Performance Counts: February 2014 A Valentine For Volunteers

Posted on February 14th, 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.


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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Performance Counts – January 2014

Posted on January 10th, 2014 by


At last count the Council of American Jewish Museums (CAJM) had 82 members, from the Alaska Jewish Museum and Cultural Center in Anchorage to the Zimmer Children’s Museum in Los Angeles.  CAJM includes a handful of accredited history and art museum, like the Jewish Museum of Maryland, and dozens of institutions that in some ways share characteristics with museums as centers for culture in their respective communities.  These include galleries at JCCs, Holocaust museums and centers, synagogue museums, and community archives. CAJM aims to strengthen the field of Jewish museums by serving as a central body for information exchange, professional development, and advocacy.

cajm logoJMM has played an important role in the development of CAJM for more than two decades.  Today, Deborah Cardin serves as Vice Chair of the organization.  The Chair of CAJM is former JMM curator, Melissa Martens Yaverbaum and the Treasurer of CAJM is Avi Decter.  While every institution that belongs to CAJM has a unique mission and a distinctive audience, the opportunity for sharing ideas in this cultural community remains very valuable to us.

Each year CAJM holds an annual conference in some part of the United States bringing together its diverse body of professionals.  This year the organization is taking a year off from the usual museum conference format to hold what we are calling a “Retreat/Forward” at the Bon Secours Retreat and Conference Center, here in Marriottsville, MD from March 23 to 25.  Though it is not quite Baltimore, JMM is serving as the official host institution (with Marvin Pinkert taking a leadership role as host chair).  Since the “Retreat/Forward” is open to staff, trustees and Museum volunteers (that is, most of you who receive the Performance Counts newsletter), we thought we would share the link to the event with all of you.

The brochure is located at

The brochure is located HERE. 

The program will feature:

•  Cutting-edge thinkers and practitioners on participatory culture and emergent learning trends

• Frank discussions about audience expectations, civic engagement, and changing community structures

• Workshops, charettes, and small group discussions that will make the retreat an engaging, active experience for all participants

• A dance demonstration and group exercise by MacArthur Fellow Liz Lerman, founder of Liz Lerman Dance Exchange, and a lively talk, “From Holy Land to Graceland,” by former Walters Art Museum Director Gary Vikan

•  Remarks from Ford W. Bell, President of the American Alliance of Museums; Marsha Semmel, former Acting Director of the Institute of Museum and Library Services; and Steven M. Cohen, advisor to the recent Pew Research Center study, “A Portrait of Jewish Americans”

Single day registration as well as full conference registration are available at the website.


Not all of our collaborations with other Jewish museums happen at conferences.  Next month we celebrate the role of Lincoln and the Jews in the Civil War.  In addition to Passages Through the Fire:  Jews and the Civil War, we will be using our orientation plaza to display Jewish Life in Mr. Lincoln’s City, an exhibit developed by the Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington.

Check out our upcoming programs HERE.

Check out our upcoming February programs HERE.

We will share exhibits and we will also “exchange” directors.  Laura Apelbaum, Executive Director of JHSGW will speak on Lincoln at JMM on the afternoon of February 9th and she is bringing a tour group from her Board, staff and volunteers with her.  Ten days later, Marvin Pinkert will head down to the JHSGW’s Lillian and Albert Small Jewish Museum to give his final presentation on Jews and the Civil War.

You may have noticed that we now carry news about the Small Museum to our membership through Museum Matters and Laura distributes information about upcoming programs at JMM.  It’s just one of the ways that it is better not to be alone.


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Performance Counts: December 2013

Posted on December 13th, 2013 by


In a November 26 article in the Jewish Times I was quoted as saying that at a small museum “you have to spend more energy making sure you’re on the map.”  We are using this issue of Performance Counts to update you on some of our efforts to make ourselves better known.

Speaking of Maps

3047_002Last month the Greater Baltimore History Alliance published a new map of historical sites in metro Baltimore and it’s just the latest tool for visitor’s to navigate the region’s rich historic landscape.  Historic Jonestown has its own block of color on the map (we think the color is Raven’s purple) reflecting the density of historic attractions within a five block radius.  We are dues-paying members of the Greater Baltimore History Alliance (GBHA) and the Greater Baltimore Cultural Alliance (GBCA) not just because we have a place in their geography, but because our regular meetings with other Baltimore cultural institutions inspire partnerships and collaborations.  At one GBHA meeting this summer, JMM entered into a conversation with the National Electronics Museum (at first you might think this the ultimate “odd couple”).  But now a joint project is emerging next summer to bring a community tech and engineering fair to JMM, a show that combines some great artifacts in our collection (sewing machines, typewriters etc.) with hand-on DIY tech activities for the whole family.  We are also part of BNHA (the Baltimore National Heritage Area) which recently developed a conceptual planning “map” for this federally recognized district.  This interpretive plan for the Heritage Area opens up the road to eventual project funding for JMM.  From our perspective, this is a wonderful development – so many aspects of the interpretive plan – “defining America’s identity”, documenting the “immigrants influx”, securing “religious freedom” overlap with our core mission.

Circulator Map

One map of increased importance to us as our attendance grows is Baltimore’s Circulator map.  We noticed this last summer an up-tick in people reporting that they reached our doors by free bus rather than by car.  It is a significant asset to not only be on the Circulator map – but to be a named location on the route.  Thousands of people each day first here about us when the audio recording on the bus calls out: “next stop, Jewish Museum of Maryland”.

A “Map” for Donors

Of course, it’s not just visitors that need to find us.  We need to get into the philanthropic map of the community as well.  This mainly involves developing the network of contacts that allow us to make our case to those who share a passion for our mission.  A lot of this effort is centered on personal contact.  But to back up that personal contact we’ve really needed materials that describe the museum.  In the last month we had a major advance on this front.  Working with the design team at the firm of Gallagher and Associates (a pro bono contribution to JMM), we have created a new generation of collateral material that matches the new vision the Board approved in fall 2012.

3048_001The theme of this collateral material is “{Find Yourself Here}” – a message about inclusion and community that speaks to the soul of the institution.  The first step in our effort was to create a descriptive brochure about JMM as a place of Discovery, Discourse, and Documentation and as a Destination for thousands of visitors.  The descriptive piece also has a matching folder – our old plain purple folders may have described our football loyalties, but didn’t really say much about the Jewish Museum of Maryland.

The next step will be creating single page sheets on upcoming opportunities for funding that match the brochure and folder, and finally a video clip that can be embedded in a Power Point presentation or inserted in the folder.

We expect to have a presentation of our case that reflects the true quality of the underlying museum and that’s the place where we want to be on the “map.”

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