Volunteers abound for oral history project

More than 3 dozen get interview training at Jewish Museum's 'Telling Time'

March 01, 2010|By Matthew Hay Brown | matthew.brown@baltsun.com

Officials at the Jewish Museum of Maryland were hopeful that their call for oral history interviewers would draw volunteers. But they didn't anticipate anything like the turnout Sunday.

More than three dozen area residents agreed to ask prominent and not-so-prominent Marylanders their recollections of and reflections on the state's Jewish community. Nearly all of them packed the museum library Sunday for four hours of training in researching their subjects, conducting the interviews and operating the recording equipment the museum has purchased for the project.

"I've done a lot of interviewing. I've interviewed my father, who is 95," said Ina Singer, a volunteer from Pikesville. "I thought this would be a good way to develop a skill set, while making a contribution to the collection here."

The museum on Lloyd Street in East Baltimore is marking its 50th anniversary this year by conducting 50 interviews with Jews and non-Jews on the past, present and future of the Jewish community. To date, organizers have secured the cooperation of 16 subjects willing to sit for 90 to 120 minutes for "Telling Time," the oral history project. They include Baltimore Councilwoman Rochelle "Rikki" Spector; Rabbi Mitchell Ackerson, a military chaplain who served in Iraq; and the Rev. Richard Lawrence, pastor of St. Vincent de Paul Church in Baltimore.

"One of the criteria for our subjects is that they haven't been interviewed before, or at least recently," said Jobi Zink, senior collections manager at the museum and leader of Sunday's training session. "We chose a group that's broad-based by intention. If we weren't careful, we could have ended up with 50 white guys."

The museum has long conducted interviews for individual exhibitions - memorably, for "We Call This Place Home," on Jewish life in small-town Maryland; "Lives Lost, Lives Found," on the settlement in Baltimore of German Jewish refugees before World War II, and "Voices of Lombard Street," about life in the neighborhood not far from the museum.

But "Telling Time" is an unusually ambitious project.

"In a typical year, we probably do 15 interviews," curator Karen Falk said.

The anniversary interviews will be added to an oral history archive that now has 735 recordings. The museum incorporates them into exhibitions, and makes them available to researchers.

Joe Nathanson has already contributed to the archive. The Baltimore consultant, who has an interest in Jewish immigrants, donated an interview he conducted with a Jewish woman from Iranian Kurdistan.

He said Sunday that he was looking forward to more interviews.

"I'm trying to understand the various strands of Jewish history and culture," he said. "Learning about communities in all parts of the world."

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