A Year at Esther’s Place

A blog post by Chris Sniezek, Manager (Esther’s Place).  To read more posts from Chris, click here.

Hello everyone, this is shop manager Chris again with a very special blog post. As of January 6th I have worked at the JMM for a year now and what a year it has been. Reflecting back on this year, it has been like none I’ve ever experienced. I had spent two and a half months working in the museum shop before the world turned upside down and the museum closed its doors to help reduce the spread of the Covid-19 in Baltimore. In the first several months, I began learning about Jewish culture and the museum community as a whole and I really started getting in the swing of things, but that was swiftly put on hold in March.

Color photo go a young white man with glasses smiling at the camera and waiting. He is standing inside of a shop.

Before I began working at the Jewish Museum, my knowledge of Jewish history and culture was minimal. I knew about Hanukkah and matzah, but since I began, I have learned a lot more. I have learned about holidays such as Purim, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Shabbat, Tu Bishvat, etc. and I have learned so much about Jewish culture from both visitors, volunteers, and staff. Starting in the shop I had to learn what items are like; a mezuzah, an Elijah cup, a Kiddush cup, and a Jewish wedding cup.

Color photograph showing a menorah, dreidel, and matchbox, all in the same style combining colored glass and stone.

On top of actually learning about what Judaica items the shop has, I’ve also learned a little about the history behind a Hamsa and what phrases like “Jewish penicillin” mean. On top of learning about Jewish culture and Jewish items, I’ve also picked up some history of Jewish influence on old/current Baltimore. After the museum closes, occasionally I take a quick loop around the Voices of Lombard Street exhibit.

Color photograph taken inside an exhibit gallery showing a large sepia toned, life-sized photo of a early 1900s family. THere are a number of quotes around them, unreadable from this distance.
Voices of Lombard Street. Photo by Will Kirk.

Once the museum closed, my work shifted to a primarily online shop. In a way, the pandemic was a blessing in disguise because we had been hoping to start an online section of the store, but the pandemic fast-tracked the need for a hands-free shop. I spent about a month adding many of the shop items to the online store that helped float the store for a couple months while we figured out how we would keep the museum operational. Once the eCrater site was operational, I began learning how to run an online store and manage the setbacks that came with it. The greatest challenge with maintaining the online shop has been, in many respects, ensuring the proper payment set-up and shipping information.

A white paper sign with rounded counters hung up on a glass door. Sign reads "Attention: Due to limited space within the gift shop and the inability to maintain social distancing protocols, we have closed the shop to visitors. Please feel free to browse the pop-up shop and the glass cases, and inquite about any items you see or questions you may have!)

 (Sign hanging on the door to the shop)

Coming back to the museum in a phase 1 reopening I had to then acclimate myself to the many new precautions undertaken by the museum on top of the old schedule. Luckily, these new precautions fit easily into many of the old activities and I was able to adapt (by adapt, I mean place many sticky notes reading “MASK!!!” so I remember to keep my mask on). By our phase 2 reopening, I haven’t really needed to rely on the sticky notes to remind me of the new procedures.

A small yellow sticky note reading "Mask" placed on the frame of a double doorway.
My personal reminder to put on my mask before leaving the office for the main museum.

I need to throw in at least one paragraph to reflect upon the people who have helped me succeed here the past year. I need to thank the shop volunteers who, without their willingness to help teach me the many ins and outs of the shop and help me with the daily upkeep. I have been able to bounce ideas off them and they have helped me grow tremendously as a shop manager. Therefore, to the volunteers I say thank you and I can’t wait until we can see each other again in person. I also want to give a shout-out to my co-workers who have made this work experience a wonderful first year.

An older white woman with short curly hair stands next to a shop counter pointing to a display of books, including a children's book about the Lloyd Street Synagogue, "Did Jew Know," and a book on Jewish holidays
Laraine, one of our great JMM shop volunteers.

Outside of my work anniversary, 2020 was a rollercoaster of a year. The year began really well when I landed this job at JMM, but took a bit of a slope when we went into lockdown. Only once it became obvious the lockdown would be longer than the anticipated two weeks did my year take a sharp decline. A lot of that decline came when I realized this pandemic obliterated my yearly goals for work. My year got a lot better when I proposed to my fiancé since that was my main life goal outside of get a job. It had a little bump when my fiancé was offered a job. Since then, life has plateaued a bit as I wait for the next part of our lives to begin, but until then, my 2021 will (hopefully) be uneventful unless we make the events.

A young white couple, man on the left, woman on the right, both wearing glasses, stand in front of a decorated Christmas tree. They are both smiling at the camera.

Me and Julia wishing everyone a happy (and better) 2021!

Esther's Place

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