The Downtown Holiday Market in front of the National Portrait Gallery is a 60-vendor street fair with a dose of holiday cheer. For most, that means Christmas, but this market boasts one Jewish oasis, and her name is Nancy Wasserman.
Wasserman, a glass artist who makes jewelry, ornaments and Judaica under the name Glitzy Glass, is more than happy to take up the Jewish cause. During Chanukah each year, she sets up one of her handmade glass menorahs and corrals any other wandering Jews (and interested passerby) to light the candles and say the blessings — frequently with jazzy renditions of Christmas songs echoing from the live band on stage several booths down.
This WJW reporter joined the throng of market-goers (and Capitals fans biding time before the game) on the last day of November, browsing the booths full of art, clothing, jewelry and a variety of other goods, big and small. Before the market vanishes on Dec. 23, it will have had more than 150 vendors and about 10,000 visitors a day — closer to 30,000 on weekends — according to Michael Berman, the executive director of Diverse Markets, which organizes and runs the market.
“There’s a reason people love [the market] — it’s fun, it’s easy, it’s free,” he says.
Wasserman’s Glitzy Glass booth rarely seemed to be empty, even when foot traffic wasn’t very high in general.
“I like the selling part, but more than that I love making [the glassware] and connecting them with people,” she says.
And connect she does. Matthew Mandelberg and Lindsay Chura, 34- and 33-year-old Washington residents who met at an Adas Israel Shir Delight service, have been visiting her since 2015 when they wandered through the market a few days after their first date. They were summoned by Wasserman as they passed by her booth to help say the Chanukah blessing. She took a photo to commemorate; it was their first photo together.
Last year, they bought their own glass menorah from Wasserman to light at home. This year, they’ve already come once to visit the market — and Wasserman.
“Just [last] week, we visited Nancy’s booth again, and we were able to recognize which items were newly added to her collection this year,” Mandelberg writes in an email. “She was thrilled to see us, and we were excited to share the news with her that we are engaged!”
Wasserman has been coming to the market for six years, she says, and she loves it. She does many other markets and shows throughout the year, but there’s something special about this time of year, she says.
This is echoed by Avner Ofer, the only other Jewish vendor at the time WJW visited. Ofer is a photographer and also a regular presence at Eastern Market, among other markets and galleries. He’s been a part of the holiday market since its inception 13 years ago, and while he says it’s business for him, at the end of the day there’s a sense of camaraderie among longtime vendors that makes it fun to come back year after year — even if he does get a little sick of Christmas music. (The occasional klezmer performance is always welcome.)
“It’s a good show,” he says. “There’s tons of people and it’s a lot of fun. And we all know each other — it’s like a family.”
For both Ofer and Wasserman, their greatest payment — aside from actual payment, of course — is watching their art connect with someone.
This year, Ofer says, his photos of the solar eclipse are popular, and his booth is also frequently occupied. He has them in a variety of prints, as well as ornaments, and most who have purchased one are commemorating their own eclipse experience, he says. They’ll tell him about taking their family to watch it, or what they’d been doing when it happened.
“It’s an amazing memory for them,” he says, and he’s happy to help them remember.
But the biggest compliment, he says, is when couples come in and buy a large piece and tell him it’s one of the first pieces of art they’ve been able to agree on.
For Wasserman, it’s important to her that she imbues her work with meaning, like modeling the patterns on her mezuzot after lace hand made by her grandmother. And, above all, she wants customers to feel that they’ve made the right choice.
“Now, this red will really look good with your coloring,” she tells one woman with one hand holding up a set of red earrings to the woman’s face and the other holding a hand mirror. “Even a little more orange, like these.” Wasserman picks up another pair.
“Hold on, I think I have a pendant that matches that one,” she says. Fortunately for this woman, the earrings and pendants are part of a buy-two-get-one-free deal. She leaves happy.
And that makes Wasserman happy.
“I just want people to feel good about themselves.”
Hours, performance schedule and more information about the Downtown Holiday Market can be found at downtownholidaymarket.com.