Working To Bring Jewish History to Life: Melissa Hausfeld

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Melissa Hausfeld. Photo Courtesy.

Melissa Hausfeld has been a Washingtonian her whole life, steeped in the culture of the Washington, D.C., Jewish community since she was a kid. Now a businesswoman working as the COO for Piney Branch Motors in the DMV area, Hausfeld has maintained that strong Jewish connection through volunteer work as an executive board member of the Capital Jewish Museum and a board member at Congregation Beth El in Bethesda.

What’s your background and how did you first get involved with the museum?

I am a native born and bred Washingtonian. My entire family has lived in D.C. and the surrounding suburbs for generations. I am currently an executive board member at the Lillian & Albert Small Capital Jewish Museum. And I have been a board member for many years. I became interested in the museum when I read about their programs on social media and became a member. My membership opened the door for the journey I’ve been on since then with them.

Can you talk about the motivation that got you to become more involved with CJM?

Growing up in this area, my Bubbe Devoira would tell me stories about riding the streetcar down 16th Street to go to the JCC. And this museum is bringing her story, the stories of my family and our community history to life, literally in the museum. And that just sounded so exciting to me. It’s a way to honor my own family and to teach my kids about where we’ve come from. The other thing that attracted me to the museum is my passion for all things historical, combined with my background in media. The museum is collecting media from families, local Jewish organizations and area synagogues, and preserving those stories and artifacts. Our amazing museum staff is then building that collection to be available online and making it digital, which is just so cool! This past December, I was searching for fun on the museum’s online collection database, and I found a photo of my Great-Uncle Nathan in 1936, with a group of students in front of Adas Israel. My father had never seen that photo before and his reaction was priceless. This is why we’re doing this, because we’re giving this gift of history back to my family and so many others in the community.

What does the work of a board member look like?

A nonprofit board provides leadership, oversight, and guidance based on the mission of the organization. Our board is engaged as a partner with the current staff, with initiatives to build our audience, support fundraising, create exhibitions and event programming, and future opportunities for the museum. For example, the staff and the board have had in-depth conversations about where the world is now and how the Capital Jewish Museum can support the community. We have found hosting events inside of our building are a meaningful way for us to practice our tagline, which is: Connect, Reflect and Act. This spring, we’re hosting a community seder which will feature a Haggadah created by local partners. We’re also using our space for vital discussions on antisemitism. On March 26, the museum will host a special program called: This Moment on Campus: Challenges and Opportunities, moderated by Adam Lehman, president and CEO at Hillel International. The board is actively collaborating with the museum staff in the creation of these impactful, timely, and significant projects.

What is the importance of this work to you?

I am inspired by l’dor v’dor, preserving and passing our stories on to the next generation, which is a feeling shared amongst the entire board. The other reason I came into this museum, is that we are helping to educate both our own Jewish community and the broader D.C. community. We welcome all through our doors and into this amazing space, so that everyone can learn about these stories together, and I think that’s more important
now than ever.

How does your Jewish identity impact you in your daily life and your work at CJM?

For me, growing up in this area, my Jewish community has literally given me everything. I met my husband at Jewish summer camp, Camp Ramblewood, we were very young. And these days, my Jewish community is my support network, from my group of mom friends to the clergy at my shul to the Capital Jewish Museum board members, who are my mentors and my friends, and who teach me so much more through their eyes and their experience. I am also reminded of my family’s journey to this country, which was filled with challenges. Even today, we have so many big challenges ahead of us, but it is ingrained in me through my Jewish identity and the values passed onto me to persevere and create a better tomorrow for our people
and community.

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