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Learning About and Sharing D.C.‘s Jewish History 0 Comment(s)

Training to lead the walking tour of Arlington National Cemetery

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.

An Afternoon of Artistic, Cultural, and Historical Exploration 0 Comment(s)

EE/JCA students engage in discussion. 

On Tuesday, we had the pleasure of hosting the inaugural class of the Experiential Education and Jewish Cultural Arts (EE/JCA) program from The George Washington University for an afternoon of artistic, cultural, and historical exploration. Professors Jenna Weissman Joselit and Carol B. Stapp led their students and colleagues into JHSGW’s historic 1876 synagogue (the Lillian & Albert Small Jewish Museum) for the program on the Society today and in the future as it develops into a regional museum. Director of Collections Wendy Turman started by providing the students with basic information about JHSGW, including the history behind the synagogue and the current activities of the Society.

President Grant seems to want to join the discussion.

The students appreciated the period-specific layout of the synagogue, from the structure to the life-size Ulysses S. Grant cut-out in the corner to commemorate the president’s visit to the opening in 1876. While life-size Grant never ceases to capture my attention, the EE/JCA students offered valuable insight about the architecture and fine details of the synagogue. Then, everyone had the opportunity to explore the outside grounds and the interior of the building, including the balcony on the second floor where Orthodox Jewish women once prayed, which is usually off-limits to visitors.

Professor Joselit waves down from the balcony, joined by Professor Stapp and EE/JCA Project Director Allison Farber.

Wendy Turman shows where the synagogue will move – across the street from the FBI's DC Field Office in the background.

Despite the oven-like weather, we all ventured to the future location of the synagogue, which will move down the road in a few years (the second time since 1969). Upon our return, Curator Zachary Paul Levine led a discussion about how the space appears to visitors and how it might appear as part of the Society’s future museum. Students engaged with issues regarding how to arrange information in a museum: chronologically or thematically. Finally, Wendy expanded on current activities of the Society, such as arranging the archives of Rabbi Tzvi Porath and analyzing artifacts, including a bracelet from Camp Louise. For me, the major highlight was Zachary’s presentation of a signed Beatles photograph from the Washingtonian Jew who hosted the first Beatles concert in the United States. This photograph caught my eye online when I was applying to summer internships, so it was amazing to see it up close in person (and I got to carry it back to the office).

I am thoroughly enjoying my internship at JHSGW, and I loved learning more about the Society through the eyes of the EE/JCA students. We were only one stop on their busy schedule, but it was a fantastic afternoon.

Rebecca Brenner is a senior at Mount Holyoke College, working on a B.A. in History and Philosophy.