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.
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.
We started at the Lillian and Albert Small Jewish Museum, formerly the home of Adas Israel Congregation and the first synagogue in the Washington area, to discuss the migration of Jewish groups into the capital and the literal migration of this building from 6th and G to 3rd and G streets in 1969. Outside, we braved the humidity to walk around 7th Street, once a neighborhood with a sizeable Jewish minority in the 19th and early 20th centuries. We also saw the sites of former synagogues-turned-churches as well as the revitalized Sixth & I Historic Synagogue. Perhaps the most quirky, if not momentous historical artifact was when David showed us an iron rung for tying up horses on the side of the road, one of the few still left standing in the city.
David also talked about plans in the works to move the historic 1876 Adas Israel synagogue yet again, this time to 3rd and F streets, and answered a few questions for a Ha’aretz reporter. For more information on setting up walking tours with the Society in Washington, Old Town Alexandria, or Arlington National Cemetery, click here.
Intern Rachel Mauro is a Master of Library Science candidate at the University of Maryland.
This past Sunday, I led 17 people around Old Town Alexandria. Here's a picture of me pointing out the home of Henry Strauss, Alexandria's first Jewish mayor (1891-1897). We also visited the sites of former synagogues and Jewish businesses--including two containing markers of their Jewish owners.
This is the fourth time I've led the tour since we developed it last year, and it continues to be a hit! Stay tuned for when we offer it in the fall.