Posted on February 17th, 2014 by Rachel
This past week, Ilene and I had the honor of being judges in a National History Day Competition at Mount Washington Middle School (Ilene actually was a judge at several other schools’ competitions as well, but I was only able to attend this one). The competition has existed for many years, but this was the first year that Baltimore City public schools have participated, which we learned when three different schools asked us to volunteer as judges for their school’s competition.
Each year, elementary and secondary school students can participate by selecting any topic in history that relates to the annual national theme. This year, that theme is “rights and responsibilities.” Students can work by themselves or in small groups to research and present their topic as either a small “exhibit” (think science fair presentation board), a paper, a performance, a documentary, or a website that they design. They must make use of both primary and secondary sources and make connections not just between their topics and the theme, but also to current events that demonstrate the topic’s relevance. The first step is the school-level competition. The winner from each school goes on to the local competition, and the winner at that level goes on to a state-wide competition, and then that winner proceeds to the National History Day competition, held each year at the University of Maryland, College Park.
Mount Washington Middle School is one of our newest partner schools. One of our favorite teachers, Ryan Kaiser, just moved there this year from Patterson Park Public Charter School, and it was he who invited us to be judges for their school level competition. The judges were pulled from various educational institutions across the city–teachers from other schools, educators and administrators from the District Office, the Maryland Humanities Council, and us, the Jewish Museum of Maryland!
Ilene and I were assigned to work together. We were handed folders with the names of the students whose projects we’d be judging as well as the rubrics and rules for grading. As a first time judge of anything, it was a little overwhelming, so I was very glad that the folder also included a list of suggested questions to ask the students, such as “Why did you choose this topic?” and “What was the most important thing you learned from this?”
The projects we saw covered a wide range of topics, including Nelson Mandela, Child Labor Laws, and Grave Robbery. As expected, there was also a wide range of ability, but given that this was probably the first big research project many of the students had undertaken (many of the students we were judging were 6th graders), we were both impressed by the scope of each student’s project and also by their clear enthusiasm.
We were especially impressed by one girl’s project which compared the murders of Emmett Till and Trayvon Martin. Not only was she able to make a connection between an historical event and a current event, but she was also able to articulate other comparisons between the two cases. Her exhibit included sections on two different, flawed systems of justice that existed, or still exist, in the U.S., as well as how the two cases influenced and inspired contemporaries.
Overall, the experience of judging the History Day competition was a very positive one. I wish we’d had more time to look at other projects besides the ones we were assigned to judge. And I’m already looking forward to judging again next year!
Posted on February 14th, 2014 by Rachel
A Valentine for Volunteers
This 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.
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?
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
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
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.
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.
Posted on February 13th, 2014 by Rachel
I am such a sucker for a good story – and with Valentine’s Day looming ever so close, I wanted to share a little story that I heard yesterday while speaking to Lillian Reyes, a teacher who brought her 7th graders from Har Sinai Congregation to the JMM to learn about the life in Baltimore during the Civil War and the connection between Rabbi David Einhorn, Har Sinai Congregation and slavery.
I asked Lillian how the morning was going and she mentioned that she loved the Jewish Museum of Maryland and was very excited about bringing her class to the Museum- as the JMM was where she met her future husband.
Lillian, a recent transplant to Baltimore was single and was looking for fun things to do and places to meet other Jews. She had previously been to “Late Night on Lloyd Street” events at the JMM and a friend suggested attending a B’nai Israel young adult program “Pizza in the Hut” during Sukkot (September) 2013. Lillian met Marc Soloweszyk in the crowded room, hit it off right away and spent the entire night talking!
The Happy Couple
After a beautiful courtship during which they both realized how perfect they were for each other, Marc wanted to propose, but hadn’t figured out just the right place to do it. On December 27, Marc took Lillian for a surprise evening in downtown Baltimore and while walking down Lloyd Street, reminisced about the night they had met. Suddenly, he was on one knee with a ring in his hand, asking Lillian to marry him. After briefly hyperventilating and a random “Congratulations!” shouted from a passing car, Lillian said “Yes!”. Marc put the ring on her finger and they stood in front of the entrance to the Jewish Museum/Bnai Israel and all of the sudden fireworks over the Inner Harbor, lit up the sky.
Lillian says, “It was a magical night and we both feel so blessed to have met each other. We already loved the exhibits and events at the JMM and now the museum has a whole new meaning for us! The wedding will be April 30, 2014, G-d willing, in Pikesville, MD.”
A blog posy by Education Director Ilene Dackman-Alon.