Performance Counts: February 2014 A Valentine For Volunteers

Posted on February 14, 2014 by

A Valentine for Volunteers

ilene cohenThis week in Performance Counts we wanted to speak to an aspect of our performance that is measured not only in numbers but in heart.  On behalf of the whole staff, Ilene Cohen, our volunteer coordinator (who is herself a volunteer), has composed this essay.

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I recently learned that the word “bénévolat,”  the French translation of the English term “volunteering” is derived from the association of “bien” and “vouloir,” translated as “well-being” and “desire” in English. And, the French term “bénévole” (from the Latin “benevolus”) is synonymous with the English “benevolent.”  From this etymological derivation, it can be said that to be a volunteer is the desire to act for the well-being of others; it is to accomplish work on a voluntary basis, freely and without remuneration. Being a volunteer is to be motivated by the satisfaction of helping to advance a cause we hold close to our hearts.

Did you know our entire Board of Trustees are volunteers?

Did you know our entire Board of Trustees are volunteers?

It seems all too often that we have the tendency to lessen the importance of actions that are not directly focused on results. Sometimes institutions take for granted those who give freely, passing over in silence and even forgetting their immense significance. But, we at the JMM endeavor to continually recognize that volunteers offer key support that enhances our mission.  We are indebted to our wonderful volunteers.   For this reason, on Valentine’s Day, we have committed ourselves to paying a special tribute to all of our volunteers.

Volunteers work with collections

Volunteers work with collections

What generosity and devotion! And also, what an immense debt of gratitude we owe to our volunteers. We acknowledge these extraordinary women and men who are as talented as they are giving.  In all the years, their commitment has never failed.  They continue to assist us as researchers, docents, receptionists, shop attendants and more.  I must also emphasize the essential contribution of the members of the Board of Directors. Plus, the generosity of all the members of our committees and working groups who contribute their time, energy and knowledge as consultants is indispensible as well. I doubt that any of our volunteers count either the number of hours or all the many and varied efforts they have contributed to the success of the JMM. We certainly do.  In the last year, our volunteers clocked 7,000 hours!  What would we have done without them?

They learn to give tours of our exhibits

They learn to give tours of our exhibits

Thankfully, our volunteers do reap some benefits, although not financial.  On a recent tour, a docent led a Muslim woman through the synagogues.  Not only did the visitor learn about Judaism, the docent learned about Islam and the many similarities between the two.  She was able to enjoy a personal connection with a newfound acquaintance.  On another tour, a South African visitor surprised the docent when, standing in front of the picture of Rabbi Abraham Nachman Schwartz, she stated that he was her great grandfather.  The woman went on to explain that the rabbi’s son, her grandfather, was also a rabbi, plus an artist.  After talking further, they realized together that there is a strong possibility that he participated in painting the murals that once graced the ceiling of the Lloyd Street Synagogue.  Helping people explore their family’s history and solving some of the mysteries about their family’s roots is a real life detective story for our genealogy volunteers.  One family wanted to confirm the story passed down that their great grandfather was born in Europe and fought against Napoleon in the battle of Waterloo before coming to the U.S., and living to the age of 117!  Unfortunately we do not have access to foreign documents so the story could not be validated.  These are just a few examples of how our volunteers provide a valuable contribution to our mission, while making connections and forming friendships that bring a deeper sense of meaning to their own lives.

And even help with research for exhibitions and programs.

And even help with research for exhibitions and programs.

I am convinced that with the continued “benevolent” support of our volunteers, the JMM will maintain success. We take off our hats for the hard work and generosity of all of our volunteers.

These final words come from the bottom of my heart.  Thank you.

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