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.
This summer, Special Projects Manager Claire Uziel and Director of Collections Wendy Turman mark special anniversaries with the Society. We recently asked Wendy and Claire about their favorite and most memorable JHSGW moments.
Claire Uziel – 10th anniversary
Claire is proud of her work modernizing our organization. She helped move our website maintenance in-house and manages our social media presence. She recently worked with our web designer to migrate the website to an online system that allows the site to be updated from any computer instead of via software on her desktop computer.
Claire’s favorite moments include assisting researchers: "Pretty much every time a researcher says 'That's just what I was looking for!' when I send them material is a highlight. I always try to help people looking for material we don't have, but it's so great to be able to hand over exactly what someone's looking for."
Another highlight for Claire was her work on our award-winning exhibition, Voices of the Vigil. "In August 2008, we were invited to a meeting of Soviet Jewry activists who wanted to be sure the D.C. story was told. I went and handed out oral history tips and talked about how important it was for these folks to record their memories for future generations. I was 10 when the Soviet Union fell and so myself had extremely little working knowledge of the history. Over the next months, I received cassettes, DVDs, and typed documents of the activists' recollections. Every time I got a new email or package in the mail, I learned a little more about the local Soviet Jewry movement. It was an exciting time for my inbox and the archives."
Wendy Turman – 15th anniversary
Wendy’s favorite program is the June 9 celebration of the 1876 synagogue’s anniversary. She says, "I love seeing how people respond to being in the historic sanctuary and experiencing some of the sights and sounds that the original members may have seen or heard in 1876.”
Wendy’s favorite item in the collection is a banner carried by Hyman Bookbinder at the 1963 March on Washington: "It is such an honor to care for this object from such a momentous event in our nation's history. When we received the banner, I remember thinking 'I didn't think I would ever get to see or hold one of these.' It still gives me shivers."
One of Wendy’s most memorable experiences was conducting an oral history with Sheldon S. Cohen: “His story was so big I had to go back five times to get it all, and I know I didn’t get everything. From candling eggs when he was a teenager working in his father’s warehouse in northeast D.C. to working on legal matters for Lyndon & Lady Bird Johnson to meeting Nelson Mandela shortly after his release from prison, this story has something for everyone.”
Wendy’s favorite exhibition, like Claire, was Voices of the Vigil. “I loved the process of working with an incredible community advisory group to document the history of the Soviet Jewry movement and then bringing all those disparate voices together into a cohesive exhibit. And I have especially enjoyed the youth education programs we have done in conjunction with the exhibition -- watching kids interact with their parents and learn how ordinary people -- sometimes including their own families -- made a real difference in the world.”
Finally, Wendy sums her experience up by saying, “It has been a privilege to work here for 15 years, to learn the big and small stories that make up the history of this community, to care for everything from political buttons to scrapbooks to stained-glass windows, and to work with so many dedicated, creative, smart, and hard-working staff and amazing volunteers.”
The Society thanks Wendy and Claire for their decades of service!
On June 9, 2015, we celebrated the 139th anniversary of the historic 1876 synagogue with Mayor Muriel Bowser and D.C. Councilmembers Jack Evans, Brianne Nadeau, and Elissa Silverman (seen below left).
The program included historic readings from the original dedication service, which was attended by President Ulysses S. Grant, making him the first U.S. president to ever attend a synagogue service. Participants included several descendants of former congregants who prayed in the building and three local rabbis: Rabbi Bruce Lustig (Washington Hebrew Congregation), Rabbi Gil Steinlauf (Adas Israel Congregation), and Rabbi Arnold Resnicoff (Captain, Chaplain Corps, USN, retired).
Longtime JHSGW member Paul Pascal led a tour of the history of Union Terminal Market and former sites of Jewish merchants. Check out the pictures! We plan to offer this tour again soon, so keep an eye out.
If you attended the tour, please comment here or email to tell what you thought! If a friend was on the tour, please share this request.
We've wrapped up another successful Jewish American Heritage Month, again showing our role as the source for community history!
You may have seen Arthur Welsh, the first American Jewish aviator, featured in the "Flashbacks" comic in the Sunday Washington Post. Our efforts led to this feature and the Society was mentioned in the final strip! You can now view the entire six-part series.
Executive Director Laura Apelbaum and board member Diane Wattenberg were featured in The Federation's Jewish Food Experience blog -- read the post about the winning National Spelling Bee word: knaidel.
We partnered again this year with the National Archives on a very special program featuring Holocaust survivor Gerda Weissman Klein.
We were also featured in Moment Magazine (download article) and we were out in the community a great deal: