Volunteer Spotlight on Ernie Silversmith!

Posted on July 11th, 2016 by

Ernie Silversmith, volunteer docent

Ernie Silversmith, volunteer docent

Ernie Silversmith has been a volunteer docent at the JMM for 15 years. In looking through our collection records,  I discovered that the Museum had completed a memoir of him a few years ago. In that memoir, I learned that Ernie was born in Nuremberg, Germany and he started school in 1936 at an all-Jewish school. The German part of his education ended on Kristallnacht when his parents decided it would be safer to leave the country. In 1939, Ernie and his sister took a train to Holland and then a boat to England where they stayed with their aunt and uncle until their parents could join them a few months later.  After the war started, the family left on a banana boat to Jamaica in order to avoid the German U-boats in the north Atlantic. They caught a luxury liner to New York and rented a room in Washington Heights. In fact, we have a copy of his US certificate of citizenship from 1946 in our archives.

US Certificate of Citizenship 1946, Ernest Silversmith. JMM 2012.046

US Certificate of Citizenship 1946, Ernest Silversmith. JMM 2012.046

They then moved to Tacoma, Washington before finally settling in the Baltimore area. Ernie taught chemistry for 50 years at Morgan State University. In looking around online, I found an article about him in the Baltimore Sun where I discovered that he was a beloved professor and also won many awards for his teaching.

In 2001, Ernie decided to become a docent at the JMM because he found that giving tours is a form of teaching, which he had done for his whole career. He is proud to be Jewish and gets excited watching the reactions of people on his tour and answering their many interesting questions. He aims to awaken their excitement about Jewish Baltimore and enjoys telling the story about our two historic synagogues.

Ernie begins a synagogue tour.

Ernie begins a synagogue tour.

He has been happily married 63 years and gets much pleasure from his four children and eight grandchildren.

While I have only known Ernie for the past year, I have found him to be a very dedicated volunteer with a kind and gentle soul. I always look forward to seeing him on Sundays and hope that he will continue to volunteer at our museum for many years to come.

GrahamPost by Visitor Services Coordinator Graham Humphrey. Every month we highlight one of our fantastic JMM volunteers. If you are interested in volunteering with the JMM, send an email to Sue Foard at sfoard@jewishmuseummd.org or call 410-732-6402 x220! You can also get more information about volunteering at the Museum here.

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Volunteer Spotlight: Ilene Cohen

Posted on June 6th, 2016 by

Throughout the month of June, Ilene Cohen will be tying up loose ends and training staff members about the JMM’s Volunteer Program and her role as Volunteer Coordinator, a role that Ilene established over 12 years ago.   Ilene came to the JMM because she loves museums – she had been a docent at the Virginia Museum of Fine Art in Richmond and she wondered about volunteer opportunities after moving to Baltimore.  Ilene met with Deborah Cardin and former assistant director, Anita Kassof; she was recruited as Volunteer Coordinator.  She remembers signing in for the first time on February 7, 2004 and since then Ilene has led the JMM in her position as Volunteer Coordinator.  Her duties include volunteer recruitment, volunteer retention, scheduling, interviews, meetings and deciding the “best fit” for each volunteer throughout the various departments in the museum.  Ilene sits at her desk in the education/programs wing, two afternoons a week.  The JMM is so grateful to Ilene for her years of dedication and love for our volunteers and the JMM.

The marvelous and miraculous Ilene!

The marvelous and miraculous Ilene!

Over the past few years, Ilene has been a monthly contributor to the JMM’s blog, highlighting the JMM’s incredible volunteers in her Volunteer Spotlight.  I love this monthly piece because I learn more about our volunteers, their lives outside of the JMM, and the reasons that brought them to the JMM as a volunteer.   I asked to write this month’s Volunteer Spotlight, especially as we celebrate our volunteers and Ilene Cohen’s retirement at our annual Volunteer Appreciation Event on Sunday evening, June 5th.

Ilene Gudelsky Cohen was born in Kensington Maryland and attended Montgomery County public schools.  She attended Walter Johnson High School (the only school named for a player on the Washington Senators); and later attended the University of Southern California and received a bachelor’s degree in gerontology.

After college, Ilene moved back to the DC area where she worked as a travel agent.  She met her future husband, Neri Cohen, who was attending medical school in Baltimore on a blind date.   After a year, Ilene moved to Baltimore and this year she and Neri will celebrate 30 years of marriage.

Ilene and Neri moved to Richmond Virginia, where Neri continued his medical career. They started their family, and today they are the proud parents to Dena Cohen Blaustein, who just married on Memorial Day weekend, and Joel Cohen, who works and lives in DC.   They are empty-nesters and moved downtown after raising their children in Owings Mills.  They love living downtown so close to great restaurants and places of interest.

Ilene volunteers at the JMM, because she just loves to just hang out in museums.  She loves the JMM staff and also loves to contribute to the institution. Ilene has loved getting to know all of the volunteers and feels that the role of Volunteer Coordinator suits her perfectly- as she likes to take care of  “all the details and arrangements”.

Ilene was very excited about the possibility of working at the JMM because both of her parents grew up in Baltimore.  As we all know, living in “Smalltimore” everyone knows everyone- and Ilene has enjoyed meeting visitors and making connections to her own family’s past.  Ilene receives instant gratification in her job when she sees the volunteers fulfilled in their volunteer duties at the JMM.  She also loves working on the annual  Volunteer Appreciation Event.  Ilene knows that our organization would not be what it was without the help and support of so many generous volunteers.

Ilene feels a lot of pride in the role that she has created as JMM’s Volunteer Coordinator.  She is proud that the JMM has a dedicated person in the role, and she has enjoyed networking with other volunteer coordinators throughout the ASSOCIATED agencies through the Jewish Volunteer Coordinator Network.

After 12 years of service, Ilene will be moving on.  In her spare time, Ilene volunteers in various organizations throughout the city.

Docent at the Walters Art Museum for the past 11 years.

Reading partner at Francis Scott Key Elementary

President, Charm City Hadassah Chapter

Active in the Jewish Women’s Giving Foundation through the ASSOCIATED.

In addition to volunteering, Ilene and her family love to travel to exotic places and have travelled to places like the Galapagos Islands, Peru, Australia and Istanbul.

Ilene has been invited to be a part of the Docent Executive Committee at the Walters Art Museum where she will work with a corps of over 70 volunteers.  We know that she will do an outstanding job in her new role.

We thank Ilene Cohen for all of her dedication and love for our volunteers and the JMM over the past 12 years.  We wish her happiness and contentment in her next role. We also look forward to seeing her and Neri at future JMM events!!

Every month we highlight one of our fantastic JMM volunteers. If you are interested in volunteering with the JMM, send an email to Sue Foard at sfoard@jewishmuseummd.org or call 410-732-6402 x220! You can also get more information about volunteering at the Museum here.


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Volunteer Spotlight on: Harvey Karch, docent

Posted on May 2nd, 2016 by

Volunteer Docent, Harvey Karch was born and raised in Baltimore.  He first lived above the family grocery store in Dundalk, next migrated northwest to Forest Park, then onward to Park Heights.  After college, he moved to Montgomery County – he currently lives in Rockville.  Harvey always had an interest in the Lloyd Street Synagogue since it was the shul where his grandfather davened (prayed).  His grandfather was from Volhynia , as was his friend, the president of Shomrei Mishmeres HaKodesh, Tobias Miller. Harvey’s father, Leonard Karch, became a Bar Mitzvah at the Lloyd Street Synagogue on a snowy day in January 1936. He told the story of the weather being so bad, that after services they simply went back to their East Baltimore Street home where people ate kichel, drank whiskey and said “Mazel tov!” And that was that – no big celebration like children today have come to know. When Harvey graduated from the University of Maryland with a degree in Liberal Arts, he was hired by Social Security. They trained him to be a computer programmer. He worked his way up the ladder, and after 38 years retired as the Chief Information Officer at an agency of the Department of Health and Human Services.  He admits that the key to his success was perseverance.

Harvey Karch

Harvey Karch

The impetus to Harvey volunteering at the JMM was two trips he took as a visitor, in 2001. On the first visit, he joined his synagogue chaverah from Potomac. He was inspired to attend because of the family connection. The second time he came was with a program offered jointly through B’nai Brith and the Knight’s of Columbus.  They visited the historic synagogues then went for dinner in Little Italy.  Quite honestly, Harvey did not love the tours.  He went into the Museum Shop and bought Isaac M. Fein’s The History of Baltimore Jewry from 1773-1920 – The Making of An American Jewish Community. After reading it, he made an appointment with the Education Director, Deborah Cardin, and discussed becoming a docent.  When she explained that the Isaac Fein book is what our Docents use for training, he was recruited. Harvey had actually taken classes at Hebrew High School, part of the former Baltimore Hebrew College, with Isaac Fein in the early 1960’s. He was well on his way to understanding the Baltimore Jewish Community and it’s history, and became a Docent in no time. In addition to volunteering at the JMM, Harvey delivers Meals on Wheels in Montgomery County and enjoys taking classes in Jewish Studies and History at the University of Maryland.

Beyond volunteering as a Docent at the JMM, Harvey also works on the “Cemetery Project” with former JMM Historian, Deb Weiner.  Harvey had searched the Jewish Genealogical Society database for his parents’ records, with no success.  They are buried in the United Hebrew Cemetery on Washington Boulevard. It is currently associated with Moses Montefiore Anshe Emunah Congregation, and run by W.S. Tegeler Monument Company, but they only maintained paper records as of 2012.  So, twice a month, for three years now, Harvey and Deb have gone to the cemetery, taken information off of 3” x 5” cards and entered it onto a spreadsheet.  They began with the letter “A,” have completed 90% of the records, and once it is complete, the information will be uploaded onto the JMM website, for universal use.  It is quite an accomplishment, for which a lot of people will be grateful.  True to “Smalltimore” form, Harvey learned that the man running the cemetery now is a cousin of his father.

Harvey says he continues to feel the family connection every time he walks into the Lloyd Street Synagogue even though his grandfather passed away over 50 years ago.  And, he enjoys meeting the visitors who go on his synagogue tours.  He was once giving a tour to a woman and her grandson, who happened to be wearing a Dundalk High School sweatshirt.  Harvey mentioned that he used to live there, above a store in the St. Helena area. The woman asked if it was Stone’s Market or Karch’s? He was tickled that she remembered it from when she was a young girl.  He also remembers the time had two priests on his tour.  One was an historian who wanted to show the younger priest the building because it had once been used as a church. When Harvey explained that the Star of David stained glass window survived, in tact, during the years it was a church, the priest agreed that it was part of their heritage too.  Then, when the 3 men entered B’nai Israel and Harvey asked them to put on yarmulkes, the older priest picked up a red one, handed it to the younger priest and said, “Congratulations on your promotion!” A fun time can always be found at the Jewish Museum of Maryland and we appreciate that Harvey continues to share his precious volunteer hours with us, to enable such.

ilene cohenA blog post by Volunteer Coordinator Ilene Cohen. Every month she will be highlighting one of our fantastic JMM volunteers. If you are interested in volunteering with the JMM, drop her an email at icohen@jewishmuseummd.org or call 410-732-6402 x217! You can also get more information about volunteering at the Museum here.


Posted in jewish museum of maryland

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