Posted on July 11th, 2016 by Rachel
Ernie Silversmith, volunteer docent
Ernie Silversmith has been a volunteer docent at the JMM for 15 years. In looking through our collection records, I discovered that the Museum had completed a memoir of him a few years ago. In that memoir, I learned that Ernie was born in Nuremberg, Germany and he started school in 1936 at an all-Jewish school. The German part of his education ended on Kristallnacht when his parents decided it would be safer to leave the country. In 1939, Ernie and his sister took a train to Holland and then a boat to England where they stayed with their aunt and uncle until their parents could join them a few months later. After the war started, the family left on a banana boat to Jamaica in order to avoid the German U-boats in the north Atlantic. They caught a luxury liner to New York and rented a room in Washington Heights. In fact, we have a copy of his US certificate of citizenship from 1946 in our archives.
US Certificate of Citizenship 1946, Ernest Silversmith. JMM 2012.046
They then moved to Tacoma, Washington before finally settling in the Baltimore area. Ernie taught chemistry for 50 years at Morgan State University. In looking around online, I found an article about him in the Baltimore Sun where I discovered that he was a beloved professor and also won many awards for his teaching.
In 2001, Ernie decided to become a docent at the JMM because he found that giving tours is a form of teaching, which he had done for his whole career. He is proud to be Jewish and gets excited watching the reactions of people on his tour and answering their many interesting questions. He aims to awaken their excitement about Jewish Baltimore and enjoys telling the story about our two historic synagogues.
Ernie begins a synagogue tour.
He has been happily married 63 years and gets much pleasure from his four children and eight grandchildren.
While I have only known Ernie for the past year, I have found him to be a very dedicated volunteer with a kind and gentle soul. I always look forward to seeing him on Sundays and hope that he will continue to volunteer at our museum for many years to come.
Post by Visitor Services Coordinator Graham Humphrey. Every month we highlight one of our fantastic JMM volunteers. If you are interested in volunteering with the JMM, send an email to Sue Foard at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 410-732-6402 x220! You can also get more information about volunteering at the Museum here.
Posted on May 2nd, 2016 by Rachel
Volunteer Docent, Harvey Karch was born and raised in Baltimore. He first lived above the family grocery store in Dundalk, next migrated northwest to Forest Park, then onward to Park Heights. After college, he moved to Montgomery County – he currently lives in Rockville. Harvey always had an interest in the Lloyd Street Synagogue since it was the shul where his grandfather davened (prayed). His grandfather was from Volhynia , as was his friend, the president of Shomrei Mishmeres HaKodesh, Tobias Miller. Harvey’s father, Leonard Karch, became a Bar Mitzvah at the Lloyd Street Synagogue on a snowy day in January 1936. He told the story of the weather being so bad, that after services they simply went back to their East Baltimore Street home where people ate kichel, drank whiskey and said “Mazel tov!” And that was that – no big celebration like children today have come to know. When Harvey graduated from the University of Maryland with a degree in Liberal Arts, he was hired by Social Security. They trained him to be a computer programmer. He worked his way up the ladder, and after 38 years retired as the Chief Information Officer at an agency of the Department of Health and Human Services. He admits that the key to his success was perseverance.
The impetus to Harvey volunteering at the JMM was two trips he took as a visitor, in 2001. On the first visit, he joined his synagogue chaverah from Potomac. He was inspired to attend because of the family connection. The second time he came was with a program offered jointly through B’nai Brith and the Knight’s of Columbus. They visited the historic synagogues then went for dinner in Little Italy. Quite honestly, Harvey did not love the tours. He went into the Museum Shop and bought Isaac M. Fein’s The History of Baltimore Jewry from 1773-1920 – The Making of An American Jewish Community. After reading it, he made an appointment with the Education Director, Deborah Cardin, and discussed becoming a docent. When she explained that the Isaac Fein book is what our Docents use for training, he was recruited. Harvey had actually taken classes at Hebrew High School, part of the former Baltimore Hebrew College, with Isaac Fein in the early 1960’s. He was well on his way to understanding the Baltimore Jewish Community and it’s history, and became a Docent in no time. In addition to volunteering at the JMM, Harvey delivers Meals on Wheels in Montgomery County and enjoys taking classes in Jewish Studies and History at the University of Maryland.
Beyond volunteering as a Docent at the JMM, Harvey also works on the “Cemetery Project” with former JMM Historian, Deb Weiner. Harvey had searched the Jewish Genealogical Society database for his parents’ records, with no success. They are buried in the United Hebrew Cemetery on Washington Boulevard. It is currently associated with Moses Montefiore Anshe Emunah Congregation, and run by W.S. Tegeler Monument Company, but they only maintained paper records as of 2012. So, twice a month, for three years now, Harvey and Deb have gone to the cemetery, taken information off of 3” x 5” cards and entered it onto a spreadsheet. They began with the letter “A,” have completed 90% of the records, and once it is complete, the information will be uploaded onto the JMM website, for universal use. It is quite an accomplishment, for which a lot of people will be grateful. True to “Smalltimore” form, Harvey learned that the man running the cemetery now is a cousin of his father.
Harvey says he continues to feel the family connection every time he walks into the Lloyd Street Synagogue even though his grandfather passed away over 50 years ago. And, he enjoys meeting the visitors who go on his synagogue tours. He was once giving a tour to a woman and her grandson, who happened to be wearing a Dundalk High School sweatshirt. Harvey mentioned that he used to live there, above a store in the St. Helena area. The woman asked if it was Stone’s Market or Karch’s? He was tickled that she remembered it from when she was a young girl. He also remembers the time had two priests on his tour. One was an historian who wanted to show the younger priest the building because it had once been used as a church. When Harvey explained that the Star of David stained glass window survived, in tact, during the years it was a church, the priest agreed that it was part of their heritage too. Then, when the 3 men entered B’nai Israel and Harvey asked them to put on yarmulkes, the older priest picked up a red one, handed it to the younger priest and said, “Congratulations on your promotion!” A fun time can always be found at the Jewish Museum of Maryland and we appreciate that Harvey continues to share his precious volunteer hours with us, to enable such.
A blog post by Volunteer Coordinator Ilene Cohen. Every month she will be highlighting one of our fantastic JMM volunteers. If you are interested in volunteering with the JMM, drop her an email at email@example.com or call 410-732-6402 x217! You can also get more information about volunteering at the Museum here.
Posted on March 9th, 2015 by Rachel
Marilyn is Marna Walter’s given name but she only uses that when signing checks. She obtained the nickname from her niece who couldn’t say Marilyn and came up with Marna as the substitute. What we call her is dependable. She volunteers at the JMM as a Front Desk Receptionist and can be spied at the JMM on most Sundays throughout the year. She has been volunteering at the JMM since early 1997. She began as a Docent for the exhibit Too Jewish? Challenging Traditional Identities which was shown in temporary exhibition space in Owings Mills during renovations at the JMM campus on Lloyd Street. A while after, she switched to working at the Front Desk.
Marna volunteers elsewhere in the community too. She is a volunteer for a program her family helped initiate at then Montebello Hospital, now Kernan’s, for patients with Multiple Sclerosis. She helps patients who spend the day at the center with their meals, playing games, exercising, Tai Chi, and just plain having fun. One volunteer per day assists the staff with the patients when the center is open, Mondays through Thursdays. On another day during the week, Marna volunteers at Weinberg Place in their food market. Her original participation in the project was through her affiliation with the National Council on Jewish Women (who gave the original seed money for the program). She mans the register and used to do all of the purchasing. Plus, she enlisted two of JMM’s other volunteers; Ernie Silversmith and Renate Milewich to help out too.
Prior to volunteering, Marna worked as a medical technologist. She worked at D.C. General Hospital while her husband, Paul a lawyer, was stationed in Northern Virginia, and at Sinai Hospital in Baltimore. She has lived in the same house since 1963, where she currently hosts Shabbat dinner every week for her children, grandchildren and great-grandchild. It’s usually a crowd of 8 – 10 people. She works every Thursday and Friday to prepare for the family. If a family member is lucky enough to have a birthday that week they get to choose the menu. This week the menu selected by a lucky birthday girl is brisket, twice baked potatoes, cream of spinach, and sour cream coffee cake (the kind with nuts and cinnamon) for dessert.
Marna helped us celebrate at the Museum’s 50th birthday a few years ago!
Marna’s favorite aspect of volunteering at the JMM is the rapport between the visitors, staff and volunteers. She has had a very positive experience while volunteering with us. She enjoys the opportunity to give advice and receive a glimpse of appreciation when she suggests just the right thing. She loves it at the JMM and we love having her as a member of our volunteer corps. She considers it an honor but I assure you, the honor is all ours.
A blog post by Volunteer Coordinator Ilene Cohen. The first Monday(ish) of every month she will be highlighting one of our fantastic JMM volunteers. If you are interested in volunteering with the JMM, drop her an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 410-732-6402 x217! You can also get more information about volunteering at the Museum here.