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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.

Voices of the Vigil: Highlights and Accomplishments 0 Comment(s)

Thank you for supporting Voices of the Vigil, our award-winning exhibition telling the story of D.C.’s Soviet Jewry movement. We’re pleased to share these accomplishments and highlights from its regional tour:

  • Nine venues throughout Washington, D.C., Maryland, and Virginia
  • American Association for State and Local History’s Leadership in History Award of Merit
  • Companion website -- including oral histories and memoirs, education curriculum, activist profiles, and slides -- that attracted more than 8,000 visits in less than two years
  • Accompanying catalog featuring memoir by Natan Sharansky and recollections of Ambassador Richard Schifter
  • 60 related archival donations between 2008 and 2014
  • Commissioned new multimedia performance by Robyn Helzner, performed four times
  • Support from 85 personal contributions, family foundations, congregations, and other community organizations — including Humanities DC grants and a special gift underwriting the Northern Virginia tour and a performance by Robyn Helzner

Exhibition venues between December 2013 and February 2016:

  1. Washington Hebrew Congregation, Washington, D.C.
    * Premiere featured Natan Sharansky; 250 attendees including City Councilmember Jack Evans
    * Open house featured former Congressmember Connie Morella
    * Lecture by renowned civil-liberties attorney Nathan Lewin on his related activities
    * Special visit by former Congressmember Michael Barnes
    * Three curator-led tours including one followed by discussion with two former activists
  2. Jewish Community Center of Greater Washington, Rockville, MD
    * Maryland premiere featured remarks by Ambassador Richard Schifter and performance by Robyn Helzner; 200 attendees including Senator Ben Cardin, Congressmember Chris Van Hollen, and County Executive Ike Leggett
    “Designing a Movement” talk with graphic designer Avy Ashery
    * Education programs for 175 students from Charles E. Smith Day School and Washington Hebrew Congregation
    * Five docent-led tours including a Russian ESOL class
  3. Adas Israel Congregation, Washington, D.C.
    * Performance by Robyn Helzner
  4. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library, Washington, D.C.
    * Hosted in honor of Jewish American Heritage Month
    * Curator-led tour
  5. Gesher Jewish Day School, Fairfax, VA {aside_1}
    * Participated in panel discussion 
  6. Agudas Achim Congregation, Alexandria, VA
    * Performance by Robyn Helzner
  7. Beth El Hebrew Congregation, Alexandria, VA
    * Curator-led adult education class
    * Curator-led school group
  8. B'nai Israel Congregation, Rockville, MD
    * Congregation organized seniors program and religious-school program
    * Participated in panel discussion
  9. Temple Rodef Shalom, Falls Church, VA
    * Congregation organized four-part series including performance by Robyn Helzner

Celebrating Staff Anniversaries 0 Comment(s)

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!

Celebrating Israel@65 0 Comment(s)

Making birthday cards for Israel

On Sunday, June 9th, we participated in The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington's Israel@65 Festival at Union Market. More than 10,000 people, young and old, celebrated Israel's 65th

At our booth:

  • Children created Israel birthday cards.
  • An exhibition, Ties That Bind, told the story of Washington's role in the establishing the Jewish State.
  • We handed out 600 fans as well as posters about Washington's celebration of Israel's independence.

View our photo album of the event!

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.