A Polish Opera Director in the Judean Desert

“La Traviata” director Michal Znaniecki says “Masada is a perfect backdrop” for the opera’s “life-and-death theme.” (Provided)

“La Traviata” director Michal Znaniecki says “Masada is a perfect backdrop” for the opera’s “life-and-death theme.”

Pre-state Israel experienced its first opera premiere when the Russian-born conductor and visionary, Mordechai Golinkin, directed Giuseppe Verdi’s “La Traviata” in September 1923. With no opera house in Tel Aviv at the time, the opera had to be performed in movie theaters. In Golinkin’s quest to pioneer opera life and culture, “La Traviata” was one of the first of several operas that he directed in the early years leading to Jewish statehood.

But now, more than 90 years later, that same opera is making its appearance once again in the Holy Land — this time under very different circumstances. The Israeli Opera today is internationally recognized, and Tel Aviv boasts a state-of-the-art Opera House at the city’s Performing Arts Center.

However, the new production of “La Traviata” will take place at Masada June 12 to 17 as the main performance of the fourth Israeli Opera Festival. In the past, the festival featured other Verdi operas — “Nabucco” in 2010 and “Aida” in 2011 — and also near the lowest point on earth.

“We want to give these stones life,” said Chana Munitz, Israeli Opera’s general director, in reference to Masada, a rugged natural fortress not far from the Dead Sea, where holdouts of the Jewish revolt against Roman rule chose death rather than slavery. “Producing opera in an opera house is one thing, but producing an opera event in the desert is quite another.”

The “La Traviata” production is directed by one of the world’s most renowned opera directors, Michal Znaniecki, who specializes in open-air productions. The show also will feature internationally acclaimed Israeli conductor maestro Daniel Oren.

Znaniecki, originally from Warsaw, told Tazpit News Agency that producing “La Traviata” in Masada “was a natural choice.”

“Masada’s history is a perfect backdrop,” he explained. “The life-and-death theme in the story resonates with what took place in Masada in addition to the landmark’s importance for the people of Israel.”

The Polish director began his career in 1994 and has directed 180 new productions of opera, theater plays and musicals in Poland, France, Belgium, Ireland, Italy, Spain, Norway and Argentina, among other countries.

Znaniecki has been working on the “La Traviata” production for the past three years and related that he is “excited to see the project finally happen in the Judean desert.”

It will be the largest and most complex opera production ever seen in Israel, employing some 2,500 people in addition to 700 participants and operating teams. The festival will also feature the Israel Philharmonic led by Kent Nagano and the Idan Raichel Project as well as singers from the Israeli Opera’s Meitar Opera Studio.

The Israel Ministry of Tourism expects 50,000 people from Israel and “cultural tourists” from abroad to partake in the festival. This year, the Israeli Opera Festival will also reach Akko (June 19-21) and will feature a weekend of Mozart at the subterranean Crusader Halls in Akkoís Old City.

Middle-Aged At Middleton

012414_At-MiddletonThe college tour. It’s a rite of passage for most college-bound high school students. A new film by Baltimore natives Adam Rodgers and Sig Libowitz turns the tables on the college application process by taking a bittersweet look at two parents played by Andy Garcia and Vera Farmiga. They form an immediate connection when they meet on a college tour with their children. Fed up with their respective kids’ attitudes, the two parents skip the tour and end up spending the day together.

“The great thing about this film is that everyone thinks it will be about the kids, but it’s actually about the parents,” said Libowitz, 45, the film’s producer.

Libowitz grew up in Baltimore City attending Talmudical Academy and Baltimore Polytechnic Institute. After high school, he attended New York University, where he studied acting at the Tisch School of the Arts. Now a Bethesda resident, Libowitz also has a law degree from University of Maryland.

Co-writer and director Rodgers, 47, a Pikesville High School graduate who attended Duke University and NYU’s graduate film school, said the concept for “At Middleton” was inspired by his own college tour experiences.

“A zillion years ago when I was on my college tour, I got to around the 15th stop and the fatigue set in. This girl wandered off the tour, and my 16-year-old self just drifted off with her,” he recalled.

Years later when Rodgers and the film’s co-writer, Glenn German, discussed the concept of making a movie about a college tour, they decided that focusing on the parents’ experience would be a more interesting storyline.

As the father of a freshman in college, Rodgers is familiar with the mixed emotions that arise before sending a child to college.

“You’re thrilled and excited for them, but there’s also this sense of panic and loss. People behave strangely under those circumstances,” he said. “Something about being on Middleton’s campus reignites” the characters.

“The location was central to the story,” he continued. “Like in ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream,’ when they all go into the magical forest and start acting crazy; that’s what happens when these parents arrive on this beautiful campus. The parents start acting like kids, and the kids act like parents.”

Although Rodgers and Libowitz grew up in Baltimore, they didn’t meet until they were at NYU.

“Adam wrote and directed a film while he was there, and I auditioned and got the lead,” said Libowitz. The film, which was a finalist for the top directing prize at the university, was about Rodger’s beloved Baltimore-bred grandmother, Dorothy Ellison, now 94 and living in Pikesville.

“When you’re a nice Jewish boy from Baltimore who wants to be a filmmaker, you get some funny looks. But my grandmother was always supportive,” said Rodgers.

In the years that followed their studies at NYU, Libowitz, Rodgers and German worked together on various projects. Rodgers and German had success selling their scripts and pitches to Sony, Universal and Fox studios, and Libowitz enjoyed an illustrious career in production, writing and acting. Yet, the three friends were anxious to get back to film-making.

In 2009, Libowitz and Rodgers made a short film, “The Response.” Written by Libowitz and directed by Rodgers, the courtroom drama is based upon transcripts of the Guantanamo Bay military tribunals. Among other honors, the film was shortlisted for the 2010 Academy Award for best short film in the live action category.

Libowitz, Rodgers and German’s success, experiences and Hollywood connections paid off when they set out to make “At Middleton.”

“When you make an indie film, it’s very collaborative but really begins with the characters,” said Rodgers. “What really drives a movie being made is who’s in it. Andy [Garcia] and Vera [Farmiga] wanted good parts and wanted the opportunity to play light, funny roles. Once they were on board, we had a package.”

The fact that Garcia helped to produce the film was also “instrumental in a lot of pieces coming together,” said Libowitz.

“At Middleton” premiered at the Seattle International Film Festival in May 2013, and has been on the film festival circuit since then.

“It’s been so wonderful to see it with an audience,” said Libowitz. “There’s so much laughter.”

Originally slated to open for only a limited run, the film’s popularity at festivals has convinced distributors to show it at 20 theaters around the country, said Rodgers. On Jan. 31, it will open in select theaters in New York, Los Angeles and Baltimore. The two Baltimore natives are especially excited about the film’s Baltimore screening, which will take place at the Rotunda Cinemas on W. 40th Street.

“It’s like having a second bar mitzvah without having to learn the Torah portion,” said Libowitz with a smile.

Rodgers and Libowitz, who said they are anxious to make more films in Maryland, are only slightly concerned about the fact that the film opens in Baltimore on Super Bowl weekend.

“Every Jewish woman in Pikesville needs to come see “At Middleton,’” said Rodgers. “In exchange, husbands have a pass to watch all the pre- and post-Super Bowl coverage they like. You can’t beat that deal, right?”

A Man For All Seasons

Shelly Saltman (Provided)

Shelly Saltman

There are people in sports and entertainment whose names are never known in the general public. But such figures are the driving force of these industries. For more than seven decades, Sheldon “Shelly” Arthur Saltman, 82, has been the man behind some of the biggest sporting and entertainment events ever seen on television.

Recently, the JT had an opportunity to speak with him about his 60-plus-year career.

JT: Your first job was at the top of the sports broadcasting world. Tell us about being an announcer for the “Gillette Cavalcade of Sports.”
When I first started as a broadcaster in the 1950s, the sports world was very different than it is today. Back then the big four sports were baseball, boxing, horse racing and college football. Gillette had the rights to the World Series, the “Friday Night Fights,” horse racing’s Triple Crown and all the major college bowl games. That meant we were there when Don Larson pitched a perfect game [for the Yankees] in the 1956 World Series [against the Dodgers]. We covered all of the big fights by Hall of Fame heavyweight champions Sugar Ray Robinson, Rocky Marciano and Floyd Patterson. And we were in Baltimore every year for the Preakness. In short, if it was a big-time sporting event on TV, we were there.

But then you left sports for a while.
Yes, I had a wife, and we wanted a family so I needed to get off the road. I left the “Gillette Cavalcade of Sports” and took a job as the vice president of promotions for MCA in New York City. At that time MCA was the biggest talent agency in the world; our clients included Bob Hope, Jackie Gleason, Bing Crosby, Paul Newman and many others. While my main focus was on entertainment, I was able to stay in sports by helping our clients to promote their major golf tournaments like the Bob Hope Desert Classic, the Bing Crosby Tournament at Pebble Beach and Jackie Gleason’s Inverrary Classic.

While at MCA, didn’t you and Andy Williams become friends?

Yes, I am honored to say that I was a longtime friend and business partner with Andy. He talked me into moving out to Los Angeles so we could start our promotions and production company. He loved both music and sports. Together we were able to establish the Andy Williams San Diego Golf Open, which raised millions of dollars for the Dr. Jonas Salk Institute in San Diego, along with a number of other local charities. Also, Andy and I, along with our friends Bobbie Gentry, Ed Ames and Henry Mancini and a group of prominent Phoenix businessmen, were owners of the expansion NBA Phoenix Suns starting in the 1968-69 season.

You actually left the Suns for a year to become president of the Los Angeles Lakers and the National Hockey League’s L.A. Kings in the 971-72 season.
I worked for Jack Kent Cooke as the president of the Lakers and the Kings. Mr. Cooke was both brilliant and a real tough man to work for because he demanded the best; he would settle for nothing less. He came up with the concept of having stars from the entertainment world come to the games and be seen sitting courtside on national TV. So I used my movie studio contacts to help get people like Doris Day, Dean Martin, Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon to become courtside regulars. My job was a bit easier because the team was very, very good. That season we were led by future Hall of Fame stars Jerry West, Wilt Chamberlain and Elgin Baylor. It was because of the team’s great talent that they would go on to win their first NBA championship that year. I would be remiss if I did not mention my dear friend Dr. Ernie Vandeweghe; he was the heart of the Lakers. He served as the team doctor but was a special adviser to every owner the Lakers ever had. I loved working with him, and I am lucky to be able to call him a friend to this day.

You had a special relationship with Muhammad Ali.
After I left the Lakers and the Kings, I was involved with the closed-circuit broadcasting of major sporting events. That included doing the event promotion for a number of fights both here and around the world with Muhammad Ali. As someone who served his country in Korea, the fact that Ali would choose not to serve in the military put me off at first. That changed quickly once I got to know the man and understood what was important to him. I can honestly say that of all of the athletes I have been around in my career there is no doubt that Ali was the most interesting. He was a natural promoter, but more importantly, he was very generous with his time. When he asked you how you were doing he really meant it. I traveled the world with him and saw off-camera how he signed thousands of autographs, took pictures with the fans and made sure that everyone had fun. He was a one-of-a-kind person, and he remains one of my all-time favorite people.

Was there anyone else who had the natural self-promotional abilities of Ali?
I will say that Maryland’s own Sugar Ray Leonard was a true natural. Like Ali he had that “it” factor, a natural talent for promotion. Ray had the ability to really connect with people, and he was a born salesman. He was very bright, well-spoken and had that million-dollar smile, so he could sell any product he put his name on. That made him a true commercial success, which was something Ali never seemed interested in pursuing. Physically, he was great; he won the gold medal at the 1976 Olympics in Montreal, and during the 1980s his series of championship fights with Roberto Duran and Thomas Hearns became boxing classics.

What event are you most proud of producing?
The first Los Angeles women’s marathon in 1980. It was run the same distance as the men’s race. We shot film of the event, and then I traveled along with a delegation to meet with the International Olympic Committee in Lausanne, Switzerland. We had one goal and that was to get the women’s marathon included in the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles. We made our case, and the IOC voted that there would be a women’s marathon in 1984. It has been part of the summer games ever since. I have a daughter and granddaughters; I have always felt that they deserve to play on an equal playing field with men, both in sports and business.

What is the secret of being a success for all these years?
Any accomplishments that I have achieved have come from hard work along with the loving support of my family. Like all men and women who have realized some degree of success, it all starts at home. For me, it was growing up during the depression in an Orthodox Jewish home in Cambridge, Mass. I was taught to work hard, to always think big and never feel as though you can’t accomplish whatever goal you strive to achieve. I believe that the lessons I learned in Hebrew school still serve me well, both in my business and my personal life: Always treat people with respect; always give back something to your community; never forget where you came from; and never forget who you are. And when you think about success, remember it is quite hollow if you can’t share it with the people you love.

Patti And Me

011714_PATTI-ISSUESHe was just a boy when 37-year-old theatrical director, producer, actor and playwright Ben Rimalower first heard musical theater giant Patti LuPone sing “Don’t Cry for Me Argen-tina” in her Tony Award-winning performance as Eva Peron in “Evita.” But what he heard and how it thrilled him would set the stage for many of his future artistic endeavors, including a one-man show, “Patti Issues,” coming to the Creative Alliance at the Patterson on Jan. 25.

According to CA program director Megan Hamilton, “Patti Issues”is an example of the type of programming that the arts and cultural organization is committed to presenting to Baltimore’s LGBT community, as well as its Jewish community.

“We are super excited to have Ben,” said Hamilton, who noted that “Patti Issues” is one of several Jewish-themed performances and/or performers the Alliance has presented in the past several months.

“We recently had Andy Statman,” said Hamilton. “Wow! Beyond amazing. His virtuosic exploration of both the clarinet and the mandolin was truly unique and in its unabashed eccentricity, very Baltimore. We just had Charm City Klezmer with dance leader Stephen Lee Weintraub for their annual klezmer bash, and that was so fun. So Ben, besides being madly talented and bringing such a solid piece, helps us program to two of our favorite audiences.”

When he first became obsessed with LuPone and “Evita,” Rimalower was dealing with a real-life family drama, and he connected strongly with LuPone’s character in the play.

“She was a bitch with something to prove, and I felt thrilled by it, empowered,” he recalled. “I was also obsessed with Joan Collins from ‘Dynasty’ and the wicked witch from ‘The Wizard of Oz.’ A mild-mannered protagonist couldn’t hold my attention.”

When Rimalower was 8, his father, a successful obstetrician in Los Angeles, revealed that he was gay. Subsequently, his parents’ marriage ended, and Rimalower and his younger sister were eventually adopted by his mother’s second husband.

“My dad was very messy about this,” said Rimalower. “There were drugs, anger issues; for a couple of years, we were really dumped on by my father.”

Rimalower’s father attempted suicide, and a traumatized Rimalower spoke up and let his mother know that he and his sister were afraid of their father and no longer wished to have contact with him.

“It was a big deal then, having a gay father,” he said. “It was such a different time.”

Gradually, Rimalower realized that he too was gay.

“I knew I was different, and I hated boys,” he said. “All my friends were girls. So I thought I was a ladies’ man and was different from my father. But it was hard to maintain [that self-image]. I was struggling.”

In retrospect, Rimalower believes that his father’s coming out made it easier for him to come to grips with his own sexual identity: “My father knocked down that barrier in my family,” he said. “My mother’s brother came out shortly after. I couldn’t keep thinking I was a ladies’ man. It forced me to come out.”

After high school, Rimalower went to the University of California at Berkley, where he studied theater and started the university’s first theater company.

After graduation, he landed an internship at Princeton’s McCarter Theatre, an experience he called “humbling and inspiring.”

When the internship ended, Rima-lower moved to New York City, where he took a position as an assistant on the television show “Spin City.”

“But I missed the theater,” he said. “After all, that was why I had come to New York.”

Rimalower became theatrical director Lonnie Price’s assistant for several years, helping to direct hit shows such as the New York Philharmonic’s 2000 gala presentation of “Sweeney Todd,” which starred LuPone. That was when Rimalower finally got the opportunity to meet his idol.

He was not disappointed.

“She really lived up to her persona in my mind,” he said. “She was exactly the diva I had dreamed of for all of these years. I’m kind of Patti’s type in that I’m obsessed with her.”

He added with a smile that sometimes when LuPone “needs a gay guy to go to a musical with her,” he is happy to oblige.

Rimalower and LuPone have since worked together on several projects, and LuPone was the inspiration for a 2006 show called “Leslie Kritzer is Patti LuPone at Les Mouches,” in which Broadway actress/singer Kritzer impersonated LuPone performing her legendary nightclub act from the 1970s. For the first time, Rimalower, who had always left script writing to others, was both directing and writing his own show.

“I was so intoxicated by creating that show without another writer,” said Rimalower.

Buoyed by the success of “Leslie Kritzer,” Rimalower started blogging.

“I found that personal essay-style writing worked for me,” he said. “And it [the blogging] became about me and Patti and my father.”

“Patti Issues,” which opened at the Duplex in Greenwich Village in August 2012, garnered terrific reviews. Since September 2013, the role of Rimalower has been played in New York City by Tony Award-winning actor Robin De Jesus; Rimalower plays himself in the traveling show.

“I’m so excited to be in Baltimore,” said Rimalower. “I get so much out of sharing [the show] with an audience. People should expect to laugh a lot. And it’s not only for the Patti-obsessed.”

“Patti Issues” will show at the Creative Alliance at the Patterson on Saturday, Jan. 25 at 8 p.m. For more information, visit creativealliance.org or benrimalower.com.

Diaspora Yeshiva Band Reunites After Almost Two Decades

The Diaspora Yeshiva Band took the stage for the first time since 1996 with a sold-out show at Congregation Shomrei Emunah on Jan. 11 (Marc Shapiro).

The Diaspora Yeshiva Band took the stage for the first time since 1996 with a sold-out show at Congregation Shomrei Emunah on Jan. 11 (Marc Shapiro).

Avraham Rosenblum grew up during the Woodstock generation; he even attended the legendary music festival in 1969.

But when he left behind his hippie rags for spiritual riches, he helped found a band that would pioneer Jewish rock music.

The Diaspora Yeshiva Band formed on Mount Zion in Jerusalem in 1975, creating a unique sound with lyrics based on the Torah.

“We ended up creating a very eclectic blend of country, rock, blues, jazz and klezmer,” said Rosenblum, 63, an ordained rabbi who is the band’s lead singer and lead guitarist.

For those attending the yeshiva alongside the band’s founding members, the music provided a much-needed outlet for students who gave up secular music.

“It’s a throwback for me to 35 years ago when I lived in the Old City,” Aryeh Goetz, a friend of drummer Gedalia Goldstein, said after a reunion concert this past weekend. “Their music filled a void for someone exploring Torah Judaism.”

All told, about 560 members of the Jewish community turned out for the first of three reunion concerts at Congregation Shomrei Emunah the night of Jan. 11. The sold-out concert, the first Diaspora Yeshiva Band performance since 1996, featured two sets of the band’s spiritual, yet eclectic blend of music. The six-piece band brought together almost all original members, who traveled from Israel, Chicago and New Jersey to play.

“We’ve been shooting emails back and forth for the last three years wondering when we were going do this again,” said Rosenblum.

With a concert booked last Sunday for New York’s Lincoln Center, the stars aligned for a series of reunion shows.

Shomrei Emunah was an obvious choice for a Baltimore concert, since the “Rockin’ Rabbi,” as Rosenblum is known, is a member of the congregation.

“I grew up with this music. For me, it’s reliving my childhood,” said Kenny Friedman, one of the concert’s co-chairs.

For Friedman and other members of the community, the Diaspora Yeshiva Band is their “classic rock.”

“I’ve been a fan of them for years. They were playing before I was born,” said Binyomin Ansbacher, a concert attendee. “To hear them all together is fantastic.”

Although the recent run only included three shows, in the 1970s and 1980s the band toured all over the United States, Canada, Europe and South Africa.

“We got to play in Jewish communities across two-thirds of the world,” and even the secular music world connected with the band, stated Rosenblum.

A couple songs into the Shomrei Emunah concert, it was easy to discern why Diaspora Yeshiva reached such a wide audience. From klezmer beats to rock songs fit for arenas to upbeat bluegrass tunes, the band’s genre-defying music was coupled with guitar harmonies, saxophone interplay and virtuosic violin playing from Ruby Harris, who switched to mandolin for several songs.

“It’s nice to be able to see Baltimore from this angle again,” a nostalgic Rosenblum told the crowd.

Having spent the previous days rehearsing for the show, the band sounded tight and polished with no indication that it had been 17 years since its last concert.

“The point of our music was always that we wanted to be able to communicate something we believe very strongly in, and that is our commitment to Torah-based Judaism and Jewish spirituality,” said Rosenblum. “Our music allowed us to really bring that message across in a very unpretentious way.”


Soup Night!

011014_soup-nightDo you remember the folk tale about Stone Soup? Two hungry soldiers tricked a village into adding ingredients until they had a delicious pot of soup made from a stone. It’s one of my favorite stories, and soup is one of my favorite foods, especially at this time of year. Gathering friends, family and neighbors for a casual night of soup and sides is a great bonding idea. I encourage you to try your own soup night.

You can borrow from the folk tale and have guests bring ingredients, cut up and ready to throw in, for one big pot of soup, or you can expand the evening to feature an entire soup buffet to highlight your guests’ own creations. If including children, you might have a pot of simmering water with meat and poultry parts and help the kids add the other ingredients for a custom version of the folk-tale dish. Or include some doctored-up store-bought tomato soup and dip-worthy mini-grilled cheese sandwiches.

Sides can include a wide variety of breads, salads and vegetables. Soup night can be anything: vegetarian, gluten free, dairy friendly; there’s a pot to please every palate. Soups can also be grouped by theme, such as Asian, Middle Eastern or Italian. If this communal soup concept warms your heart, get more ideas at soupnight.net.

“Soup Night” by Maggie Stuckey, brimming with tips and recipes, served as the inspiration for this idea.


Tips & Tricks
• As host, provide one or two soups in a slow cooker, along with disposable bowls, spoons and perhaps some plastic containers for leftovers.
• Have some unique condiments to add to the soups, such as croutons, tortilla strips or maybe even some cooked small pasta or rice.
• The supermarket salad bar is a good place to find fresh cut-up vegetables for soup or garnishes.

Ilene Spector is a local freelance writer.

Making Music Together

Last month, about 20 students ages 6 to 12, slowly coaxed “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” from their stringed instruments — some of which were bigger than the young musicians who played them — during a Baltimore Bows recital rehearsal.

Founded in September 2014 and led by Yonatan Grinberg and his wife, Andrea, Baltimore Bows is sponsored by the Baltimore Talent Education Center. BTEC, in its 40th year, provides about 20 Baltimore City schools with “progressive, afterschool music education programs for students from kindergarten to 12th grade, based on incremental learning, emphasizing parent involvement as well as community collaboration, like Baltimore Bows,” said executive director Kelly A.J. Powers.

Israeli-born Grinberg and his wife came to Baltimore from Chicago two years ago so he could pursue a doctorate in violin performance at the Peabody Institute of The Johns Hopkins University. Several people in the Jewish community heard they had arrived and quickly reached out to them about music instruction.

“We saw that not only [was] there a need, but a desire to send kids to music lessons,” said Grinberg. “And either because of financial issues or because most programs run [lessons] on Shabbos … we saw a real need” to provide lesson and performance options that could work for the observant Jewish community.”

At the start of his doctoral studies, Grinberg taught music with BTEC in several schools and offered to start a program at Northwestern High School (also a BTEC site), he explained, because it is conveniently situated within a densely populated Jewish community. But Baltimore Bows — named by the students — is open to any child who wants to learn how to play violin, viola or cello. The cost for participation and instruments is subsidized through BTEC.

Yael Quittner is a member of the local homeschooling community so the timing and the affordability worked well for her family. Three of her sons joined the group; Heshy, 12, plays cello, Mendy, 10, plays viola, and Sruly, 9, plays violin.

“None of them had ever seen an instrument, not even held an instrument,” said Quittner. “It’s sparked such interest.” She added that all three children were diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) but don’t use medication anymore because, she said, “the side effects were disastrous.” But when playing music, Quittner said of her children, “I’ve noticed it calms them down and also helps them to focus within other areas of their lives.”

Some ADHD-diagnosed children suffer from self-esteem issues because of constantly trying keep up with peers, she explained, and that’s one reason Quittner chose to homeschool her children.

But Heshy and Mendy played solos for their recent Chanukah recital concert, and “to be successful in something has boosted their self-esteem,” Quittner said. “[Playing music and performing] has been phenomenal in helping them feel good about themselves and stick with something.”

Yehudis Eagle’s son, Yishai, 10, plays viola with Baltimore Bows. Eagle is a big proponent in spreading the word about the program to other families, and many of her 11 children play instruments; some are very accomplished, so theirs has been a musical home for years.

“[Playing music is] very soulful, it’s a wonderful outlet for their neshamas, for their souls, and it brings joy to the household,” she said. “The accomplishment they feel— when they go to a lesson when they’ve prepared and the teacher is glowing about work they’ve done, then they advance and get more sophisticated on their instrument. [Music] is a language, and it’s a wonderful language to learn.”

Baltimore Bows meets twice a week for two hours. During the first hour, students receive one-on-one instruction — Grinberg on violin, Andrea on cello, and Sarah Lowenstein teaches viola. For the second hour the children play as an ensemble. The opportunity to play in a group at such a young age, said Grinberg, is another aspect that makes the program very unique.

Dr. Rena May Juni’s children attend Ohr Chadash Academy, and 10-year-old Hadassah plays viola and Ariela, 8, plays violin.

“Music is important in allowing children to listen to each other,” said Juni. “That’s a beautiful thing and an important thing for a child to learn. And you can only get that when you perform in an orchestra.”

The girls by their own desire, said Juni, practiced Chanukah songs Grinberg passed out to the class if anyone was interested in playing over the break. They accompanied the family during candle lighting.

“I think their ears are more tuned to music now,” said Juni, who heard about Baltimore Bows from her involvement in the Baltimore Jewish Mommies Facebook group. “They’re interested in music in a way they haven’t been before. We just came back from the library, and they wanted to get a book about orchestra and [books] on Mozart and other composers.”

BTEC director Powers is “dedicated to real music education for students” said Grinberg and has been with BTEC since 2009. Before that, she was a volunteer parent with the program, and music study and participation “opened up a whole new world” for her and her children, she said.

She added, “Only six out of 184 Baltimore City schools offer music instruction after third grade, compared with 100 percent of schools in Baltimore, Howard, Anne Arundel and Montgomery counties.”

The multiple applications and proven benefits of incremental music studies on academic readiness and the limitations of access to some other programs (due to cost, auditions and location) emphasizes the importance of BTEC according to Powers.

The repercussions of playing with Baltimore Bows, which opens a section for new students Jan. 13, have echoed throughout the group. Juni’s daughter, Ariela, found out her school classmate was studying keyboards so they met on weekends to practice “Twinkle, Twinkle.” Quittner said she doesn’t need to ask her children to practice, and often when it’s time to set the dinner table or time for bed, she’ll hear instruments playing somewhere in the house.

Yehudis’ children played an impromptu concert for the family with some Chanukah music a family friend presented them, arranged especially for strings.

“Those moments cannot be evaluated,” she said. “To connect with each other in that way and deliver it to other people. I’m really happy [Yonatan and Andrea] landed here, it’s right in our daled amos, right in our territory, in our neighborhood.”


Jewish Future

From the earliest moments you begin teaching your children life skills and values. Like brushing your teeth and being kind to others. Like reading and sharing toys. You teach them to drive and you teach them to have concern for those less fortunate. You do your best to teach them to be good people.

As they grow, you do your best to instill your beliefs and better understand their interests and concerns for the world around them. You might share stories at the Shabbat table and perhaps you get involved as a family in local charities or Mitzvah Day.

In school and at home, Jewish children hear of the importance of tikkun olam, repairing the world, and tzedakah. You watch with pride as your children carry coins in their pockets to drop in the pushke at school. Where do these small acts and conversations lead you in teaching them goodness?

As your children get older, you may encourage them to donate their own time and money to help those causes in which they believe. But you know the greatest lesson is the one you demonstrate.

Jewish Baltimore has a place where a little tzedakah and volunteerism have a tremendous impact on those less fortunate, the elderly and children in need.

One of the easiest ways to teach a little tzedakah early on is by getting involved with The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore and making a first time gift in your child’s name. For as little as $5, you can begin a Jewish legacy for your child in Jewish Baltimore. And you can get hands-on with the Jewish Volunteer Connection or Mitzvah Makers on the Move.

That donation, which goes towards The Associated’s Annual Campaign, will have a direct effect in the areas you and your children care most about. Together, you might choose to donate new toys or winter coats to our Chanukah Closet or give a gift that helps winterize homes for seniors.

Your gift will support The Associated’s 14 programs and agencies, and show your child the reach of a single act of kindness. You can make your gift online today at www.associated.org/jewishfuture and visit www.jvcbaltimore.org for ways to get involved.

Jewish Food: What’s The Next Big Thing?

Ethnic foods are enjoyed by Americans, Europeans, Asians and other well-traveled societies. Thai, Indian and Vietnamese cuisines have joined the ranks of French, Italian, Spanish, Chinese, Greek Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, Mexican and Hungarian culinary delights and haute cuisine. As experienced worldwide travelers visit exotic places and taste a wide variety of authentic culinary cuisines, they seek out these delicious foods once they return home.

Worldwide delicacies can now be purchased in major supermarkets and restaurants, and they represent all major food groups, even those that have gotten a challenging rap in recent years.

The Start of a ‘Jewish Food’ Industry
Even with carbohydrates being attacked by those who warn of high gluten and others who think the calories will affect their hip size, crusty French breads, baguettes, Italian breads, British scones, Jewish rye bread, grissini, bagels and even matzo fill American breadbaskets.

There was a time Americans would eat only plain, soft white bread. In the South, they often cut away the crust. Then came the bagel. Bagels began rolling out of New York in the 1930s to other parts of America when Lender’s bagels made the ethnic Jewish item an American supermarket mainstay.

Thousands of bagel shops have now opened up all over the country, most serving 15 or more varieties of the crusty treat — even in areas not populated by Jews. Even Dunkin’ Donuts now places a hefty marketing budget into promoting its bagels and croissants.

(Justin Tsucalas)

(Justin Tsucalas)

In Baltimore, Goldberg’s Bagels is highly rated and has won many taste tests. An average bagel (not just at Goldberg’s, but any bagel) is about 300 calories; scooped, it is about 260.

Over the years, there have been many other examples of kosher or Jewish foods taking on a significant role in secular American life.

One of the strongest examples is when Levy’s New York rye bread and Hebrew National all-beef hot dogs underwent a Madison Avenue public relations remake, which drove home the point that kosher all-beef hot dogs and Jewish rye bread were not just for Jewish people anymore. Today, some industry sources estimate that the majority of Hebrew National hot dogs are purchased by non-Jewish Americans.

New York delis that serve oversized hot pastrami-stuffed sandwiches with mustard and a pickle became part of the culinary culture of American taste, no longer just for New Yorkers.

The sandwiches and hot dogs were joined by the kosher pickle that soon sat not only on top of deli counters but also in jars on the shelves of
grocery stores. Knishes, filled now with all sorts of flavors and not just potatoes, have become a hit too.

Chicken noodle soup and matzo ball soup are proven alternatives to medicinal remedies for the common cold. Pigs in a blanket, those tasty mini hot dogs wrapped in crusty dough, are a smashing hors d’ oeuvre.

Rugelach is now popular even at non-kosher Italian stores. For example, Zabar’s, one of America’s premier gourmet shops located in Manhattan, sells chocolate babka under its own Zabar private label. It’s one of the biggest sellers in its bakery department … but it is manufactured by a Chassidic bakery in Brooklyn. Who makes the babka is a trade secret, but its name is a color (and it’s not red, yellow, silver, purple, orange or gold). It’s green. And that same babka is sold at both Seven Mile Market and Shopper’s in Baltimore.

Similarly, Middle Eastern cuisine — both Arabic and Israeli — has grown in popularity. Sabra hummus attracted the corporate eye of PepsiCo, Inc. that now manufactures and sells tubs of the creamy chick pea paste to supermarkets throughout America. A new local company, The Wild Pea, has six flavored varieties of hummus, many of which can be found at Seven Mile Market, Wegmans and Whole Foods.

What’s the next Jewish culinary dish or treat to follow the success of the bagel, hummus and kosher hot dog?


This Jewish dish is still a culinary secret, a dish enjoyed by mostly
Orthodox Jews who do not cook on the Sabbath.

But what is cholent?

It is similar to chili, a one-pot meal that slow-cooks for 24 hours. This is helpful for observant Jews, as cooking raw foods and igniting a flame are among Shabbat prohibitions. Being that cholent is pre-cooked and ready before the Sabbath begins on Friday evening, keeping it hot over the Sabbath is not cooking and is therefore permissible.

Where did we get it?

According to “The Book of Jew-ish Food” by Claudia Roden, “In medieval times in France, the French made cassoulet, a dish of meats, including goose and sausage, with beans slowly cooked in plenty of goose fat. There were Jews living in Languedoc, where cassoulet originated. Many lived off the land; Toulouse, Narbonne, Nimes, Lunel, Beziers and especially Montpellier were centers of Talmudic study.”

When Jews fled France and went to Germany, cholent was enhanced as a one-pot Sabbath meal so additives such as kishke and potato kugel were often added to the pot.

How the name cholent was given to this tasty dish is debatable. The derivation of the world cholent may come from the medieval French words chault, which means hot, and lent, which means slow.

Another idea: In Europe, on Fridays before the Sabbath, families sent their sealed cholent pots to Jewish bakeries and to communal kitchens and would fetch the hot steaming pots after synagogue on Sabbath morning. There is a theory that since the Yiddish word for synagogue is shul, it is possible cholent came from a combination of the words shul and end, which referred to a dish that was picked up at the end of a synagogue service.

Meir Panim Holds All-Female Competition

Shira Pomerantz (left) and Rosie Braunstein are finalists in Meir Panim’s  “Voices” competition. The organization is raising money for needy Israeli  families and children. (Provided)

Shira Pomerantz (left) and Rosie Braunstein are finalists in Meir Panim’s
“Voices” competition. The organization is raising money for needy Israeli
families and children.
(photos provided)

When Meir Panim held its “American Idol”-style “Voices” contests last year, organizers unintentionally excluded part of the Jewish community.

“We realized that observant girls were not a part of the event, and it wasn’t really an oversight as much as a lack of understanding as to the laws,” said Leslie Goldberg, Maryland regional director for American Friends of Meir Panim. “So this year, we said we definitely want to do something for all the females in the observing community, because we know there’s so much talent, and we want to expose that talent.”

Meir Panim, a nonprofit that feeds hungry Israelis in dignified ways and is working to break the poverty cycle in Israel, holds the finals in its “Voices” competition Sunday, Dec. 22 (7 p.m.) at Goucher College. Auditions were held earlier in the month, and the top 10 singers (five from middle school and five from high school) will compete to win three voice lessons from renowned singer Elena Tal, who is also one of the judges.

This year’s auditions, as well as the finals, featured all-female staff, judges and stagehands. Orthodox girls can’t sing in public for men once they reach bat mitzvah age, which is why Orthodox girls did not take part in last year’s coed competition.

The event, spearheaded by Leslie Goldberg from American Friends of Meir Panim, aims to raise money and awareness for Meir Panim and the 1.8 million Israelis, 860,000 of whom are children, living below the poverty line.

Meir Panim, which helps Jews and non-Jews in Israel, is building a multimillion-dollar 100,000-square-foot nutrition center that will be capable of preparing 30,000 meals a day for Meir Panim’s free restaurant, Meals on Wheels and after-school programs. It will be Israel’s largest food production facility and will employ 200 people.

Meir Panim also distributes food cards to clients that function like regular debit cards for groceries.

To try to break the cycle of poverty, the organization holds vocational training and after-school programs that include tutoring, computer classes and other enrichment activities. Parents are invited to some of the kids’ activities and are also given their own classes on home budgeting, parenting skills and language skills, if necessary.

In November, the organization held its “Vocaltrition” concert, which featured area cantors singing Jewish music. And much like the cantors who sang that night, those involved in making “Voices” happen were happy to help Meir Panim.

“We all have different talents, and our job in this world is to look for what our talents are, what can we do? How can we both serve God, service the Jewish people, and serve the world with our talents?” said Lisa Friedman, a judge. “This gives the girls who can sing an opportunity to explore that.”

Friedman, who plays piano and sings in the band Ayelet HaShachar, said she and her two female bandmates — all Orthodox — had to find their own religious musical path to express their talents.

Ayelet HaShachar will also be performing a few of its songs and accompanying all the finalists in a sing-along of one of their songs.

Elena Tal, another judge in the competition and a voice teacher and an internationally traveled singer, said “Voices” is a great opportunity for the girls to maintain their religious observance but still have an outlet for their talent.

“I don’t think there are a lot of competitions of this sort that they’ve heard of before,” she said. “So this is a new opportunity for them.”

Even the finalists, young as they may be, know that their talent is part of a larger purpose in this case.

“This competition is for such a good cause, to feed the hungry in Israel,” said Rosie Braunstein, 11, who hopes to be a professional singer. She auditioned with a song by Shaindel Antelis called “The Light.”

“I picked the song because I really like the message, spreading the light,” she said.

Shira Pomerantz, 12, also hopes to be a professional singer. She sings in the Krieger Schechter’s middle school choir and also sings on the bimah during the High Holidays at her synagogue, Chizuk Amuno.

“I’ve been singing since before I can even remember,” she said. “I think I started when I was about 2 years old, but ever since then I’ve been singing every day of my life.”

She sang “Shema Yisrael Elohai” because she thought the song related to what Meir Panim is all about.

“The first line means, ‘When I’m alone and sad, my heart cries out to God,’ which really has to do with the charity,” she said. “People are there to help.”

Tickets for Sunday’s event can be purchased at voicecompetition.com.

Marc Shapiro is a JT staff reporter — mshapiro@jewishtimes.com