Fostering Empathy and Understanding at the JMM

Posted on November 30th, 2016 by

In this time of divisive politics and hateful language, I would like to highlight a few of the educational programs at the JMM in the past few month that I believe encourage dialogue and foster empathy and understanding. I would also like to share a few thoughts about how the Museum community as a whole can respond to our recent election.

I have always found the JMM to be a very welcoming and inclusive place that also aims to encourage dialogue on contemporary issues. In our mission, we strive to be a site of discourse and discovery, where individuals and groups are encouraged to draw connections to “events and trends in American History, to contemporary life, and to our hopes and aspirations for the future.” JMM Mission and Vision

Vanguard students in the Lloyd Street Synagogue.

Vanguard students in the Lloyd Street Synagogue.

Through our education programs, we strive to teach students about Jewish culture and traditions as well as work to find connections with their own stories and heritages.  Last month, a class of English as a Second Language students, including several refugees from Syria, visited from Vanguard Collegiate Middle School. We also had middle school students from Baltimore International Academy visit earlier this month.  I have been lucky enough to facilitate education programs in our Voices of Lombard Street exhibit for several of these schools. I have found it very rewarding sharing the stories of Baltimore’s Jewish immigrants to a younger generation of immigrants.

Lessons of the Shoah

Lessons of the Shoah

Earlier this month, about 275 students and 25 teachers participated in Lessons of the Shoah, a high school interfaith program, this year held at John Carroll High School. The theme of this year’s program was No Asylum: the Plight of the Refugees. One of the goals of this program is to use the Holocaust as a starting point to promote tolerance, understanding and respect among students of diverse backgrounds. From all accounts, it sounded like a powerful program which included film screenings, musical selections, hearing from a Holocaust survivor and discussions about current refugee issues.

ICJS Teacher Workshop

ICJS Teacher Workshop

I also attended a teachers workshop a few weeks ago called Jewish and Muslim Refugees: Connecting the Past to the Present where we watched the film “Lives Lost: Lives Found” about Baltimore’s German Jewish Refugees, 1933-1945, took part in a gallery walk activity to raise awareness of Islamophobia and heard from an Iraqi Muslim refugee currently living in Baltimore.

Teachers work in groups at the ICJS workshop, hosted at the Jewish Museum of Maryland.

Teachers work in groups at the ICJS workshop, hosted at the Jewish Museum of Maryland.

While I am very proud of the work we do at the JMM, I was also glad to read that other Museums have recently reaffirmed their their roles as safe and open spaces. Laura Lott, the President of the American Alliance of Museums, also offered insightful comments in response to the election. She wrote that “Our institutions are uniquely positioned to listen, learn, and educate; to give historical context; and to foster empathy and inclusion by sharing the stories and perspectives of all people.” To sum up, museums are more important than ever now and I believe they can play a role in helping the nation heal and move forward by serving as safe spaces to have difficult conversations. Museums can model a kinder, emphatic and tolerant society. If you would like to promote the work Museums do everyday, I would encourage you to participate in Museum Advocacy Day on Feb. 27-28 in Washington D.C.

GrahamA blog post by Graham Humphrey, Visitor Services Coordinator. To read more posts by Graham click HERE.

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Insights from the Jewish Museum of Maryland, April 19, 2013

Posted on April 19th, 2013 by

In this month’s JMM Insight we wanted to take you into the world of government relations.  In the last few years direct support from government agencies to museums has fallen sharply at both the state and federal levels.  However, government policy – on issues ranging from education to tax law still have a profound effect on museum operations.  The American Association of Museums changed its name to American Alliance of Museums last year to reflect its important role as a collective voice for the industry on a national scale (JMM is an accredited member).  While we work closely with the Baltimore Jewish Council on government issues of local concern, we also participate in the Alliance’s national efforts to make the contributions of museums better known to Congress.  Each year we send a delegation to Museum Advocacy Day.  In this issue you’ll hear from Esther Weiner, store manager, board liaison and museum advocate extraordinaire.

MUSEUM ADVOCACY DAY 2013

February 25 and 26, 2013

estherWhen Deborah Cardin sent out an email to the staff asking for volunteers to attend a 2-day meeting in Washington, sponsored by the American Alliance of Museums,  a meeting titled, “Museum Advocacy Day 2013”, I jumped at the opportunity.

 I was quite familiar with the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), a key federal agency, having worked with the grants that came to the JMM from IMLS, so I knew of the marvelous work that they accomplished with museums all over the country thru their grants.   I wanted to learn the inside of this organization, as well as AAM, and see how they accomplished the quite amazing things that they did through the grant awards that were given.  Another key federal agency is the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH); the JMM has been the beneficiary of grants from this agency as well.

Capital in Washington for Advocacy Day

Robyn Hughes, our wonderful and amazing docent, had already volunteered for the second time, so I thought this would be great, the two of us to represent the Jewish Museum of Maryland.  In her own words, Robyn said, “I am very grateful to have had the opportunity to represent the Jewish Museum of Maryland and the American Alliance of Museums as an Advocate on Museums Advocacy Day 2013 on Capitol Hill. It is my sincere hope that our lobbying efforts for the inclusion of museums in the Elementary and Secondary Education Act will enable thousands of public school students from city schools across the nation to continue to benefit from museum outreach programs.”

There were approximately 270 representatives to this conference from all over the country.  Most of the representatives had been to this conference before, but there were also novices like myself.  The conference was a two-day affair. The first day the meeting was held at George Washington University, in their Marvin Center, with speakers all day long.  It was also a great opportunity to network with representatives of museums from all over the country and to learn how to advocate for our own museum, in two minutes or less!  We heard of the unique budgetary and political challenges that museums face in 2013 and the power of having the museum speak with one voice.

Robyn Hughes and Esther Weiner in Washington @ Sen. Ben Cardin's office

On the second day, all of us were inspired and primed with our own two-minute talk to the representatives and senator that the Alliance had arranged for each of us. I had prepared an Economic Impact Statement well as an Educational Impact Statement with facts about the JMM. Our preparation was to encourage the representatives and senators to vote for increased funding for IMLS, which we knew would be cut in the new budget.  We went in groups to the offices of Congressman John Delaney, Congressman Elijah E. Cummings, and in the afternoon to the office of Senator Ben Cardin. We were always cordially received, and met with the Legislative Assistants in each case.

It was an extraordinary experience and I am so glad that I volunteered to represent the JMM and to travel around the House and Senate with Robyn Hughes.  Robyn was great, and having her mother with us was a treat.  Being “on the Hill” has its own particular fascination, and fascinated I was! Would I do this again?  You bet, so thank you Deborah, for giving me the opportunity to hopefully make a difference for the JMM.

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Mrs. Smith Goes to Washington

Posted on February 29th, 2012 by

A blog post by Amy Smith, Development Coordinator

On February 27 and 28, I had the opportunity to represent the Jewish Museum of Maryland and the Council of American Jewish Museums at the 2012 Museums Advocacy Day.  Presented by the American Association of Museums, this advocacy event brought museum professionals, lay leaders, volunteers, and supporters from all over the country to Capitol Hill to lobby for federal funding for the Office of Museum Services through the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS).

Amy Smith at the Georgetown University Hotel & Conference Center holding her Museums Advocacy Day schedule.

On Monday, I attend a series of workshops about how to lobby for museums and learned about the critical issues facing museums today.  The primary issue AAM focused on this year was IMLS; they wanted delegates to support funding of at least $35 million in FY13 for the IMLS Office of Museum Services.  Second, they wanted the delegates to know that museums have a huge impact on the economy, contributing $20 billion to the economy each year and providing 400,000 jobs.  Third, they opposed President Obama’s FY13 budget proposal that would limit the deductibility of charitable gifts, thereby hurting museums and other nonprofits.  Finally, since museums are critical partners in education, they wanted to make the delegates aware of our educational programs and the fact that museums partner with school districts to teach the curriculum.

February 27 Museums Advocacy Day training session at Georgetown University Hotel.

After the instruction on Monday, on Tuesday I was ready to lobby!  From Maryland, I met with staff members from the offices of Senator Ben Cardin, Senator Barbara Mikulski, Representative John Sarbanes, and Representative Elijah Cummings.  Since I was representing CAJM, headquartered at the Center for Judaic Studies in Denver, Colorado, I also had meetings scheduled with Senator Mark Udall, Representative Diana DeGette, and Senator Michael Bennet.  These meetings were scheduled back to back, and it was exhausting to run around the Capitol, from building to building.  But, the weather was beautiful, and it was an invigorating experience.

Amy Smith standing in front of the Capitol.

The location and structure of each meeting varied; some were literally small group meetings of two or three people in the hallway outside the delegates’ office.  As a side note, Research Historian Deb Weiner shared with me that lobbying actually comes from the custom of influence-seekers gathering outside legislative chambers: http:///www.etymonline.com/index.php?allowed_in_frame=0&search=lobbying&searchmode=none.  And I thought we were giving new meaning to the word lobbying!

Other meetings were much larger.  The one with Senator Cardin’s office (first meeting of the morning, I should add) involved 20 people sitting around a conference table, where each person had enough time only to introduce themselves.  In this meeting, JMM docent Robyn Hughes argued that museums have a huge impact on education, and therefore should be able to compete for these funds.  For example, she elaborated on the JMM’s Student Immigrant Stories program where JMM staffers go into area high schools and facilitate storytelling with ESL students who have recently immigrated to the U.S.  Eventually these students are able to tell their stories in front of their classmates and community organizations.  As we were wrapping up, the legislative aid fondly remembered visiting the JMM for a staff retreat a couple of years ago, so I consider that a success.

Tom Smith waiting outside the office of Senator Ben Cardin for our meeting with his legislative aid.

Robyn Hughes and Amy Smith at Museums Advocacy Day

Other meetings were much more intimate.  Since I was representing CAJM, I also had the privilege of meeting with Colorado delegates.  The most rewarding was the meeting with Sally Mayes at Senator Bennet’s office in the Russell Senate Office Building, and not just because my group ran into Senator Bennet in the elevator.  This was my last meeting of the day, and by that time I had practiced articulating my case quite a few times.  I talked briefly about the JMM’s annual Summer Teachers’ Institute, a professional development program where we educate teachers on how to teach the Holocaust to their students.  My husband Tom talked about economic impact, and how his small technology startup company works with organizations that receive IMLS funding.  The meeting was refreshing because Ms. Mayes was so engaged in the conversation, which made it easy for everyone to tell their stories.

I met some amazing people from Colorado – Glo Cunningham, Director of Crested Butte Mountain Heritage Museum; Andrea Miller, Colorado-Wyoming Association of Museums, and Megan Bell, a graduate student at the University of Buffalo who was there to support her home state of Colorado.

Museums Advocacy Day was an extremely rewarding experience.  It was my first time lobbying on Capitol Hill, and I got the opportunity to meet and connect with some really interesting museum professionals.  I’ll definitely be back next year.

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