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


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

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.”

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.”

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.

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



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!”

Chanukah Sweaters are Now a Thing — And I Love Them

Launched in 2012, Geltfiend was an innovator in the Hanukkah sweater scene. (Jay Diebel/Carin Agiman/Geltfiend)

Launched in 2012, Geltfiend was an innovator in the Hanukkah sweater scene. (Jay Diebel/Carin Agiman/Geltfiend)

NEW YORK (JTA) — Ever since I moved here from Israel, every late November felt like the beginning of a month-long assault. Every store, business and doctor’s office blared Christmas songs, streets were decorated with ostentatious light shows and seemingly everything became green and red — which, as an art school grad, I found personally offensive to my design sensibilities.

Then there were the Christmas sweaters. I admit I have a love of tacky knitwear — but I couldn’t get behind these garish monstrosities that flaunted a holiday that I didn’t celebrate but couldn’t escape from.

So I was thrilled when, three years ago, I saw a friend at a holiday party wearing a cozy sweater with a familiar pattern on it — dreidels with Hebrew letters, perfectly if garishly designed. I ran across the room and accosted her. “Where did you get that sweater?!”

That was the beginning of my love affair with Chanukah knitwear. I now have about half-dozen Chanukah wearables. My favorite is a cardigan called “The Spinster,” the same one I saw at that party, with big, nostalgic corozo buttons. Yes, I have way more sweaters than I probably need, but I treasure them. They feel like my armor in the war that Christmas seems to be waging against me every time the holiday season comes around.

Since then, the Chanukah knitwear market has grown significantly. While there are fewer Chanukah sweaters than the Christmas variety — for obvious reasons —  nowadays you can find everything from cute cardigans at Target done up with hanukkiot and boxed gifts to more controversial pieces, like the borderline misogynistic one sold (and later pulled) at Nordstrom last year. There’s an abundance of cheap, cheerful Chanukah options on Etsy — heck, even Whoopi Goldberg jumped on the Chanukah sweater bandwagon this season with a cutesy, bejeweled octopus design.

The Chanukah sweater, like American-style Chanukah itself, is a custom that expanded in a “what about us?” reaction to Christmas celebrations. “Ugly Christmas sweater parties” have been a thing since the early 2000s, although it wasn’t until a decade later that Time magazine noted the trend in an article declaring that “the tops are bigger than ever, but in a very hipstery, oh-so-ironic way.”

That first Chanukah sweater I spotted was the brainchild of Carin Agiman, a graphic designer in California. In 2012, she launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund Geltfiend, a sweater line featuring high-quality Chanukah knitwear with smart designs.

From left: Seth Rogen, Anthony Mackie and Joseph Gordon-Levitt star in Jonathan Levine's "The Night Before" (Courtesy of Columbia Pictures)

From left: Seth Rogen, Anthony Mackie and Joseph Gordon-Levitt star in Jonathan Levine’s “The Night Before” (Courtesy of Columbia Pictures)

“I had spent the previous Chanukah looking for Chanukah sweaters to wear to ugly Christmas sweaters parties because I couldn’t quite stomach the idea of wearing a Christmas sweater,” Agiman told me. “I didn’t want to be that person who just waited for someone else to make the thing that I really wanted, so I took the money from my tax refund and had samples made at this factory in L.A.”

Agiman then put together a photo shoot with the sweaters called Santa’s first Chanukah, assembled a video and launched her Kickstarter campaign. She got full funding, over $20,000.

She worked with a California-based manufacturers, making sure every little detail was perfect. “You’re dealing with these huge machines, if you want the pattern to land in the right place, that takes a lot of work,” she said. Many of the sweaters were inspired by mid-century designs, and everything from the fit to the names, like “Spinmaster,” were meticulously crafted.

Agiman saw her ideal client as “Someone who cares about the quality of the things they buy and they wear,” she said. “They want something that’s clever and not so obvious, someone who is really into being Jewish and the cultural aspect of it, not necessarily religious.”

But her customers ended up being more eclectic she expected — she got quite a few orders from Orthodox Jews, and from non-Jews too. Even Matisyahu reportedly has a sweater, she said.

Agiman kept the business going for four years — three years as a side gig, and then, in 2015, as a full-time job. But despite the positive response to her designs, she couldn’t make Geltfiend a viable business.

By the end, Agiman said, “I think we sold over 5,000 sweaters, over $400,000 worth of sweaters,” yet “we barely broke even.”

“I felt proud of it,” she added. “I gave it all that I had. It felt like a good note to end things on. I’d rather do something that I love and then let it go.”

Making sweaters is a complicated business. Unlike t-shirts, which you can design and manufacture in a matter of days, knitwear is usually manufactured overseas and in big quantities. There are mandatory minimums. It’s hard to get a business off the ground. But one Jewish sweater maven managed to get it done.

A year before Agiman launched her line, Evan Mendelsohn, a lawyer, and his friend Nick Morton, an endodontist, founded a sweater company called Tipsy Elves.

“We’d always enjoyed dressing up and wearing fun holiday clothes and we realized there was no one making fun apparel,” Mendehlsohn said. So, they decided to launch their own holiday clothes company. That year, they sold 5,000 sweaters, he said.

The next year, Mendehlson quit his job. You may have guessed by the name — Tipsy Elves doesn’t just peddle Chanukah wares. It sells Christmas sweaters — lots and lots of ridiculous Christmas sweaters. But they make Chanukah sweaters, too. This season, they have about six of them. Including one that you might recognize as the one Seth Rogen wore in the film “The Night Before.”

Unlike Agiman and me — who are Chanukah purists — Mendehlsohn has a much more lighthearted approach to the holiday sweater dilemma.

“My dad is Jewish and my mom is Catholic, so I was raised doing a little bit of both,” he said.

As for Agiman — who’s still shipping leftover Geltfiend stock via Amazon — she’s kept the Chanukah spirit alive: “The food is my favorite, the sufganiyot, the latkes, the gelt!” she said. “I think I’m just really really in love with that.”

Chanukah Concerts Kick Off with Klezmer

 Charm City Klezmer performs at Creative Alliance on Dec. 29. (File Photo)

Charm City Klezmer performs at Creative Alliance on Dec. 29. (File Photo)

While Chanukah’s traditions can sometimes get lost in the chaos of the holiday season, local organizations and congregations are making sure to keep tradition front and center, starting with the music.

A number of the various area concerts will feature klezmer bands, known for playing traditional Yiddish and Jewish music derived from Eastern European folk music.

In fact, the word “klezmer” is a Yiddish compound word derived from two Hebrew words that literally mean “musical instrument.”

Rabbi Velvel Belinsky is bringing a klezmer band from New York City to town to play at Cheder Chabad on the evening of Dec. 24.

“The band [members] are Russian themselves,” he said, “and it’s cool because they are still playing traditional instruments [such as] accordion and flute. These are traditional klezmer musical instruments. The community is very excited because we have never had anything like this.”

According to Belinsky, the band will be playing songs that people might know from their grandparents, played with instruments that would have been found in a shtetl or small town.

“It will be lively during a time when everything else is closed up anyway,” he said of Christmas Eve, which shares the date with Eruv Chanukah this year. “It is the most boring night for Jews the entire year, and we want to liven that up.”

For more information, visit

>>While Chabad is bringing a traditional group of klezmer musicians from out of town, the Creative Alliance is partnering with Charm City Klezmer, “the best klezmer dance band in the area,” according to Josh Kohn, Creative Alliance’s performance director.

Led by husband-and-wife team Judith Geller and Michael Raitzyk, Charm City Klezmer boasts a “tradition of not-so-traditional klezmer music with roots in Jewish East European culture,” according to the event teaser.

“This is an annual event we do, partnering with Charm City Klezmer,” said Kohn. “They have been doing the event for as long as we have been in existence at our current location.”

Attendees can expect an upbeat and interactive concert on Dec. 29. Geller will teach traditional Yiddish dances to the audience, and as she teaches the basic moves, the band will play a song that the dance goes with.

“Originally, [klezmer] was dance music, not concert music,” explained Raitzyk. “It was played for simchas and weddings. This concert is a giant dance party; no one sits down. We teach Yiddish dances, Israeli dances.”

Raitzyk, a multi-instrumentalist who plays guitar, which is not traditional to klezmer, sees the event as a cultural celebration.

“It creates instant community,” he said. “All are welcome when we dance together as brothers and sisters in celebration. It renews our hope and spirit and keeps the culture alive.”

For more information, visit

>>An Die Musik is also hosting an annual Chanukah concert on Dec. 28 featuring the Seth Kibel Quartet, “a genre-bending klezmer band,” according to the venue’s website. Kibel was named Best World Music Instrumentalist by the Washington Area Music Association from 2003 through 2011.

Henry Wong, An Die Musik founder and owner, said that Kibel, a Baltimore native, has been performing at this annual concert for the last six years.

“People should come if they like classical music, anything like ‘Fiddler on the Roof,’” said Wong. “The music brings a lot of memory and tradition. It is wonderful music and is great for Jews and non-Jews alike.”

“I hope people will come to connect,” he continued. “You have to respect the heritage being passed on. We don’t want this culture to cease to exist. People have to understand that it is a different type of holiday situation, and this music perfectly represents it. People will leave feeling happy and looking forward to the New Year. It is good to end on a high note.”

For more information, visit

>>For those who are seeking a less traditional holiday celebration, the Gordon Center is bringing the husband and wife team of Eric Lindberg and Doni Zasloff to perform with their two bands, Jewish bluegrass outfit Nefesh Mountain and the family-friendly Mama Doni Band on Dec. 24 and 25, respectively.

“The first night of Chanukah is a bluegrass concert open to families. It is more of an adult concert, truly a fusion of bluegrass and old-time music with Jewish tradition,” said Zasloff. “Bluegrass has been a love of ours for a long time, and Nefesh Mountain is the realization of our love for both Jewish culture and bluegrass music. There are all kinds of acoustic folk music. We really love that and have adopted our Jewish beliefs to fit the world of bluegrass.”

“If you already love bluegrass, you’ll love the show,” added Lindberg. “If you don’t have any experience with it, after the show you will love bluegrass. It is really exciting to be playing this huge concert with Nefesh Mountain. We are really the authority for and the pioneers for what is really true Jewish bluegrass music.”

The Mama Doni Band’s concert will be kid friendly.

“It will have dancing and exciting songs; it’s very high energy,” said Zasloff. “There are Chanukah classics as well as our own takes on some songs. People will be up and about engaging the little ones. Chanukah is such a beautiful time to be grateful for family and friendships. Music is the best way to celebrate that sometimes.”

For more information, visit

For more information on additional events in the local area, visit

For information on events local synagogues are hosting, visit

Transcending The Music

(Erica Hamilton, Erica Abbey Photography)

Jonathan Leshnoff (Erica Hamilton, Erica Abbey Photography)

If Pikesville-based composer Jonathan Leshnoff hasn’t taken you on a experiential journey while you’re listening to his music, he hasn’t done his job.

Or so he contends in the liner notes to his recently released album containing world premiere recordings of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra & Chorus performing his “Symphony No. 2” and “Zohar.”

Both pieces were inspired by the deep, abiding religious conviction of Leshnoff, an  Orthodox Jew who The Washington Post referred to as “clearly one of the more gifted young American composers around” in 2013.

Leshnoff received his Ph.D. in composition from the University of Maryland in 2000 after undergraduate studies at the Peabody  Institute and Johns Hopkins University, where he studied both composition and anthropology. He has been a professor at Towson University since 2001.

“I’m originally from a little suburb of New York called New Jersey,” Leshnoff said with a laugh.

“I moved to Baltimore 25 years ago for school and never left. Towson has been very supportive, I really enjoy the students here, and the Baltimore community has been a great match for my family.”

Though Leshnoff said he grew up observing Conservative Judaism, after his time at Johns Hopkins, he left a “different person” due to his deeper  investment into Judaism.

“I like to say I entered Hopkins without a yarmulke on my head and left with it on,” as Leshnoff summarized his transition into practicing Orthodox Judaism, which has become a linchpin for both his personal and professional life.

Although Leshnoff has been so observant for nearly as long as he’s lived in Baltimore, he experienced an inner struggle with being able to express what he felt was a substantial overlap between his Jewish studies and musical passion.

“The soul of this was not able to express itself until just recently,” Leshnoff said.

It was only a few years ago that Leshnoff realized music and Judaism are not only  directly related, but indeed are not separate entities.

“Spirituality is in touch with something that is not audible, and music is also connected to something that is not audible,” Leshnoff said, well aware that the latter component of his revelatory formulation may not make sense at first blush.

He elaborated that it’s perfectly salient when one thinks of how we not only hear music, but feel and experience it as well, each of us on a different level and through our own individual mindset.


(Atlanta Symphony Orchestra)

There’s an affinity here with how one subjectively experiences his or her spirituality, leading Leshnoff to believe he was ready to put pen to paper and create his musical scores, including “Zohar,” which takes its name from the primary text of the Kabbalah.

“It wasn’t a collision [of Judaism with music] but a collusion,” Leshnoff said. “‘Integration’ is the word I like to use.”

The two aforementioned works on his new release are in fact part of a “10-piece multiyear meta-project that parallels the fundamental building blocks of Jewish spiritual thought.”

Both “Symphony No. 2” and “Zohar” were commissioned by the ASO and Robert Spano, who has been the prestigious orchestra’s music director since 2000.

Spano first became aware of Leshnoff through an artistic form of kismet bordering on beshert.

In 2001, an orchestra in Philadelphia was readying to perform Leshnoff’s flute concerto when the conductor turned out to be too sick to  attend.

“There was a whole rush of flurry,” Leshnoff said. “Who’s going to conduct? Who’s going to conduct?”

The ASO’s Spano was brought in at such a last minute that he had to learn the entire concerto on the plane flying into Philly. This, without ever having heard it performed.

“He comes in at 10 a.m. to rehearse, then conducts the performance from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. the same day,” Leshnoff said, with a still resonating  astonishment in his voice.

The performance received a terrific response, Leshnoff continued, with the composer joining the orchestra members and Spano onstage for a well-deserved bow.

Leshnoff laughed that when Spano and he were stepping toward the green room, the latter asked Leshnoff, “Wait, who are you?”

The two became fast friends and regular collaborators from that moment onward. Spano has, in fact, not only conducted Leshnoff’s works (including those on the latest album), but he performed a Leshnoff piano piece at no less than Carnegie Hall.

“I’m so grateful for him,” Leshnoff said. “You can’t learn a piece on a plane a few hours before the performance without getting it intuitively. He  really gets it.”

ASO’s vice president for artistic planning and operations Evans Mirageas well  remembers when Spano came back “glowing” from performing and conducting Leshnoff’s work.

“He told us, ‘We need to play those pieces, and we need to commission him,’” Mirageas said.

Mirageas spoke with Leshnoff who declared that he wanted to write a big symphony, to which the former  enthusiastically replied, “OK! Write us a big symphony!”

The ASO would go on to premiere “Symphony No. 2” in Atlanta in fall 2015, with “Zohar” being performed at Carnegie Hall to mark the 100th birthday of internationally acclaimed musician and former ASO music director Robert Shaw on April 30, 2016.

“That was the highlight of my musical life,” Leshnoff  recalled.

Mirageas revealed that the ASO is already speaking with Leshnoff about writing something for the organization’s 75th anniversary in 2020.

“We want to continue working with Jonathan,” Mirageas said. “We just want to find the right subject, and knowing Jonathan’s fertile imagination, that topic will appear.”

You Should Know … Craig Solomon

(Photo by Daniel Nozick)

(Photo by Daniel Nozick)

Craig Solomon, 40, is a Baltimore businessman with a penchant for philanthropy. Outside his career working in financial systems consulting, Solomon started B-More Engaged, “a young professional’s group that helps eager volunteers find a variety of ways to volunteer in the Baltimore community,” according to the group’s Facebook page.

Solomon grew up in Gaithersburg, Md., and moved to Baltimore following his graduation from the University of Delaware, where he studied business. He lives in Owings Mills and works at T. Rowe Price, where he developed a system that tracks the company’s technology costs.

“They didn’t have much to tell them [about] how much an application costs for the company,” he said. “After implementing this system, I will be able to tell them how much labor costs, the server, storage, etc.”

Solomon, who has been working for T. Rowe Price for the past year and a half, said that part of the reason he decided to work at the company is that it is philanthropic.

Solomon endeavors to give back in everything he does and has run B-More Engaged on his own time for the past five-and-a-half years. In 2014, he was recognized by United Way of Central Maryland’s Emerging Leaders United with its Philanthropic 5 Award, which annually honors five people who show outstanding commitment to their community.

How did B-More Engaged develop?

B-More Engaged started as a small organization on, a platform where people can connect with those who put down similar interests. There wasn’t anything much for volunteers, so I started B-More Engaged. I had a lot of contacts because I did a lot of volunteering with The Associated’s Jewish Volunteer Connection and a lot of nonprofits. They helped me get started.

I didn’t do much volunteering growing up. I started doing a lot with JVC to meet people after college and just got hooked. The instant gratification of the small task can make a huge difference, and that just kept going. I loved working with people and just seeing their appreciation for it.

I have always been involved with Walk MS. My mom passed away from multiple sclerosis. I organized the team and would raise money, so I had some fundraising type experience, but it wasn’t until after college that I started to actually get my hands dirty and do more. I still do a lot with the MS Society, but now that I am focusing on my group, I am able to expand and help a lot of nonprofits around the Baltimore area.

I am also on the board of two of my favorite nonprofits, Civic Works and Art with a Heart. Civic Works is an umbrella organization that does a lot with urban farms, helping the elderly, beautifying vacant lots around the Baltimore City and energy efficiency. Art with a Heart brings art education and leadership through art to kids and adults who would not normally have it, be it at a homeless shelter, a community center or a school.

What does B-More Engaged do?

We have over 800 people in the group; I’d say about 200 are active. We are a young professional group, mostly people in their 20s and 30s. We work with nonprofits in the Baltimore area, anything from art nonprofits to beautify the city to the Humane Society or Habitat for Humanity.

We really cover the whole gamut — the homeless, children. Everything you can think of, we’ve probably done some sort of an event. We average four or five events a month, so almost once a week, we have some event going on helping somebody or some nonprofit. Over the years, we have worked with hundreds of different nonprofits.

This Saturday, we’re wrapping gifts at Barnes & Noble to raise money for the MS Society. We are also doing holiday dinner for the families at Johns Hopkins’ Children’s House. Similar to the Ronald McDonald House, it is where families stay when their kids are either outpatient or inpatient at Johns Hopkins. We come in and prepare meals for the families staying there. I do that on a monthly basis.

We cook them a meal, sit and eat and talk with them, joke around and get their minds off of things. It is one place that has touched my heart a lot just because I have been able to have some small effect.

Visit B-More Engaged’s Facebook page.

Nacho Latkes? You Bet!

© Benedek

© Benedek

In our “blended” neighborhood, we are surrounded by Christmas decorations. Diversity abounds! But when it comes to food, there is one December favorite all the neighbors look forward to: my annual latke party. My latke party is a great way to entertain as well as to spread knowledge of Judaism. I can see the results of my efforts. One of my neighbors now hangs a lighted Star of David in her window in support of Israel. I make my latkes in advance and freeze them — about 100 or more! At party time, my table is laden with assorted menorah candles, chocolate coins and dreidels.

Brisket and/or chicken schnitzel are main dishes, but the latkes with assorted toppings always take center stage. I also keep some latke batter to make some fresh and hot, as people line up to assemble their plates. I use my electric frying pan (helps spattering grease) and the old electric glass-top hot plate to keep latkes warm.

My go-to latke recipe is a cinch. I use boxes of home-style potato pancake mix and enhance them with refrigerated shredded potatoes. (I use one heaping cupful of the shredded potatoes to one box mix.) Toppings are always pareve sour cream and cinnamon applesauce. I use either homemade or a jar of chunky applesauce that I cut into smaller pieces. Place the applesauce in a deep pot on the stove and add red cinnamon candies. Heat on low light, stirring until candies are dissolved and flavor is achieved. This will turn the sauce a beautiful pink color. Keeps for many days in refrigerator.

Leftover latkes? Use them for the base of recipes such as latke nachos or fried chicken and latkes. I know. Latke nachos. Who knew? Place a layer of halved latkes on the bottom of an oven-proof plate. Top with chunky salsa and lots of shredded cheese. Place in the oven to melt cheese and serve.

Dessert latkes: I drizzle latkes with maple syrup and hot sauce. Stack latkes with any sweetened mascarpone filling in between each latke and drizzle with maple syrup and hot sauce.

For the marinade:
2 eggs, lightly beaten
2 heaping tablespoons of good quality mustard
3-4 garlic cloves, smashed
Fresh ground pepper
2 pounds boneless chicken breast, very thinly pounded

For frying:
2 cups unseasoned bread crumbs
2 tablespoons sesame seeds
Fresh ground pepper and sea salt
Canola oil

For serving:
3-4 lemons, quartered

Directions: Combine eggs, mustard, garlic and pepper in a large bowl. Add the chicken and mix until the chicken is completely coated. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, preferably overnight.

Remove the chicken from the refrigerator and let sit at room temperature for 20 minutes. Meanwhile, in a shallow bowl, mix together the unseasoned bread crumbs and sesame seeds. Season with fresh ground pepper and sea salt. Dredge chicken breasts in bread crumbs, patting slightly to help them stick. Pour oil into a medium skillet (cast iron is best) to about 11/2 inches high. Heat oil on high heat until very hot and add chicken breasts, adding just two to three at a time (depending on their size). Do not overcrowd them in the pan. Reduce heat to medium, and fry until golden brown on each side and chicken is completely cooked through. Repeat with remaining chicken.

Remove chicken from pan with a slotted spoon and place on a serving plate lined with paper towels, until all chicken is fried. Serve immediately with fresh lemon. 6 servings.

(From a rabbi’s wife’s recipe, tweaked by Ilene)
1 envelope onion soup mix
1/4 cup fine ground instant coffee or espresso
11/2 cups ketchup
1/2-3/4 cup brown sugar
1/2-3/4 cup or more, to taste, kosher sweet wine (grape or any
berry flavor)
1 whole* or large thick first-cut beef brisket (always look for a thick one!)
1 small bag mini-peeled carrots,
optional but good
1-2 baking potatoes, cut up, optional

Directions: Combine the coffee and onion soup mix.

Rub brisket all over with the mix. Combine next ingredients, mixing well. Pour over brisket, fat side up in a 13-by-9-inch baking pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 21/2 hours, uncovered, basting occasionally. Cover loosely with foil and add carrots and potatoes, if desired. Bake another hour or more, until meat is very tender. Remove meat and let cool to room temperature. Meanwhile, refrigerate sauce. When cold, remove fat from top of juice. Slice meat (can also be sliced at room temp) and return to casserole. Cover with sauce. To reheat, bake at 350 degrees, covered, for another 45-60 minutes. Leftovers are delicious cold on a roll as a sandwich (with some sauce). Freezes great! 10-12 servings, depending on size of brisket.

*If you use a whole brisket, trim off some of the thick fat, score the remaining fat, and you may want to go one-and-a-half times the sauce and seasoning ingredients.

Use day-old Krispy Kreme (or any thin-glazed) doughnuts
Sifted powdered sugar for garnish
Panini machine

Directions: Press doughnuts, two at a time, in heated Panini grille. Press until they are lightly browned. Carefully remove and place in one layer on a cutting board. When slightly cool, cut in half and sprinkle with sifted powdered sugar. Can be lightly layered on a serving plate. Use for breakfast or dessert. Makes a wonderful and fun “action station”
for guests.

Tips & Tricks

  • Freeze cooked latkes in one layer on a baking sheet. When frozen, place them in a zip-lock plastic bag and mark how many are in the bag.
  • Use grape seed, peanut, safflower or canola oil to fry the latkes. Russet potatoes are the best for browning.
  • Add a little baking powder to batter before frying for some fluffiness. Optional: Add chopped parsley, chopped sweet onion for color and flavor.

Ilene Spector is a local freelance writer.