This summer, I had the privilege to intern at the Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington. I hope to one day work in a Jewish museum, and have served as an intern at the Jewish Museum of Milwaukee and as a volunteer docent at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. As a museum studies student with many interests, what attracted me most to the Society was the opportunity to work on a wide range of projects instead of being restricted to one department as is often the case at larger institutions. Some of my projects included:
- Developing a cumulative timeline of local Jewish history
- Adding new sections to an online exhibit
- Helping set up and take down traveling exhibits
- Leading tours of the historic Adas Israel synagogue
- Assisting with public programs and special events
- Collecting content for an informational fundraising packet
My experiences at JHSGW showed me how small museums meet the challenges that larger museums may never need to worry about. I was thoroughly impressed by the creativity staff members used to collect, preserve, and share local Jewish history to the public. The staff invited me to share my input and become part of the program-building team. I even got to go on staff field trips to visit the Jewish Museum of Maryland and the German-American Heritage Museum, where we shared ideas and experiences with our colleagues. This hands-on approach enabled me to apply what I learned in my scriptwriting, marketing, fundraising, and history classes to real-life situations and tasks in the museum. I really enjoyed being able to work with every member of the JHSGW staff at some point over the course of the summer, whether it was assembling mailings, brainstorming new organizational logos, or leading a tour.
My favorite undertaking this summer was leading tours of the 1876 Adas Israel Synagogue because I loved interacting with the visitors. The tours gave me the opportunity to share what I had learned about local Jewish Washington with the visitors. I loved the connections that I could draw between national and local history. I loved the discussions and dialogues that often began between the visitors and the museum staff, enabling both audiences to actively participate. More than anything, I loved the wide-open eyes and grins of amazement that the visitors made when I told them that the synagogue had moved three blocks on wheels, and would be moving again. The visitors asked all sorts of great questions, and I had a lot of fun answering them or in some cases throwing the questions back to the audience for ongoing discussion.
I am not ready to leave this internship, but alas my time is up. I plan to continue as a volunteer tour guide for both synagogue and walking tours in the fall, and I look forward to seeing what the Society does next!
Samantha Bass is a second-year Master’s student at The George Washington University, where she studies exhibit development, museum administration, and history.