The summer has gone by faster than I could have imagined back in May when I began working at the Capital Jewish Museum. And the internship itself has evolved over time from the plans at my first meeting with my supervisor, to the description I wrote when I applied for the WOW fellowship, to what I actually ended up working on over the summer.
When my supervisor and I first spoke, we found that we shared an interest in cemeteries – he regularly walks through D.C. cemeteries, searching for familiar names. As we discussed potential projects for the summer, two cemetery-related projects came up: photographing and creating complete indexes of graves in D.C.’s historic Jewish cemeteries and creating online walking tours of these cemeteries similar to the tours available at the Congressional Cemetery in D.C. As of now, I have fully photographed two of the four historic cemeteries located in southeast D.C. and am working on completing the indexes. Once those indexes are complete, my supervisor, whose knowledge of D.C. Jewish history is much more advanced, will go through and flag individuals or families to be included in the walking tours. The plan is to create multiple tours – for example, the Congressional Cemetery’s various tours include “Brewers,” “Cenotaphs,” “Civil Rights Heroes,” and “Men of Adventure.” Some possible examples for the Jewish cemeteries might be “Clergy,” or “Business Owners.” This project is more long-term than we may have expected, which means my internship will be extended through the fall semester.
It can sometimes feel like the work I am doing is insufficient – a minuscule change that does little in the larger scheme of things. I have often been asked, regarding my cemetery project, how long would it take to do this sort of project in every Jewish cemetery in the United States? More time than I have. But the work I am doing still makes a difference. It will help the synagogues when people reach out asking for photos or information; it will help the museum with future cemetery-related projects; and it will help many unknown researchers searching for information online about their families whose roots can be found in a plot in southeast D.C.
When I applied to the WOW fellowship, I mentioned that I hoped to use this incredible opportunity to explore my grandfather’s D.C. family history. As part of the cemetery project, I was able to index the entire cemetery where my great-great grandparents and three of their children are buried. Doing so was a way for me to honor them and their community, making sure their memories are preserved. It similarly helps me serve as a resource to others hoping to honor their families’ histories.
In this way, my work this summer has helped me become more certain about what I would like to do in the future. No matter what field I end up with, whether I am working in genealogy, a museum, or something else altogether, I hope my work will be of help to others – I enjoy the feeling of being of service, knowing that what I do is affecting others’ lives in a positive way. It has been inspiring to meet so many people this summer who are similarly inspired and who devote their time to historical preservation.