Millenial Belonging: Voices from the Exhibitions Intern Team

Posted on October 23rd, 2017 by

This summer we asked our summer interns to team up and create their very own podcast episodes. Over the course of ten weeks they needed to pitch a concept, draft a script, and record and edit their podcasts. We’ve shared those podcasts here with you on the blog over the course of the last few weeks – here is the final episode from our 2017 Summer Interns! You can see all of their podcasts by clicking on the intern podcast tag.


Exhibit interns Jillie, Tirza, and Ryan.

Exhibit interns Jillie, Tirza, and Ryan.

Belonging in Judaism is not only an academically complex and fascinating topic, but it is also a very personal one. Every person, regardless of ethnicity, race, and age, experiences the intricacies of the concept of belonging.  Work, hobbies, family, friends and other avenues that are defined by people coming together and moving apart are integral to being human. Belonging and in turn not belonging are unavoidable elements to the human experience.  In this podcast episode summer exhibition interns Tirza Ochrach-Konradi, Ryan Mercado, and Jillie Drutz share their personal narratives of Jewish belonging and discuss the involvement of our general millennial age group with Judaism.

>>Listen to the Podcast<<

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Looking for Stories of Culture

Posted on July 31st, 2017 by

By exhibitions intern Tirza Ochrach-Konradi. To read more posts from JMM interns, past and present, click here.

Judaism is built on stories, which is natural for any religion. Religions are based on shared beliefs and the story format is the way a lot of that content gets passed down generation to generation. Religious stories act like pneumonic devices for religious beliefs. It would not be easy to compile, maintain, and memorize a giant bulleted list of religious beliefs, but it is attainable to establish, maintain, and recollect from a big book of stories.

Jewish religious stories are super accessible and have been carefully maintained but, the particular Jewish stories that I am interested in are less carefully stored. I am interested in the stories of Jewish culture and Jewish community. The stories that come from Jews as a group of people doing things together that are designed to share what it means to participate in Jewish culture. This is entirely personal bias. I am not a religious Jew and cultural Jewish stories resonate more with me.

I learned holiday traditions from my parents, but I also had those traditions reinforced through reading story books. In particular I remember reading The Matzah that Papa Brought Home which is by Fran Manushkin and illustrated by Ned Bittinger about Passover and Purim Play by Roni Schotter as well as ZigaZak! a Hanukah book by Eric Kimmel illustrated by John Goodell. As a child these stories helped me understand my family’s traditions and situate them into a larger culture. Participation in religious community was not right for us because we didn’t believe. We also didn’t live in an area with a high population of Jewish neighbors so these stories were the way I got a broader understanding of the traditions and holidays my family undertook.

The cover of The Matzah that Papa Brought Home.

The cover of The Matzah that Papa Brought Home.

This summer has been fun because the oral histories that I have been working with are basically big cultural Jewish stories. This includes the collection project I am focusing on. I have been part of conducting a major interview project for Beth Am. The congregation is collecting the recollections of members who were present during the earliest years of the synagogue. Some of these people are folks who went to Chizuk Amuno when it was in the Eutaw Place temple and chose to remain in the downtown location when the rest of Chizuk Amuno moved to their Stevenson location. The rest of the participants are individuals who joined very early on in the life of the congregation.

I do feel out of my depth when interviewees reference religious practices with words I’ve never heard before. However, even though this project revolves around a religious institution, I find that what I really get is a sense of how these people built a Jewish community. The stories I get to collect are full of accounts of how friends drew other friends in, how the membership took pride in being a “do-it-yourself” shul where everything from youth education to painting the building was undertaken by rank-and-file members, and how the biggest strength of the shul is its open and welcoming culture.

Watercolor painting of the Eutaw Place temple by Rod Cook. (JMM 1995.192.010)

Watercolor painting of the Eutaw Place temple by Rod Cook. (JMM 1995.192.010)

I’ve personally interviewed five people this summer and I’ve heard and transcribed the recordings of five more. Because these interviews are so intently focused on the one topic the effect of having heard all of the recollections is as if I have read the same story written out by ten different people. Each version highlights different events and participants. Together they build a picture of the full reality of the experience. It is awesome to have this front row seat in pulling together the piece. Like the books of my childhood, these stories have been able to share a sense of Jewish community and help me understand myself as part of a bigger culture.

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Transcribing: The Challenge of Typing What You Hear

Posted on July 10th, 2017 by

Blog post by Exhibitions Intern Tirza Ochrach-Konradi. To read more posts from JMM interns, past and present, click here.

 

I’ve been doing a lot of transcribing, which is in in theory very monotonous, but in practice has been a remarkably complex project. The main area of exploration is figuring out how you transcribe. The question seems a little ridiculous. Obviously you listen to a recording and you copy down what is said, not a lot of room for confusion. However, there are a lot of choices to be made about how exactly you write the words down. People say a lot of things that aren’t words; do I write fillers down or do I leave them out? Somebody using the transcription to find quotes for a wall poster probably does not want to read through ums and uhs, but someone using the transcript to find quotes for an audio creation would be bothered to discover that the perfect quote they read in the transcription is riddled with pauses and fillers when they listen to the recording.

UM vs. UH: In Maryland we say both which is backed up in my transcribing. A person will use one or the other, but I’ve transcribed both uh people and um people. (Map from Quartz Media)

UM vs. UH: In Maryland we say both which is backed up in my transcribing. A person will use one or the other, but I’ve transcribed both uh people and um people. (Map from Quartz Media)

In transcribing there is a trade-off between readability and staying true to source material. People on the side of verisimilitude would argue you should transcribe exactly what you hear, and I do chose to transcribe uhs and ums. However, I add punctuation to improve readability. I was looking through one of the transcriptions in the JMM collection that had no punctuation, and reading it felt like stumbling through an awful jumble of incomprehensibility. I err on the side of punctuating to make the transcription readable and do not feel compelled by the possibility of mangling the speaker’s intent through misinterpreting stress and adding a comma where they didn’t intend one.

I am about to be on the other side of this equation conducting the interviews. Transcribing has made me very aware of all of the extra things that interviewers say. It is very hard to directly ask someone a question. I hear, “tell me a little bit about…” constantly. I do not think I have heard the more direct, “tell me…” even once. I have a set of questions written for the interview collection I will be working on. Each one starts with a question word or the directive to “tell me”, but I have no illusions that I will manage not to add half a sentence of conversational lead-in every time I try to ask anything.

O Transcribe, the software I’ve been using, is available on the google app store.

O Transcribe, the software I’ve been using, is available on the google app store.

I transcribed one interview in middle school. I was working on a tape machine with a foot pedal. Now I have been using an application for the google chrome web browser, where the escape key is pause play and the program automatically restarts the recording two seconds back each time you hit play. It is a world better and much less fussy to work with. Through an odd sense of fate the transcription that I am adding to currently is an interview with the same person that I transcribed in middle school, Rebecca Alban Hoffberger, founder of the American Visionary Art Museum (AVAM). In middle school I interviewed her about the outsider art movement and currently I am listening to her speak about her life story, Jewish beliefs, and reasons for founding AVAM. I love that oral history allows for the feeling of being in the room with the informant. I think that is why this connection has such import for me. Transcribing helps the archivists and curators who build exhibitions to access the content of an oral history. Nobody has the time to listen to an hour of tape to find a quote. If there is a transcription key words can be searched and the content can be skimmed quickly for relevance. Each complete transcription makes the content more accessible and more likely to reach the ears of a public audience!

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