Discovery and Recovery:By The Numbers

Posted on January 12th, 2018 by

This month’s edition of Performance Counts comes to us from Deputy Director Tracie Guy-Decker.

For this month’s Performance Counts, it seemed like a good time to take a closer look at our current exhibit, Discovery and Recovery: Preserving Iraqi Jewish Heritage.

Performance Counts is all about looking at numbers and data, so I’ll start with the most important number for you to remember about this exhibit: 3. That’s the number of days (including today) you have left to see this important exhibition while it’s at JMM. Monday will be the last day the public will be able to tour the exhibit while it’s here, since National Archives staff will be joining us on Tuesday, to start the de-installation.

Here are some other important numbers and metrics of interest regarding this exhibition:

Exhibition Content

Discovery and Recovery: Preserving Iraqi Jewish Heritage details the dramatic recovery of historic materials relating to the Jewish community in Iraq from a flooded basement in Saddam Hussein’s intelligence headquarters, and the National Archives’ ongoing work in support of U.S. Government efforts to preserve these materials–over 2,700 Jewish books and tens of thousands of documents.

In both English and Arabic, the 2,000 square foot exhibit features 23 recovered items and one “behind the scenes” video of the fascinating yet painstaking preservation process. This exhibit was created by the National Archives and Records Administration, with generous support from the U.S. Department of State.

Exhibition Metrics

Since it’s been with us, more than 3,200 visitors have come to JMM to see it. This includes more than 500 students from 18 distinct school visits, including public, independent and religious schools.

While the exhibit has been in our gallery, we’ve been open to the public 62 days (with 2 left after today), and have hosted 10 public programs related to the exhibit (with one more to come this Sunday), and two that didn’t directly relate to the exhibit, but whose participants still had a chance to see it!

While the exhibit has been in our gallery, we’ve been open to the public 62 days (with 2 left after today), and have hosted 10 public programs related to the exhibit (with one more to come this Sunday), and two that didn’t directly relate to the exhibit, but whose participants still had a chance to see it!

Exhibition Logistics

JMM is the eighth venue for this important exhibit, and its installation was made possible here through the generous support of eight donors, including 2 individuals and 6 foundations or philanthropic funds.

The Herbert Bearman Foundation (Lead Sponsor)

Alfred Moses

The David B. Liebman Philanthropic Fund

The Jacob and Hilda Blaustein Fund for the Enrichment of Jewish Education

Middendorf Foundation

John J. Leidy Foundation

Lois and Philip Macht Family Philanthropic Fund

Lowell Glazer

If you miss it here, your next option is to grab a flight to Atlanta ($163) and see it at the Breman Museum ($12)*.  So save some money and take advantage of these last two days.


*If you’re a JMM premium member, you get FREE reciprocal admission to the Breman Museum – and 11 more Jewish museums around the country! Consider upgrading your membership today.

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Hanukkah Clean-Up 2017/2018: The Oven Method

Posted on December 28th, 2017 by

A blog post by Associate Director Tracie Guy-Decker. Read more posts from Tracie by clicking HERE.

I know people overuse the phrase “it changed my life,” especially at this resolution-time of the year, but I can honestly say that when I learned the oven-method of hanukkiah wax removal, it greatly increased my enjoyment of the festival of lights! Before I learned this method, I used to spend hours with a fork or a toothpick or sometimes a chopstick chipping away at wax our menorahs. I would scrape and poke and curse and then start the cycle over again. It was as far from Hanukkah joy as you could get. Now that I use the oven method, even the clean-up of the holiday feels like a blessing.

To share the added joy, I wanted to walk you through it.

First, a glimpse of my house on the final night of Hanukkah:

We light 9 menorahs at the Guy-Decker household each year. Why? Because we can.  On the final night, the heat off of the 81 candles is palpable, and the light is truly joyous.

The wax is a bi-product of the joy. The greater the joy, the higher the wax build-up.

For this demonstration, I’m going to show you the oven-method on this brass menorah that belonged to my husband’s grandfather. Its “before” picture is particularly intimidating with that thick barrier of blue and white wax build up.

To remove this build-up I followed these steps:

1. Pre-heat the oven to between 180 and 200 degrees.

2. Break off any wax that will come off easily and discard. Do not work at this: if it doesn’t come off easily, leave it.

3. Cover a cookie sheet in aluminum foil. Make sure the foil overlaps the edges of the sheet so you don’t end up with waxy cookie sheets.

Place the menorah face down (or as face-down as you can manage—the key is that the candle cups are oriented downward so that liquefied wax will poor out).

4. Place the cookie sheet into the oven for approximately 20 minutes

5. Remove the cookie sheet from the oven and carefully (it’s hot!) remove the menorah from the cookie sheet (you might want to have prepared another piece of foil if you’re worried about removing wax from the counters, too). You should be leaving a puddle of wax on the foil on the cookie sheet.

If you’re not, and the wax is still mostly on the menorah, put it all back into the oven for another 5 minutes, or until you have puddling.

6. Carefully (it’s still hot!) wipe the liquid wax from the menorah with a clean rag. (Use a thicker rag so the heat doesn’t bother your hands.)

a. Fold the rag after each wipe so that you’re not just moving wax around.

b. If your menorah has small nooks and crannies, you can use a q-tip or other small tool to wipe out the liquid wax (I used my rag around a kabob skewer to get into the openings in the star points).

c. If you have a very ornate menorah, you might need to put it back into the oven for a few minutes if your detail work in one area allows the wax to cool too much in another area.

7. Discard the foil and the rag.

8. Voila! You’re ready for next Hanukkah.

So, what do you think? Life changing? Ok, so maybe it’s not on par with falling in love or finding your dream home, but I hope that it does make your dream menorah more of a possibility for you. Come down and see us at Esther’s Place. I bet you’ll be looking at our fancy and fanciful hannukiot in a new light now that you know the oven method!

P.S. Even with the oven method, I recommend sticking with white and/or beeswax candles for the really ornate menorahs out there. I would also note that in my experience, cheaper candles make more wax.

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Quantitatively and Qualitatively Measuring the Museum

Posted on December 15th, 2017 by

This edition of Performance Counts is brought to you by JMM Associate Director Tracie Guy-Decker. Read more posts from Tracie by clicking HERE. Read past editions of Performance Counts by clicking HERE.


This question has become a driver at decision points for organizations and individuals. It is an important question, and also one that is not always as straightforward as the asker might assume. Simply counting your steps gives you data, but not a complete picture. How do your step counts compare to other people’s? Where did your steps take you? If 60% of them led to the freezer for more ice cream, surely they are not the same health value as non-ice-cream-related steps, right?

Still, data has a lot to teach us, and finding ways to measure ourselves—whether as individuals or as organizations—is both a challenge and an opportunity. At JMM we have been digging into that opportunity in recent weeks and months. For this Performance Counts, I’d like to share with you some of the story our data is revealing, as well as some of our ongoing opportunities and challenges in data collection.


The first and most obvious measure of the Museum’s performance is our visitor attendance numbers. They are the building blocks of our health as an institution. Recently, I’ve been looking more closely at our attendance numbers, over the past several fiscal years. Our highest-attendance month was March of 2017 when we opened Remembering Auschwitz. We welcomed more than 1600 visitors that month. Our lowest attendance month in the past 3 fiscal years was September, 2015, with only 113 visitors. Not only was the decline in tourism after the Uprising still in effect, our changing gallery was closed as we de-installed Cinema Judaica and installed Paul Simon. September 2015 also contained Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah, so we also had fewer days open to the public than the average month.

In terms of trends, the numbers more-or-less confirm what we suspected (see the graph below for a visual representation):

>Attendance is dependent upon the exhibit we have on view in the changing gallery, with all of our lowest-attendance months corresponding to months the gallery was in transition and therefore closed to the public.

>Some exhibits are more popular than others (up to 230% in a given month, year over year)

>When an exhibit starts with low attendance, it is difficult to increase momentum.

Attendance by Month

In addition to actual visitor attendance, we count virtual visits. Did you know you can search the collections from our website? Not everything is available through the online search, but a whole lot is, and thanks to the work of our dedicated volunteers, we’re constantly adding new items to what is searchable. (This morning I searched for “Baltimore” and received 20709 results!) On average, 188 people search the collections online in a given month, and they spend an average of 8.51 minutes per session with our collections. Nine minutes may not sound very long, but according to google, the average session duration for traffic coming from Google organic search is around 50 seconds.


Attendance numbers alone can’t show the quality of the experience of the people who do attend, whether 113 of them or more than 1600. To attempt to measure that experience, we have or are embarking on several studies. Starting with Remembering Auschwitz we administer surveys to visitors to our public programs. So far we’re seeing positive numbers. For programs associated with Remembering Auschwitz, 82% of those surveyed agreed that they “learned something new” from their visit, and 83% told us “my appreciation for the topic increased.”  We continue to administer the survey to visitors who are willing to take it.

Additionally, we always survey educators when they bring field trips to our museum. Educators consistently score us 5 out 5 on several quality measures, including quality of program and staff. The one place we aren’t consistently receiving perfect scores is for our pre- and post-visit materials. To address it, we’re hoping to develop a new survey that will help us understand what improvements we can make to better serve our colleagues in the classroom.


Another measure of the quality of a museum visit is its memorability. Marvin often tells the story of museum guru, John Falk, who was challenged at a lecture by a  teacher that field trips were too expensive and simply didn’t provide enough return on investment. John invited this colleague to remember a museum field trip that he had taken as a child. The teacher provided a detailed description of a grade school trip to the Museum of Science and Industry (another of Marvin’s alma maters), and his journey into the Coal Mine exhibit there. John then asked what the man had learned in school the day after the field trip, or the next week?, or that month? As you might imagine, the story of classroom learning was not nearly as forthcoming.

Marvin’s qualitative anecdote is something we’re hoping to capture quantitatively with a memorability study. We’re collecting visitor contacts, and then surveying them about their experience here at least three months later. We’ll be asking questions like: “as a result of your visit to JMM, do you remember…having a conversation about what you saw? …searching for information on the internet? …thinking about what you saw after the date of the visit?” The first wave of surveys is scheduled to start this week, and we are currently collecting contact information for a second wave to happen in March. I, for one, am excited to have some quantitative data about our qualitative effect!

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