Has it really been a year?

From Visitor Services Coordinator Talia Makowsky. To read more posts from Talia, click here.

I’ve always been one for traditions. I look forward to watching the Lord of the Rings movies in the winter (extended editions only), to celebrating my birthday each year, to visits with my mom to some new place to explore. In the same way, I like taking the time to reflect on anniversaries, on moments in my life that have changed the trajectory. Making this time to reflect allows the space to wonder and hope, to set bigger and better goals to accomplish.

Two women stand close together, smiling at the camera. Behind them is an old, stone structure.
My mom and I practicing one of our traditions, traveling together. Whether we take a short train ride to New York City, or we travel all the way to Jerusalem, traveling with my mom is an important tradition for me.

However, this year, looking back at my second year of work at the Jewish Museum of Maryland is kind of hard to do. Like so many others are experiencing, this year has been hard, weird, terrifying, difficult, and a total disruption to all our lives. At the Museum, I went from sitting at the front desk every day, seeing our visitors face to face and all the things going on from my perch, to being at home, not seeing any of my colleagues in person. Of course, we all Zoom and chat and email all week long, but it’s not the same as having my coworkers stop by the front desk to update me on a project or for a bit of chat.

a screenshot of a Zoom call, showing 15 adults smiling from their work-from-home office.
One of our regular Monday staff meetings, a very familiar view these days in my work.

Reaching our visitors has been a unique challenge, as we all adapted to the new reality of online museum work. Our Programs team has worked hard to create interesting and varied digital programming, the result of which has seen more engagement with guests from outside Maryland. And they have plenty more in store for JMM friends. But translating programs to online platforms is a different process than visitor experiences.

Working with adult groups, in particular, has definitely changed. While we’re not inviting groups to visit onsite, we are doing a lot of adult tours still, especially during our run of Jews in Space: Members of the Tribe in Orbit. Figuring out how to make an engaging digital tour, that provides a similar experience to actually visiting in person and getting a tour from one of our volunteer docents, has been a challenge. And yet, it’s been one of the most rewarding parts of my job this past year.

I’ve gotten to know our exhibits deeply, doing my own research and diving into the process of creating a whole new tour that can work over Zoom and PowerPoint. And in the process, not to brag, my PowerPoint skills have totally leveled up, allowing me to create visuals that reflect the aesthetics of the exhibit, brining more atmosphere to the whole experience.

Even outreach to the groups has shifted, from trying to engage groups with an easy proximity to the Museum, to engaging groups in Virginia, Massachusetts, and even Illinois. There’s a lot of potential in where we can go with our digital tours, both in experimenting with this new platform, and who we can reach with our stories.

The best part of all these tours, and my work over the past year, has been able to connect with our visitors again. It’s certainly not the same as being able to casually chat in the exhibit, pointing out little details or answering questions on the spot. Yet, I’ve worked hard to create space and time in my tours that allows for the sharing of stories and experiences. I’ve heard stories about working on certain space shuttles, being in the scrap yard industry, and even heard from someone who met Ilan Ramon, the first Israeli astronaut.

Ilan Ramon was the first, and so far the only, Israeli astronaut to go to space with NASA. He is just one of the many astronauts featured in my Jews in Space tour.

Hearing from groups is my favorite part of these tours, of my work this past year, as it really goes to show how much people need to share their stories. People want to connect and hear and listen and share, even when we’re all separated and seeing each other through a computer screen. I’m humbled that I can provide even just a few moments of that connection, through these digital tours. While this is not the way I expected my second year at JMM to go, I’m proud of the work I’ve made and I look forward to creating more opportunities for people to share and learn from each other.

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