At the JMM, May is a time for reflection as we look back on our year’s successes. Staff spends quite a bit of time gathering year-end information and data for our annual report that is distributed at our annual meeting on June 3. Despite the time consuming nature of this task, I always find it interesting to look back and evaluate past programs, especially once all the stress involved in program planning is over. There are always useful lessons to learn from the past that inform future program planning.
This year-end activity is usually confined to the events and programs that took place in the previous twelve months. However, thanks to the efforts of my colleague,Ilene Dackman-Alon, who recently took on the monumental task of documenting program attendance for the past five-year’s worth of public programs, I have had the opportunity to think about programs that took place long ago. Ilene spent a lot of time digging through old attendance sheets and spreadsheets, and then tabulating attendance by audience (family, young adult, general membership, etc.). While reading over her data, I was hit with a wave of nostalgia as I was reminded of many programs that I had not thought of in many years. Ilene’s list inspired me to think about my favorite JMM events. And here they are, in no particular order:
#1) So Kiss Me Already Herschel Getz
Working on the exhibition, Cabin Fever: Jewish Camping and Jewish Commitment gave me the opportunity to relive a part of my childhood that I would have preferred to leave behind. Unlike the dozens of fanatical former campers whom I interviewed for exhibition research, summer camp was never something that I looked forward to. Much to my surprise and delight, as we visited camps, talked to campers, and took part in sing-a-longs, Shabbat services, and other signature camp activities, I found myself loving the camp experience as an adult. After the exhibit was installed, we had so much fun planning programs for devoted campers. This particular program was my favorite. Actor and writer Amy Salloway created a one-person play based on her hilarious memories of being forced to attend a Jewish sleepaway camp for the first time as a teen by her parents. From the sounds of constant laughter in the audience, it was clear that Amy nailed her impressions of self-important counselors, ridiculous activities, mean girl antics, and the awkwardness of summer romance. This program was a hit for a young adult audience filled with people who were not that far removed from their own summer camp experiences.
#2) Jump and Jive at the JEA (7/13/08)
To honor local Jewish war veterans as well as to celebrate many of these individual’s connection to the Jewish Educational Alliance (a predecessor of the JCC), we held an event during our installation of Ours to Fight For, an exhibition by the Museum of Jewish Heritage exploring the experiences of Jews who enlisted in the US military during World War II. As a way of highlighting local connections with exhibition themes, we invited people to send in photos of themselves, family, and friends who served during World War II that were then installed in a Wall of Honor in our lobby.
We also created and displayed scrapbooks filled with photos from the JEA.
In order to lend the program an authentic 1940s vibe, we invited members of Charm City Swing to perform, and after a few demonstrations, many visitors got into the spirit by dancing.
The highlight at the end of the program was a special guest appearance by Miss USO who honored veterans by singing the theme songs for each of the branches of the military.
There was not a dry eye left in the room by the time she was done!
#3) Birthday Bash (9/16/10)
Now we jump ahead a few years to a grand outdoor celebration that took place in honor of the JMM’s 50th anniversary. Our street festival included a variety of performers,
art activities drawn from favorite craft projects over the years,
tours of our synagogues and exhibits, a silent auction, cupcakes, ice cream, and wonderful balloon creations.
It was wonderful seeing guests young and old, from the suburbs and from right next door in our neighborhood, enjoying themselves at our birthday party.
Here’s to the next 50!
#4) A Blessing to One Another (11/12/10)
During our installation of A Blessing To One Another: Pope John Paul II and the Jewish People, we reached out to diverse audiences, and organized programs that addressed key exhibition themes. These programs provided a forum for learning and dialogue and for continuing the key work that Pope John Paul II engaged in as he sought to forge better relations between Catholics and Jews.
At one program, Father John Pawliakowski spoke about the impact of Nostra Aetate and Pope John Paul II’s efforts to engage in dialogue with the Jewish community.
At a Judaism and Catholicism 101 class led by Father Robert Albright and Rabbi Geoff Basik, audience members were invited to ask probing questions delving into tenets of both faiths.
Thanks to our partnership with the Institute of Jewish and Christian Studies, we brought people together for an evening of interfaith study. And we heard from a panel of amazing nuns who engaged in meaningful efforts to combat entrenched attitudes of antisemitism within the Church in the program Sister Leads the Way. In just three short months, my eyes were opened to so many new ideas and discussions.
We were even privileged to host Cardinal William Keeler at a special ceremony by the exhibition organizers who thanked him for his significant contributions to advancing the cause of interfaith dialogue.
#5) Brews and Schmooze: Esther Fest (12/1/11)
In an effort to promote the JMM to young adults, several of my colleagues have initiated a monthly 1st Thursday, Brews and Schmooze program. Each month’s theme is different. For December, we celebrated the festival of Chanukah with the first annual Esther Fest. Led by our favorite bubbe (and JMM staff member extraordinaire), Esther Weiner, guests were regaled with a cooking demonstration that included cooking tips for making Esther’s famous latkes
and fabulous jokes (who knew that Esther was also a world class comedian!)
A good time was had by all!
I could go on and on sharing memories from treasured past programs. So after reflecting on programs past, what are the lessons to be learned – what are the key ingredients to a successful program? In my opinion, our best programs are the ones that combine education with entertainment, involve performance and hands-on activities, include dynamic speakers, inspire attendance from diverse audiences, and of course, food and drink never hurts!