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Museum Musings

Introducing Martha

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Hello there friends,

I love to say the acronym NMAJH like it's a new fragrance by L'Oreal.  Namaajjhh.  With a little aspirated breath at the end.  Namaste.  Nor'easter.  Nom de plume.

Martha on the Corbu ChaiseI, Martha Graham-Cracker, couldn't be more thrilled to announce that I was invited to create a cabaret in conversation with the collection at the NMAJH (or National Museum of American Jewish History).  I will be premiering that cabaret, entitled IT'S HIGH TIME I SAID SOMETHING, the first weekend of December 2014 -- this is your first warning.  I am putting together this really BIG SHOE in BIG SHOES with Andrew Nelson (bassist extraordinaire) as musical director and Elizabeth Stevens as director.  There will be a set design!  There will be a bar!  There will be a roving spotlight!  There will be six musicians backing my humble voice in a sumptuous manner!  I can hardly believe it....

I guess I should back up and explain a few

Why Martha at the Jewish Museum?

When I was asked to work at the Museum, the powers-that-be of NMAJH called it an "intervention."  Of course you say "intervention" and I instantly think of those times when you had to sit Uncle Joe down with all the family present and tell him he needs professional help.  But no no!   Context clues! As part of their "Open for Interpretation" Series, the Museum is aiming, with this "intervention," to encourage a conversation between what is presented within the Museum walls and a living breathing artiste. 

My first reaction to the collection was that of being overwhelmed.  So much to absorb in the collection.  So much to talk about in relation to the Jewish story in America.  My own dear mother, Isadora Duncan Hines, is the product of Russian Jewish emigres*.  (*So I'm Jewish.)  And Emily August, my "handler" from the Museum staff and Director of Public Programs, really gave me free rein with regards to how the cabaret addressed all things Jewish and American.  But she did hand me a key that unlocked the themes of the cabaret for me.   

That key was a DVD called BROADWAY MUSICALS:  A JEWISH LEGACY.  And it really did blow my mind.  And bring back some foggy memories.  Without the Jews, where would Broadway be, I ask you?  Nowheresville.  The history of the musical in America is woven tightly to Jewish-American composers.  Many of whom I kissed; now's my chance to tell.

So I, Martha, like Scheherazade, will weave a tale in song, this cabaret narrating my own interventions in the history of 20th century musicals, the men who wrote them, and how I did my part to give them the best advice possible, in bed and out.  Whether it was telling Lenny (Leonard Bernstein) to name his protagonist in WEST SIDE STORY Maria and not Martha (as much as that flattered me) or giving Stephen Sondheim the rhyme "a matinee, a Pinter play" over Sunday breakfast, I will finally come clean about how important I have been, what an enormous impact I have made, in the forging of the American musical.  


For information on OPEN for Interpretation click here

Two Kinds of Rescues

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rescueI had the privilege of watching the documentary, “Rescue in the Philippines: Refuge from the Holocaust” at the National Museum of American Jewish History (NMAJH). It tells a story of how the moral courage of an influential few saved the lives of 1,300 Jewish people in Nazi Europe in the days leading to World War II.

To be honest, I did not already know much about Jewish history aside from what I have read in the bible, and what I have seen in movies like Schindler’s List and The Diary of Anne Frank. So when I heard about the Philippines’ participation in this important and controversial piece of history, I was not sure what to expect. I just knew that I had enough curiosity and skepticism in my head. “Why do more non-Filipinos know more about this part of history than Filipinos? How come I’ve never heard about this? I don’t think any of my teachers talked about this in history class.”

vicky 2After watching the film, I had mixed emotions. I was moved to tears. In my own little way, I wanted to do my part and help spread this jewel of a film by showing it to my family and friends.

The Philippines' part in this humanitarian mission—a story that was not written in history books nor taught in schools—was astonishing. Despite the country’s struggles in gaining its own independence from the US during the WWII era, it was able to help Jewish refugees gain hope and freedom. It was truly an honor to learn more about the real-life story of these untold heroes, who inspired me their faith, courage, and humility. They came from different ethnic and religious backgrounds, but they worked together towards a common goal: to save lives, and to do the right thing.

If most people use their power, money, and influence the right way, would our world be a much better place? vicky 3

During the panel discussion, I found myself standing in the middle of a big crowd, sharing my thoughts and feelings about the film. I was surprised to hear a big round of applause. It was humbling. But what amazed me was how many people approached me and talked to me about how they were moved by my positive insights.

vicky 4I had the privilege of meeting Mr. Robert Levin, NMAJH’s Community Relations Liaison, whom I describe as a “modern-day rescuer”. In his own way, he continues to save Jewish history and culture by liberating the minds of youth, by bringing together the Jewish community and other surrounding communities., and by welcoming people from around the world.

He also gave me an opportunity to take a special tour of the museum with my father and my aunt who were visiting from the Philippines. Robert’s passion and knowledge are truly inspiring. I really got interested in Jewish contributions to our nation, their impact on the rest of the world, and the links that help bind disparate cultures. I believe the story of their journey, struggles, sacrifices, triumphs, and continuous contribution to humanity could inspire and enlighten many nations.

"Whoever saves one life saves the world entire." - the Talmud

By Vicky Faye B. Aquino, Master of Arts in Art & Design Education, The University of the Arts

Next Up To Bat

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Have you ever wanted a chance to socialize, eat hors d’oeuvres, and take in one of NMAJH’s great exhibitions? That was the opportunity a number of folks had at last Thursday’s Young Friends Curated Cocktails event. More than eighty people came to nosh, mingle, and listen to NMAJH’s Associate Curator and co-curator of Chasing Dreams: Baseball and Becoming American, Ivy Weingram. She spoke about baseball’s importance to many minority and immigrant groups, not just Jews, in becoming American. Ivy also discussed several of the exhibition’s most interesting stories, from a current major leaguer’s baseball-themed bar mitzvah to a Saint Louis hotdog vendor who did not dish on Saturdays. Ivy was available for questions later as attendees perused the exhibition. Between the cocktails, the Cracker Jacks, and the history, there was something for everybody Thursday evening.
Curated Cocktails is organized by the Museum’s Young Friends group. NMAJH members and friends between the ages of 21 and 40 receive invitations to many social and networking events planned specifically for young professionals, including Curated Cocktails.
If you are interested in getting involved with the Young Friends group, or if a loved one in your life might enjoy what Young Friends offers, mark your calendar for our annual celebration of Tu B’av (the Jewish holiday of love) on Thursday, August 14th. If Curated Cocktails was any indication, this August event will be a blast. I, for one, am very excited for the August event!

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Guest Blog by Andrea Kirsh

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I met Rob Levin, NMAJH’s Community Relations Liaison, at the opening of an art exhibition at City Hall. After our short conversation, I said I’d like to have my Rutgers Camden undergraduate students in museum studies program speak with him. I arrange for them to meet several museum professionals during the semester, and sometimes select colleagues selfishly, because I want to learn more about the responsibilities of their positions. What does it mean to direct visitor services, manage exhibitions, or in Rob’s case, liaise with the community?

We arranged to meet at the museum, but none of us were entirely prepared for Rob – which was just what he intended. He approached the group with a query, which he had to repeat several times – in Portuguese! When we realized that he was, indeed, in the right place and not a lost member of the public, and after we had each given an awkward response to his greeting, he switched to English and asked us to account for our reactions to our introduction. As with all good teachers, he had demonstrated what his job involves, rather than describe it.

None of the students were Jewish, and as such, they represented part of the community that the NMAJH and Rob, in particular, work to engage. And very successfully so. They were uniformly very enthusiastic about the visit. They found the exhibitions interesting and clearly laid out, and particularly responded to the numerous interactive aspects, even when the interactions were nothing more sophisticated than trying on Purim masks. I was particularly struck by the way the exhibition encouraged them to connect their own family histories to the various situations that Jewish families encountered in America, universalizing what might at first seem foreign or unfamiliar. And they were delighted to find that, as a reward for handing in a short survey about the visit, they were sent passes to be used on a future occasion.

Rob, of course, could sell umbrellas in the desert. His boundless enthusiasm made a huge impression, as did his discussion of having a personal mission, which he uses as a guide in addition to the more usual institutional mission on which I put particular emphasis in teaching. I was struck by his discussion about putting significant time into other community organizations as a necessary part of building their interest in NMAJH. I have always thought that it’s important for museum staff to support the entire institutional community, rather than only supporting their own. It is the decent thing to do, and inevitably reflects well on the home institution.

The first time I brought a class to NMAJH it was to meet with Cobi Weissbach, Associate Director of Development. My reaction to that visit was to join the museum. That decision was more than rewarded by the recent opportunity this year’s class had to meet Rob Levin.

By Andrea Kirsh, Director, Minor in Museum Studies, Rutgers, Camden and regular contributor to Artblog.

Lava Bread for Tu B'Shevat

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It’s customary on Tu B’Shevat, Judaism’s new year for trees, to eat a new fruit or to eat from the seven species described in the Bible as being abundant in the land of Israel. With the holiday quickly approaching, I am testing out some of my recipes that feature these sacred fruits; wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives, and dates.  While recipes which include only of these items abound, I only have one concoction which incorporates them all, I call it Lava Bread.  lavabread 2

I invented this bread a few years ago when looking for a way to spruce up my standard challah. I added one more ingredient each week, testing the change on my family. The wheat and barley were easy additions. Whole wheat flour was already in my standard challah. A sprinkle of toasted barley pearls on top added a nice nutty crunch. And while raisins also are a standard in bread, figs, pomegranates, and dates were new to me. The fruity additions were welcomed by my four year old and his father alike. There was a small amount of resistance to the olives, but the salty contradiction to sweetness is better than you might think.

I called it Lava Bread because it consumes everything you add to it, much the way that magma consumes all in its path. While there are many sweet elements, I consider this to be a savory bread, perfect to serve beside a yummy roast chicken and a side of roasted brussels sprouts.

Celebrating this holiday helps remind our family how important trees are to all of us. I read a comic strip the other day that said “It’s too bad trees don’t put out wifi, we would plant them everywhere. Instead, they only produce oxygen.” I think this is a perfect example of how trees and the work they do is taken for granted by so many.

Lava Bread

Put ½ cup of dry barley pearls into a bowl with 1 ½ cups boiling water. Cover and set aside.

Mix 1/4 cup warm (110 degree) water with 1 package yeast and 1 packet of sugar (1 tsp) in a small bowl.

In a large bowl, mix 1 1/4 cups warm water with 3 egg yolks, 1 whole egg, 1/2 c honey, 2 tbsp. veggie oil, and 2 tsp. salt. The warm water will help dissolve the honey. Once this mixture is completely homogenous, add the yeast mixture and stir to combine.

Now mix in 1/2 cup whole wheat flour. I find a wisk works best to ensure this is evenly distributed. Next, add bread flour*, 1 cup at a time, mixing thoroughly with each addition until you have added 4- 6 cups (this depends on the humidity that particular day). You will know when you’ve added enough when you can pinch the dough and it doesn’t stick to your fingers.

*Bread flour is higher in protein, which improves the texture of the bread. AP flour will work if you don’t have the Bread flour, ditto for the whole wheat flour.

Dump this mixture out on to a well-floured surface and fill your bowl with warm water.
Put a small pan of water on the stove and bring to a boil.
While you wait for the water to boil, knead dough to incorporate another 1/2 cup of flour. Form into a ball.

Wash your bowl (should be very quick, since you filled it with warm water a little while ago) with hot water and dry well.

Now coat the inside of the bowl with veg oil and place the dough ball inside, turning to coat. Cover the bowl of dough with a tea towel that has been wet with hot water and wrung out.

Place the bowl and the pan of hot water side by side in your oven, with the oven off. While beginning to rise (25 minutes), prep your other mix-ins.

1/3 cup dried figs, chopped into 1/2” pieces
1/3 cup raisins
1/3 cup dates, chopped into 1/2” pieces
1/3 cup pitted mixed greek olives, chopped into 1/4” pieces
1/3 cup pomegranate airls

Lavabread 4When the 25 minutes is up, pull back the towel and sprinkle the mix-ins over the dough.
Re-cover and return to the oven for another 25 minutes. During this time, about 15% of the mix-ins will begin to sink in to the dough.

Now pour the dough and mix-ins remaining on top back onto your well-floured board. Be sure to flour your hands well, and then knead 1-2 minutes to incorporate the rest of the mix-ins into the dough. While you’re kneading, re-heat your water. Return dough to bowl with re-warmed and wrung towel, and place it back into the oven with the reheated pan of water.

Let rise 1 hour.

Pour onto floured bowl again and knead 3-5 minutes, adding flour as needed, so dough isn’t too sticky.  Lavabread3

Now you are ready to braid. I like to keep it simple and just do a 6 part weave, but you can do whatever style you like.

Place onto parchment paper and brush with egg wash (1 egg + tblsp water). 

Rise for the last time, 35-40 minutes on the counter. The rising is done when the dough doesn’t bounce back when you touch it, but gets an indention instead.

Heat your oven to 350 degrees about 10 minutes BEFORE you dough is done rising.

Place the challah into the oven for 20 minutes. Pull out and coat again with egg wash. This ensures all the crust is nice and brown. Sprinkle on the barley pearls and a generous pinch of kosher salt. Spin so the side that was in the front of the oven is now in the back of the oven and return to the oven. Cook another 20-25 minutes, or until it sounds hollow when you tap it.

Allow to cool completely, then slice and enjoy!

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 By Ebony Goldsmith, Marketing and Communications Assistant

A Whole Lotta Latkes

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No Thanksgiving table would be complete without sweet potatoes. And latkes (potato pancakes) are key to a successful Hanukkah dinner in our home. So this year, in honor of Thanksgivukkah, I am making Sweet Potato Latkes!

Why are sweet potatoes so important to Thanksgiving? It is probably because they are at their prime this time of year. The beta-carotene rich tubers are full of sugars that haven’t converted to starches yet. And sweet potatoes match the fall leaves perfectly, bringing some of the amazing color from changing of seasons onto your table. They are one symbol of a successful harvest, and something for which to be thankful.

You may already know the symbolism of latkes, but for those of you who don’t know, I encourage you to read this wonderful explanation from the New York Times circa 1982.
The miracle symbolized by the oil in which they are fried, as well as their delicious taste, are two more things for which to be thankful.

There are many recipes for Sweet Potato Latkes out there, but this one finishes with time in the oven, which allows the carbohydrates in the sweet potato to caramelize, adding a nice crunch to the edges and softening the centers into yummy goodness.

Sweet Potato Latkas

Peel and grate about 3 cups of sweet potato. Latkas in bowl
Add ¼ cup matzo meal, two eggs, and 1 tsp kosher salt. Mix well.
Preheat oven to 350.
Form into circles about ½ inch thick and 3 inches wide.
Drop into oil ( ¼ to ½ inch deep) that has been heated to around 375 degrees (hot enough to make a single shred of the mix dance around). I can usually fit 3-5 into the oil at a time.
Cook 2 min on each side, to a nice golden brown.
Place on cookie sheet and put into oven.
Continue frying the rest of the mixture in batches, adding to your cookie sheet.
When the last bunch goes onto the cookie sheet, I usually bake for 5 more minutes.

latkas cooking
Enjoy with applesauce or sour cream as you wish! Do you have any wonderful latke recipes, sweet potato or not, that you’d like to share? If so, please do so here!


By Ebony Goldsmith, Marketing and Communications Assistant 

The oil lasted 8 days. The donuts, not so much.

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As I was writing my first ever Thanksgivukkah menu, I realized that I was sorely lacking in the dessert category. In years past, our family has always picked up fresh sufganiyot* from our local kosher bakery in New York City. The tender yeast based puffs of dough were best eaten while still hot, the warm jelly (though cream filled was always my favorite) running down our forearms as we walked home with a box that would be empty by morning. But since we’ve moved to Philly 18 months ago I haven’t yet found any bakeries that will let you buy hot sufganiyot after 7 pm, which is prime donut eating time in our home.

I decided the tradition of eating hot donuts after dark was one that my family would continue on our own, late-night bakery or not. So last year I used my favorite sweet dough recipe with a few tweaks and filled the centers with strawberry jam. I quickly realized why I had been paying $4 per donut at that late-night bakery. Fresh donuts are a ton of work and you end up with a kitchen that looks like your kid is a local sheriff, with jelly in his squirt gun, using flour to dust for prints. But it was all worth it. Almost. Until I realized that I needed parve donuts to serve to friends after dinner.

This definitely threw a wrench in my planning. I thought I would take a look at the ingredients of my “instant” biscuits to get some ideas of how to make my usually dairy dough without all that dairy. Then it hit me: why not just use the biscuit dough?

The results for either recipe below are pretty darn good. I prefer the dairy version and will be serving them for breakfast Thanksgiving morning. The pumpkin addition seemed like an obvious one, but could be swapped for jelly after this once-in-a-lifetime holiday. Let us know which ones you end up making and how they turn out!


Parve Pumpkin Cream Sufganiyot
Makes about 20 donuts

For the donuts
2 cans parve ready to bake biscuits (in the dairy section)
Sugar for coating
2 qts Vegetable Oil

For the filling
1 12 oz. can pumpkin
1 12 oz. tub non-dairy whipped topping
¼ cup brown sugar
1 tsp. each nutmeg and cinnamon
1 tsp. vanilla

Heat oil in heavy pan over medium heat to 350°, or until a drop of dough floats when dropped in frying
Flatten biscuits to be approx.. 3 inches in diameter
Drop in 2-3 biscuits to hot oil and fry until golden brown on bottom, then flip, and fry until the other side is also golden. About 90 seconds per side.
Remove from oil and put into bowl of sugar, toss to coat. Set aside and allow to cool.
Repeat until all donuts are cooked.

In a large bowl, mix pumpkin, brown sugar and spices until thoroughly incorporated. Fold in whipped topping. Add vanilla and stir 10 more times.

To fill cooled donuts: Snip a corner from a zip-top bag and put in a piping tip. Fill bag with pumpkin cream. Using a small knife, stab each donut horizontally to make an opening just large enough for the piping tip to fit in. Hold the donut with one hand and place the tip into the opening and squeeze the bag with the other hand. Each donut should hold about 2 tablespoons of filling.

Dairy Pumpkin Cream Sufganiyot
Makes about 35 donuts

For the donuts
1 cup whole milk
1 package of yeast
1 tsp. sugar
1 egg yolk
4 tablespoons butter, melted
1 tsp. vanilla
2 2/3 c flour
Another ¼ c sugar

Sugar for coating
2 qts Vegetable Oil

For the filling
1 12 oz. can pumpkin
1 12 oz container whipping cream
½ c powdered sugar
¼ cup brown sugar
1 tsp. each nutmeg and cinnamon
1 tsp. vanilla

In a small bowl, heat the milk in the microwave 30 seconds. You want it to be just hot enough that you can feel the heat when you put your pinky in, but not too hot, about 105° to 110°. Add the teaspoon of sugar and stir. Sprinkle the yeast in and set aside. Do not stir. Wait about 5 minutes.

In a big bowl, sift in the flour and the rest of the sugar. Make a volcano shape (a mountain with a crater in the top).

Back to the small bowl, mix in the egg and melted butter to the yeast/milk.

Now pour the contents of the small bowl into the crater in your volcano. Use a wooden spoon and mix until there is no loose flour, about 3 minutes. The dough should be very sticky. Pour out onto a floured board and knead about 3 minutes, adding more flour as necessary to keep the dough from sticking to the board. The dough should be smooth and elastic. Form into a ball.

Rinse and dry your large bowl, then coat the inside with butter. Coat your hands with butter and smooth over your ball of dough, then place it into the buttered bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and set in a warm place. Let rise 1 ½ hours, or until doubled in size.

Punch down the now enormous pillow of dough and knead again for 1 min. Roll dough to approx. ½ inch thick and cut our 3 inch circles. I use a drinking glass to do this. Place the circles onto a cookie sheet and cover again with plastic wrap (this keeps the dough from getting crusty) and allow to rise again, this time for 45 min.

While you wait, place a mixing bowl into the freezer to prep for whipping the cream.

Follow the same directions as above to cook and prep for filling.

punkincreamUsing the bowl from the freezer, whip the cream for 5 minutes, or until soft peaks form. Sift in powdered sugar and continue to whip just until you have stiff peaks, about 3 more minutes. (Be careful not to over whip, or you will end up with sweet butter.)

Mix remaining ingredients, then fold in whipped cream.

Use directions above to fill donuts.


By Ebony Goldsmith, Marketing and Communications Assistant