In the spring of 2015, I started to volunteer with the Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington (JHSGW) to learn more about DC’s Jewish history and to receive hands-on experience in a Jewish historical institution that provides museum education. I helped with educational programs that included curriculum-based education in the Lillian & Albert Small Jewish Museum for students, as well as walking tours and educational programming for the public at large.
Now, in the spring of 2016, I’m nearing the official end of my internship with JHSGW. During my 20-hour-per-week internship, from January 2016 through May 31, 2016, my responsibilities in educational and public programming have expanded and I have received substantive work experiences in other facets of JHSGW's work. All of these experiences have prepared me for a future career in the history and museum world, and the internship combined well with my program in Experiential Education and Jewish Cultural Arts (EE/JCA) at The George Washington University.
One important facet of an educational walking tour is to connect participants with the environment and topography that is under study. My internship allowed me to utilize what I was learning in the EE/JCA program, receive guidance and mentorship from the JHSGW staff, and enhance my role as a public-facing educator. Some settings where I facilitated learning experiences for participants included the downtown walking tour in 7th Street, NW, area of Washington, DC, as well as tours of H Street, NE, and Arlington National Cemetery. The mentorship and classwork allowed me to deliver the best walking tour possible, as well as learn how to situate Jewish history in the broader context of DC history and related historical events.
In addition to presenting history, my internship also allowed me to help preserve history. One snowy January afternoon, I traveled to Arlington, Virginia, to meet Dr. Sholom Friedman and his daughter, Karen. While sitting in Dr. Friedman’s Public Shoe Store, which has recently closed, his answers to my questions covered his family’s arrival in the United States from Tsarist Russia, the beginning of Etz Hayim Congregation, and how consumer trends in the latter half of the 20th century affected what was bought and sold at Public Shoe Store. This oral history is now saved in the JHSGW collection.
I also added Washington Jewish Week articles about DC’s Jewish community to the archivists’ reference files, and I like to think of these articles and the oral history I conducted like the stops on the walking tours -- many sites on the walking tours were forgotten by the community for a long time. Today, however, hundreds of Hebrew school students, as well as visitors from all over the world of all different faiths and affiliations, come to JHSGW to learn and to retrace the steps of D.C.’s Jewish history.
And like the walking tour locations, perhaps one day, the articles or Dr. Friedman’s oral history will be used in an exhibit in JHSGW’s upcoming museum or used as part of a mosaic of sources in a groundbreaking study of the Washington, DC, area. Only time will tell how these sources will be used, but one thing has been clear from the first day that I volunteered -- JHSGW is an integral part of a network of academic, cultural and historical institutions in Washington, DC, that provide sophisticated programming that allows our community to be more historically and culturally literate. I’m proud to have been a part of it.
As an added bonus, JHSGW underwrote a pizza party for my last day!
Michael A. Morris is a Master’s student in Experiential Education and Jewish Cultural Arts at The George Washington University.