When I was internship-shopping this past spring, I was mainly looking for two attributes: a place where I could get a good grasp of how a non-profit organization functions while also satisfying my interest in history. At the Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington (JHSGW) I got both. The tasks I handled stretched across multiple aspects of the organization – from developing a new tour of the Jewish side of H Street, NE, to compiling a report of potential architect firms to build a new museum.
My first project at the JHSGW was cataloging photographs into the database, a task much more exciting than what one might presume. Not only did I learn a great deal about Washingtonians’ roles in fighting for Soviet Jews’ rights, but I learned how to find background information and articulate the photographs’ context into the descriptions so that the photos could be more fully interpreted and understood. And that was just day 1.
By my third day, I was attending a conference with the executive director, Laura Apelbaum, who spoke on what it takes to build a museum in the 21st century; she even asked for my help on how to improve the lecture for the next occasion.
Perhaps my favorite project was developing the new walking tour on H Street, NE. The project consisted of heavily researching the history of the neighborhood, with a particular focus on the many Jewish-owned family businesses that were located there. I was tasked with the responsibilities of organizing this information and creating a draft outline of the tour itself. I worked alongside the curator, taking a field trip out to the street to examine the area and conducting an oral history interview to learn more about the street’s Jewish history.
In most of the projects that I was assigned I was treated more as a coworker than as an intern. This allowed me to get a more personal experience out of internship and gave me a clearer idea of how the JHSGW functions. My boss, Wendy Turman, the Director of Collections, was constantly checking in with me to make sure that the work I was doing was in line with my interests, which made me take away more from the experience. Furthermore, Claire Uziel, Special Programs Manager and my neighbor in the office, was always there to point me in the right direction whenever I got stuck (side note – Claire knows everything there is to know about everything). But, most importantly, everyone in the office was constantly giving me feedback on my work. This helped me keep improving throughout my time here, thus making this experience educational, but it also allowed me to have a greater contribution and impact throughout my internship.
Whether you are reading this because you are trying to decide if you want to intern here (or know someone who might), or you just want to get a little inside scoop of what goes on inside the office, the most important thing to realize is that there are always a lot of projects that need to get done. So, your contributions – whether it is in the form of an internship, volunteer work, or a donation – goes a long way and makes a real difference.
Ilan Levine is a rising senior at Union College (Schenectady, NY), working on a B.A. in History.