’s great to be around so many other Jewish kids, and [we’re] having a good time meeting each other.”

The tournament, aside from the competition, brings together many Jewish college students for a Shabbat weekend. This year, more than 600 people  attended the Friday night dinner.

“I think this is one of those perfect anecdotes to say, ‘We are here,’” said Rabbi Ari Israel, executive director of Maryland Hillel. “We are proud of Am Yisrael, proud of what it means to be a part of the Jewish people, and we’re not afraid of  facing our identity.”

jkatz@midatlanticmedia.com

Anat Hoffman’s Words on Equality, Prayer Resonate with Area Supporters

Anat Hoffman (Melissa Gerr)

Anat Hoffman (Melissa Gerr)

Although Baltimore Hebrew Congregation members Phyllis Lederman, Karan Engerman and Helene Waranch and Beth El Congregation member Sheila Derman have heard Anat Hoffman’s impassioned words before, they weren’t about to miss her speaking again, this time at Temple Oheb Shalom last month.

Hoffman is executive director of the Israel Religious Action Center, the legal and advocacy arm of the Reform Movement in Israel, and a founding member of Women of the Wall, an organization that strives to gain social and legal recognition for women to wear prayer shawls, pray aloud and read from the Torah at the women’s section of the Western Wall.

“Everything she stands for is what I stand for,” said Engerman. “Equality for women [praying] at the wall, fighting for women in Israel who were being made to sit at the back of the buses.”

“She’s a great speaker who has gone to bat for Reform and Conservative women,” said Lederman.

Hoffman implored the mostly female audience “to interfere” in what she describes as  Orthodoxy’s “monopoly” on Israeli society.

When it comes to Jewish values, Hoffman said, “Israel is quite bankrupt. Israelis are not aware of so much of their  Judaism. That’s because there is just one product on the shelf — Orthodoxy. And most  Israelis reject Orthodoxy,” she said. “I must tell you. Things are not going well in terms of religious plurality, gender equality and tolerance in  Israel.”

Hoffman, who has worked for 27 years to secure equal rights for women to pray in the women’s section of the Kotel, scored a historic victory on Jan. 31, when with the support of the Jewish Federations of North America and Reform and Conservative Jewry in  Israel and North America, she negotiated a compromise with the Israeli government. It  allowed the creation of a  revamped egalitarian prayer space, located adjacent to a site called the Robinson’s Arch, to the south of the main Orthodox plaza. Implementation, which took three years to negotiate, was thwarted, however, when the Religious Services minister, David Azoulay, refused to sign off on the agreement within the required 30 days.

“The 30 days have come and gone,” said Hoffman. “He says he would rather have his right arm cut off than sign it.” An audible gasp was heard in the audience.

Now, Hoffman said, “Jerusalem is covered in posters against Reform Jews.”

The text of one poster reads: “The holiness of the wall  extends its whole length, from its most southern corner to its most northern corner. It is  inconceivable to divide the Kotel or the area adjacent to it. The Reform shall shatter us to splinters and split us into factions. … We need salvation in spirituality, especially now that the Supreme Court has intervened to allow the Reform into our land, and their essence is to take Jews and make them Goyim. This monster is worse than all the seculars we know. In their actions, they bring chaos into the world and increase the power of Satan. God Forbid.”

Hoffman noted that these signs were a sample of hundreds that hang throughout Jerusalem.

“This is really a disappointment,” she said. “We cannot allow extremists to take over.”

Yet, Hoffman says she has hope.

“The Reform and Conservative movements have been making headway. I think 2016 will be a turning point.”

“Ten years ago [IRAC was] suffering and fighting over gender segregation in the public sphere. Twenty-six Orthodox women came to us and said, ‘We aren’t allowed to sit in the front of the bus.’ We fought with them in court.”

Although the women won their suit, many people ignored  the court’s ruling. That was until IRAC sued 13 bus drivers “one after the other,” Hoffman said. Now,  bus drivers follow the law, and there are very few segregated buses.

Recently, IRAC took Israeli airline El Al to court on behalf of an 81-year-old Holocaust survivor and retired attorney, Renee Rabinowitz.

Rabinowitz was awaiting takeoff of a flight from New Jersey to Israel in Dec., when a flight attendant asked her to move to another seat. Rabinowitz discovered later that she was asked to move because the ultra-Orthodox man  assigned to the seat next to hers refused to sit next to a woman.

“It took us two years to find the perfect case, and she came to us. Since we have publicized her case, four other cases have emerged. And at last, what we were waiting for, an anonymous call from a flight attendant saying, ‘This is company policy. It is not, as El Al has claimed, a voluntary arrangement between passengers. ‘No, we are told [by El Al] to move people.’”

Hoffman expects Rabinowitz, originally offered a $200  discount on a future ticket by the airline, to be awarded more than $65,000 in her  discrimination suit.

Reform Rabbi Elissa Sachs-Kohen of Baltimore Hebrew Congregation declared Hoffman “a remarkable beacon of hope for women around the world — and for men. We all deserve a Judaism that  acknowledges how sacred each of us is.”

Russell Margolis, president of Bolton Street Synagogue and one of the few men in  attendance, was accompanied by a group of fellow congregants.

“My wife was very inspired by Anat when she heard her speak in Israel, and she has been talking about it ever since. It was a great pleasure and an inspiration for those of us in the progressive [Jewish] community to hear her,”  Margolis said.

“We’ve read about the  efforts she has taken,” added Ken Karpay, also of Bolton Street Synagogue.  “She was right when she said, ‘It’s not about religion. It’s about power and politics.’”

Simone Ellin is a local freelance writer.

Sweet News: Girl Scout Thin Mints Are Now Kosher Pareve

ThinMintsSeeing packs of young girls congregating in front of supermarkets across Pittsburgh, flanked by brightly colored boxes, can only mean one thing — and it’s a pretty good thing.

It’s Girl Scout cookie season.

And while that is welcome news any year, Jews who keep kosher have even more to celebrate for cookie season 2016: the iconic and ever-popular Thin Mints are now certified kosher pareve by the Orthodox Union.

All varieties of Girl Scout cookies have been certified kosher-dairy for years, but  Little Brownie Bakers, the company that supplies the Girl Scouts with their wares, has changed its recipe to remove dairy products from Thin Mints, which are also vegan.

“I was surprised to find out they were pareve, because we eat a lot of that stuff,” said Squirrel Hill, Pa., resident Macy Kisilinsky. “Now, on  Friday nights after a meat meal, we can have Thin Mints for dessert. I have four daughters, and we buy a lot of chocolate.”

In fact, the Kisilinskys are so passionate about pareve chocolate that four years ago they shelled out more than $650 for six cases of Trader Joe’s pareve chocolate chips after the news hit that the morsels would be changing over to dairy.

“We like the Thin Mints,” Kisilinsky said. “Now, if only they could make them for  Pesach, it would be great.”

The cookies received their pareve certification after whey, which is a form of dairy, was removed, and a flavor that contained dairy was replaced with a non-dairy flavor.

“The cookie taste and texture are unaffected,” according  to the Little Brownie Bakers website.

There is still “a small supply” of Thin Mint boxes that are  labeled kosher-dairy, according to Little Brownie Bakers, but the cookies are nonetheless vegan and made without  animal-derived products.

“Girl Scouts recognizes that there are millions of people with dietary restrictions, and we wanted to ensure that all customers could enjoy our delicious treats,” said a  Girl Scouts of the USA spokesperson. “Our bakers have produced a variety of cookies that take lifestyle changes and dietary restrictions into account, including gluten-free, vegan and kosher options.”

The demand for commercially produced food products that are made with no animal derivatives is steadily increasing,  according to Chani Shusterman, who developed her own line of pareve chocolate chips, California Gourmet, after the Trader Joe’s brand went dairy. She has had a lot of success with her product, which can be found in Pittsburgh as well as in 170 Jewel grocery stores in Illinois.

“Some people have milk  allergies, or for other reasons don’t want milk in their diet,” Shusterman said. “Other people are concerned about the treatment of animals, so they want products that are dairy-free.

“The smartest move I made was to label my chocolate chips vegan,” she continued. “That’s how people identify.”

Options for vegans are  increasing because of the quantity of products now certified pareve, according to Jeff Cohan, executive director of Jewish Veg, an organization that works to promote plant-based diets.

“One of the things that makes going vegan easier than you might expect is that so many items in the supermarket are vegan because of the kosher pareve certification,” he said.

While Thin Mints were one of Cohan’s favorite Girl Scout cookies when he was growing up, he probably will not be stocking up on them this  season despite their new pareve/vegan designation.

“We like to eat more of a whole food diet, and try to limit our consumption of processed foods at home,”  he said. “It’s much healthier to eat foods not processed and foods that are only partially processed.”

But for Pittsburgh resident Dan Butler, the pareve designation on the Thin Mints is a “big deal because it increases the window of time the cookies can be utilized, including as part of a meat meal.”

Although the Thin Mints pareve designation is good news, the Girl Scouts could go even further as far as Butler is concerned.

“It would mean a lot more to me spiritually if the Samoas were pareve,” he said.

Toby Tabachnick is senior writer for The Jewish Chronicle in Pittsburgh. She can be reached at tobyt@thejewishchronicle.net.

The Universality of Loss: ‘Falling Out of Time’ World Premiere

Michael Russotto (foreground) and John Lescault appear in Theater J’s production of “Falling Out of Time.” (C. Stanley Photography)

Michael Russotto (foreground) and John Lescault appear in Theater J’s production of “Falling Out of Time.” (C. Stanley Photography)

There is assuredly no pain greater than losing a child. Israeli novelist and public intellectual David Grossman lost his youngest son, Uri, in the final hours of the second Lebanon War. His grief was primal, elemental and profoundly personal. But as an act of healing, Grossman sought to capture the universality of the grieving process when losing a child in his 2014 poem/ novella/drama “Falling Out of Time.”

This month, his wrenching work of loss and reconciliation makes its world premiere on the Theater J stage in a sometimes vivid, sometimes sphinx-like adaptation of the book by locally based director Derek Goldman, known for his work at Theater J on “Our Class” and “In Darfur.” The 90-minute meditative drama, which runs through April 17 in the Goldman Theater of the Washington, D.C., Jewish Community Center, is in parts thought-provoking, wrenching and captivating.

Grossman crafted a modern myth with an Everyman at its helm and a supporting cast serving in the metaphorical process of coming to terms with the death of a beloved. We watch the suffering and torment of these archetypal characters as they take steps back into the world of the living and accept life even amid incomprehensible death and tremendous loss.

For this production, Goldman pushes the boundaries of the playing space, placing characters in the audience and 19 audience members in on-stage seats — suggesting that we are all party to the joys and sorrows of living and dying, grieving, forgetting and remembering. Misha Kachman and Ivania Stack, set and costume designers, respectively, mix periods and styles, alluding to the timelessness of the piece — and the healing process. There’s an old-fashioned cobbler’s bench and a contemporary suburban streetlight, a bowler hat and long military swing coat and ubiquitous modern-day plaid shirts and khaki slacks that all suggest literally being out of time.

Eric Shimelonis’s original music and sound score also places the action in a mysterious and otherworldly environment, with tinkling bells, strumming bass notes and ambient noises of hammering, footsteps and water in a wash tub altering the senses.

A first glimpse of the Chronicler (Michael Russotto) occurs as he stands in thoughtful repose in the audience, notebook and pen in hand. As a bit of a Grossman alter ego, a writer and recorder, he’s the town note-taker, observing, questioning, pressing for details from every townsperson he meets. The Centaur, perhaps another side of Grossman, is a writer silenced, his notebook blank, his story choked inside as he cynically accuses the Chronicler about his voyeuristic penchant for peering into other people’s lives, mining their pain, for titillation as much as for reportage.

Bedraggled in ragged clothes and unkempt hair, the Centaur is trapped, his lower body invisible underground. He remains a sentry of sorts, representing stasis, an inability to move forward as the rest of these characters navigate the process of coming to terms with and breaking out of grief.

The narrative opens with an Everyman, known simply as Man in this telling (Joseph Wycoff), and his wife, Woman (Erika Rose), conversing elliptically at dinner. He’s leaving, going “there,” cryptically suggesting the place where their son was felled. The dialogue between the two opens up and enlivens Grossman’s prose from his written fable, which can be chilly and ascetic. Particularly with Rose’s insistent approach as the Wife who seems to see the danger in her husband’s quest, this early dialogue sets the action in motion. His first few steps lead into a labyrinthine walk around the theater as a means of healing himself and eventually others to join him. The journey of one becomes that of many.

Grossman’s words move these grieving parents from denial to, ultimately, acceptance. An apotheosis or visionary section is most problematic, as an imagined wall featuring the changing faces of children is described while the performers strip away the accoutrements of daily living. Myth and reality try mightily to mingle and merge in Goldman’s production — earth opening, a light- infused blaze, a thunderclap are described literarily rather than created through stagecraft.

Grossman set his work in a no-person’s land purposely. He has been castigated in Israel for his left-leaning politics, so the choice to universalize the setting is a telling one. In his mythologizing, he reaches out to others — the nameless — carrying neither religion nor country as an identity, only their titles.

As the circle of walkers widens and each new character arrives at a personal level of acceptance, a community of mourners is created. And while the group didn’t number the classic 10 required for a recitation of the Jewish mourner’s prayer, grieving in a community is the traditional Jewish way.

Grossman has created a community to mourn and to overcome the death of a loved one. “Falling Out of Time” theatricalizes a deeply personal account in ways that are striking and possibly disquieting. It’s a challenging and not always easy experience for viewers who may still be coming to terms with the freshness of their own losses.

 

‘Falling Out of Time’
by David Grossman

Theater J, Washington, DC-JCC
through April 17

1529 16th St., NW, Washington, D.C.
Tickets start at $37. Call 202-777-3210 or visit theaterj.org.

 

Lisa Traiger is a local freelance writer.

Happy Fun Purim! A Real Favorite

Hamantaschen (By Photo by David Stuck)

Hamantaschen (By Photo by David Stuck)

A group of Jewish women were recently asked what their favorite holiday was.  The majority answered, “Purim!”  Why?  Because it is fun, can be participated in by all ages and, oh those delicious hamantaschen. All of the princess gear available make the holiday a standout for girls with beautiful costumes to become Queen Esther. And super-hero costumes are definitely boy favorites.

For me, stuffed cabbage and hamantaschen are the staples of Purim.  I always look for easy-to-cook, shortcut recipes of the traditional dishes but with the same flavors intact. Conveniences such as frozen puff pastry and advance no-cook cabbage — detailed in Tips — leave time for more groggin’ and Purim play.

Thank you to the Joy of Kosher Internet site for pointing out that Queen Esther was a vegetarian, eating only plant foods. Check out the site for a myriad of hamantaschen recipes, even a vegan one!

Easy Internet Hamantaschen (Dairy/Pareve)

Unstuffed Cabbage (Pracas) (Meat)

Easy Sweet & Sour Stuffed Cabbage (Meat)

Puff Pastry Hamantaschen

 

TIPS & TRICKS
• Don’t bother cooking cabbage in advance. Simply freeze the whole head of cabbage overnight in a plastic bag.  Defrost it at room temp or in a microwave, core and use the leaves to easily wrap meat. No fuss or mess.

• Have a box of frozen puff pastry sheets on hand.  Prepare according to the accompanying recipe, sweet or savory.

• Get some good store-bought bakery chocolate hamantaschen and drizzle with your own from-scratch easy chocolate or vanilla frosting. It is then considered “homemade.”

 

Ilene Spector is a local freelance writer.

Catering to Love for 75 Years

Louis and Edith Bluefeld married Feb. 23, 1941 and just celebrated their 75th wedding anniversary. They live in Boca Raton, Fla., after several decades living, and working, in the Baltimore area. (Photos provided)

Louis and Edith Bluefeld married Feb. 23, 1941 and just celebrated their 75th wedding anniversary. They live in Boca Raton, Fla., after several decades living, and working, in the Baltimore area. (Photos provided)

Louis and Edith Bluefeld have settled into a comfortable marital rhythm in their relationship. He’s the talker, but she chimes in with details. She plans everything, but he’s the happy socializer. It works for them.

And it should. After all, they’ve spent 75 years perfecting it.

The Bluefelds married Feb. 23, 1941 and just celebrated their 75th wedding anniversary. And those 75 years have no shortage of good memories.

Baltimore natives Louis and Edith Bluefeld are well-known for running Bluefeld Catering, a kosher catering company started by Louis’ mother that fed the Baltimore Jewish — and non-Jewish — community for more than 40 years.

Bluefeld Catering made its mark beyond Baltimore, however. The company was the first to kosher the White House kitchen, served former Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin when he visited Washington, D.C. for the announcement of the 1978 Peace Accords, catered the inaugural dinner for former President Richard Nixon and became go-to caterers for the movers-and-shakers of Capitol Hill.

“Oh, we met everyone,” Louis said, more or less dismissively. He and Edith don’t shy away from their accomplishments, but take a great deal more pride in the family events they catered in the community — weddings, bar mitzvahs and other celebrations.

“It was a good time in people’s lives,” Edith said.

“Our business was a joy,” Louis added. “The Baltimore Jewish community …” Louis paused and Edith filled in, “… are wonderful.”

bluefeld1Events done for Holocaust survivors and their families were particularly special to them.

“They couldn’t stop celebrating,” Louis said. “They never thought they’d have this.”

Louis and Edith met when they were 16 years old. His Criterion Club was throwing a party at the downtown Howard Hotel. They each came with different dates.

Edith spotted Louis across the room and told her friends, “This fella on the other side of the room, I want to meet him.” And, at least in this one case, wishing made it so. Louis asked Edith’s date to drive him to pick up the family car from his father. Edith’s date brought her along for the ride.

Before the end of the night, Louis had Edith’s phone number. He called her two nights later — “at 7,” Edith said, briefly cutting into Louis’  recounting of the story with the exact time — and asked her out, with one caveat. Since Louis was already working in the family business by then, their first date was on a catering job.

Edith was a hit with her  future mother-in-law right away. Louis’ mother even asked him, at 19, what his intentions were with Edith. She wanted them to get married; Louis was afraid he didn’t have enough money to get married yet.

“She said, ‘If you’re serious, you get married. It will all work out.’ She was right,” Louis said.

So, a few years after they met, they were married. But war was on the horizon, and, in 1943, Louis shipped off to New Guinea and the Philippines to serve in World War II. He was gone for three years, and Edith wrote him a letter every single day.

“Mail was so important [for the] servicemen,” Louis said. “I always had lots of mail.”

Once Louis returned, the couple settled in to post-war life — Louis working full time at Bluefeld Catering and Edith running the household, and raising their two children.

Their 25th anniversary was the big party, but their 50th was a smaller affair, at least by the standards of two people used to catering large-scale events. It was just 50 people. For this most recent one, they kept it a family celebration.

Louis and Edith retired to Boca Raton, Fla., more than 30 years ago after selling the company in 1984. Several of their friends in Boca are from their old days in Baltimore, however. One friend in particular is Burt Gold, now in his early 80s, who Louis has known since they were young. Bluefeld Catering had catered Gold’s bar mitzvah, his wedding, his children’s bar mitzvahs and weddings and other family celebrations.

Louis and Edith are impressively healthy for their 95 and 94 years, respectively. It could be all the walking — they  always take the stairs to their fourth-floor apartment. Or, maybe it’s the trips to the gym three times a week, where they each ride two miles on a  stationary bike.

But they also attribute their overall health to a healthy  relationship. They spoke with some sadness about couples, young and old, who don’t seem to enjoy each other’s company.

“I don’t need a lot of people,” Louis said. “I still enjoy being with my wife. We’re not bored with each other.”

“He’s just my favorite — his personality, his disposition,” Edith said.

If there’s one secret Louis and Edith impart to their happy relationship, it’s this: Don’t sweat the small stuff. Let the little things go and tolerate each other’s quirks, Louis said.

Edith agreed: “You’ll have a day that is bad, but tomorrow is going to be better.”

hjohnson@midatlanticmedia.com

Baltimore Jewish Film Festival Kicks Off This Weekend

“Diplomacy” plays on April 5. (provided)

“Diplomacy” plays on April 5. (provided)

The Gordon Center for Performing Arts hosts the 28th annual William and Irene Weinberg Family Baltimore Jewish Film Festival from March 12 through April 17.

The festival features dramas, documentaries, comedies and even an animated film by filmmakers from Israel, the United Kingdom, the United States, France, Germany, Venezuela, Argentina, Sweden and the Netherlands.

“What’s so exciting about the Baltimore Jewish Film Festival is the contrasting portrayals of what it means to be Jewish in a variety of places and historical times,” said Alyson Bonavoglia, director of the festival.  “Regardless of where you are in the world, being Jewish is accompanied by the sense that our history, ancient through modern, is very close at hand.”

For a mouth-watering flick, attendees can check out “Deli Man,” a documentary in which a third-generation delicatessen man and a Yiddish-speaking French-trained chef guide a geographical and historical tour of the world of deli food. Director Erik Greenberg Anjou will be in attendance.

What’s so  exciting about the Baltimore Jewish Film  Festival is the contrasting  portrayals of what it means to be Jewish in a variety of places and historical times.
— Alyson Bonavoglia,  Jewish film festival director

 

“’Deli Man’ takes us on tour of Europe and the United States, showing how deli food became part of the American Jewish culinary tradition and how it continues to be adapted to modern tastes,” Bonavoglia said.

Another documentary, “Rosenwald,” tells the story of Julius Rosenwald, a man who never finished high school but became president of Sears,  Roebuck & Co., helped African- American communities build schools in the Jim Crow South and became a leading philanthropist. Director Aviva Kempner will also be on hand.

“Secrets of War” plays on April 10. (provided)

“Secrets of War” plays on April 10. (provided)

The festival features a number of captivating dramas, including “Diplomacy.” The film is set in the summer of 1944, when the Allies were marching toward Paris and Hitler gave the orders that the French capital should be left “only as a field of rubble” if it falls into enemy hands. The movie, based on real events, captures a Swedish consul-general’s effort to convince a Nazi general to abandon his plans.

“Secrets of War” tells the story of two best friends in a Nazi-occupied Dutch village who are put at odds when one of their fathers, a Nazi sympathizer, is named mayor and the other’s father joins the resistance. In “A Borrowed Identity,” a Palestinian teenager attending a prestigious Jewish boarding school has his identity challenged as he tries to pursue his dreams.

On the lighter side, “Dough” tells the story of elderly baker Nay Dayan, who is trying desperately to save his bakery in London’s East End. He reluctantly hires Ayyash, a refugee from Darfur, who accidently drops a large amount of cannabis in the challah dough. After that  accident, business is booming.

mshapiro@midatlanticmedia.com


 

The Gordon Center
3506 Gwynnbrook Ave. on the Rosenbloom Owings Mills JCC campus
Tickets are $13 in advance, $15 at the door and $5 for students
For a complete schedule and to buy tickets, visit gordoncenter.com or call 410-559-3510

Coming to Terms with a Nazi Past

Jennifer Teege (left) who learned her grandfather was the notorious Nazi war criminal Amon Goeth, spoke at Chizuk Amuno Congregation Monday night. (Photo by David Stuck)

Jennifer Teege (left) who learned her grandfather was the notorious Nazi war criminal Amon Goeth, spoke at Chizuk Amuno Congregation Monday night. (Photo by David Stuck)

In the 70 years since World War II, the word “Nazi” has become shorthand in the cultural lexicon for a wide spectrum of ills and can be thrown around rather carelessly.

But what happens when someone discovers her relative was an actual Nazi?

Jennifer Teege felt her whole identity called into question when she happened to pick up a copy of “But I Have to Love My Father, Don’t I?” at the library where she lives in Hamburg, Germany. In a revelation that would shock anyone, Teege realized the book was about her biological mother and, by extension, her grandfather — a notorious Nazi war criminal and the commandant of Plaszow concentration camp, Amon Goeth.

“While I was leafing through the pages, there were photos and text. I continued and continued and saw a photo of a woman who reminded me of my mother,” she said Monday evening during an event held at Chizuk Amuno Congregation.

Turns out, it wasn’t just a passing resemblance.

The event was the third stop of six in a cross-country tour sponsored by the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. Edna Friedberg, a historian with the museum, interviewed Teege and space was standing room only with more than 450 people in attendance. Teege’s book “My Grandfather Would Have Shot Me: A Black Woman Discovers Her Family’s Nazi Past” was published in English nearly a year ago, and Teege has since been traveling and telling her story publicly.

I had a very different life before. It changes you. You are a part of something bigger. You can’t inherit guilt. What you can inherit is responsibility.
— Jennifer Teege

And what a story it is. Teege was 38 when she stumbled upon this life-changing revelation seven years ago. The daughter of a German woman and Nigerian man, Teege had already had her share of ups and downs. She was given up for adoption at 4 weeks old and spent the next few years at an orphanage, seeing her biological mother and grandmother occasionally. At 3 years old, she was fostered by a German family and subsequently adopted by them.

She grew up not knowing much about her biological family and knowing of the Holocaust only through school and popular culture.

Most people are familiar with Amon Goeth from the portrayal by Ralph Fiennes in the movie “Schindler’s List.” He is a sadistic character, shooting Jews indiscriminately at the camp — a trait true for the real-life man as well, as told by testimonies from survivors.

More than 450 people attended Monday night’s event at Chizuk Amuno Congregation. (Photo by David Stuck)

More than 450 people attended Monday night’s event at Chizuk Amuno Congregation. (Photo by David Stuck)

Teege’s grandmother was Goeth’s mistress and pregnant with Teege’s mother when Goeth was arrested and brought to Poland for trial. Teege’s mother was born in 1945; Goeth was hanged in 1946. They never met.

It was more than 60 years later that Teege — a woman who attended college in Israel in her 20s, is fluent in Hebrew and has several friends who are descendants of Holocaust survivors — would inadvertently discover the family secret that her grandfather was a monster.

“It was difficult not only to understand, but to accept,” she said during the talk. “It took a long, long time.”

She said she would hold a photo of Goeth up in the mirror and look for similarities in their faces. Friedberg brought up the idea of “biology is destiny” as a main tenet of Nazism and asked Teege how learning this information affected her.

“I had a very different life before,” Teege said. “It changes you. You are a part of something bigger.”

At first, there was a lot of guilt that came with such a discovery. But in the years since, she’s been able to see it in a new light.

“You can’t inherit guilt,” she said. “What you can inherit is responsibility.”

There was a short question-and-answer period after the talk, and one attendee asked Teege if she thought all the coincidences leading to her discovery of this story was a kind of “divine intervention.”

“Was it coincidence or was it meant to be? I don’t know,” she said. She went on to add that she feels we all make our own choices in our lives, but with all the elements of her story — her years spent in Israel, the way she stumbled upon the book — perhaps some things are meant to be.

The talk was well received by the audience at Chizuk Amuno, which included a number of Holocaust survivors and descendants of survivors.

“As long as I think I connected with people, I feel it was a success,” Teege said afterward. So many people have personal connections not only to the Holocaust, but also to her story in particular, she said, and it’s important to her to be able to make those connections.

“It was very well done, very good. She was very forthright,” said Rella Kaufman Zimmerman, a member of the audience and daughter of a Holocaust survivor.

Morris Rosen was another member of the audience and is a survivor himself. He was shuttled among several different concentration camps, including Auschwitz, and now volunteers with the Holocaust Museum and speaks up to five times a week about his experiences.

“It was very good,” he said, although he also wanted to remind people that this is only one story of many and not to lose the context of all the other terrible things that happened — and those they happened to.

It may have taken Teege a while to come to terms with this new aspect of her identity, but it brought her to one important conclusion: “History does not need to repeat itself.”

hjohnson@midatlanticmedia.com