During my interview for this internship, our program and outreach manager, Sam Abramson, mentioned that the Society’s historic synagogue – the Lillian & Albert Small Jewish Museum – would be closing its doors at the beginning of the summer in preparation for it to be moved a few blocks away as part of a new building project. When I began my internship a few months later, I was excited to see how this change would impact my summer with the Society. The museum’s upcoming move ultimately provided me with an exciting and unique experience that I can’t imagine getting anywhere else. Over the course of my internship, I have worked with every member of the Society’s small and dedicated staff on a wide range of projects, many (but not all) somehow relating to the synagogue’s move and the planning of the new museum.
I worked with Sam to create a brand new volunteer manual, reach out to schools about educational programs, and set up for the final events hosted in the historic synagogue before its closing. Earlier this summer, I helped Wendy Turman, our director of collections, update entries in our collections database to ensure that all of our holdings were accounted for as the archives were packed up. I later photographed professional movers as they wrapped up some of these items to move them to a storage facility. I spent time with our curator Christiane Bauer, conducting research for the new museum’s core exhibition. We went to the DC Library to research primary sources about an organization called Neighbors, Inc. We went through boxes of documents ranging from fliers for book fairs to invitations for luncheons with diplomats, looking for connections to D.C.’s Jewish community. Under Christiane’s supervision, I also undertook a major research project on the involvement of Jewish women in D.C. during the Civil Rights Movement. I eventually used some of this research to write a blog article (stay tuned!) discussing a few of the amazing women I’d learned about and asked readers for artifacts and interviews relating to their own experiences with the movement. With these projects and the other tasks I performed during my internship, I was able both to learn and to feel like I was making a meaningful contribution to the development of the new museum and its exhibitions.
Previously, most of my knowledge of the museum field came from classes and lectures. This summer, I’ve gained a deeper understanding of museum work with the help of a kind and supportive staff. As our collections were moved into storage, I was able to participate in and understand collections management at a new level as I tagged items with their accession numbers and watched as shelves of archival boxes were carefully marked and put into a truck. Sifting through piles of documents in the library and sitting in on meetings about plans for the new museum’s exhibitions allowed me to see the huge amount of work and planning that goes into content creation for museums. As I leave my internship I am excited to apply everything I’ve learned here to my studies and future work, and I am looking forward to staying in contact with the Society and one day walking through their new museum.
Rebecca Friedman is a rising senior at Johns Hopkins University, working on a B.A. in History with minors in Jewish Studies and The Program in Museums and Society.
When you hear that an English major from Florida is interning at a local history organization, you may scratch your head at first, but it made perfect sense to me. When not studying the literary arts, I also minor in both museum studies and art history, eventually wanting to go into the museum field. Because of my previous work at my university’s fine arts museum, I feel I have a decent understanding of the “art” part of my minor, however, the “history” was sort of lost. At the Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington (JHSGW) I got to work with the personal history of DC area, while also learning about the day to day at a history museum.
One of my first projects was working with the resident curator, Christiane, and the collection’s reference files. I was given a large stack of photocopied documents, magazines, and newspaper articles to sort through, categorize, and organize. A daunting task for any, but through this work, I was able to familiarize myself with the Greater Washington area and learn about the challenges the community faces. While reviewing files, I came across a few articles about the changing social climate of Washington neighborhoods with the introduction of a larger millennial population. I brought both the subject and my personal experience seeing the gentrification in the city to Christiane’s attention and she set me out on a research project.
She introduced me to the amusement park, Glen Echo. Located on the Potomac River, this leisure destination opened in 1891 and later became a major player in the desegregation of the Washington area. It was in the summer of 1960 when students from Howard University’s Non-violent Action Group (NAG) joined forces with local activists in the Bannockburn neighborhood -- among them many Jewish residents -- to picket the discrimination at Glen Echo. These protests eventually caught the eye of Hyman Bookbinder, a prominent lobbyist in DC and a Bannockburn inhabitant, who both joined the picketing and brought the issue to the then-U.S. Attorney General, Robert Kennedy. With the help of both Bookbinder and Kennedy, the management of Glen Echo backed down and allowed their first African-American guests in the summer of 1961.
While my initial readings of the influx of the millennial population on the DC area were mostly negative in regards to gentrification, my personal research on Glen Echo showed me that newer generations can still make changes for the better in their neighborhoods – like the students of NAG and the residents of Bannockburn. It was my first major research project that allowed me to uncover the history of the area, instead of my usual literary and artistic analysis.
My other projects included working with the program and outreach manager, Samantha Abramson, experiencing some of the behind-the-scenes of the various summer events that JHSGW put on. My duties included writing emails to invited guests, distributing an educational packet for nearby schools, and even creating a press release for one of our biggest events this summer, the inaugural Evelyn Greenberg Preservation Awards. This type of work showed me the amount of time and effort that goes in to fully engaging with a museum’s audience.
Everyone at the office made me feel genuinely welcomed and were happy to see me every day of my internship, and would even include me in on staff meetings as if I was part of the team. These meetings were informative as I would see the beginning steps of designing and planning a future museum, while also learning about the other departments of the office. The meetings were one of my favorite things because of how much information I was absorbing. Although my time here was short, seeing JHSGW during its formative years of planning their new museum left an impact on me and, while I’m excited to see my future in the museum field, I also look forward towards theirs.
Stephen Biegel is a senior at Florida State University, working on a B.A. in English Literature with minors in Art History and Museum Studies.