Jewish Museum of Maryland Weathers Two Natural Disasters

A blog post by Associate Director Anita Kassof.

My monthly blog post comes on the heels of two natural disasters and, for once, I’m delighted not to have much to write about.

While Irene’s arrival was heralded by dire predictions from weather forecasters and admonishments to lay in everything from sandbags to batteries, the as-yet-unnamed earthquake took us all by surprise. I happened to be working at home that afternoon (where I initially attributed my shaking desk to my dog scratching a particularly tenacious flea), so I did not partake in the JMM drama.

When I returned to the office, everyone was eager to share what-I-was-doing-when-it-hit stories, as people do after most natural disasters or tragedies (where-I-was-when-Kennedy-was-shot stories have sustained generations of Americans). Of course, an earthquake is no laughing matter in a museum that houses precious, delicate, or irreplaceable collections, but by the time I showed up on the scene the collections staff had already done a thorough assessment and discovered one or two tumbled objects and no more.

A few objects fell, but nothing was damaged or broken.

The Lloyd Street Synagogue also appeared to have survived unscathed, although the next day an observant docent noted that after our initial check, a small piece of plaster had crumbled from the crown molding. A thorough walk-through didn’t reveal any other apparently new cracks, but when you’re dealing with a 166 year old building, it’s pretty challenging to distinguish a new crack from an old one. To be on the safe side, we’ve invited a structural engineer to conduct a walk through of both synagogues in the near future, though as our preservation architect points out, “If the building isn’t in the street, you’re probably okay.”

A piece of fallen plaster.


Probably a pre-existing crack.


We’d hardly finished talking about the earthquake when the next natural disaster loomed. Friday was a busy day for our collections staff and custodian, as we prepared for the wrath of Irene.

Emergency Management CoordinatorJobi Zink. Who says hardhats can’t go high fashion?

While the sun still shone, my colleagues sandbagged the doors of the Lloyd Street Synagogue, cleaned out exterior drains, prepared our basement rooms for potential flooding, and made sure we were all familiar with the Museum’s emergency response protocols. Fortunately, all our precautionary measures turned out to be unnecessary. Irene left us with little more than a couple of puddles and a few fallen leaves.

But it’s good to have had some practice in preparation, because blizzard season is just around the corner.

jewish museum of maryland

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