A Day in the Life of a JMM Docent

Posted on January 23rd, 2013 by

By JMM Volunteer Harvey Karch

One of the best parts of being a docent at a museum, especially, I think, the Jewish Museum of Maryland, is that one never knows what is going to happen on a tour.  The unexpected is almost to be expected every tour.   It certainly was the case on Tuesday, January 15, during the one o’clock tour.

Harvey leads a tour outside the Lloyd Street Synagogue

No one was in the Museum for the eleven o’clock tour, and that was not a surprise given the cold and damp weather.  As one o’clock came and went, I wasn’t shocked that there was no one for the tour either.  However, at about 1:10 a woman entered the museum asking whether she was too later for the one o’clock tour.  Since no one else was there, I gladly stepped up to the counter and told her that I would be happy to show her the sights of the Museum.

Describing the matzoh oven in Lloyd Street Synagogue.

As is my habit, after introducing myself, I asked the where she was from and what had brought her to the Museum today.  She told me that her name is Deb, Deb Miller, and she has lived in Boston since arriving to attend graduate school there some forty years ago.  However, she added that she had grown up in New York City, but that her roots run deep in Baltimore.  Her grandparents had lived in Baltimore, and her mother had grown up here before going to live in New York after her marriage.  She also explained that her family members were among the founders of Chizuk Amuno Congregation.  As we walked toward Lloyd Street Synagogue, she went on to say that her grandfather had attended Shomrei Mishemeres, and I told her that mine had also.  I explained that one of my family’s stories is that my grandfather had come from Volnya and had come to Baltimore because there was a group from his home area living in the city.  Ms. Miller suggested that perhaps our grandfathers had known each other, and perhaps had even prayed together.  We both chuckled and went on with the tour.

The Lloyd Street Synagogue in 1962, shortly after the Jewish Historical Society acquired it from the Shomrei Mishmeres Congregation. IA 1.0005

Once inside of the Lloyd Street Synagogue, it was obvious from the look on her face that being in this synagogue was a particularly emotional experience for Ms. Miller.  She asked me a lot of questions about Shomrei Mishemeres and the building itself as she looked around, taking in everything about the place.  It was at the point where I started telling her about why there are no regularly held services anymore in the building that it suddenly occurred to me that this was no ordinary visitor, and I asked her if she was related to Tobias Miller, one of the last members of Shomrei Mishmeres and part of the group who sold the building to the Jewish Historical Society.   She told me that he was her grandfather, and I had the pleasure of telling her that the man I had always heard referred to as “Tuffsy” Miller was the reason that my grandfather had come to Baltimore from Volnya, since Miller was one of my grandfather’s best friends from the old country.  We both realized at that point that not only had our grandfathers prayed together, but had been very good friends as well as “landsmen”.  Ms. Miller later asked what my grandfather’s name was, and thought that it sounded familiar.  We both wondered what our grandfathers would have thought of two of their grandchildren meeting so many years after their deaths (1961 and 1970) at the Lloyd Street Synagogue?

We even have a picture of Tobias Miller signing the deed of the LSS over to the Jewish Historical Society. IA 1.0944

Ms. Miller and I parted ways, but this is one tour that I will remember for a long, long time.

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The 2012 Poinsettia Tour!

Posted on November 14th, 2012 by

On Saturday, December 8th, starting at noon, the Upper Eutaw Madison Neighborhood Association will be hosting the 2012 Poinsettia Tour. The self-guided tour will showcase the Beth Am Synagogue , The Prince Hall Grand Lodge (formerly Oheb Shalom Synagogue)  and historic homes on Eutaw Place and Madison Avenue in the historic Reservoir Hill and Bolton Hill neighborhoods.

Tickets ($20) will be available at 2501 Madison Ave and online at www.poinsettiatourbaltimore.com  .  Trolley shuttle service will be available. Come out and get into the Holiday Spirit while touring beautiful historic homes dressed up for the season. Visit us on www.facebook.com/PoinsettiaTour.


*Please note, this is not a Jewish Museum of Maryland program, simply an event we thought our readers might be interested in!


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My Day as the Sunday Floor Manager

Posted on July 19th, 2011 by

A blog post by Summer Intern Ryan Motevalli-Oliner.

I have been interning at the museum for about six weeks now and have done jobs ranging from creating lesson plans to hanging signs on fences to going through files of a closing Jewish day school. I did not imagine doing most things outside of the Education and Programming department but all have been worthwhile. The most interesting and exciting job I got to take part of was the Sunday floor manger at the museum on July 17th. Deborah Cardin, the Education director, emailed the West Wing staff asking if anyone was available to fill in on the 17th. I jumped at the opportunity to experience another side of the museum (and a change to meet Congressman Elijah Cummings who was scheduled to appear at a private event at the museum that night).

I met Deborah at the museum at 11 am. She opened up the museum and waited for James, the head security guard, to arrive. With James there, we both knew that I had nothing to worry about as James had all the answers. After Deborah left Ernie, the volunteer docent, arrived and we were soon in business. At exactly 12 noon, a couple entered the museum excited to see the synagogues and the museum. With our volunteer for the front desk running late I had to step in. I made the admission transaction and our first two patrons (of nineteen for the day) entered the museum. Soon Rachel, the front desk volunteer arrived. Now we were fully staffed. Maurice was securing the Lloyd Street Synagogue, James was in the museum, Rachel was at the front desk, Ernie was waiting to give his tours, and I was in the gift shop (filling in for a volunteer vacancy).


Waiting for his first tour to begin, Ernie writes a letter to Jobi Zink after reading the Jewish Times. He recognized two people in the identified picture Jobi had published.


Around 1 pm we got a rush of people, all anxious to go on the tour. When the group went on the tour, the museum became very quiet. It was quite nice. Ernie had some articles about the museum and synagogues to highlight the significance of both. Ernie led the group out into the Baltimore heat excited to talk about the historical synagogues.


Ernie showing an article to his tour before they headed to the synagogues.


As the museum got closer and closer to closing, the team of volunteers and guards were getting ready to go. Ernie left after his 2:30 pm tour was over. By 4 pm, Rachel and Maurice left as well leaving me and James to man the museum until Ilene Dackman-Alon arrived for our evening program. Not long after Ilene arrived, members of the Elijah Cummings Youth Project (ECYP) arrived. Members of their board, their students preparing for their trip to Israel, staff members and Congressman Elijah Cummings came to the museum. The event involved a tour of Loring Cornish’s In Each Others Shoes exhibit with the artist himself. Also, Congressman Cummings spoke. He tasked the students going on the trip to Israel to take advantage of this opportunity. Listening to the Congressman in such an intimate setting was a privilege I would never had received had I not worked at the museum.

Though hearing Congressman Cummings speak and seeing a different side of the museum was very exciting, the best part of my Sunday was selling all of the museums car mezuzahs. A board member of ECYP wanted to give each student a traveler’s prayer to take with them on their trip. The museum does not sell just the prayer, but inside the car mezuzahs are the traveler’s prayer along with an English translation. It was the best option Ilene and I could find. And with the 40% of sale the JMM store is having for the month of July it was a great deal. The only problem we could foresee was that the museum only had eleven car mezuzahs, and there are thirteen students. The board member took the risk and bought the eleven we had. It felt good being able to help a patron of the museum by also selling a lot of merchandise for the museum. I hope Esther comes back from Israel happily surprised.

My day as the Sunday Floor Manager was exciting. I got to see a whole new side to the museum. I got to experience the museum for myself on a day where I was more involved with the public than I am during the week. I was happily surprised that about twenty people came to the museum on a day the museum had to compete against Artscape. All in all it was a great day and no problems developed. A day well spent at the JMM.

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