What would bubbe do? Infuse her matzo-ball soup with truffles and leeks? Prepare her brisket in red wine, then serve it on a puree of sweet potatoes, topped with pickled pearl onions and accompanied with a dollop of tzimmes?
The humble bagel is a staple of Western Jewish culture, but what most of us know about it amounts to little more than a shmear. After all, bagels are generally something we buy, not bake.
Michael Tilson Thomas’s grandmom had trunks in her basement. A lot of our grandmothers had stuff stacked away. But our grandmoms were not Bessie Thomashefsky. “When I used to go visit my grandmother at her apartment in Hollywood, she had trunks in her basement and that was a special treat,” said Tilson Thomas, music director of the San Francisco Symphony and artistic director of Miami Beach’s New World Symphony, which he founded. In her basement, his grandmother “would open up these trunks, and inside them there were various costumes and scripts and photos and all these things that had been part of her life.”
Barbra Streisand had come to Philadelphia for a November 13 gala, marking the opening of the new National Museum of American Jewish History on Philadelphia’s Independence Mall. The songstress was among the 18 Jews selected for the museum’s “Only in America” hall of fame. She was modest in that role — standing in a spotlight at her table and smiling to the 1,500-plus celebrating donors.
For Andrea Engel, giving to charity and volunteering for charity work — two basic facets of tzedakah — came as second nature. As a high school student in Birmingham, Ala., she headed her B’nai B’rith Youth Organization fundraising effort. As a Northwestern University undergraduate in suburban Chicago, she served on the executive board for the university’s huge marathon fundraiser and raised money for the Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago.
Linda Steinberg had worked in Philadelphia previously, for a short time, but she didn’t remember the summer heat. When she came back to town a few weeks ago, to a job at the new National Museum of American Jewish History, it was a hot day — upward of 100 degrees. For Steinberg, the contrast with much milder San Francisco, the city she’d just left, amounted to weather shock.
In October, they began. This time next year, they will have finished. In between, it?s a big commitment to become a docent. It takes a lot of knowledge and plenty of spare time.
The 1,000 people who came from all over to the International Conference on Jewish Genealogy are bubbes and mommies, fathers and sons, and professionals and retirees, and besides being Jewish, they all have one thing in common.
Yiddish was alive and doing quite well, for a sure few hours, at a synagogue on the edge of downtown Philadelphia. Onstage, six performers — in their 20s and 30s, which constitutes young for Yiddish speakers — were speaking the centuries-old language of European Jews with ease. The jokes were flying. The music was piping.
The young man, who calls himself an artist, looks out to an audience eying him from risers laid along the floor-level stage. He speaks of his reputation without irony. He calls himself a traitor. A self-hater. A blasphemer. His name is Asher Lev, he says, introducing himself by declaiming his legacy. “I am none of those things,” he tells us. “And of course, in some ways, I am all of those things.”