Jewish religious, cultural items fill a niche for shoppers at Columbia Mall HOWARD COUNTY BUSINESS

April 08, 1993|By Frank Langfitt | Frank Langfitt,Staff Writer

It was the day before Passover at the Columbia Mall. As Jewish shoppers made their way between the Great American Cookie Company and the Imposters jewelry store, many stopped and stared at the wooden cart in between.

"Mazel Tov!" read the sign on top. On the shelves below sat a variety of Judaica, including a children's menorah in the shape of a dinosaur, hand-painted mezuzas and even a kosher, chocolate Seder plate.

"It's neat," said Rachelle Nashman, admiring the items Sunday. "Usually you can only buy stuff like this at a JCC [Jewish Community Center]. I've never seen it in a mall."

That is the idea.

Gail Rosen, a Pikesville merchant, opened the cart four weeks ago at the Mall to make religious and cultural items more accessible to Columbia's large Jewish community.

So far, "the response here has been phenomenal," she said. "We seemed to have jumped right into a niche."

(For the uninitiated, a mezuza is a small parchment case, placed on a door frame, that serves as either a religious object or good luck charm, depending on the owner's observance. The Seder dish holds various foods used to illustrate the story of the exodus during the evening meal on the first day of Passover.)

Passover, a religious holiday commemorating the exodus of the Jews from Egypt, began Monday at sundown. During the eight days, no leavened foods are eaten, in remembrance of the Jews' hasty departure, when there was no time to allow bread to rise.

In the spirit of the holiday, shoppers took quickly to Mazel Tov! Sunday.

Ms. Nashman and her sister, Jodi, who lives in Gaithersburg, bought their grandparents coffee mugs inscribed with the Yiddish words for grandfather, "Zeidi," and grandmother, "Bubi."

Tired of matzo crumbs on her kitchen counter, Marjorie Pinsker of Columbia was delighted to find a Lucite matzo holder for Passover.

Finding Jewish items is "very difficult in this area," Mrs. Pinsker said. Normally, "I would either go to Baltimore or Washington."

In addition to some of the religious items, Ms. Rosen sells cultural wares, including necklaces with names written in Hebrew and coffee mugs with messages like: "Oy Vey! The Pressure!"

The idea for Mazel Tov! -- which means good luck or congratulations in Yiddish -- came out of Ms. Rosen's work as a professional storyteller and entrepreneur. She has operated a cart at the Mall for the past eight years called Warm Rainbows, which sells personalized childrens' gifts.

In the last couple of years, she has also studied story telling as a folk art. She has spun all kinds of tales -- from Appalachian to American Indian -- at schools, senior centers, synagogues and churches.

Still, the stories she kept returning to were Jewish, she said.

She and her partner, Susannah Siger of Baltimore, decided to merge the two interests and open Mazel Tov! carts at Columbia and Owings Mills Mall.

Says Ms. Rosen: "Maybe one day I'll have a store where I can have storytelling time . . . and sell you a menorah on the way out."

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