The Jewish holiday of Passover is not celebrated in temple, it is celebrated at home. On the first (and often the second) night of Passover, families and friends gather for a ritualized meal or “seder” during which they drink wine, sing songs, and tell the Exodus story—with the goal of reminding everyone at the table that freedom is a gift to be cherished.
Every family’s seder is different, from the Haggadah they choose to read from to the seder plate on which they present the holiday’s symbolic foods. To celebrate this uniqueness, a few members of the Skirball staff share the story behind their seder plates, starting with mine!
I have always liked the bright and cheery design of my mother’s seder plate, and assumed for all these years that she had gotten it as a newlywed when she and my father were married. I discovered this year that she actually purchased it herself when we moved from New York to California when I was a child.
Until we moved, my mother never needed her own seder plate. In New York she attended first her grandmother’s, then her aunt’s seder—large family affairs conducted mostly in Hebrew that continue to this day. When we moved to California, in search of warm weather and business opportunities, we were forced to leave that family tradition behind. I know the move was bittersweet for my mother, as she was very close to her family, but I think this plate represents her hopefulness about starting a new tradition with her children. I have to say, she has done an excellent job, because Passover at my mother’s house is something we look forward to every year.
“Our seder plate has great personal meaning since it was made by friends, Leslie Gattmann and Eugene Frank, who operated a ceramic Judaica business for many years. Each piece was lovingly handmade and hand-painted. We use it every year at our family seder, which includes many great traditions from beating each other with green onions during the “dayenu” song (a Persian custom that we simply had to adopt) to raucous searches for the afikomen (dessert matzoh) by the youngest guests, who are now grown men.
Champagne and roses may be synonymous with Valentine's Day, but this year, we recommend celebrating with Say the Word!
There’s a bit of a lull after the flurry of celebrations and activities of the holiday season, until suddenly, thoughts of Valentine’s Day begin to come into mind (or loom ahead, as the case may be).
At the Skirball we’re excited to celebrate Valentine’s Day with a special edition of our popular Say the Word comedic reading series entitled Bleeding Hearts, a little twist on the typical hearts-and-flowers motif. Whether you love Valentine’s Day or dread it, there’s something for you in this show. Say the Word: Bleeding Hearts is February 8—about a week before Valentine’s Day—so you have time to find a date!
I asked our Say the Word host, resident comedy maven, and goddess of love, Beth Lapides, to share some of her insights into the holiday and the Bleeding Hearts program.
Valentine’s Day: fake holiday or important day dedicated to expressing love?
Totally fake. But also, a very important day for expressing love! So, both. And that’s what keeps us interested in Valentine’s Day or any of the other Hallmark holidays—the contradiction of the authentic urge and the repulsive fake commerciality. The trick is to find ways to satisfy the one part while making fun of the other. And Say the Word is all about combining the heartfelt and the ironic twist. So, speaking of Cupid, it’s a match made in heaven!
I have one theory about Valentine’s Day. It’s actually a manifestation of our desperate longing for red in the midst of winter bleakness. Continue reading
Come rain, come shine, the Skirball’s annual Hanukkah family festival always draws a crowd of diverse generations, backgrounds, and smiles. Photographer and first-time festival attendee BeBe Jacobs was impressed with this year’s Hanukkah festival, Americana Hanukkah, which took inspiration from our campus-wide “Democracy Matters” initiative to celebrate the Jewish holiday. “No matter what activity [people] were doing,” she told me, as we looked over the images she shot that day, “the fact that families were spending time together made all the difference.”
For both of us, the Hanukkah festival not only brought families together but also brought out creativity that visitors did not realize they had. There was plenty to do all day, like watch Marcus Shelby and his quintet perform beautiful freedom songs… or hear Story Pirates act out original Hanukkah tales on stage… or join a tour focusing on the Skirball’s collection of Hanukkah lamps (the last couple of these Lights of Hanukkah Family Tours take place today and tomorrow, so be sure to swing by this weekend). But it was at the hands-on art workshops where people got a chance to create something themselves.
Here, BeBe shares ten of her favorite photos from that fun-filled day with reflections on the people and moments that made them so special.
BeBe was amazed at how each visitor could create beautiful art pieces out of plain materials. Here, a young visitor displays a menorah he made out of plastic tubes, colorful tape, and stickers.
This young girl patiently waited as her brother finished his art project. In a moment of silliness, Bebe placed a tiny menorah on the glue stick in front of the girl. Immediately she looked down and started to blow out the “candles”.
This young visitor was very proud of the Hanukkah pin she crafted. The glee that shines through in this photo makes it an easy favorite!
My mother, Janice, and I in her kitchen (not her usual hangout!)
I am a Thanksgiving stickler. I take Thanksgiving very seriously. This means for one glorious day of the year my family does not experiment with the menu, we don’t devour take-out, and we definitely do not skimp on full-fat ingredients.
Since change is a given in any family, I am comforted by our Thanksgiving consistency and sometimes brattily demand it. I insist that we have green beans with pearl onions and balsamic vinaigrette. I require the best homemade pumpkin pie made by my aunt and cousin, “award-winning” according to my grandpa. (Once he even made a trophy in appreciation.) I will squint with judgment while my dad carves the turkey with an electric knife and eats the fatty end while telling everyone else to go away while he “works.”
Despite my strange affinity for all things old-school and traditional at our holiday table, two of my absolute favorite Thanksgiving recipes are relatively new to the arsenal, which speaks to how tasty they are. Even more bizarre is that the recipes were tested and refined by my mother. Continue reading
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
This is the first in what we hope will be a regular series of sketches by artist Cary Meshul, Skirball Art Director. This holiday week, his illustrated musings—or “Skribbles”—focus on Passover, his favorite holiday.
Yes, today is National Find-a-Rainbow Day! And with all the sunlight and glass around here, one can find more than a rainbow a day every day at the Skirball.
Here are some of my favorites. No touch-ups were made to any of these photos.
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.
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.
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
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