Jewish Filmmakers Go for the Gold Praise for this year’s Golden Globe nominees … and some snubs

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Natalie Portman in “A Tale of Love and Darkness” (Ran Mendelson)

2016 was a bountiful year when it came to cinematic output by those a part of or exploring themes integral to the Jewish community.

With the Golden Globe Award ceremony — which many still believe to be an early glimpse into Academy Award possibilities — taking place Sunday, it’s time to spotlight which films were nominated and which ones were left in the darkness.

Natalie Portman’s directorial debut, the Hebrew-language period piece “A Tale of Love and Darkness,” is an example of films noticeably left off of the heralded roster this year.

“Portman crafts a tale of loss, memory, life and death, juxtaposed with the astringent triumph of an oppressed people over the forces that would  destroy them,” Christopher Llewellyn Reed, chair/professor in the film and moving image program at Stevenson University, wrote in his review for popular website “Hammer & Nail.” The local film critic is a regular speaker at cinema events through various area Jewish organizations such as the Baltimore Jewish Film Festival.

Although she and her film received no nominations for “Love and Darkness,” Jerusalem- born Portman was nominated in the category of best actress, drama for her role as Jacqueline Kennedy in Pablo Larrain’s biopic of the former first lady, “Jackie.”

“It seems that every other critic liked it, and I would like to sing her praises, but I found the film — which was lovely to look at — unbearable to watch,” Reed said in an interview with the JT. “I love [Natalie Portman], and I’m a big fan. I loved her in ‘A Tale of Love and Darkness.’ But I found [‘Jackie’] really hard to sit through because it was all ‘performance.’

“Yes, I think [Larrain] was trying to make a statement about how these people in wealthy society have to put on a persona,” Reed went on to say. “But they’re also real people, and I don’t believe there was ever a time in the film when that was shown.”

An actress nominated by the Golden Globes that Reed said he can “sing the praises of from here to kingdom come” is French femme fatale Isabelle Huppert for her role in Paul Verhoeven’s taut erotic thriller “Elle.”

“She can do no wrong,” Reed said about the Jewish actress who has been a mainstay in films produced by some of Europe’s most masterful directors since her early teens.

“[‘Elle’] was exploitive like so many of [Verhoeven’s] films,” Reed said about the filmmaker, whose body of work includes such contentious “exploitation” films as “Basic Instinct” and “Showgirls,” as well as modern sci-fi classics “RoboCop” (1987) and “Total Recall” (1990).

“But I will say that in ‘Elle,’ [Verhoeven] examines that  exploitation in a more complex way than he has in the past,” Reed said. “[Huppert] plays both prey and predator. I’m more of a fan of hers here than I am of the film, which I’m still making up my mind about. I wonder how much of what I liked [about ‘Elle’] was her performance.”

Though he had a few problems, as he put it, with the slightly “improbable” third act, Reed greatly enjoyed Todd Phillips’ “War Dogs,” featuring Jonah Hill who was nominated for best actor, comedy.

“I feel [Hill is] an actor who brings quality to everything he does,” Reed said about the Jewish actor/writer who emerged from the realm of Judd Apatow’s regular ensemble over the last few years.

Another film that was notably left off of the Golden Globe nom list this year is Nate Parker’s antebellum slave drama “The Birth of a Nation,” which Reed called “a worthy first feature,” despite the fact that “I didn’t like everything about it.”

In Reed’s opinion, the film, produced by Jewish Baltimore native and Jemicy graduate Jason Berman, suffers from two important factors working against it for Golden Globe nominations.

He believes that the massive amount of accolades that “Nation” received when it first premiered at Sundance this past year, winning both the Grand Jury and Audience Awards as well as selling for a record-breaking amount to distributor Fox Searchlight, made for a picture that was just waiting to be knocked down a peg or two by the critical consortium.

This turned out to be especially true when the film’s  director/co-writer and lead actor Parker was wrangled into a very different kind of spotlight as past allegations of sexual misconduct emerged later in 2016, casting a dark cloud of controversy over the film.

“When a movie is snubbed even from the ‘snub list,’ you have an idea where it’s at,” Berman, who was an artist-in-residence at Reed’s Stevenson University in 2015, said. “People don’t even want to have a conversation about it.”

It’s difficult for Berman to believe that a film so recognized during its first few months of screenings has so abruptly dropped off the critical radar for reasons aside from its extra-cinematic controversy.

“The entertainment media was not nice to our movie,” Berman said. “Our movie was definitely shied away from. We’ll see what happens with the Oscars.”

Reed offers Mel Gibson (excoriated for anti-Semitic remarks made during an inebriated police stop in 2006) and his return to the big screen as featured actor in 2016’s “Blood Father” as well  as Golden Globe nominated director of “Hacksaw Ridge” (nominated for best picture, drama) as proof that “with time, people are willing to forgive.”

Berman’s “Nation” has in fact received six nominations for the upcoming NAACP Image Awards, much to its producer’s gratitude.

“They were able to separate the film and the 400 people working on it versus the past history of its filmmaker,” Berman said. “Everyone involved in the film was very happy that happened. It was a positive thing.”

mklickstein@midatlanticmedia.com

Oh, Brothers! Musicians hit the right chord with city music gear store

Brothers Music co-owners Ian (left) and Brian Goldstein (Chrissy Abbott)

Brothers Music co-owners Ian (left) and Brian Goldstein (Chrissy Abbott)

As a longtime musician residing in the Baltimore area, 35-year-old Ian Goldstein always had one rather critical problem: the shocking lack of stores that sell musical gear.

The obvious solution? Goldstein, along with his brother Brian, decided to establish a music store of his own.

Brothers Music officially opened June 13, 2015 at 2112 N. Charles St., just outside of Charles Village and the Johns Hopkins University Homewood campus.

“I had the idea because I knew there was no other music store in Baltimore,” Goldstein claimed. The only other store he’s aware of in the general region is Ted’s Musicians Shop, which specializes in classical instruments and principally provides for students of the Peabody Institute.

“Apparently, they do have a guitar for sale,” Goldstein chuckled, “but it’s been sitting there for about 20-plus years.”

Although “there’s little repair shops here or there that might also have a guitar for sale,” Goldstein contends that his is the only store where patrons can fully satisfy their basic musical instrument needs, when it comes to guitars, basses and synthesizers.

Brothers also rents turntables for the DJ/electronic musician, and they provide both used and new instruments as well as an arsenal of needful accessories.

Originally from Columbia, Goldstein received his master’s degree in legal and ethical studies from the University of Baltimore in 2014. For the past six years, he’s worked as a government affairs specialist for the National Association of County and City Health Officials in Washington, D.C.

This vocational trajectory followed Goldstein’s nearly decade-long performing as lead singer and  guitarist of local rock band Evolve.

According to Goldstein, the group was fairly prominent in the Towson and Annapolis areas in the mid-2000s and enjoyed regular airplay on radio station 105.7, which has changed call signs and formats numerous times over the past two decades.

“I kind of retired from playing in bands,” Goldstein said. “But I’m OK with sitting behind a desk all day if I own a music store: I’m still cool, I’m still cool!”

While living in Washington from 2008 to 2011, the erstwhile rocker would come up to Baltimore every weekend “because it had the best parties, the best concerts and the best music scene” in his opinion.

“To go out to D.C. at night was costing me a fortune, too, so I was never going out there anyway, I wasn’t meeting people, and people weren’t that interesting because all the artists were in Baltimore,” Goldstein added.

He realized that if he moved to Baltimore, his rent and expenses would be far lower than what he was paying in Washington, and he has lived here ever since.

Goldstein took the volatile  nationwide reaction to the death of Freddie Gray that some have called the “Baltimore Uprising” of April 2015 as “a call to action” that inspired him to find a way to help the community he’d grown to love so passionately.

“It’s the only outlet I know as far as adding my own contribution,” Goldstein said about doing his part to bolster the struggling midtown economy.

Goldstein firmly believes that opening up independent businesses such as Brothers will continue to revitalize the city and turn Baltimore into more of a central destination spot.

As someone who makes his “bread and butter” through an unrelated full-time job (with brother Brian working full-time as a Baltimore City elementary school teacher), the store has been a way to invest in the community on an almost wholly  altruistic level.

The money Goldstein and his brother receive from sales predominantly goes to their one employee (with the brothers working mainly on weekends just to help out when they’re available).

In addition to the regular food and coat drives run through the store, Goldstein also sees Brothers as a productive “safe space” for community youths seeking reprieve from the often rough street life outside.

Goldstein will sometimes work with and mentor young Baltimoreans who come to spend time in the store. He promised one regular habitué that if the boy were to come in and practice electric guitar on a regular basis for four months straight, Goldstein would buy the guitar for him.

“He’s a quiet kid who doesn’t belong on the streets,” Goldstein said. “These are kids who live in public housing, who grow up in dangerous neighborhoods. I’m happy to take those kids in. If you want to learn how to play guitar and you don’t have access to one, I’ll find one for you.

“Other kids come in and are like, ‘Can I play the drums for five minutes?’ ‘Of course you can!’ It’s telling kids it’s OK to come in and shop or just hang out. I’m not going to kick you out.”

Goldstein admits that there are the occasional “punks” who come in and don’t stay long: “We’ve had a couple of those, but they know they’re not going to get away with anything while we’re there.”

There’s a direct connection for Goldstein’s philanthropic mindset with his Jewish  heritage, he revealed.

“I celebrate Judaism as a race and a culture more than as a religion,” Goldstein said. “I think that Jews have always had an interest in inner cities … and not just as landlords. I understand people are born into those difficult situations and can’t always get out of them.”

Goldstein went on to say that whether he’s teaching kids who come in to play instruments or occasionally taking them to baseball games and dinners, his primary mission is to prove to them that “if you play the game, follow the rules, put your head down and go to school and graduate, you can do exactly what I’m doing. I try to instill that in every kid I come across.

“I think this does have a correlation to Judaism as far as having empathy for others.”

mklickstein@midatlanticmedia.com

An die Musik to Host Singer-Songwriter Series

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Paul Margolis and John Shock will perform Jan. 7, kicking off a singer-songwriter series at An die Musik.

An die Musik, known for its local concerts featuring jazz and classical musicians, is adding another type of musician to its 2017 lineup — the singer-songwriter.

On the first Saturday of every month in 2017 the music venue will feature a local singer-songwriter act in a series called Folkal Point. The series kicks off Jan. 7 with Paul Margolis and John Shock. Tickets for all the concerts will be $10 to $15 each, depending on the act.

The idea took shape when Henry Wong, An die Musik owner, realized that there weren’t many places for local singersongwriters to play regularly.

“A lot of these musicians are being forgotten in our culture,” he said.

He approached Paul Margolis, who plays at the venue a few times a year, about putting on a series like this. As luck would have it, Paul’s wife, Deena Margolis, had a background in putting together small folk shows and offered up her time. Once that was settled, everything just fell into place — Margolis had the whole of 2017 booked in two weeks.

Several years ago, Margolis was finding it really difficult to find a place where she could go, sit down and enjoy an acoustic concert. So she decided to set up her own. She reached out and contacted musicians in the Baltimore and Washington, D.C., metropolitan areas and started putting on shows in her own home. She eventually stopped when the series grew too popular and more friends of friends of friends she couldn’t necessarily vouch for wanted to
come to her home.

Now, Margolis has put those home concert series skills and contacts to good use.

folkseries2“I’m hoping that people know that this is a really warm and welcoming place to come and listen to music — really listen to music,” she said.

Most of the musicians are local to the Baltimore area, although a few are from Washington, D.C., and Virginia, and they range in age, style and genre, including folk, indie, country and bluegrass. Among the featured artists are Baltimore favorite Caleb Stine, husband-wife duo The Honey Dewdrops, local acoustic duo Birdhouse, Baltimore up-and-comer Letitia VanSant, and bilingual D.C. folk rock group Elena & Los Fulanos.

“I can tell you I got incredible musicians,” Margolis said. “Whether [people] like them or not, they’ll recognize the talent.”

Both Margolis and Wong felt An die Musik is perfect for this kind of series because it is simple
and intimate. Seating just 75, the space is small and “quirky and bohemian,” as Margolis puts it.

“We consider An die Musik as a place for the community where the music is,” Wong said. “We don’t do anything else. You pay for the music, it’s what you’re here for.”

Because An die Musik concentrates on just being a great music venue, it doesn’t provide food. Instead, it partners with a number of local restaurants so that, with a voucher (that must be picked up at An die Musik), concert-goers can get discounts on meals before or a ther shows. Margolis says those who want to attend can even arrange valet parking if they contact her prior to a show. Thee goal is to make it as easy as possible for people to come and have a good time, she said.

The plan is for the series to become a yearly program, and Margolis has already started booking for 2018. And Wong is excited to be able to feature musicians who represent a kind of quintessentially American genre of music.

“People can go to the symphony or the opera, but this is a different type of music,” he said. “It’s a very American kind of music.”

For more information and to purchase tickets, visit folkalpointconcerts.com.

hmonicken@midatlanticmedia.com

An Inherited Taste A Mother’s Recipes Serve Regi’s Well

Alan Morstein (David Stuck)

Alan Morstein (David Stuck)

Restaurateur Alan Morstein has a secret weapon in his gastronomic arsenal: his mother Saundra’s long-cherished recipes.

Native Baltimorean Morstein and his wife, Sande, have owned Regi’s American Bistro for the past 15 years of its four-decade existence.

“My actual role is part-time host, part-time bartender, part-time very good cook … part-time just about everything else,” Morstein joked. “I spend a lot of time greeting guests and a lot of time in the kitchen.”

Morstein said that his multitalented wife helps out as a hostess and is “very involved in the wine list. She has a good wine palate and has learned a lot, [having gone to] many vineyards in both California and Italy.”

The Morsteins’ two children, Ryan and Sheri, worked at the Federal Hill establishment in their youth but have moved onto other cities, other vocations and other lives.

“They left to pursue their careers,” Morstein said about his children who now live in New Jersey and have become involved in the sale of medical equipment. “I hated to see them leave.”

Something of a family affair then, it’s no wonder that one thing that hasn’t left Regi’s is the many delightful menu items that have been inspired by Morstein’s loving mother.

“My mother was a worker,” Morstein said of the retired 96-year-old Saundra, who is  a resident of the Brookdale Pikesville assisted living community.

“She was in the entertainment industry, but she also had a few really dynamic recipes that I’ve cloned,” Morstein added.

Though he said today he’s not particularly observant, Morstein was raised Orthodox and graduated from Beth Tfiloh’s elementary school before finding himself in the creative culinary realm. This exploration at one point did include running his own kosher deli, the first such deli, he claimed, to operate in Ocean City, Md.

Morstein remains as ever enraptured by his mother’s Jewish specialties that he serves at Regi’s.

Saundra’s chicken soup stock, for example, is best described by Morstein as “liquid gold.”

Another favorite of Saundra’s that has made its way into Regi’s repertoire is her mouthwatering brisket, which was featured as part of the bistro’s Christmas dinner this past weekend.

“So many Jewish people come out for Christmas dinner,” Morstein said. “They get tired of Chinese.”

The foundation of Morstein’s brisket is its freshness, which combines with a unique preparation including chili sauce, white vinegar, bay leaves, fresh cracked pepper, sea salt, garlic cloves and for a truly exotic twist, Coca-Cola.

“It’s basically a sweet-and-sour brisket,” Morstein said. “We do that with potato pancakes, which I also learned from [my mom], topped with applesauce.”

Morstein was clearly interested in the restaurant industry at an early age, having worked as a dining room manager at the Pimlico Hotel while attending Baltimore Junior College.

He really caught the bug while he was growing up, creating all manner of culinary concoctions with his mother and maid.

“I was running around and playing ball and everything, but I always had a fondness for the burners,” Morstein said. “I would make certain signature dishes, and they were well  received.”

Saundra, meanwhile, was working as a theatrical agent, booking entertainers such as Jackie Mason and Willie Nelson at conventions and other live events.

She still pops into Regi’s on occasion to enjoy her son’s success and mingle with the customers and staff who all know her by name.

“She’s proud as a peacock,” Morstein said. “I had her in the kitchen making matzah balls up until three years ago. She can make the fluffiest matzah balls like nobody’s business.

“It was pretty funny watching her with these cooks in the kitchen,” Morstein continued. “I got her a little fancy apron, and she’s back there telling these cooks who never knew from matzah balls what to do, and she’s got matzah balls flying everywhere. It was really cool.”

“There’s so damn much to tell about me,” Saundra stated proudly. “I’m a very unusual personality.”

Saundra began her long and varied career in the entertainment business singing and acting before hosting her own local television show in the ’50s. She began running her talent booking agency named, not surprisingly, after her son in 1970 and only stopped five years ago.

She was 91 and still personally escorting her eclectic roster of more than 75 popular performers to events in Baltimore, Washington, D.C., and Virginia.

Originally from Cleveland, Saundra —“still a nice Jewish girl who lights her candles on Friday” — moved to Baltimore in 1938. She too inherited many of the recipes that have been passed onto Morstein and Regi’s menu.

“My mother was an excellent cook,” Saundra said. “Being an only child, I picked up a lot of her recipes, mentally. On top of this, I am strictly kosher, which is not easy when you’re traveling. And I traveled all over.”

Saundra is indeed quite proud of her son’s work, even to the point of delighting in the little “embellishments” he’s made to her original recipes.

“I think it’s wonderful,” she said. “I’ve given him the recipes, but he knows how to add that little touch. Alan can take from nothing and make a gourmet presentation.”

To this day, Morstein still tries to support as many Jewish food suppliers as possible to  ensure that “touch” he gives has an occasional Jewish flair.

One of his creations, the 21208 Breakfast (a smoked salmon whitefish sandwich on a bagel), is so named “because that’s where all the Jews live in Pikesville.”

A great joy for Morstein is to see his mother come to the restaurant, especially during this celebratory season, and watch as she takes pride in people complimenting her on how much they love the brisket.

“It makes me her feel good,” Morstein said. “And it makes me feel good to see people order something like raisin challah French toast.

“And,” Morstein was sure to note with a chuckle, “it goes really well with bacon.”

mklickstein@midatlanticmedia.com

You Should Know… Eric Kessler

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Photo by Daniel Nozick

Eric Kessler, who turned 36 on Dec. 26, began creating art four years ago.

That may come as a surprise to many who now seek out the Owings Mills and Pikesville native for custom paintings. A former addict, he was in the midst of a depression and needed something to break from it, so he decided to pick up paints and a canvas from Michael’s and give it a try.

“I’ve never had any formal training,” he said. “I never went to school for art or had a teacher, so I just started putting paint on the canvas, and it came out pretty good. You could see that I didn’t really know what I was doing, I didn’t even know the difference between gloss paint and flat paint, so I was wondering why some parts of the painting were shiny and some parts were not.”

Since then, Kessler has had time to hone his craft. At first, he thought he would be an abstract artist, but he has since found that impressionism is more his niche.

His first commissioned work came when he was hired to do two paintings by a friend — one of Sheldon Cooper from “The Big Bang Theory” and one of the famous photo of Albert Einstein sticking out his tongue. Both were well received, and he has since been getting regular requests from people to do custom paintings.

Is painting something that has always appealed to you?

I have always liked art. Some of my influences are Leroy Neiman and Monet. In fifth grade I wrote a poem about Picasso’s “The Old Guitarist.” My grandmother would take me from museum to museum trying to find the painting — knowing it was in the Louvre, knowing that we would never find it — just as a way to take me around to every museum possible. It was just something we did together. She has been a big inspiration of mine.

By the time I was 30, I had probably lost about 30 friends [because of my addiction] to drugs and alcohol. Painting was never something I would do under the influence. A lot of times in early recovery, you don’t know what to do with yourself, you’re scattered all over the place. So for me, it was a way to focus my attention on something positive rather than on the negatives. It helped me quite a bit in getting through that. It is a very creative, positive outlet.

What have you been working on recently?

One day, I decided to try a big Ray Lewis. About three days after I had finished it, I got maybe six or seven offers. I have a Terrell Suggs painting that I recently finished too. I have been asked to paint some family members and pets of coworkers also. I don’t go around telling people that I paint; sometimes it comes up in conversation and sometimes it doesn’t. I don’t market for myself though.

What is your life like outside of art?

I have been in the mortgage business for over 15 years. Right now, I am working strictly with reverse mortgages [as a specialist with Reverse Mortgage Corporation in Reisterstown], which means I only deal with homeowners over 62 years old who [may be] in financial trouble and don’t have money to pay their bills or mortgage payments. I have a grandmother in Florida, two great aunts that I’m very close with, and being that I am from a Jewish family — they say be a mensch — I’ve learned to respect the older generation. I feel really good about what I do. I smile at work every day when people call me saying, “You gave me money for medical bills that I never would have been able to pay” or, “You saved our lives.” It feels really good.

dnozick@midatlanticmedia.com

At Quarry Lake’s Citron, ‘Everybody is a VIP’

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Susan and Charles Levine (Sachs Photography)

New Quarry Lake restaurant Citron is looking to fill a niche in the Pikesville area by  providing a versatile white-table-cloth experience with  a waterfront view outside of the culinary institutions in Baltimore City.

The restaurant is the creation of Charles and Susan Levine. A chef himself, Charles, who has been in the catering business for 30 years, has been thinking about opening a restaurant for more than a decade.

“It made sense to have this evolution,” he said. “The events that we’ve catered are always tailored to the client. For the restaurant, we thought about what was missing in the  community.”

Citron hopes to appeal to a variety of diners, starting with the layout, atmosphere and fine details of the restaurant down to the wallpaper, silverware and glasses.

Each of its rooms and lounges has a noticeably different feel. The private “club” dining room, which can host a private party of 50, boasts muted acoustics so that dinner conversation is easier to hear. On the other side of the restaurant is a bar with mood lighting and intimate seating arrangements. Bordering that area is a more casual, well-lit lounge that Levine said would be suitable for patrons to work in during the lunch hours.

“At the end of the day, it is about creating a place for people to go for any number of reasons,” he said. “We want this to be the hub for the Baltimore region when you really need to entertain, whether you want to relax and have a great time or want anonymity for a meeting or party. This place has the opportunity to serve a lot of people well. A lot of places don’t have that advantage.”

Susan Levine explained that the acoustics were treated differently in each room.

“Nothing is more frustrating to us than going out to dinner with our family and having to yell across the table,” she said. “We want people to be able to have real conversation. We wanted it to feel upscale and light and contemporary. We want it to feel like you could come here on a date or with your family, that you could come for lunch and want to come back for dinner. Everybody is a VIP here; that’s what we want people to feel like.”

For many patrons, the real draw to any restaurant is its food. While Charles continues to run Charles Levine Caterers out of Owings Mills, executive chef Jerome Dorsch has been keeping things running in  the kitchen. Dorsch has an  extensive culinary career that includes stints as an executive corporate chef.

“To run a facility of this size, you need someone from a corporate environment who can manage two dozen people in the kitchen but who can also put out food that, if it were just a 50-seat restaurant, would be the finest. Yet, we are a 250-person restaurant,” Charles said. “It can be very difficult to find that person. It’s someone you have to really trust who can build the team. We got very lucky.”

“For the most part, I worked with Charles on the menu to pick regional and continental American-type things,” Dorsch said. “The big key is trying to keep it simple, seasonal and easy to execute. So far, the sea bass has been a big hit, and osso buco is definitely a showstopper because it isn’t something that you see very often. The duck is always a popular dish too.”

Charles and Susan broke ground at the Quarry Lake site in July 2015, and Citron opened on Nov. 7.

“We wanted a space that could be warm in the winter and cool in the summer so we could take advantage of every day at the lake,” Charles said of the lakeside area.

In conjunction with Citron, the Levines are also opening an adjoining stand-alone event venue called The Cove, which Charles said will allow the restaurant to continue  operating normally as private events are hosted.

“We don’t think it is fair to our client base that we would have to close the restaurant to host a private event. When you are doing private events, there is a need for lighting and sounds and a view. There is so much that people want, and The Cove has it,” Charles said. “As a caterer, people have said to me, ‘I’d love to have you, but I can’t find a place.’ And this is the right size. Now, we can provide that space.

“What we want is to be the total experience,” he added. “We have planned down to the smallest details. We have the footprint here to really go  beyond what some restaurants do.”

Citron is located at 2605 Quarry Lake Drive. For more information, visit citronbaltimore.com.

dnozick@midatlanticmedia.com

Walters’ Landau Hopes to Bridge Cultural, Religious Gaps through Art

Credit: Walters Art Museum

Amy Landau (Walters Art Museum)

Amy Landau, who has previously operated as the Walters Art Museum’s  associate curator of Islamic and South Asian art, has been promoted to the 8-decades-old  facility’s director of curatorial affairs.

Landau will concurrently act as Walters’ curator of Islamic and South and Southeast Asian art, guiding a recently created team that includes fellow curators, interns and registrars. She will additionally be responsible for “approximately 2,500 objects, including 1,500 works of art in the Islamic collection,” according to the announcement of her promotion made public on Monday, Dec. 5.

A self-identifying Jew, Landau was raised Conservative and attended a bicultural school for the first few years of her  elementary school tenure, with instruction in both Hebrew and English.

After sixth grade, Landau transferred to a standard public school in her hometown of Stanford, Conn., but nevertheless sees her work today as being “based on that Jewish education.” Indeed, one of Landau’s aspirations while at the Walters is to augment its steadily  growing collection of Judaic artwork and antiquities.

Landau moved to Baltimore eight years ago this August and began working at the Walters shortly thereafter. She was first tasked with cataloguing Armenian and Islamic manuscripts in the museum’s department of rare books as part of fulfilling a National Endowment of  Humanities preservation and access grant.

“I was absolutely thrilled to get the position at the Walters,” Landau said. “They have a stellar collection, an encyclopedic collection, and they are strong in the areas I was trained in.”

Landau received both her masters and Ph.D. in Islamic art and archaeology from the University of Oxford. She attended NYU for her undergraduate studies, which included a focus on Hebrew.

“I was very interested in Middle Eastern politics,” Landau said about her time at NYU in the late ’90s. Then, as with now, Landau was “very interested in how people view one another and how art can be used as a platform to mediate different perspectives and opinions.”

The drive to better understanding an eclectic range of viewpoints led Landau to spend one of her undergraduate summers in Tel Aviv, working for Shalom Achshav (Peace Now) and teaching English in the Arab town of Tayiba in central Israel.

Such life experience and further time spent in Europe narrowed Landau’s interest to how the East viewed the West, with particular concentration on “the relationship between Iran and Europe and America, and also the Iranian Jewish community on a historical level.”

Landau’s goal is to utilize her unique Judaic/Islamic/Asian art background in working with her staff at the museum as well as area religious/cultural leaders.

In so doing, she’s looking to impart her philosophy that art can be a peaceful and thoughtful means of communication  between groups that may have conflicting worldviews but can equally enjoy the creative expression of, say, a beautiful piece of antiquity.

“My hope is to underscore pluralism in terms of ideas, religion and languages at the  museum, because it’s clearly a sensitive time and an important time for the public to engage with history,” Landau said.

As one of 12 curators handpicked from a national pool by the Center for Curatorial Leadership to be named a 2017 fellow, Landau will also continue working with prominent representatives of religious and cultural organizations outside of Baltimore and Maryland.

Her curated exhibition “Pearls on a String” (fall 2015) traveled as far as the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco, with whom she partnered in organizing the show.

The mission of this exhibition was, in Landau’s words, a method to “broaden public engagement with the cultural histories of Muslim societies by demonstrating how human imagination and collaboration can ignite extraordinary artistic creativity.”

Such work is Landau’s “shtick,” as she put it, elaborating that she believes “we don’t talk about religion enough in the museum setting. I think we could do that more and could use the opportunity in exhibiting works of art to do so.

“We have religion in our [news]papers every day. Religion is a sensitive topic, as is race, and I believe that artwork could play a role in delivering information about religion so people can understand more and see different viewpoints even within one religion itself.”

mklickstein@midatlanticmedia.com

The Charmery Chills Out with Doughnuts

The Charmery's David Alima (left) and Center Cut Doughnuts' Josh Kowitz. (photo provided)

The Charmery’s David Alima (left) and Center Cut Doughnuts’ Josh Kowitz. (Provided)

Hampden ice cream store The Charmery has a delicious treat in store for those looking for another way to celebrate Chanukah this year.

On Friday, Dec. 30, from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m., the store will once again collaborate with pop-up Center Cut Doughnuts to offer, while supplies last, a unique twist on the seasonal sufganiyot.

“This is a really festive time of year, so we’re just throwing another festive thing in the mix here,” said David Alima, who has owned The Charmery with his wife Laura for the past three-and-a-half years. “This should be a lot of fun.”

Customers can enjoy the limited edition treats based on the seasonal, sweet fried dough delicacy that honors the Chanukah miracle of menorah oil lasting for eight magical nights in three equally magical ways.

Firstly, there’s sufganiyot by the dozen (available for pre-order, as well). Patrons can also purchase a special sufganiyot sandwich, which includes Charmery raspberry ice cream stuffed in the middle. And, lastly, the truly adventurous can try a sufganiyot shake.

“We’ve never done a doughnut shake before!” Alima said triumphantly, adding that the process involves a scoop of vanilla ice cream, Trickling Springs milk and an entire sufganiyot thrown in for good measure.

“It’s flavored by the doughnut’s jelly,” Alima said, “and then you’ve got the little bits of doughnut itself at the bottom.”

Charmery has multiple times in the past granted space to Center Cut’s pop-up, which has appeared regularly at the Hampden Farmer’s Market for the past two years, and is run by 34-year-old Reisterstown resident, Josh Kowitz.

Kowitz will be opening up his own Center Cut storefront around the corner from The Charmery in mid-January at 3528 Chestnut Avenue, the space previously occupied by B. Doughnut.

“I’ll say that David and Laura have been a huge help in getting my thing off the ground,” Kowitz said. “Without them, I probably wouldn’t be opening up my own brick and mortar, because they’ve allowed me the space to have a pop-up alongside them. It’s definitely their manifestation.”

mklickstein@midatlanticmedia.com

You Should Know … Rachel Kassman

(Photo by Hannah Monicken)

(Photo by Hannah Monicken)

Rachel Kassman, 33, grew up in a small town in Connecticut, right next door to the house in which her father grew up, which itself is next to the house originally built by her great-grandfather.

But Kassman bucked family trend and is now coming up on a decade in Charm City. She made her way to the mid-Atlantic for school, first in Delaware and then for graduate school in library and information science at the University of Maryland, College Park.

By day, Kassman is the director of development and marketing for the Jewish Museum of Maryland. By night (and also some days), she is an active part of Fluid Movement, the performance art group that is probably most well known for its fun summer water ballets. To round out her busy life, she is also involved with Jews United for Justice, hosts a weekly taco night that generally attracts anywhere from 10 to 20 people and is helping her housemates baby proof their 100-year-old home before their newest arrival in March.

How did you get involved with Fluid Movement? Which came first: Fluid movement or involvement in synchronized swimming and choreography?

[Laughs.] So, I will admit to a childhood stint in synchronized swimming at the YMCA in Connecticut, but that has not been a big constant in my life. So, Fluid Movement kind of came first in this part of my life, and I actually got involved in it through the museum. One of the three original founders of Fluid Movement was Melissa Martens, who, many years ago, was the curator here at the Jewish Museum of Maryland. Then, my original boss here had gotten really involved in it, and one of the first things she told me when I got here was, “You seem like the kind of person who would really enjoy this.” And they were 100 percent correct.

I started [at the museum] in August 2007, and the next summer I was [at Fluid Movement] as a swimmer. Since then, I’ve been a swimmer, I’ve directed a scene, and this will be my second time producing the whole shebang.

For people who aren’t familiar with Fluid Movement, how would you describe it? I don’t believe it involves just swimming, although that seems to be a large component.

The summer water ballet is the largest project we do every year, currently. But we do a few others.

So, Fluid Movement is a community performance arts group. It’s open to anyone and everyone, all levels of skill, which is one of the things I really love about it. It’s not just a group for people who feel really confident in their ability to be onstage. We’ve got swimmers from 7 years old all the way up to 70 years old — all different body shapes, all different experiences and backgrounds. That’s one of the things I love about it is all the different kinds of people I get to meet.

It sounds like you’re more involved on the water ballet side. What about that has attracted you? I feel like people have a very specific idea when they think of synchronized swimming.

[Laughs.] This is very different. Let me highly emphasize: This is amateur. It’s amateur work — our watchword is “glitter.” We kind of joke about it, that it’s like adult summer camp. It’s an experience you’re just not going to get anywhere else.

One of the highlights for me has been meeting a lot of really fantastic, strong women who I otherwise probably wouldn’t come into contact with. There’s something about committing yourself to stand on a stage in a unitard in front of thousands of people over the course of the show that instills in you a confidence that you often don’t see otherwise. And then to be surrounded by 50 to 60 other people who are experiencing that same thing, it’s really kind of transformative. And bringing that experience to other people really resonates with me.

So, since you’re going to be co-producing the next show, do you have a sneak peek into what it’s going to be like?

I will give you the very, very bare bones synopsis that we are setting our scene in a sort of Shakespeare tent at the Renaissance Festival that is being held at a water park. And there will, in fact, be a Sharke-speare as our sort of main narrative character. We’ll also be meeting Francis Bacon.

As in, literal bacon?

He will be a pig of some sort! I’m actually pushing for a “she” — Sir Francine Bacon. But beyond that, details are still under wraps.

hmonicken@midatlanticmedia.com

All I Want for Christmas Is … Chinese Food and a Movie

chinesefood_rotator

(©istockphoto.com/TABoomer)

Chinese food and a movie on Christmas: It’s become a cherished Jewish tradition across the nation, and Baltimore is certainly no exception.

Sonny Lee, owner of Sonny Lee’s Hunan Taste, estimates that being strategically located in Reisterstown, he has amassed a following of customers over the past 15 years that is “90 to 95 percent Jewish. Their habit is always to celebrate Christmas in a Chinese restaurant.”

“Usually the busiest day is Christmas,” Lee said. “Much busier than New Year’s Eve.”

Grinning puckishly in his characteristic scholarly glasses, dandyish bowtie and “executive chef” button-up shirt with  simple, immaculate white apron, the  65-year-old born in Shanghai and raised in Hong Kong approximates that at least 400 customers come in to eat or order takeout over Christmas and Christmas Eve.

The question becomes an obvious one: Why not cater to kosher Jews?

There was that cherubic smile again: “Those people live in Pikesville,” he giggled. “And rabbi [mashgiach] is too expensive!”

Sonny Lee (Mathew Klickstein)

Sonny Lee, owner of Sonny Lee’s Hunan Taste (Mathew Klickstein)

A master culinary artist who specializes in delightfully crunchy Sonny Crispy Shrimp, sweet and succulent orange chicken and his mouthwatering Peking duck that bring in customers from as far as Philadelphia, Lee’s rationale for avoiding a kosher kitchen goes beyond the  financial.

“Too much trouble! And I’d have to hand over my kitchen!” he said.

“It’s very challenging,” laughed Amy Fan, who has managed the two-decade old kosher glatt Chinese restaurant David Chu’s China Bistro since 2006.

“We have to fight for fresh broccoli,” Fan erupted, when first asked about the difficulties of running a fully dedicated Star K-approved restaurant.

If the mashgiach — who Fan confirmed does not work cheap — discerns that even one head of broccoli in a case is unclean, the entire order must be discarded.It makes cooking up dishes with broccoli, a staple of many favorite Chinese entrees, both costly and sometimes impossible.

Vegetables with leaves, such as broccoli, are more prone to being tainted by bugs, Fan said, and therefore David Chu’s must on occasion find non-leafy substitutes such as snow peas and string beans.

“It doesn’t happen a lot,” Fan said. “But it’s part of the business.”

Other kosher rules David Chu’s must strictly follow include allowing no dairy (since this is a meat restaurant) and closing early on Shabbat so the mashgiach can leave for services (which means having to work harder and faster on Shabbat and similar observant holidays).

Additionally, no one is permitted to bring in outside food; this includes employees on break periods/lunches at the restaurant.

“The staff has worked here very long, so they know the rules,” Fan said, noting that “No.1 rule, though, is you can’t turn on the fire yourself.”

Yes, even the most basic element of the kitchen — turning on the heat — can only be left in the hands of the mashgiach.

Lee’s right, then: It is both costly and a lot of trouble handing over one’s kitchen to a mashgiach. So why do it?

“People need me!” Fan said. “The [Jewish] population here. They say, ‘I have a big party, Amy. I need a big party!’”

To Fan, local Jews need that hearty General Tso’s chicken and warm and moist beef lo mein that is ready and waiting when all the other restaurants are closed on Christmas in particular.

“Yeah, of course lots come on Christmas and Christmas Eve,” Fan said, approximating as many as 1,000 customers during the holiday, which the restaurant is expecting to double this year, as Chanukah and Christmas fall on the same day.

“So heavy volume, in kitchen: Everyone going to die!” chuckled the Taiwan-born, 60-year-old Steve Chu, owner of Pikesville’s Jumbo Seafood Restaurant, about the intensely busy days ahead for his staff on Christmas Eve and Christmas.

Jumbo Seafood has been around since March 1993, and in that time, according to Chu, he has seen enough of a crush over the holidays to boast: “On Christmas Eve: 98 percent Jews. On Christmas: 99 percent.”

It’s likely Chu and his staff will cook for as many as 1,300 customers this weekend.

“Wow!” Chu exclaimed. “Most crazy days of year!”

Chu has been opening up and running Chinese restaurants around the country in such locations as Virginia Beach, Dallas, and Duncan, Okla., so he’s become an expert on the “what’s” and “how’s” of customer motivations.

But the looming “why” question remains elusive to him.

“I don’t know if it’s a Jewish tradition or what,” Chu said, “but most American restaurants are closed. When they come every year as kids, they come back from school over holidays when they’re older, and then they come back when they’re adults with their own kids.”

Kelly Yang has managed the 3-decade-old Mr. Chan Asian Bistro in Pikesville for the past five years and agrees that the reason the vast majority of the 450 customers she expects to serve over Christmas and Christmas Eve are Jewish is largely a generational one.

She further mused that Chinese, like the Jews, have their own calendars and holidays, with many of the former closing down their restaurants early on the Chinese New Year normally around February in lieu of Christmas.

Lee too sees an affinity between the Jewish and Chinese people, one based on the unfortunate reality of discrimination. He recalled the anti-Semitism in this country that was especially prominent back in the ’40s and ’50s.

“Jews were welcomed in Chinese restaurants on Christmas,” he said, smiling again that this “habit” was then passed down from generation to generation, as observed by his fellow Far East food purveyors.

The value both Jews and Chinese people put on family is another similarity, Lee said, which is perhaps the clearest reason why the two come together so well during the holiday.

“Some feel we are their lost tribes!” Lee laughed. “They say, ‘Sonny, we have a lot of lost tribes. Maybe you are one!’ I think so too!”

mklickstein@midatlanticmedia.com