What’s a Shofar? Ask Marcus Jonas.

Shofar and Case, Maker: Marcus Jonas. Oakland, California, ca. 1870s. Wood and ram’s horn. From the collection of the Skirball Cultural Center. Photograph by John Reed Forsman.

What’s a shofar? It’s a ram’s horn that is hollowed out (through a pretty messy process) and polished. In Jewish tradition, it is blown during Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services. Some interpret the shofar’s blast as a call to reflect, a call to repent, a call to listen to the voice of one’s own conscience, a call to do good deeds, or a call to express prayer with breath.

When I take high school students through the Holidays gallery of our core exhibition, Visions and Values: Jewish Life from Antiquity to America, we make sure to stop at the Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur case. Inside is this shofar and case (pictured above), which like many objects throughout the gallery tell a fascinating story. Continue reading

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The Fifth Question: What Wine Will We Serve?

Tradition! Passover is my favorite Jewish holiday. I love setting the Seder table with my mother’s china, grandmother’s candlesticks, great grandfather’s kiddush cup, and my new Miriam cup, a cherished gift from the Skirball volunteers corps.

Each year at our Seder, my family re-tells the story of our ancestor’s liberation from slavery to freedom and its relevance in today’s world. In addition to the youngest grandchild chanting the four questions, one of my daughters, who has engagingly led our Seder for many years, composes a fifth question that is sent in advance to all those attending. Everyone is encouraged to prepare an answer in whatever style is comfortable—in song or poetry, humorously or seriously—which then becomes the occasion for lots and lots of animated conversation. It is satisfying to celebrate with family and friends. Together with children and grandchildren, we prepare from memory familiar Passover family recipes and look for creative new ones to grace our Seder table.

Manischewitz is a popular choice, but there are other fine kosher-for-Passover wine options as well.

Manischewitz is a popular choice, but there are other fine kosher-for-Passover wine options as well.

But first we conduct two searches: first, for chametz (leavened foods), which we always find and make sure to remove from the house for Passover; and second, for a really good, new, balanced, fruit-forward, satisfying, full-bodied or light, bright, kosher-for-Passover wine. And yes, there are really good kosher-for Passover-wines. My husband and I have been blind-tasting wines with a group of friends monthly for the past forty years, and we think we can make some educated recommendations.
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The Statue of Liberty and the Hanukkah Lamp It Inspired

Manfred Anson’s Statue of Liberty Hanukkah Lamp, made in 1985, is a beloved object in the Skirball museum collections. Here I am with the lamp in 1988, along with Uri D. Herscher, Skirball Founding President and CEO. Photo by Ellen Jaskol, Los Angeles Times.

Just a few weeks ago, the majestic Statue of Liberty celebrated its 125th anniversary. It seems like just yesterday that Lady Liberty turned 100, back in 1986. In the fall of that year, my husband, Ira, and I traveled with our sons, Dov and Ari—then aged eleven and eight—to New York City and brought them to the famed landmark. It had recently been reopened, after extensive renovations, in time for its centennial. On that sunny autumn morning, I had no idea I would be returning from Liberty Island with a Hanukkah lamp in mind.

Until 2001, visitors to the Statue of Liberty were allowed to climb to the crown. Our sons were determined to make it to the very top—154 steps in all. Exhausted though they were, it was a never-to-forget moment to take in views of the city from high above.

Dov and Ari had never been on a ship before and so they were in high spirits as we waited to board the Circle Line Tour. We had prepped the boys about our family history—all of my grandparents had immigrated to the United States as children—and we encouraged them to imagine what it might’ve been like for their ancestors to catch sight of the Statue of Liberty, after a long ocean journey, and begin to fulfill their dreams of coming to America.

Of course, as a curator, I wanted to see the Statue of Liberty Museum, which presents historical information and fascinating reconstructions. It also showcases the hundreds of different ways Lady Liberty’s image has figured in popular culture, including in posters, pennants, plates, medals, spoons, puzzles, and postcards aplenty, as well as advertisements for products ranging from cars to cookies. Continue reading

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Suzie’s Latkes

From the outside looking in, here’s a shot of my family gathered in my living room for Hanukkah. Our lighting table is by the front window for all passersby to see. What you can’t experience from this picture is… the scent of latkes filling the air!

Everyone in my family looks forward to “Suzie’s” Hanukkah party, not least of all because of my homemade latkes. I acquired the recipe years ago when my children were very young. Preparing them has become a family tradition.

For many years, my mother, Marika—born in Antwerp, Belgium, and affectionately called “Mimi” by her grandchildren and great-grandchildren—would come over about two weeks before Hanukkah. Together we would fry ten pounds of potatoes, making well over one hundred latkes! When she became too old to drive, I would pick her up and bring her over. One year there was a huge rain storm on our pre-planned latke-making day. The streets were flooded, but I was not deterred. How surprised my mother was when I showed up at her door to pick her up for latke duty! Continue reading

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“Ocho Kandelikas,” Reimagined

Ocho Kandelikas

Erran Baron Cohen and Yasmin Levy teamed up for “Ocho Kandelikas.” Both have performed at the Skirball in years past.

Hanukkah is almost here, and if you’re looking for a twist to your holiday playlist, here’s my recommendation: a simple yet sweet adaptation of the Sephardic song “Ocho Kandelikas,” re-arranged and produced by Erran Baron Cohen and featuring the Ladino vocals of Yasmin Levy. If you haven’t heard it yet, check it out. Here’s a snippet.

 

This fresh take on the song hails from Baron Cohen’s 2008 album, Songs in the Key of Hanukkah (thanks to the iconic Stevie Wonder for inspiring that title). As Baron Cohen told NPR upon the CD’s release, his intention was simple: to bring new energy to the holiday by transforming a number of classic tunes associated with it and adding a few new originals. Continue reading

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New Markets, Centuries-Old Techniques

It’s gift-giving season, and the Skirball’s special Women Hold Up Half the Sky Holiday Pop-Up Shop is buzzing with activity. (You may have heard about it in the feature story “Handcrafted with Humanity” that appeared in the Home section of last Saturday’s Los Angeles Times.) Setting up a pop-up shop was something we’d never attempted before, and it’s been an enriching experience to learn about the hundreds of artisan groups and distributors that champion entrepreneurship for women worldwide.

Entryway to the 2011 Santa Fe International Folk Art Market.

Entryway to the 2011 Santa Fe International Folk Art Market.

The first person I turned to for advice was an experienced colleague at the Museum of International Folk Art in Santa Fe. She referred me to Ahdina Zunkel, the director of special projects at the Santa Fe International Folk Art Market (now in its eleventh year), where more than 120 artisans from around the world—all carefully vetted to ensure they produce authentic craft—come to sell and display their handcrafts each year.

With Women Hold Up Half the Sky coming up in the fall and the idea for a related pop-up shop in mind, I attended this year’s market in July. The attendance was high and the temperature even higher! 2012 had been designated as the United Nations International Year of Cooperatives, so it was no surprise that fifty-seven women’s cooperatives exhibited.

The market was absolutely amazing. The sheer number of artists represented and the quality of their work were a treat. Language was often a barrier, but I was able to learn some of the women’s inspiring stories firsthand. Continue reading

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Straight from the Kitchen of Grand’Mere Adeline

Ever notice that wonderfully fragrant rosemary grows right outside the Skirball entrance? It's an inspiration for a lot of my cooking.

The sense of smell is said to be the strongest memory trigger, and having spent a considerable amount of time breathing in aromas in my Grand’Mere Adeline’s kitchen back in Ohio, I can attest to that. Just the scent of a Thanksgiving turkey prepared just like she used to make it so many years ago takes me back to moments I will never forget.

Grand’Mere Adeline was the queen of the kitchen. Preparation for the holidays started in September. With a blended family culinary history that included Scottish shortbreads, Hungarian pastries, and chicken-and-matzo-ball soup, recipes were handed down through the generations. A select few were adapted from the Cleveland Plain Dealer, but if (and only if) they met Grand’Mere’s highest of standards. The one thing we were assured of was that every morsel of food on her bountiful table was lovingly prepared by her and her alone.

The warmth emanating from the oven as the turkey roasted within. The mouth-watering smell of freshly baked bread cooling on the counter. The windows of Grand’Mere’s tiny kitchen wet with steam from the boiling of potatoes and rutabagas. These are details I can still close my eyes and recall vividly. Continue reading

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