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What’s a year in a history museum?

Posted on February 11th, 2020 by

From Visitor Services Coordinator Talia Makowsky. To read more posts from Talia, click here.

I can hardly believe that my one-year anniversary of working at JMM is coming up, on February 19th. This date almost coincides with my birthday as well (the 16th, if anyone wants to send me birthday wishes, hint, hint) so I’ve been reflecting a lot on how the year has gone by. I’ve had a lot of new experiences, both professionally and personally, and I’m grateful to be alive and healthy for another year of marking my path around the sun. In celebration of my first year at JMM, I wanted to share some of the highlights of working here and what I’ve learned as I’ve jumped head-first into the museum world.

One new skill I’m most proud of is my confidence in giving tours. Whether I’m filling in for the public synagogue tour last minute, or I’m welcoming a new group to visit our special exhibit, I’ve had a blast sharing stories with our guests. It’s incredible to realize how much knowledge I’ve gained about the history of Baltimore and the Jewish communities here, about how fashion reflects our identity, and about the US scrap yard industry (something I never thought I would know so well). Being able to internalize the stories of these people and then share them with visitors has been rewarding, as we connect to those that are similar to our own stories or learn from those different from us. I’m excited to learn more, especially about Jews in Space, so that I can continue to serve as a steward and docent of these stories with our guests.

I love showing our guests how they can interact with the exhibits and why we chose the stories featured.

Another highlight of my year has been getting to know all the volunteers who make up such an essential part of the JMM community. I truly appreciate those who help out at the front desk, so that I can run back and forth to the printer, to someone’s office, to the bathroom. The shop volunteers are incredibly helpful, as they work with guests to peruse and shop in Esther’s Place. Our docents hold so much knowledge and are always happy to share that knowledge with me and our visitors. All of our volunteers’ passion for the Museum is obvious in their dedication and the energy they give when they’re serving. I’ve gained a lot of wisdom from our volunteers, and I look forward to another year working, laughing, and problem solving with them.

Last year’s volunteer appreciation event was so much fun! I was so glad to have the opportunity to publicly thank all of the front desk volunteers.

In this next year, I’m most looking forward to growing the visitor resources available at the Museum. As I talked about in my last blog post, I’ve learned a lot this year about the barriers that keep people from getting to the Museum, or that keep people from having an amazing experience. We’ve all been talking a lot about what we can offer guests, as we shift our mission to focus on “exploring history, taking action, and imagining a better future”. I want to find ways to make accessing our mission easier, and to continue to be open to feedback and critique. It’s important I keep myself humble so that I can better understand what a visitor (or non-visitor) needs to experience our stories, and I hope that this year I can implement new resources for JMM guests to access.

We’re looking forward to all the ways our new mission will inform the decisions we make at the Museum.

Finally, I want to especially thank all the people who have made me feel so welcome. The JMM staff are incredible. The creativity of our team is on full display with the new marketing materials they make and the educational programs they come up with. We consistently find or create extraordinary exhibits to display and high-quality programs to offer our guests. Most of all, everyone is supportive and welcoming, lending me a hand when I have a problem or challenging me to grow professionally. I’m so thankful to be a part of this amazing team, and I can’t wait to see what the next year has in store for us.


Posted in jewish museum of maryland

Being Welcoming is Much More than Saying Hello

Posted on January 24th, 2020 by

From Visitor Services Coordinator Talia Makowsky. To read more posts from Talia, click here.

Museums are always my favorite places to visit. Wherever I travel, they’re one of the go-to attractions I look up ahead of time when I plan my trip. Growing up, my parents took my brother and I on regular trips to different kinds of museums and similar educational institutions, which make up some of my favorite childhood memories. I recall playing with water features in COSI, or the Center of Science and Industry in Ohio, wandering the halls at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and even climbing to the top of a giant elephant that used to serve as a hotel in New Jersey.

Lucy the Elephant. Photo by Jack Boucher, Courtesy of the Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division: Historic American Buildings Survey.

Having the opportunity to visit these places, and parents who had the means to provide and actively encouraged creative learning, helped shape who I am today. For me, these institutions have shown me new ways to experience culture, science, and history, and have widened my world view.

However, not everyone feels welcome at museums. This happens for a lot of reasons. The space may not be fully accessible for a person with limited mobility. The signs may be written in a language that isn’t native to a guest. Someone may get overwhelmed by sensory-heavy elements in an exhibit, such as noise or videos. The stories in a museum may not reflect a person’s identity, making them feel left out.

Regardless of the reason, I see it as my personal responsibility to try and make JMM as welcoming to as many people as possible. Working as the Visitor Services Coordinator, I’ve learned a lot about our current audience and their needs, and I’m researching new ways to accommodate even more people at our site. This work of inclusion is an on-going project that will never be finished, but as I think about this next year at JMM, I plan to make it my priority, and I know it’s a priority of the Museum staff, as we work to connect people to Jewish experiences and Marlyland’s Jewish community to its roots.

It’s a daunting goal, to make the Museum even more inclusive and welcoming, but I find inspiration from Pirkei Avot, a Jewish text that is generally referred to as “the ethics of the fathers”. There’s a famous line of wisdom that says, “You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to desist from it (2:21).” Throughout my life as a Jewish person, I’ve come back to that line as a guide, especially as I tried to find my purpose as an adult. It’s led me to the work I do today, even at the Museum, and I wanted to share some of that work with you.

As I mentioned in a previous blog post, the Museum has acquired Assistive Listening Devices or ALDs to use on guided tours. These devices allow a docent to transmit their voice and those on the tour can speak through them as well. The ALDs are a useful tool for people with hearing loss or who are Hard-of-Hearing, but they can be used by anyone. They make it easy for our docents to speak to a large group of people and are great for people who want to wander our exhibits while still listening to the guide. It’s been rewarding hearing the feedback from our guests and our docents, about how the devices are helping to enhance their tours.

Our devices are available to use on any of our public tours and for all our adult group visits.

Learning is a big part of becoming a more accessible site. Paige Woodhouse, our School Program Coordinator, found a webinar through the American Association for State and Local History, or AASLH, called “Increasing Accessibility and Inclusion at Community Organizations”. We’ve only completed the first of the two-part webinar, but it led to Paige and I discussing how we can make it easier for neurodiverse people to visit the Museum, such as people with autism spectrum disorders. Some resources we’ve seen at other institutions are sensory bags which are kits filled with different tools such as fidget toys and noise-cancelling headphones. A family can check this back out at the front desk, to use during their visit to help a child who may be sensitive to sounds or needs a distraction while waiting in line. Another resource is social stories, which are documents that give helpful information about visiting, wait times, loud spaces or quiet spaces.

These bags can be made independently or are given out as part of programs such as through Kulture City’s Sensory Inclusive program. Photo courtesy of Zimmerli Art Museum/Rutgers University.

We hope to create similar resources at the Museum soon, which we’ll announce as we add them. We also want to create a language directory of our docents, to better provide tours to people for whom English is a second language, and we’re continuing our work with Keshet to provide more inclusion to the LGBTQ+ and Jewish community. Of course, there’s always room for improvement as learn more about our audiences and new tools that are being created every day. If you ever have a suggestion that would improve your visit to the Museum, please reach out to me at or (443) 873-5164.


Posted in jewish museum of maryland

Becoming a First Responder

Posted on December 27th, 2019 by

From Visitor Services Coordinator Talia Makowsky. To read more posts from Talia, click here.

The first few minutes of a medical emergency are crucial. A person’s chance of recovery and survival can be decided in how fast people respond to the incident. The state of Maryland recognizes the importance of having a first responder on the scene, and so requires facilities that have an AED (or Automatic External Defibrillator) to also train people in CPR and AED skills. Here at the Museum, people are the most important part of what we do, so we chose to do a CPR and AED training with the majority of our staff. We learned a lot in the afternoon we spent together, and I wanted to share some ways the Museum is working to keep guests, volunteers, and staff safe.

Our board room was crowded with staff members and the dummies the instructor brought for us to practice on.

After our CPR and AED training, eight staff members or volunteers received their certification from the American Red Cross. This included many of the people who are up at the front on a regular basis, as well as some people who do most of their work in back office. A few additional staff also plan to get their certification, so there’s a good chance when you’re in the Museum that you’re near someone who has been trained to be a first responder.

In addition to Paige, Talia, Marisa, and Laura all know CPR, as well as many others throughout the Museum.

Being a first responder means being the first person on the scene of a medical emergency. We were taught how to check a scene for safety and what steps to take when caring for someone. We learned how to direct helpers to retrieve the AED or call 911. If you’re ever in the Museum and witness a medical emergency, always alert a staff member! Even if they aren’t trained, they know who to call to respond, and can help retrieve safety equipment. Once you alert a staff member, the best way to support the Museum is by staying calm and not panicking. Any emergency situation only becomes worse when others start to panic.

We learned the proper technique for CPR, which includes chest compressions and rescue breaths.

If you offer to help a first responder, you may be directed to collect the AED. Our machine is located near the public restrooms, in a white box that is attached to the wall. This machine monitors the heart rate of a person having a cardiac attack and can give an electrical shock if the machine detects no heart rhythm or an irregular heart rhythm. This, along with chest compressions and rescue breaths done during CPR, are done to keep a person alive long enough for emergency medical services (EMS) to arrive. Even though the staff have received this training, we still want to get EMS on the scene as soon as possible, as they can provide advanced treatment and care for a person in need.

The AED machine is near the bathrooms. The box is alarmed and will go off when you open the door.

At the Museum, we also have first aid kits throughout the building and in the Lloyd Street Synagogue. Staff members can help provide these supplies if you’re ever in need. We have other ways of keeping people safe, through our fire alarm systems, security systems, and through prevention work such as trainings and plan-making done by the staff. We hope to always provide a safe experience to our guests, volunteers, and staff, which is why we try to plan for every situation and update our protocols every year. If you ever have a question about our safety measures, please reach out anytime to my email. I’m glad to learn more about your needs and how the Museum can meet them.

We learned a lot that afternoon, and even made a few new friends.

Posted in jewish museum of maryland

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