Chosen Food, Jewish culture through cuisine, Breman Jewish Museum

A family dinner is more than a meal—it’s an experience in Jewish identity.

Jewish food exhibit, 8Old joke: “If, according to the Jewish calendar the year is 5771, and according to the Chinese calendar, the year is 4709, what did the Jews eat for 1062 years?”

If you know me, you know my love (some would say obsession) with food. I believe that when you want to explore a culture, the best and easiest place to start is with food. Food is a language and a way of understanding. Lean the word for “coffee” and your entire morning in a new country just got easier. For dinner, check out the street food and you’re bound to meet a new friend and a new taste sensation. Understand a community’s cuisine and customs and you go a long way toward understanding the people.

This is spot-on advice for Jewish culture. Mealtimes are hallowed and the table is the altar. That’s why I was so interested in seeing the special exhibit called Chosen Food: Cuisine, Culture and American Jewish Identity currently at the Breman Jewish Heritage Museum in Midtown, Atlanta.

Jewish food exhibit, 13I was raised in the Midwest and was an adult before I ever met a Jewish person. But at my very first Passover Seder I was told that every Jewish holiday celebrates the same thing: They tried to kill us. We survived. Let’s eat! That’s a practice I can relate to.

This special exhibit is mostly static signage, but if you take the time to read, you can learn quite a lot. The message seems to be that Jewish food evokes a shared history and common values for its people. The meals observe tradition, celebrate community and show affection, nourishing the family and the community in every way. This is perhaps most obvious at one of the special Jewish holiday meals, complete with brisket and latkes, but even an ordinary family dinner can be a place to learn how to “be Jewish.” There is information on the Jewish deli, kosher pickles, charoset, gefilte fish, latkes, dried limes (important in Persian cooking) and the tradition of eating Chinese food at Christmas. There’s information on keeping Kosher (known as Kashrut) and in the center of the exhibit is a Jewish kitchen. And they rate the “Jewish-ness” of food (Most Jewish? brisket!)

The hakmeser, the indispensable chopping knife of the old country.
The hakmeser, the indispensable chopping knife of the old country.

The one video in the exhibit is a fast paced look at food used in celebration, particularly weddings and bar/bat mitzvahs. While I enjoyed the montage, the music was grating on my nerves before I reached the end of the exhibit. As a whole I found this to be informative and interesting, though it only covered the surface of this unique cuisine. I would have preferred something more interactive and at least a few subjects handled in depth.

The Selig Center houses not only the William Breman Jewish Heritage Museum, but is home of the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta, and the Lillian & A.J. Weinberg Center for Holocaust Education. I suppose the fact of so much “Jewish-ness” concentrated in one area is the reason for the high security in a public exhibit. The parking area is locked and you have to speak to a security guard to enter. Then cameras monitor your progress to the front door, which is also locked. I found it off-putting and uninviting and almost left before paying the $12 entrance fee. I hope that this amount of security it overkill, but clearly they judge it necessary.

You have to get past a locked gate to enter the parking lot and the front door to the museum is also locked,
You have to get past a locked gate to enter the parking lot and the front door to the museum is also locked,
The kitchen
The kitchen
I had no idea there was a gefilte fish line.
I had no idea there was a gefilte fish line.
The lynching of Leo Frank occurred right outside of Marietta, GA. Courtesy of Wikipedia.
The lynching of Leo Frank occurred right outside of Marietta, GA. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

My favorite part of this museum is in the permanent collection showing Jewish life in Atlanta from 1845 to the present. Of special interest to me is the video about the murder of Leo Frank. It’s impossible to talk about the Jewish experience in the south without discussing this case, which caused half the Jews in Georgia to flee the state. Frank was convicted in 1913 of the death of Mary Phagan, a young worker at the National Pencil Factory, where Frank was an engineer and superintendent. The trial and evidence was flawed and the jury prejudiced against him since he was both a Jew and a northerner. The prosecution portrayed him as a rich Yankee Jew lording it over vulnerable working women. Governor John M. Slaton eventually commuted the sentence to life imprisonment as he was leaving office, since it was effectively political suicide. A few weeks later, a group of armed men took Frank from the Milledgeville Penitentiary, carried him to the Marietta area and lynched him. No one was ever charged with Frank’s murder, though the ringleaders were prominent men of the community. Several photographs were taken of the lynching, which were sold as postcards, along with pieces of the rope and Frank’s nightshirt.

It is now widely believed by historians that Jim Conley, the factory’s janitor and the main witness for the prosecution, is the real murderer of Mary Phagan. In 1986, the state of Georgia pardoned Leo Frank. It is a sad chapter in Georgia’s history. This video is not the one at the museum, but it is very informative and includes several photos taken at the time.

Coming up next at the Breman, Project Mah Jongg.

Below are photos from the permanent Holocaust Gallery.

Jewish food exhibit, 14 Jewish food exhibit, 4 Jewish food exhibit, 9Jewish food exhibit, 19

Be a tourist in your own Metro

Remember the Sta-cation? It’s still a popular choice with those of us wanting to save our pennies. Here are some places to find what to do in the Atlanta Metro.

cityPassLet’s start with the Atlanta Convention & Visitors Bureau. This is the standard list of what to do: Aquarium, Botanical Garden, World of Coke…..But if you’ve never seen these places, you must! This is a chance to see why the ATL is a tourist destination. And if you are hitting all the top sites, consider doing them all at once with the City Pass. I’m also fond of the Special Offers page, which changes frequently.

gopherlittle_logo_noteThis is my new place to find inexpensive or free items: 50 Fun things to do in Atlanta for cheap and free. It includes things you’ve forgotten about (roller skating, small local museums) as well as some new-to-you items. For instance, did you know there’s a Trampoline Park, in Kennesaw? Their blog gives more details on each activity.

The best known site for finding things going on in the ATL is AccessAtlanta but also look at Eventbrite and BrownPaperTickets. You can put in your zip code, narrow the area of interest and fine something to do today, this weekend, anytime. These sites even let you look for free things.

A couple new things on my radar:

homestead-logoAt The Homestead Atlanta, we strive to promote the well being of individuals as well as the health of the community and environment through experiential self-reliance and sustainability skills education. For a discount on classes, join their partner, Georgia Organics. I’m signed up for a class on healing herbs!

….and here’s a startup that I hope with grow: Go Local Atlanta. I’m keeping an eye on them. Their first tour is this weekend, a walking tour to show off graffiti art, just $20.

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Need cash? How to sell your used stuff

I’ve always been frugal, but now I’m downsizing–trying to reduce what I own to just the things I actually need and use. This process can be difficult to begin, but let me assure you it gets easier, even FUN–Except when I look at the box of items I’m ready to part with and think about what I spent. It feels like throwing away money. I’d like some of that money back or at least know that they won’t just go to a landfill. So here are a few ideas for making some of that cash back on items you already own but don’t need:

The first place to start may be a yard sale. In truth, I love going to them but not giving them. On the other hand, it’s a perfect way to get rid of your stuff and make a bit of money. If you can get a multi-family yard sale going, you will be even more successful. Things to think about: do you have enough stuff to make it worthwhile? Will there be somewhere to display the items without letting people into your home? Can people find you and can they park once they do? If you are going this way, here are two articles with solid advice: Yard Sale Queen & Get Rich Slowly.

I don’t have a place to give a yard sale, nor do I have adequate parking. My best option would be to throw in with a friend’s yard sale. But here are other options I’m investigating.

I had a surprising number of DVDs and CDs, but where to unload them, at a profit? Amazon began buying these items about a year ago. It’s also worth comparing prices on trade-in sites such as Buy Back Media, SecondSpin.com and Ultimate Buy Back. Because I had a personal connection with musicMagpie (their new warehouse is just north of Atlanta) a service that just expanded from the UK, I gave them a try. They purchased over 30 CDs and DVDs and paid for shipping. Their phone app makes it easy to scan bar codes. But the payback was low (I averaged about a dollar a piece) and they were slow (9 days before they received and checked my package, 21 before I got a check). Plus, they need to get used to their new market. For example: It’s “check”, not “cheque.”

I’ve got a couple old computers. Usually I give them to a less fortunate friend, but what if I wanted to sell them? In A Hustler’s Guide To Selling Used Gear Online, Drew Prindle says he sells his electronic equipment on eBay or Craigslist. Don’t toil with any of those skeezy used electronics buyback services like Gazelle or Glyde. These are the pawn shops of the Internet…Use Craigslist and eBay to get the most back for your stuff.” And, Craigslist is local and eBay is global.” He follows up with great tips on how/when/pricing and lots more. Personally, I might consider those sites to sell stuff. At least see what they are paying.

Last year, I sold most of my used furniture at a consignment shop. This is a good option if you have a truck and a couple friends with strong backs to help you deliver the items. I don’t. After I’d paid for a mover, my profit was hardly worth the trouble. In hindsight, it would have been better to donate to a not-for-profit that would come pick the items up.

Three more Articles: This Consumer Reports article focuses on auctions and consignment shops and what does well at both. This Frugal Living article stresses using Half.com, advice I may take for my pile of books. This one from Wise Bread is the most down to earth, mentioning 15 possibilities.

If all else fails, donate your items to a worthy cause. Try a women’s shelter (particularly for clothes or children’s toys) or Goodwill will take most everything. Your library may take used books to sell for a fundraiser (mine doesn’t). But donations only help you financially if you itemize your taxes. You’ll want to document what you gave with the value (and possibly how you estimated it) and it’s a good idea to take photographs. As a rule of thumb—something I learned in my H&R Block Tax School—I add up my cash donations, then make sure the value of my donations of goods does not exceed that number. Have I mentioned my complete and utter fear of the IRS?

Don’t forget to share “pre-loved” items with friends and family. Or swap things on FreeCycle. Money isn’t everything and your time/frustration is worth something too. But just a reminder, don’t give broken or useless items. That’s just wrong.

Upcoming things to do in the ATL

I get media notices and here are a few things that hit my mailbox and seemed interesting:

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Cypress Street Pint and Plate’s Beer Geek Carnival featuring Clown Shoes Brewery and the Imperial OPA troop is back on Tuesday, May 28th! For the 2nd annual edition, they will bring a high-energy celebration of all things beer to Midtown Atlanta. Guests will enjoy cold Clown Shoes brews on draught while taking in the incredible performances by stilt walkers, jugglers, fire dancers and Lyra aerialists taking place on Cypress’ expansive patio. Chef Richard Silvey will be serving up a variety of carnival inspired food pairings, including fried oreos, funnel cakes and fried Twinkies while attendees take a shot at dunking Cypress’ resident Beer Geek, Rob Merrick, or owner Billy Streck in the on-site dunk tank.

pcheenP’cheen, one of my favorite eating spots in the Old Fourth Ward, had a face-lift and just posted a new menu. FANTASTIC food, focusing on small plates. Stuff like frog legs, drunken ‘shrooms, Thai wings, mac & cheese with crab, glazed trotters, grilled octopus…..and of course they continue to be a moonshine bar with great DJ’s. Sunday brunch spreads out onto the sidewalk for all day fun. Plus it’s run by some of the greatest guys on the planet. Don’t be the last to discover them.

350px-Rainy_Blue_Ridge-27527Next trip north of the city, I’m going to investigate The Blue Ridge Grocery, which opened this month on Main street, Blue Ridge. A former Cigar Shop, it’s operated by Danny Mellman and Michelle Moran and modeled after the Mercat de la Boqueria in Barcelona, Spain. The Blue Ridge Grocery is a bakery/cafe focusing on fress breads and coffee, community supported agriculture and fresh local produce.  Chef Danny Mellman is a James Beard nominated chef. His wife and partner, Michelle Moran, is a long time culinary journalist and a professional cook.