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Reflections on a Summer with JHSGW 0 Comment(s)

Rebecca researching at DC Library's Washingtonian Collection

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. 

An Intern’s Perspective 0 Comment(s)

Stephen with President Grant at the original site of the 1876 synagogue during Grant's walk across the neighborhood

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.

Glen Echo Protest, 1960

JHSGW Collections. Gift of Washington Jewish Week.

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.

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.

Relections on a Summer Spent as an Intern 0 Comment(s)

Prior to my internship at the Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington, I had little experience in behind-the-scenes museum work.  What experience I did have came largely from volunteering, which in my experience meant working with visitor services. As a graduate student in Museum Studies at The George Washington University, I have taken many classes designed to prepare me to work in a museum environment. When I started at GWU, I thought I knew exactly what kind of work I wanted to do in museums and where I wanted to go. 

But while working at the JHSGW, I saw the variety of opportunities open to me in museum work.  I have seen the possibilities of what I can do with my degree and it validates my decision to pursue an M.A. I am reconfirmed in my love of museums and the important role they play in society and culture. The most beneficial aspect of this experience has been in the small size of the organization. I have become familiar with six people, gotten to know each of their jobs and responsibilities, and have had the privilege of helping each of them with varying tasks. 

I have called other museums for research, helped edit a program video, written program fliers, invitations, program summaries, been on a walking tour of downtown Jewish DC, organized and communicated with program partners, looked online for possible acquisitions, set up for special events, given tours of the historic 1876 synagogue, attended a talk at the Library of Congress, written the Executive Director’s opening remarks for an event, performed audience evaluations, researched Yiddish history in DC, handled archived materials, attended the 139th dedication anniversary of the synagogue, and went on a staff field trip to the Anacostia Community Museum and The Frederick Douglass House.  And this is all without mentioning the letter-folding, envelope-stuffing, and challah-delivering.

As a non-Jew who has always been interested in Judaism and Jewish culture, I have become used to the often puzzled looks I receive when explaining what kind of museums I want to work in.  But I have always felt strongly that cultural history should be available to everyone, regardless of whether or not you identify with that group.  This is what the JHSGW is doing for their community, and I appreciated being welcomed by the staff.  I cannot say enough positive things about my time here.  Not once have I felt like “the intern”: the staff gives me meaningful projects, welcomes my opinions, and values my work.  The most validating thing of all is being able to immediately apply things I have learned in a classroom in a real world setting.  I see tangible evidence that what I am learning will be helpful in any future museum I work in.  And isn’t that the ideal of what can be gained by having students complete internships as part of their degrees?

Jaclyn Kimball is a second-year Master’s student in Museum Studies at The George Washington University, where she studies collections management, museum administration, and history.

A Peek Inside the Office 0 Comment(s)

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.