Music-Making Mensch Kol Rinah’s new choral director has wide range of musical experience

Rotator_ChoirIn just 30 years, Kol Rinah’s new choral director, Joshua Fishbein, has dabbled in more musical zones than most people can imagine. He is a composer, a pianist and conductor. And that’s just part of the list.

Fishbein grew up in Owings Mills and began taking piano lessons at age 7, which, he says, is where his passion for music began to blossom.

“I just kept on taking more lessons and singing in choirs and eventually writing music,” he said.

At 15, Fishbein started singing in the chamber choir at Franklin High School and the men’s choir at Beth Tfiloh Congregation before spending three years at the Peabody Institute of the Johns Hopkins University, where he learned music theory. He then spent his undergraduate career at Carnegie Mellon University, where he earned degrees in psychology and composition. He also has two graduate degrees, including a Ph.D. in music from UCLA that he earned last year.

Fishbein, now 30, said he is not sure whether he enjoys composing, directing or performing the most, but he finds that the two often go hand in hand.

“My primary focus is composing, but I couldn’t imagine composing and then not being involved in performance,” he said.

Fishbein said since taking over Kol Rinah, a mixed-voice a cappella choir, after the High Holidays he has enjoyed working with the group’s 21 members. He has tried to expose them to a wide range of musical generals in attempting to create an Anglican style of music making.

“I feel strong you shouldn’t neglect music from any era,” he said.

Fishbein said his interest in this period of music came from some of his prior experiences of singing in church.

“When I moved to San Francisco I got a job directing an Anglo parish’s music department,” he said. “I directed a vocal ensemble that did a lot of early music, and I became interested in music from a lot of medieval eras.”

Currently, Fishbein divides his time between directing Kol Rinah, teaching part time at the Peabody Institute and singing on a substitute basis at the Washington National Cathedral. Fishbein said he often draws his energy from music that he performs, such as a piece based on a poem by Emma Lazarus about the Statue of Liberty.

“We’re singing different settings of the same text, and I’m inspired by different settings,” he said.

In rehearsal, Fishbein said he often jumps around between different vocal parts, although he normally sings baritone.

“I try to be flexible based on what the group needs at a different time,” he said.

Bill Saks, a member of Kol Rinah for 19 years, said the group’s sound quality has improved dramatically since Fishbein took over, in part because they have learned to appreciate what they are singing.

“He tells us the history behind his music,” he said.

Saks said Fishbein has a no-nonsense but friendly demeanor that has given members reason to arrive on time, as opposed to past years where attendance often lagged.

“He’s managed to achieve the impossible and stop that,” he said.

Saks said it has been a joy so far to learn about the dynamics and various styles of music Fishbein has taught, and they have added several new pieces to their repertoire.

“He’s a consummate professional, and we’re thrilled that he’s with us,” he said.

Fishbein has finally settled down in one place and can spend more time with his wife and 2 1⁄2-year-old daughter. He taught part time at the University of Nevada Las Vegas last year.

“After a year of flying back and forth between D.C. and Vegas, I was ready to come back East,” he said.

Kol Rinah’s next performance will be Dec. 15 at the North Oaks Retirement Community, and Fishbein says it is never too late to join.

“We’re looking for more singers, especially male voices,” he said.

It’s That Time Again! Let’s talk turkey and Shabbat

It’s time to talk turkey. Turkey on Thursday, Thanksgiving Day is the quintessential All-American meal, dating back to the Pilgrims. For those used to poultry on Shabbat, Thanksgiving Thursday sometimes poses a dilemma: Eat turkey on Thursday or wait till Shabbat? When

Pumpkin-Swirled Mini Cheesecakes.

Pumpkin-Swirled Mini Cheesecakes.

For instance, you can have roast turkey on Thursday and “Jewish up” the meal by adding a side dish such as Kasha Chili (delicious recipe below). You can use the leftover turkey on Shabbat for a hearty turkey soup or turkey chili with salad and sides. My sister uses her Thanksgiving turkey every year to make a “one-dish” Shabbat meal. She uses turkey and carcass for the broth, adds chicken or turkey broth (and chicken thighs if not enough leftover turkey) and tons of veggies and finally, barley. Serve with challah, and Shabbat is done.

For me, Thanksgiving turkey, celery, onion, cornbread, sage and pumpkin pie remain essentials. After many years of trial and error, I have perfected my method of serving turkey by slicing it ahead.

112015_food2First, roast the turkey so it will be ready early in the day or the day before. Stop roasting when the turkey is brown but slightly underdone (an internal temp of about 160 degrees). Take it out to rest, and then get your cellphone! Seriously. Now snap a photo of that magnificent turkey. Remove the skin in as large pieces as possible. Now, slice your very slightly underdone turkey carefully. Arrange slices and pieces on a large oven-proof platter, pour over some turkey juice, reserving some juice. Press skin tightly over slices, and cover tightly with foil. Refrigerate and bring to room temp before reheating.  Reheat in a 350-degree oven for about one hour, basting often. Remove the skin and pour remaining juices over slices. You will save time to allow decorating your platter and have moist delicious slices. And remember that photo? You can whip it out to show guests what your turkey looked like before slicing!

Pumpkin pie for your finale is always popular.  My dessert table will have a traditional one as well as some mini-swirled cheesecakes for guests. For place cards, I use mini-pumpkins (or apples) and toothpick flags with guests’ names on each.  And always remember to invite a guest or guest couple who would otherwise be alone on this holiday.
> Fresh fragrant sage is worth the investment; fry it or add raw to stuffing and decorate platters with the leaves.
> Want made-from-scratch stuffing fast? Buy and combine two different flavors of boxed stuffing mix.  Add chopped fresh sage and sauteed chopped onions. Tastes homemade!
> Decorate your turkey platter with fresh sage, kale and raw cranberries or canned sliced apple rings.




Kosher Kush One woman hopes to produce, sell kosher marijuana under Maryland’s medical cannabis program

Pikesville resident Jessica White has applied for processing and dispensary licenses to produce kosher medical cannabis. The state cannabis commission has received almost 900 applications.

Pikesville resident Jessica White has applied for processing and dispensary licenses to produce kosher medical cannabis. The state cannabis commission has received almost 900 applications. (Photo by Daniel Schere)

Maryland is in the midst of issuing a select number of licenses for growing, processing and selling medical cannabis, and at least one applicant hopes to tailor her product to the Jewish community by making it kosher.

The Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission reported on Nov. 12 that it had received 882 applications, 705 of which were for dispensary licenses. State law allows about 100 dispensary licenses to be awarded.

Among those mounds of paperwork are applications from Pikesville resident Jessica White, who got interested in medical cannabis through clientele she works with at the holistic health practice she and her husband have owned for seven-and-a-half years.

“I was just looking for something else to do in medicine, and we have a bunch of patients who are great candidates, and we can’t offer it at our current clinic,” she said.

Her patients, many of whom are seniors, suffer from diseases such as diabetes, neuropathy and stenosis. She is concerned that without cannabis available to them, they will be forced to use less desirable drugs.

“They’re not good candidates for surgery, and they’re in tremendous pain,” she said. “And the worst is when they just vanish from us because they can’t even make it to our office. And sometimes they just stop functioning entirely.”

White is applying for a processing license near Westminster and dispensary licenses in locations that include Carroll County, Dundalk, Middle River and Pikesville. She should find out which, if any, licenses she will be awarded between Dec. 15 and Jan. 15, although that is likely to be delayed due to the high volume of applications.

An applicant may only choose one senatorial district in which to set up a dispensary, and each of the 47 districts may only accommodate two. Despite the heavy competition, White said she is optimistic.

We strongly believe that everyone should do what they are qualified to do. We don’t claim to be doctors. We don’t claim to be people who know what the right thing or the wrong thing is.

“It doesn’t matter how many there are; it matters how many there are in the areas that I applied,” she explained. “So how many people applied in Pikesville? That’s my competition.”

White selected the Westminster site for growing due to its proximity to several sites where grower applicants have chosen to set up their operations, which she feels would streamline the production process.

“If you’re just moving it across the street, that’s a lot easier than shipping it from Eastern Shore,” she said. “There wouldn’t be a transportation cost if we all get it. Who knows in the end? It’s a really backwards process because you’re applying without knowing where everybody else is.”

Delegate Dan Morhaim (D-District 11), a physician and longtime supporter of medical cannabis who sponsored the bill that originally set up the commission, said he was a little surprised by the flood of applicants.

“But I think it’s a good thing, because it gives the commission a lot of excellent people to choose from,” he said. “There are a lot of — from what I can gather — experienced, qualified, responsible people — and organizations — who have applied.”

State Sen. Bobby Zirkin (D-District 11) said he is not surprised by the large amount of interest in the program and that he is pleased residents across the state will soon have access to the drug.

“This is about medication for patients,” he said. “Cannabis has shown itself in a number of ways to be an effective treatment and in many ways less severe in terms of the side effects than OxyContin.”

Zirkin, a longtime proponent of medical cannabis, said it is important to remove the stigma the drug often carries with it.

“What is clear is that we need to treat all Marylanders the same if they have a disease,” he said. “This should be treated like any other medication just as long as local jurisdictions give patients the ability to get it.”

Zirkin has criticized Anne Arundel County Commissioner Steve Schuh for his proposal to institute an outright ban on cannabis in the county, which did not receive enough votes to pass.

“Local governments should not be in the business of violating state law,” he said. “If a medical doctor believes this is an appropriate medication, politics should not stand in the way.”

If White is awarded a dispensary license in District 11, she faces the challenge of navigating a series of regulations Baltimore County has implemented. Growing and processing sites must be located in industrial zones and dispensaries in business districts no less than 500 feet from a school and 2,500 feet from each other. A key target for White is the Reisterstown Road corridor in Pikesville, much of which is zoned as a commercial revitalization district and only permits dispensary locations by special exception. Councilwoman Vicki Almond said county officials had heard horror stories about regulating cannabis in Colorado and did not want the county’s main roads to be inundated with dispensaries.

“By passing the law, we’re able to say clearly, here’s where you can go,” she said. “You can only have two per legislative district. You’re not going to have 25 in any certain legislative district.”

In order to become certified kosher, White must send in an application to the Orthodox Union after the state grants her a license. Rabbi Moshe Elefant, COO of the OU’s Kasruth Department, said it has not yet began to certify medical cannabis, but he has spoken with a number of companies that are interested.

“We would have to visit the facility or facilities where the product is produced, make sure the products are kosher, and equipment is only used for kosher purposes,” he said.

Elefant said the cannabis plant itself is kosher, but all of the ingredients used to make medicinal products must pass the test. He anticipates the process taking between four and six weeks.

Elefant said the OU is not involved in determining the moral status of the drug, but it does not object to patients using it who receive a prescription from their doctor.

“We strongly believe that everyone should do what they are qualified to do,” he said, adding that the OU does not plan to approve recreational use of the drug. “We don’t claim to be doctors. We don’t claim to be people who know what the right thing or the wrong thing is.

“There are unfortunately individuals who are in pain, and actually medical marijuana is very helpful to them,” he continued. “And we feel that it’s only right that we make that product available to the individuals who want it.”

The OU’s Debbie Kaufman, who has been in contact with White, said the organization has also received medical cannabis applications from producers in New York, Oregon and Florida.

White has selected sites for dispensaries in all districts except Pikesville, where she said the two property owners she has spoken with so far do not want to deal with the drug.

“We’d have to find an individual who owns a building and would lease it to us or sell it to us,” said White. “The corporate owners don’t want this use. So if we get a license, we’ll buy a building.”

White’s business, if approved, would sell topical ointments and flowers, but the flower would only be used in vaporizers, not joints.

“It will look like a high-end jewelry store, where you lock up the valuables in a safe,” she said. “There’s going to be such restricted access, and when you come into the dispensary it’s not going to be a head shop.”

Depending on what type of license she wins, White said she may still produce cannabis and market it to the Jewish community.

“It’s more difficult,” she said. “I don’t think it will be when we get a license. Even if we don’t get dispensing here, if we get processing here, we’ll process kosher cannabis to whoever is in Pikesville, to whoever wins.”

Marc Shapiro contributed to this report.

Dangerous Desires and Paris Prayers

that we stay human beings 
in times like these
for every person
to stand up 
to scream 
No to the horrific hatred
No to putrid prejudice
No to the dangerous desire to despise
The deep desire to despise
that chews
on our hearts 
until it swallows us whole

The Threshold Between Seasons: ‘Where Things Begin to Happen’

Leaves of gold, crimson and orange are in the midst of  their yearly cascade, dancing and slowly spinning in descent before gravity has its way. We watch, enthralled by their ability to ride the wind for so long. Children gather these leaves, their colorful bounty, and joyfully run, and then jump, into this gift from the trees.

For those of us who have crossed the threshold from many summers into many autumns, the brilliant falling leaves reflect the changes in ourselves. We recognize that our unique colors always lived inside of us but that we needed to pass through spring and summer before their vibrant revelation.

Poet Linda Nieman, who describes the fall landscape as “liquid gold with a hood of cobalt blue,” views autumn as a time and a place in a person’s life.  She sees her own aging reflected in the passing of the seasons.

“The earth ages, the seasons age, and we age,” Nieman says. She describes her autumn years as a time of giving from her own harvest and a time of remembering her childhood.

“The child remains in you. You can look at the sun-filled sky,” Nieman says, referring to a line in her poem. “But down here, you’re still aging.”

She says that during our autumn years, our wheat is separated from our chaff. The wheat is “the part of us that goes beyond the harvest time.” For Nieman, a priority in this part of her life is giving tzedakah, which she describes in the following poem as offering “the fruit at the edge of my fields”.

“What is the tzedakah I want to give, and to whom, and to what?” Nieman asks herself.  ”What is meaningful to give?”

Nieman, who holds a Ph.D. in education, is particularly drawn to the thresholds of the seasons and the thresholds within our own lives. She believes that during these times between the light and the darkness, as summer becomes fall, and fall becomes winter, we can connect to our ancestors.

Nieman feels a connection to the matriarchs: Sarah, Rebecca, Rachael and Leah. She says that she feels their presence most deeply as one season ends and another begins.

The threshold between seasons “is a place where you can meet people from different generations,” Nieman says. “It’s a place where you can understand people. The threshold is a place where things begin to happen.”

In Nieman’s poem, she calls the matriarchs back to the doorway, “where things begin to happen and where the generations meet, where we can intertwine and converse with each other.”  She envisions joining with the matriarchs to bake bread for “all generations to eat.”

Nieman imagines threshing wheat and baking bread as a form of creating poetry.

When she senses the presence of her ancestors, Nieman feels a poem forming inside of her, and she brings it to life through her thoughts and her listening, her writing and her music. Nieman sees writing poetry as a means of bringing sustenance to poets and their readers,  just as women bring sustenance to themselves and their families through the threshing of wheat, and transforming flour into dough, and braiding dough into bread.

When asked how she hopes others will perceive her poetry, Nieman says she wants her readers “to connect with the music that is in the poetry.”

“Music is a quieting force, and it’s something we have inside of us. It’s something that connects us to Hashem,” says Nieman, who plays the oboe and who hears music in poetry and poetry in music.

She explains that oboists must reach to play the high notes. She refers to this in her poem, viewing the high notes as a metaphor for stretching oneself to bring the quiet music from inside ourselves to a place where others can hear.

Nieman encourages others to release the poems and music that grow inside of them. “We hold things in ourselves, and yet they belong out there.”


Autumn Harvest Song

By Linda Nieman

The interiority of myself is quiet now.

Gone, the wild animals inhabiting my solar system.

Harmony now reigns

Singing soft melodies

In tune with a muted autumn wind.

As the autumn air sings

Harvesters separate my wheat

From unwanted chaff that now lies on the threshold floor

Like a woman scorned for her lined face.

Do they know I still smile when new lines are formed?

I am pleased that I give to the poor

Fruits at the edges of my fields

Where as a child I lay quietly in summer

And watched the sun-filled sky.

I have sung so long to myself

Imbibing the quiet music that plays in me

Reaching alone for high notes that proclaim victory

Chimes of the universe play inside without quick judgment.

My songs belong to history.

They were sung by Sara, Leah, Rachael, and Rebecca.

My prayers dance to Miriam’s timbrels in the wind

That can sing without me

A melody born in the heavens

Answered by many voices

Who search with me for Hashem

Waiting for our clouded eyes to clear.

“Come back to the threshold,” I call to our mothers

Where you will cross from darkness to light

Together we will thresh the wheat

And bake the bread for all generations to eat.

20 Divine Years American Visionary Art Museum enters milestone anniversary year with ‘Big Hope’

The American Visionary Art Museum celebrates two decades of showcasing unique and self-taught intuitive artistry in all its forms.

The American Visionary Art Museum celebrates two decades of showcasing unique and self-taught intuitive artistry in all its forms.

“The Big Hope Show,” “an original and unabashedly idealistic art exhibition that champions the radiant and transformative power of hope,” opens the 20th anniversary year of the American Visionary Art Museum, the iridescent mosaic-mirrored beacon on Key Highway.

Also this month is AVAM’s (now-infamous) gala event, celebrating “20 Simply Divine Years,” which promises to be an evening full of surprises and festivities worthy of commemorating America’s congressionally designated (by unanimous vote) “official national education center, repository and museum for self-taught, intuitive artistry” in all its forms.

Rebecca Alban Hoffberger, AVAM’s director and co-founder, with LeRoy E. Hoffberger, said the museum’s exhibitions always include pieces that make you cry your heart out and laugh your head off. “All of the shows always have that balance,” and “The Big Hope Show” is no exception.

She works intuitively, she said, and formulates exhibition themes by asking what Baltimore, the community and the world needs most. “I always ask above all, I literally beg, that the highest good will come” from assembling the work.

“The Big Hope Show” idea was developed more than a year before last April’s uprising, protests and unrest in Baltimore City.

“I don’t know how Rebecca does it, but so often the theme of the show is so reflective of what’s going on,” said Holly Gudelsky Stone, board treasurer and a longtime supporter and cultivator of arts and environmental education. “Hope, right now for this time in Baltimore, couldn’t be more

AVAM exhibitions explore the poignancy, humor and relevancy of a theme in order to create that human connection with the visitor, but they often do so by probing the “not-so-pretty” sides of a subject, said Hoffberger. And in this case, for the opposite of hope, those are “cynicism, fear and despair.”

Those sentiments are what led her to include the story and video tribute to Kevin Briggs, a former San Francisco trooper who prevented more than 200 people from jumping to their deaths from the Golden Gate Bridge.

“It’s community policing at its most ideal,” said Hoffberger, citing again the relevancy to Baltimore and the nation’s current struggle. “Once he [made] contact he never abandoned that person, and he just listened, [even as] they were literally poised on the bridge. That’s my hero.”

Briggs had cancer as a young man, so he is sensitive to another’s feeling of despair, she said. “He’s ideally equipped” for such a task so his story, and the stories of people he
connected with are uplifting.

More than 25 artists’ works are in the show, including a public first from the “fiercely blissful art of psychedelic rock pioneer and Flaming Lips frontman Wayne Coyne.” Coyne survived a terrifying robbery attempt while working as a fast-food fry cook, and his near-death trauma resulted in an explosion of new talents and wildly unbridled creative endeavors, including transforming his band’s concerts into must-see visual spectacles. At AVAM, Coyne provides visitors with a crawl-inside immersive peek into what really fuels his hope and happiness, with his feel-good installation “The King’s Mouth.”

Also featured is the 10-foot-high brilliantly and ornately beaded bird-goddess sculpture by Nancy Josephson, a mixed-media artist long associated with AVAM. She is also well known on the art-car circuit, and her “Gallery-A-Go-Go” art bus, completely bejeweled in mosaic tiles and bedecked with swans and small furry animals, graces the museum’s plaza entrance.

Hoffberger contacted Josephson about a year ago to be part of the Big Hope Show.

“It was 9:30 p.m., I remember exactly,” and it was on Thanksgiving eve, Josephson said. “I always know when I see Rebecca on my caller ID that there’s something interesting about to happen.”

Josephson, who had an entire room of the museum dedicated to her work in a past exhibit, said working with AVAM is unique and can be pivotal for an artist because of the extended exhibition length (11 months) and the physical space the museum
provides, both of which allow an artist to “stretch out in ways that one isn’t normally able to do” with many other galleries. Combine that with “when Rebecca says, ‘I want you to be thinking about this theme’ and she wants you to create a monumental piece and then lets you go. That trust is a high honor and a huge responsibility.”

“It’s an amazing honor to be able to work with an institution like this,” added Josephson, “where there’s trust and understanding and mutual respect — and you feel that at each turn.”

In Josephson’s piece, “Erzulie Kouvez,” which means incubator in Creole, a winged and intricately beaded goddess sits atop a huge birdcage — fashioned like a giant hoop-skirt frame — filled with more than two dozen small, elaborately beaded birds.

Josephson’s vision, she said, is that of the birds living in a safe, nurturing environment but soon will grow up, fly and eventually leave the nest. As a human, a mother, a participant in creating anything in the world, she said, “you take this seed of hope and nurture it in a safe place to unfold. But then it has to go out in the world.” Upon considering the notion, she said, “Hope in and of itself is not an active verb. One needs to place it in a situation where it’s going to activate, so it turns into a desire or want.”

This year, Hoffberger looks back more than 20 years, when she had the idea to create “a communal place where intuitive creativity of all sorts would be championed versus learned” while working as development director of People Encouraging People, Inc., a
program of the Department of Psychiatry at Sinai Hospital. She laughs at the admission of using the museum as her way to “get on the phone with anyone I’ve ever admired, from Nobel Prize winners to civil rights activists.” But in so doing, she’s “had very meaningful conversations for our museum with some of the most amazing thinkers and human beings.”

110615_Museum2One highlight of the past 20 years was when she consulted with Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and when he visited the museum, “he wept when he saw how I used his words” in one of the exhibition pieces.

Matt Groening, creator of “The Simpsons,” told Hoffberger that he visits museums all over the world, but “this is my favorite,” after he was moved to tears at the “All Faiths Beautiful” show. Groening even went on to co-curate AVAM’s 16th exhibition, “What Makes Us Smile.”

The annual East Coast Championship Kinetic Sculpture Race, first introduced by Hobart Brown, and the LeRoy E. Hoffberger Shining Youth/ Shining Walls programs are also among her highlights; the latter features sparkling mosaic murals covering the museum’s exterior rear walls, created with at-risk high school students and incarcerated juvenile youth apprentices. The program instills teamwork, pride and real job skills for the participants. “But the best thing is when people tell us it’s the most healing place they’ve been,” she said.

As for the future, AVAM is putting effort toward its endowment. And although they’ve been offered a property for a West Coast museum to fulfill its mission of presenting art “from sea to shining sea,” “I won’t do it until we’re endowed,” Hoffberger said, adding, “We’d like to build the largest commercial straw-bale building in the U.S.; they’re earthquake proof,” and the space would be in the middle of Los Angeles.

In 1984, Hoffberger didn’t see the need to create another “place for beautiful, hipster or cutting-edge art.” But she felt that if you could create a museum “like a wonderland that would have something delicious on the buffet table” for everyone and be a place that “was about healing people and having fun at the same time, you’d have a formula that would be a blessing to earth.”

Baltimore, count your blessings.

A Game Changer Silverman turns serious as desperate housewife in ‘Smile’

110615_FilmSarah Silverman’s rougher edges have been smoothed by two decades in the spotlight. But make no mistake, she remains an iconoclast unwilling to accept received
wisdom and pat generalizations.

Most Jewish celebrities follow the path of least resistance with the Jewish press, offering benign anecdotes and routine platitudes. Silverman is, shall we say, more complicated.

“I always cringe a little bit at the idea of Jewish values,” she says in a recent interview at a San Francisco hotel. “Of course, I don’t cringe at it. I mean, it’s beautiful, but to make it elite to Jewishness, as Jews, feels wrong in my gut.”

Silverman has never avoided her ethnicity, and she immediately mentions her older sister — an outspoken rabbi in Israel — before an interviewer has the chance. She just can’t abide simplistic axioms.

“I know that Jews are universally hated, and there are whole governments whose mission statements want to wipe Jews off the map,” she declares. “And to that I want to celebrate the whole idea of Jewish values. But I don’t like ever feeling like some kind of exclusive club.”

Silverman was being feted that evening at the Mill Valley Film Festival for her brave, committed performance as an affluent (and nondenominational) suburban mother and wife struggling with alcohol and drug addiction in the indie drama “I Smile Back.”

Her depiction of the smart, troubled Laney Brooks, whose inability to contain her self-destructive impulses destabilizes the family and disturbs her young children, established Silverman as an accomplished dramatic actress when it premiered in January at Sundance. “I Smile Back” opens nationally on Friday, Oct. 30

Laney is detached from her world by substance abuse, and Silverman powerfully conveys the chilling sensation of being an outsider in one’s immediate family. As a dark-haired child in a small town in New Hampshire, Silverman recalls the experience of being viewed and judged by others.

“We weren’t brought up religious at all, our parents are agnostic, and we just thought being Jewish meant being a Democrat,” Silverman recalls. “Being Jewish just meant being different, being other than. We lived in this little town that was so aware of us being Jewish that it made us aware of being Jewish.” Silverman had a perfectly happy childhood, but she comes to realize that she was affected by the experience of not completely fitting in.

“I think it informed my comedy in a lot of ways in that I felt a pressure that I wasn’t aware of until looking back on it to show my friends’ parents that I’m not scary, and nothing to be afraid of, and not going to convert their kids. Growing up, my friends’ parents would always say, ‘Are you from New York?’ And I’d go, ‘What’s New York? I’m from here.’ I moved to New York City when I was 18, and I remember thinking, ‘Oh, I am from New York!’”

In conversation, one gets the sense that Silverman was fascinated in the early years of her career to hear about other Jewish entertainers’ upbringings — and how they chose to share it (or not) with the public.

“It never occurred to me to do anything like change my name,” Silverman says. “But when I first came to Hollywood I would ask executives, ‘If Winona Ryder kept her name — Winona Horowitz — would she be the ingénue of all these movies that she was starring in?’ She’s a brilliant actress, and should be [starring]. And they all said, ‘No.’ I was impressed by the honesty, but wow! There are a lot of hidden Jews on camera in Hollywood.”

This many years later, Silverman no longer pays much attention to other people’s preconceptions and expectations of her.

“Who I am is for you to decide,” she says. “So you go, ‘Oh, she’s a Jewish
comedian with Jewish values.’ And to someone else I’m something different, and maybe it has more to do with their lives and what they want me to be. It has very little to do with me, actually.”

It’s perhaps not surprising, then, that Silverman doesn’t have a list of Jewish roles — like, say, Queen Esther in a Ridley Scott biblical epic — that she wants to play. Although she’ll be offered plenty of dramatic roles, there’s one part that she’s reconciled won’t be coming her way.

“My dream was always to be Lois Lane,” she confides with a rueful smile, “and now I can officially say I’ll never play Lois Lane. I’m not going to cry anti-Semitism for it, but boy, I would have been a great Lois Lane.”

Classical Meets Rock in New BSO Series BSOPulse puts top indie bands in Meyerhoff with orchestral accompaniment

From left: Taylor Goldsmith of Dawes, BSO assistant conductor Nick Hersh and WTMD morning host Alex Cortright discuss the BSOPulse series prior to Dawes' set in September. (Photo by Marc Shapiro)

From left: Taylor Goldsmith of Dawes, BSO assistant conductor Nick Hersh and WTMD morning host Alex Cortright discuss the BSOPulse series prior to Dawes’ set in September. (Photo by Marc Shapiro)

Baltimore is home to a world-class symphony, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, that plays hundreds of classical concerts each year at its premiere, 2,443-seat home, the Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall.

While younger audience members tend be a smaller percentage a–t the classical concerts, a new series aims to bring the next generation to the Meyerhoff by exposing them to classical music in a format they’re more familiar with: a rock concert.

BSOPulse, in its inaugural season, pairs the BSO with renowned indie rock bands and transforms the Meyerhoff into a classical-meets-rock concert experience, from the lobby to the concert hall.

“We wanted this to feel different than a night in which [people would] typically walk into the Meyerhoff,” said Toby Blumenthal, executive producer of the series. A major part of that experience includes opening the lobby early for happy hour, which includes a whiskey lounge, food from local restaurants and pre-show entertainment.

While Blumenthal had dreamed up the series years ago, a grant to the BSO from the Wallace Foundation to fund a project to attract younger audience members helped turn the idea into reality. The symphony, for which Blumenthal worked at the time of the series’ inception, partnered with WTMD and tapped assistant conductor Nick Hersh to work on the music.

BSOPulse kicked off on Sept. 24 with alt-country indie rock band Dawes, and continues Thursday, Nov. 12, with Baltimore’s own indie rock duo Wye Oak.

While Blumenthal brought a variety of eclectic acts to play with the BSO in his time as director of rentals and presentations at the Meyerhoff (he is now vice president of programming and chief innovation officer at the Mann Center in Philadelphia) such as Phish’s Trey Anastasio, Elvis Costello and Ben Folds, he said those one-off events don’t do much to build an audience for the Meyerhoff.

To build a series that would introduce a new crowd to the Meyerhoff — and keep them coming back — Blumenthal looked to indie rock bands.

“I felt that the indie rock audience was probably the most accepting of different forms of music,” he said.

While there are other eclectic genres, Baltimore’s strong indie scene also meant WTMD could pull in its audience by presenting bands that the station has a history with, Blumenthal said. And while Dawes and future performers Wye Oak, Dr. Dog (March 24) and The Lone Bellow (April 28) are all quite different from each other under the indie rock umbrella, WTMD acting general manager and program director Scott Mullins said these artists’ music does have some commonalities.

“I think there’s a sense of adventure in their music, and there’s a sonic quality of their music that just seems to open up the possibilities to collaboration with the BSO,” he said.

At September’s Dawes concert, the success of the series was immediately evident, as the packed house sat in total silence while string players from the BSO played Philip Glass’ “Symphony No. 3” to kick off the evening.

“The reaction from the audience to the piece by Philip Glass, I thought, was extraordinary but extremely telling,” Hersh said. “Seriously one of the best audiences I’ve ever performed for. There was such silence you could hear a pin drop, which means that people were really dialed in to what was going on with music many of them probably never have thought of listening to before.”

Following the Glass piece, Dawes took the stage to play a set and were later joined by the BSO string players. Hersh, who composed the orchestra’s accompaniment for Dawes’ music, said he balanced a number of things in composing for the collaboration. He wanted to make sure the orchestra’s abilities were utilized and showcased so that they were more than just backup musicians to Dawes, but he didn’t want to step on Dawes’ toes, musically speaking. He wanted to make sure it was a true collaboration.

“[I wanted to] delve into the song itself, delve into the lyrics and … compose something new for the orchestra, where we’re interweaving what the band does,” Hersh said.

Mullins said watching the collaboration was “overpowering.”

“I think the addition of the orchestra really adds an emotional element to the music,” he said. “It’s such a dramatic, grand, sweeping element.”

For Dawes singer and guitarist Taylor Goldsmith, it was a dream come true.

“It was a richer sound than any of the songs we ever had before,” he said via email. “A lot of what we do as a rock band changes from night to night according to our moods and levels of inspiration, so to have an orchestra play meticulously and beautifully arranged charts gave the songs a new identity and a new depth.”

As a classical musician in college who dropped out of the program after his teachers told him to drop his songwriting and playing in a rock band, the show was validation for Goldsmith. He said it was the first step in making orchestral music part of the band’s future, and he got Hersh’s contact information after the performance.

“It certainly exceeded our expectations from a performance standpoint as well as just the general vibe and feeling of the space,” Blumenthal said.

As for the series’ mission, Hersh believes it’s working, with just about everyone he bumped into after the Dawes show telling him they would come back for the next one.

“It is sort of a fantasy [of mine] simply to explore how orchestral and classical music can find its place for modern ears, and I think the introduction that we’re giving people to this style of music by way of their favorite bands, per se, that’s a great way of doing it,” he said.


Selling Purple Sports store owners soldier on despite Ravens’ woes

The Sports Nut recently relocated to Main Street in downtown Sykesville. It sells merchandise from all 32 NFL teams. (Daniel Schere)

The Sports Nut recently relocated to Main Street in downtown Sykesville. It sells merchandise from all 32 NFL teams. (Daniel Schere)

With the Orioles’ disappointing season at an end and the Ravens off to their worst start in franchise history at 1-6, Charm City residents haven’t  had much to cheer about this fall in the sports world. But the doom and gloom hasn’t held back a number of Jewish sports store owners from pursuing their passion.

For Barbara and Arnold D. Cohen, opening Kids Stuff in the North Point Plaza Flea Market 15 years ago was a second act. Barbara, a former elementary school teacher, said the store began as a hobby for her and her husband, a former accountant with the IRS.

“It was just something we loved to do together,” she said.

Kids Stuff is open only on weekends during the flea market and sells clothes targeted at kids

between the ages of 1 and 5. They sell mostly

Orioles clothing in the spring, and in the fall it shifts to Ravens attire. Barbara Cohen said a stronger performance by the Ravens on the field would benefit them greatly but is not essential for their survival.

“It’s not going to help, but we’ll still sell Ravens,” she said of the team’s bad start. “It helps when they win, but there are people who just love the Ravens, and whether they win or lose, they still want to buy something for a kid.”

Cohen said the team’s performance often leads to a slight increase in sales, but its niche fan base keeps them in business.

“We’re still doing pretty good,” she said. “We have really adorable things that most people don’t have.”

The Cohens had a previous business endeavor that became the springboard for Kids Stuff, which is located in Dundalk.

“We opened a store in Glen Burnie when my son graduated from college and he wanted a business,” she said. “We opened a paint store, and I had a

little corner [where] I was doing gift things.”

Arnold D. Cohen said he enjoys operating Kids Stuff because the couple likes “dealing with people.”

“We just enjoy this type of business, and it gives us something to do on the weekends that we like,” he said. “And if it was open seven days, I’d still be there.”

While the Cohens operate their business on the side, retail is a way of life for Andrea Magee, who owns The Sports Nut in Sykesville. Magee previously owned Andie’s Candies in Eldersburg until its closing in 2012. At that point she decided it was time to switch gears from candy to clothes.

“There was no NFL store in Eldersburg, and people around here don’t like to go out to other towns,” she said. “They like to stay here.”

Magee and her husband, Jesse, decided to open a store containing apparel representing all 32 NFL teams, something in which he had an influence.

“He helped me in the football factor, but I’ve been owning my own business since I was 15 years old,” she said.

The couple’s store recently relocated to a more central spot on Main Street and celebrated with

a grand opening on Oct. 24. Magee said it was

difficult to determine whether the Ravens’

performance has had any impact on the store in the month it has been in its new location.

“I understand the Ravens are doing badly,” she said, “but we still get a majority of fans who stick with their team.”

Business has been slow at Marc Levy’s Sportsmart in East Baltimore but for an entirely different reason. Levy’s store was looted during the April riots, virtually wiping out his entire inventory.

“It’s just taken a while to get back to where things were before the looting,” he said. “It’s been real frustrating for everyone trying to get merchandise in here to sell and trying to get insurance to

reimburse us for the rioting situation.”

Levy is one of the brothers in his family-owned business and said in a normal year his store would be popular around tax-refund season during the spring and back-to-school shopping in the late summer. But this year, those patterns have been

disrupted. He said despite the setbacks, he expects football fans to show up to his store regardless of the team’s struggles.

“The Ravens’ diehard is going to buy a shirt or a jacket because they’re not going anywhere anytime soon,” he said.

Dirty No More New microbrew made from Boston river water — with Israeli tech

From left: Charlie Storey of Harpoon Brewery and Nadav Efraty, Rick Stover and Francesco Fragasso of Desalitech toast their production of Charles River Pale Ale.

From left: Charlie Storey of Harpoon Brewery and Nadav Efraty, Rick Stover and Francesco Fragasso of Desalitech toast their production of Charles River Pale Ale.

An Israeli-founded water purification company has teamed up with Boston-based Harpoon Brewery to channel the once-famously polluted Charles River into a new beer.

Desalitech, which started in Israel seven years ago and then moved to Boston, is using its patented technology to provide water for Harpoon’s Charles River Pale Ale. The limited-edition beer is on tap this week at Boston’s HUBweek, a weeklong science and art festival.

Desalitech president Nadav Efraty said helping to produce the beer is part of his company’s mission to better the environment.

“Water scarcity is a global challenge that affects millions across the world — we are proud to be a Massachusetts company that is providing solutions and making an impact here in the U.S. and beyond,” he said.

Desalitech uses a closed-circuit reverse osmosis system developed over decades in Israel by Efraty’s American-born father, Avi. A chemist who moved his family to Israel in the mid-1970s, the elder Efraty serves as the company’s chief technical officer.

In 2013, Desalitech established its world headquarters in Greater Boston, attracted to the region by former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, who led several high-profile trade missions to Israel.

Once heavily polluted, the 80-mile-long Charles River achieved fame thanks to the 1960s rock hit “Dirty Water” by the Standells. The song, a favorite of Boston sports teams, has been recorded and performed by everyone from Bruce Springsteen to the Dropkick Murphys.

Over the decades, the river, which separates Boston from Cambridge, has been cleaned up considerably, with some of its previously most polluted portions now open to swimming.

Desalitech approached Harpoon in September about a collaboration. The idea appealed to Harpoon president Charlie Storey, who said in interviews that he remembers growing up in Boston hearing that if he ever fell into the Charles River, he’d need to get to an emergency room.

“Harpoon is proud to call Boston our home and to do our part to build a stronger, more sustainable environment and community,” Storey said.

Harpoon, an employee-owned company established in 1986, is now the 15th largest microbrewery in the United States.