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What We’re Learning

Posted on January 10th, 2020 by

There are many ways to measure JMM’s progress. For this month’s  Performance Counts, Rachel Kassman collected highlights of what JMM staff learned in 2019. The great thing about gaining the weight of knowledge is that no January diet is required! To read more posts from Rachel, click here.

In the spirit of January, the New Year, resolutions, and self-improvement, while planning for this month’s edition of Performance Counts, I started thinking about the efforts we make on an individual level to improve and strengthen ourselves as Museum professionals. Professional development is as important as evaluating our exhibits, counting our visitors,  and appreciating our members, but we rarely here about what everyone is doing and learning. So I decided to reach out to my colleagues and ask everyone to share an example of professional development they participated in this year and you can read them yourself below. I love the variety of experiences and opportunities that JMM staff participated in – and am already getting excited thinking about what we can do in the year ahead.

For myself, this past year I was able to attend the Mid-Atlantic Association of Museums Annual Conference as a panelist.

It was a really great experience – not only did I get to share what JMM is doing in the world of social media (it’s a lot, by the way), I got some really great ideas from my fellow panelists AND attended a particularly great session on workplace happiness with Tamara Christian of the International Spy Museum. I’m hoping to share her presentation with the whole JMM staff at one of our Monday meetings.

From Marvin Pinkert, Executive Director:

They say that travel broadens the mind. After 32 years in the Museum industry, I can honestly say that some of my most worthwhile hours are those spent in other people’s museums. Among the most interesting exhibits I visited this year were the Auschwitz exhibit at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in Battery Park and the nearby Statue of Liberty Museum (which I visited four months before its opening); an experimental gallery featuring augmented reality at the Free Library of Philadelphia and Museum of the American Revolution (also in that city); and back in Chicago, an outstanding exhibit on “streamlining” at Chicago History Museum and a huge mobile museum gallery built as a companion to the musical, Hamilton. I may not have agreed with every choice made by curators or project managers, but in every instance exposure to new ideas for design and project management, stimulated my thinking about what we do at JMM.

From Paige Woodhouse, School Program Manager:

Professional development can take many forms. While I also attended some incredible conferences and webinars this year, another experience is worth mentioning. This year I transitioned roles at JMM to the newly created School Program Coordinator role. Over the last couple of months, I have had the opportunity to sit down with my counterparts from other Baltimore organizations to learn about their roles, programs, successes, and goals for growth. These casual meetings have empowered me to think creatively opportunities for the education team and about how JMM can develop partnerships. I look forward to meeting more of my fellow Baltimore museum education cohort in the upcoming year.

From Ilene Dackman-Alon, Director of Learning and Visitor Experience:

Professional development is so personal for me. This past year as a Board member of MAAM I participated in meetings to help plan and organize the Mid-Atlantic Association of Museums Annual Conference that took place in October at West Point, NY. I am looking ahead to help plan the MAAM 2020 Annual Conference that will take place in Wilmington, Delaware.

I also had the opportunity to attend a session sponsored by CAJM (the Council of American Jewish Museums) on the topic of antisemitism. As an institution, the JMM also plans professional development opportunities for teachers throughout the State of Maryland. For the past 16 years, the JMM and Baltimore Jewish Council have worked together to plan the Summer Teachers Institute in the area of Holocaust Education. In 2019, we piloted the Winter Teachers Institute with great success with over 30 teachers in attendance for the two days. We are holding the Second Annual Winters Institute next month.

From Sue Foard, Membership Coordinator:

Webinars are my favorite type of professional development. It suits my learning style very well. This past year I participated in webinars from the postal service and about the Bank of America Cashpro system.

From Wendy Davis, Volunteer Coordinator:

One of my goals has been to provide workshops to increase the volunteers’ skill set and knowledge. Those workshops include learning how to use assistive listening devices and having the curators of the temporary exhibits provide us training on those exhibits. But the workshop that had the most meaning for me was the one I presented on the mikva’ot associated with the Lloyd Street Synagogue. I spent hours combing through books covering the history of Baltimore’s early synagogues and documents on the JMM computer finding archeologist reports, first person recollections and quotes from primary documents. I and the volunteers are now able to answer many more questions posed to us by Museum visitors regarding the mikva’ot, though there are still some questions that remain for future investigation!

From Tracie Guy-Decker, Deputy Director:

In February of 2019, I attended the Building Museums Conference in Brooklyn. The conference is dedicated to the processes and challenges of building museums and other cultural institutions. It was an eye-opening experience to hear stories from other institutions at various stages of expansion and evolution. Interestingly for me, some of the biggest takeaways weren’t about the nitty-gritty of building (e.g. humidity controls, building materials, LEED certifications and the like), but about the importance, nature, and consequences of visitor experience. Insights gained at that meeting have led to new partnerships and priorities as we move toward our own expansion. I’m looking forward to building on those insights at this year’s symposium.

From Talia Makowsky, Visitor Services Coordinator:

In December, I had the opportunity to join the Keshet Leadership Summit, as a part of the Keshet Leadership Project in Baltimore. Fifteen organization total came together to talk about LGBTQ+ inclusion in the Jewish community in Baltimore, and how we can commit to supporting and welcoming people from the LGBTQ+ community. Working together to show our dedication to diversity and inclusion was inspiring, and I felt proud to be a part of the Baltimore Jewish community. Our projects will continue for the rest of the year and we hope to meet again as a cohort soon. If you want to learn more about what we did that day, read about it here.

From Lorie Rombro, Archivist:

This past year I have enjoyed listening to webinars. My position has me working with numerous types of materials and objects and I enjoy learning more about care and processing of these collections. Many times, the webinars can be refreshers for me, but they always add additional knowledge to help in the care of the Museum’s collections.  Many of the webinars were facilitated by Connecting to Collections Care, including Practical Book Repair, Exploring Old Loans: A quest for resolution, What is this: solving problems found in collections, Preserving Film collections for the future and Managing resources for collections storage.

From Laura Grant, Program Assistant:

I spent the majority of 2019 in graduate school at George Washington University’s Museum Education Program. I learned about designing, implementing, and evaluating museum tours and programs for a variety of audiences. One of the most useful aspects of graduate school was meeting with professionals in the field. I learned so much about both the lofty and practical elements of museum work.

From Marisa Shultz, Museum Educator:

Last October, I had the opportunity to both present at and attend the Maryland Council for Social Studies Inc. 2019 Fall Conference, where teachers, museum professionals, and students came together to discuss the topic of “Integrating Civics in the Social Studies.” While attending sessions and meeting colleagues, I learned new techniques for sparking student curiosity, innovative ways to engage students with primary sources, and more about some of Maryland’s important historical figures, such as Margaret Brent. 

From Tracey Dorfmann, Director of Development: 

I was able to attend a workshop with The Association for Fund Raising Professionals in 2019 that focused on expanding our donor base.  One of the salient points was the importance of every contact with visitors, members, and existing donors. Each interaction holds the potential for a meaningful connection to the Museum. A good experience here can convert a visitor today can become an inspired donor in the future.

From Joanna Church, Director of Collections and Exhibits:

One conference I attended this year for the first time was the Association of Registrars and Collections Specialists (ARCS) biennial conference in Philadelphia. As I mentioned in my blog post, “it’s always nice to be among your peers, people who understand the pain of poorly documented 50-year-old donations and the joys of matching up a “found in collections” object with its original paperwork.”

And these are just a few of the many, many learning opportunities JMM staff have taken advantage of over the past twelve months! We look forward to all the conferences, workshops, meetings, readings, discussions, and more to come in the year ahead.

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8 Days of Giving Back

Posted on December 25th, 2019 by

Blog post by Development and Marketing Manager Rachel Kassman. To read more posts from Rachel, click here.

As part of our #8DaysOfGivingBack campaign, I thought I would highlight some of the giving back that folks here at JMM are doing outside the Museum!

This fall, I started volunteering at Scrap Creative Reuse, whose mission is to inspire creative reuse and environmentally sustainable behavior.

I love the hands-on work I get to do there organizing donated craft materials as well as helping folks find the perfect supplies for their own creative works. This past Sunday I got to help make dog toys to help support BARCS!

Below are some of the responses I got back from JMM staff about their favorite volunteering experiences (and plans for the new year):

From Director of Learning and Visitor Experience Ilene Dackman-Alon:

Here is a photo of me volunteering at Habonim Dror Camp Moshava in early June, helping with the gardening and weeding prior to the beginning of camp season 2019.

Habonim Dror Camp Moshava is located in quiet, rural Street, MD (near Bel Air) and is a wonderful summer camp both of our kids attended for many summers. We feel very connected to the camp, knowing that our children thrived during their camp experiences there for over 15 years.

From Director of Collections and Exhibits Joanna Church:

Every year I try to get in some quality National History Day time – I’ve judged at the Roland Park Elementary/Middle School competition and the Baltimore City regional competition, and helped out on the administrative side at the Maryland State competition, for the past several years.

I love, love, love History Day and I hardly even think of it as volunteering at this point; it’s just what I do in the spring!

Nonetheless I know there’s more I can do; I hope to up the ante and judge at the National History Day competition this year.

From Program Manager and Curatorial Assistant Trillion Attwood:

My son just started at a new pre-school with an emphasis upon building a strong school community. Through that I am looking forward to volunteering at various school events plus reading to my son’s class and assisting with field trips, maybe even to the JMM!

From Deputy Director Tracie Guy-Decker:

I serve as the volunteer chair of the social justice committee at Baltimore Hebrew Congregation, BHC Justice. In this role, I spend my volunteer time organizing, educating and mobilizing folks around social justice issues, especially related to racial equity.

The path to this point started after the Uprising in Baltimore, when I realized I was under-educated about the challenges that face my friends and neighbors of color. I encouraged my synagogue to start a book club for people like me and ended up leading that club for nearly 2 years.

From Visitor Services Coordinator Talia Makowsky:

From August 2017 to February 2019, I served as an AmeriCorps member for Reading Partners Baltimore. This national literacy program mobilizes volunteers from the community to work one-on-one with students on their reading skills. I saw the power of volunteerism, in the way the students would light up when their volunteer tutor picked them up, in the strong bonds built between two individuals who would never have met otherwise. The students found confidence through their volunteer’s dedication, and our volunteers found purpose and laughter with the students.

I still miss that buzz of voices as students read, laughed, and learned with their tutors. I’m pleased that the Museum offers other ways to connect with students in Baltimore City.

Those of us in AmeriCorps know the value in hard work and volunteerism. We loved working with the Reading Partners community, many of us continuing our work as volunteers ourselves!

From Volunteer Coordinator Wendy Davis:

For the past 10 years, I have been volunteering at my synagogue as a gabbai – a person who helps to choose and coordinate those with honors during the Shabbat and holiday services.

From Executive Director Marvin Pinkert:

For the last five years, I have been a member of the Board of Historic Jonestown, Inc. (which recently merged with the Jonestown Planning Council).  The work of HJI is mainly listening to the community and trying to come up with solutions to problems large and small – from seeking out safe play areas for Jonestown’s kids to seeking grant support for our annual Jonestown festival.

It’s taught me that one of JMM’s blessings is having such great neighbors!

We hope our love of volunteering inspires you to be an #Upstander and sign up for some opportunities yourself.

We’d love to hear about some of your favorite past volunteering events and activities! Send us a photo and a sentence or two and we’ll share on our social media this January to help further inspire our community to get out and do some good. You can share here in the comments or email me, Rachel Kassman, at

And, of course, if you ARE inspired to try a new volunteer opportunity, we would be remiss to not mention that you can even volunteer here at JMM! Do you enjoy helping people find the perfect gift, set up enticing displays, and chatting with Museum visitors? Then we could use your help in Esther’s Place! If this sounds good to you, please get in touch with Wendy Davis, our Volunteer Coordinator, at or call 443-873-5168.


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Turning Oy Vey into JOY VEY: Esther’s Place

Posted on November 15th, 2019 by

In this month’s Performance Counts Rachel Kassman takes the measure of a holiday market and introduces two new shopping opportunities for Baltimore. To read more posts from Rachel, click here.

Performance Counts: November 2019

Whether it’s finding the perfect symbol to celebrate a bar mitzvah, showing your love on an anniversary or trying to put a smile on the face of all your nieces, nephews, baby cousins, and kids at the holidays, we all know the trials and tribulations of gift shopping. That’s where Esther’s Place, the JMM shop comes in. From treating yourself to getting ready for the holidays, here at the Museum we try to make Esther’s Place a one-stop shop to reduce stress and make shopping easy and fun.

With the weather turning chilly and our thoughts turning to the dancing lights of hanukkiah, we’ve officially entered the holiday shopping season – this year Esther’s Place is participating in three separate special events! This past weekend, from November 7-10, Esther’s Place set up shop at the annual Museum Shop Holiday Market at the Mansion at Strathmore. This was our fourth year participating in the Holiday Market and once again was a highly successful endeavor. We sold over $7,800 worth of merchandise, and perhaps even more importantly, we spoke to dozens of folks who were excited to learn about the Museum, taking brochures and program guides home to plan their visits.

Fun fact: The most popular item sold was Hanukkah candles (56 boxes), with Hamsas coming in second in the single item-type category with 39 sold. Our custom Oy Vey Old Bay magnets where the top-selling single item sold at 36! As usual, Mah Jongg merchandise proved popular with 54 Mah Jongg-related items sold over the four days.

This Sunday, November 17, Esther’s Place will be appearing as a special pop-up at the Owings Mills JCC from 10am – 3pm. This is our first solo pop-up, so if you’re in the area, be sure to stop by and say hi to JMM Deputy Director Tracie Guy-Decker, who will be on hand to help you find the ideal gifts for all your loved ones. We’ll also have plenty of Hanukkah candles in a variety of colors, styles, and materials on hand.

On Sunday, December 1, Esther’s Place has another first – we’re participating in Museum Store Sunday. Developed by the Museum Store Association, Museum Store Sunday is a way to bring attention to the importance and impact of museum shops. Shopping at Esther’s Place supports the mission and programs of JMM, making our exhibits, talks, education programs, and tours possible. It’s shopping you can feel good about!

(Most of the) Year in Review:

Books continue to top our “Best Seller” list – unsurprising at a museum, after all! The top 10 selling books since January 1, 2019 are an interesting mix of perennial favorites and special event books:

Stitching History from the Holocaust exhibit catalog (a whopping 46 copies!)

President Carter: The White House Years by Ambassador Stuart Eizenstat, our 2019 Annual Meeting Keynote speaker

And There Was Evening and There Was Morning by Ellen Kahan Zager and Harriet Cohen Helfand – in addition to the book, we have art prints of Ellen’s illustrations for sale in Esther’s Place!

Houdini: Art and Magic by Brooke Kamin Rapaport

Big Little Book of Jewish Wit and Wisdom by Sally Ann Berk

Voices of Lombard Street exhibit catalog

Did Jew Know? by Emily Stone

On Middle Ground by Deborah Weiner and Eric Goldstein

Glimpses of Jewish Baltimore by the late Gil Sandler

I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark by Debbie Levy and Elizabeth Baddeley – you may remember Debbie as half of our 2018 Annual Meeting Keynote speakers!

Our most popular children’s items are the cuddly Macca Beans Collectables (my personal favorite is Gefilte, the fat blue fish) and the matzoh ball stress balls (not just good for kids!) at 53 and 32 pieces respectively. Sadly, it looks like the Macca Beans are no longer being produced, so once we’ve sold out of our current stock, that’s it!

Perhaps most exciting for me are our custom JMM products. We introduced our “Oy Vey,” “Shalom Hon!,” and “Smalltimore” magnets and mugs over the summer in 2018 and they have proved as popular as we hoped. “Oy Vey” is the clear winner, with 136 magnets, 45 coffee mugs, and 37 camp mugs sold this year – I’m glad our homage to Maryland’s love of Old Bay is bringing a smile to so many people.

Remember, Esther’s Place is always open during the Museum’s regular hours – you can stop in or call 443-873-5179 with any questions! Let us help you make your gift shopping stress free and help us by supporting the Museum with your purchases.

P.S. Special props to Board Member and regular front-desk volunteer Roberta Greenstein for her brilliant suggestion of Turn Oy Vey into Joy Vey as we brainstormed what to call our Esther’s Place pop-up!

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