Ode to Old Bay


I often find myself transfixed by stories that reveal the Jewish origins of things not typically associated with Jews or Judaism. The Forward often publishes such stories under the heading of “The Secret Jewish History of … ” and subjects range from Chinese New Year to The Who. So when I discovered we had our own such story hiding in plain sight, I knew we’d have to dig into it.

Baltimore’s beloved Old Bay, the subject of Connor Graham’s cover story this week, has some remarkably Jewish origins, with a creator who fled the Nazis and made a new life in America. Connor caught up with Ralph Brunn, the 93-year-old son of Old Bay inventor Gustav Brunn, to get the family’s story.

As you’ll read, the fact that Old Bay was created in Baltimore is a result both of luck and ingenuity. The family was spared during Kristallnacht, and though Gustav was imprisoned at Buchenwald, his wife was able to pay his way out when it was just a detention camp.

After that close call, the family immigrated to Baltimore, where Gustav created Old Bay after a brief stint at McCormick. (Ironically, after years of acquisitions, McCormick now owns Old Bay.)

While Gustav Brunn’s story is unique in many ways, as all individual histories are, its overarching themes of survival and industriousness, more easily seen in hindsight, are universal. The quick thinking and adaptability, in particular, shaped the Jewish experience both ahead of World War II and during the Holocaust, as well as when the Jewish people made their homes in new lands.

Elsewhere in this issue, Andy Belt writes about Notre Dame of Maryland University’s new art therapy major, which was launched recently in conjunction with an exhibit of artwork made in concentration camps. The art was not only therapeutic in bringing light to some of the darkest of places, but it served as documentation, demonstrating how powerful the medium can be.

“The fact that it exists is pretty miraculous,” said art therapist and doctoral candidate Elizabeth Hlavek. “I think it should be celebrated. As survivors pass away or are at the end of their life, it serves as the next best thing as a personal testimony.”

In addition, with Passover approaching, we’ve rounded up what you’ll find on local grocery stores’ shelves and where to get ready-made meals. As you’ll read, there are a lot of options for making Seders this year, including a number of new products to enhance the experience. And thanks to some generous readers, you can get some kosher Old Bay recipes here!

Shabbat Shalom and happy reading.


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