Why We Volunteer

Posted on October 11th, 2010 by

Ilene Cohen is our Volunteer Coordinator.

People volunteer for many reasons. As the Volunteer Coordinator at the Jewish Museum of Maryland it is my job to understand why, and to keep them motivated to do so.

In response to this question on our volunteer application, some of the most popular replies are “to give back to the Jewish community,” “to interact with others and develop friendships,” and “to make a difference.”

Some of the volunteers who truly make a difference, in the lives of our visitors, are our

docents. The docents are those who act as guides in our two historic synagogues and exhibit galleries.

Sometimes when leading an “Introduction to Judaism” tour to public school youngsters they might initially field questions like, “do all Jews have blue eyes?” By the end each tour they have built such a rapport with the students and are sorry to see them leave.

A number of groups send letters following their tours and I’d like to share some that we have received.

A youth fellowship group visiting from Israel noted: Our visit to the Jewish Museum of Maryland was very interesting, and the tour was a great way to start off our trip…the history of the Jewish community in Baltimore is instrumental in understanding the history of the Jewish community of the United States.

A third grader at the Talmudical Academy wrote: I appreciate your being such a good guide on our trip. He listed all of the things he liked that he saw, and finished with… I liked the part when you knew my father!

Another young visitor explained: My favorite part was when I got to learn about the Jewish hat (yarmulke), and the Bible (Torah scrolls), and the church (synagogue)…

Some include pictures on their notes, one such also said: …thank you for giving us an educational tour of the synagogue…I noticed that the Torah is very important to you…

Our very favorites are the ones that include: p.s. I can’t wait to come back!

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A Trip Down Memory Lane

Posted on September 16th, 2010 by

A blog post by Deborah Cardin, our Education Director.

Planning for our upcoming 50th Anniversary Birthday Bash (Sunday, Sept. 19, 12:00-4:00 pm) has brought with it a flood of memories. While I’m sure that when asked to recall favorite JMM memories, many of my co-workers will share recollections of crowd pleasing exhibitions, public programs, exhibition openings, or publications – what reverberates strongest for me are the wild and wacky art projects concocted by the JMM education and program department to tie in with holiday programs, exhibitions, and field trips.

When seeking ideas for art activities to have at our birthday party, we decided to revive some of our past greatest hits (all from the past decade). The education and program department office (known fondly as the west wing because of its locale) is overstuffed with random art supplies and props (visitors have been known to trip over hoola hoops

and express bewilderment at the vast array of wigs and headgear) and this seemed like a wonderful way of both celebrating our Museum’s past achievements and clearing out some of the less useful supplies (oversized coffee filters, anyone!)

But which art activities to include in our birthday bash?! We started our search by reviewing a list of past exhibitions (thanks to Jobi for keeping such great records) and then hunting through our office to see what supplies we had on hand. The first item to surface was a stack of Tchotchke bingo cards from an original JMM exhibition (March 2000-April 2010)

Next up, spools of gimp from Cabin Fever! Jewish Camping and Jewish Commitment (March 2006-August 2007), perfect for making everyone’s favorite camp project lanyards

Digging through art supply cabinets revealed paper doll templates that were decorated with original fashions designed by children in conjunction with Enterprising Emporiums: The Jewish Department Stores of Downtown Baltimore (October 2001-February 2003).

A trip downstairs to our storage hallway unearthed more treasures. While I decided to ignore the box of blank nesting dolls (put to use at a 2002 Christmas Day program celebrating the Baltimore Jewish Community’s partnership with Odessa, Ukraine) [insert nesting doll photo], I had a eureka moment when I found a box containing cardboard templates meticulously cut out to mirror shoe footprints that were later transformed by visitors – with the help of pipe cleaners and felt – into slippers and thongs. This was one of my all time favorite projects that was part of our “shuk” [http:///en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shuk] that we installed in the JMM lobby to recreate the ambiance of the ancient Near East as we opened the exhibition From Tent to Temple: Life in the Ancient Near East.

And now back to the giant coffee filters, just the thing to make fashionable floppy hats in conjunction with Hello Gorgeous! Fashion, Beauty, and the Jewish American Ideal (September 2005-May 2006).



While we made more dignified hats using cardboard, tissue paper, and pipe cleaners for Enterprising Emporiums, the tie-dyed wide brim hats were a huge crowd pleaser (although they did leave quite a mess on the floor of our lobby!) While kids could opt to make a more restrained top hat

the floppy hats were by far more popular.

In case you might have missed one of these noteworthy art projects, here’s your chance to make a complete set of JMM inspired knickknacks. Join us at our Birthday Bash on Sunday. I will be sure we have enough coffee filters for all!

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Highlights From Docent Training

Posted on September 8th, 2010 by

This blog post was written by JMM docent Robyn Hughes. Robyn has been volunteering with the museum since 2006 and recently attended a docent training for our new exhibition, A Blessing to One Another: Pope John Paul II and the Jewish People.

Last week I attended docent training for the Jewish Museum of Maryland’s new fall exhibition, A Blessing to One Another: Pope John Paul II and the Jewish People. This traveling exhibit, which was curated by several faculty members from Xavier University, focuses on how Pope John Paul II (born Karol Wojtyla) was shaped by childhood friendships with Jews as well as his other interactions with members of the Jewish community in his hometown of Wadowice, Poland. These interactions served as a catalyst for his papal desire to actively promote positive interactions between Catholics and Jews.

Robyn listening to Dr. Buchanan

Upon entering the exhibition gallery, I felt as though I had been instantaneously transported back in time to 1920’s Wadowice. I saw vivid large photos of the buildings in Wadowice that played a central role in the Pope’s youth. These buildings included: the Pope’s boyhood Catholic church, his close childhood Jewish friend Jerzy Kluger’s synagogue, the schools that they attended together, both their junior high school and their gymnazyum (high school). As I stood in the center of this welcoming re-creation of this community, I became transfixed by the sounds of chiming church bells and the happy, bright sounds of popular Polish music from the 1920’s in the background, as I listened intently to the exhibition co-curator Dr. James Buchanan retell us stories of some of the interactions between the Pope and his Jewish childhood friends. I could easily imagine myself sitting in the Pope’s Catholic church where Dr. Buchanan told us that after Jerzy had learned that he had passed his entrance exam for admission into gymnazyum, he went into Karol’s church where Karol was attending mass, in order to tell him about his great news. While Jerzy was sitting in the church waiting for Karol, a woman told him that he did not belong there. Upon hearing about her comment, Karol replied to Jerzy, “Why? Aren’t we all God’s children?”


As we walked further through the exhibition, I saw a replica of a 1920’s soccer ball that Karol used when he chose to be the goalie for the community’s Jewish soccer team. This was an interesting decision as there was also a Catholic soccer team, but Dr. Buchanan explained that the Jewish one was the one that needed a goalie. As we began walking through time, Dr. Buchanan drew our attention to a picture of a by all accounts very attractive Jewish young woman who scholars believe Karol was in a relationship with while he was studying at Jagiellonian University in Krakow before he entered the priesthood. It was also during this time period, (the early 1940’s Nazi occupied Poland era) that Karol while he was still living in Krakow joined the Nazi resistance movement. It was in this part of the exhibition that we viewed artifacts from the death camps both film footage and objects such as a canister which had contained the deadly poison Zyklon B which was utilized to exterminate many of the inmates in those camps.


Dr. James Buchanan leading the docents through the exhibit

This exhibition has deepened my understanding of the formative events that occurred in the Pope’s life which would, according to Dr. Buchanan, inspire the Pope to become an activist for dialogue and understanding between the Catholic community and the Jewish community. Several examples of this dialogue according to Dr. Buchanan include: the Pope’s formal written proclamation which stated that Catholics and Jews shall be a blessing to one another, Pope John Paul II was the first Pope in history to make a formal visit to the State of Israel and he established formal relations between the Vatican and the State of Israel. The exhibition also highlights a uniquely diverse City, Wadowice, which to a great extent according to Dr. Buchanan’s research accepted Jews in a region where and in a time when Jews faced tremendous anti-Semitism.

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