Liora Newman is fresh out of college and new to the Washington, D.C., community, but she brings with her a talent and passion for history and museums that suits her perfectly as an education assistant at the Capital Jewish Museum. In her role, Newman combines her love of history with an appreciation for museums and helps engage with people to learn about historical topics and generate important conversations. Newman is the first Avodah Jewish Service Corps member to work at the museum.
What does your day-to-day look like as the education assistant at CJM?
This is pretty much a new position since this is the first year that CJM has had an Avodah member and also the first year that CGM has been open. My role mostly involves working with the Community Action Lab, which is what we like to call our Maker Activation space. It’s kind of a makerspace with activities and resources to help people take their learning from the museum and both continue that and mobilize to take action on an issue that they care about. A lot of what I do is creating activities, resources and programming for that space. That can look like a drop-in activity that anyone can just come in and do at any time. I’m also working on developing resources for the space to help people continue to learn about some of the issues we discussed in the exhibits. And I’m also working on a bunch of partnerships with local organizations like social justice focused organizations, to have them come in and do a lab takeover for part of a day where they can bring activities, talk about their work and encourage people to get involved. So that is the bulk of what I do, but I also do some supportive work with programs and with leading tours.
How did you get involved with CJM?
[I was involved with] Avodah, which is a one-year-long service year program for people aged 21 through 26. And it basically combines communal living, work placement at a local nonprofit and social justice programming. So, that was something that was interesting to me coming straight out of college. I graduated from college in June, and it seemed like a nice transition for me, but my ultimate goal has been to work in the museum industry. So, when I saw that there was a job placement at CJM, I thought that just works out perfectly. And that’s how I ended up here.
What got you interested in museums and led to you want to work with one?
I’ve always been really into history. I majored in history in college. And I also draw a lot from my experience as an organizer and activist in college. And I think that for me, working in museums and public history spaces is really a combination of those two interests, in that I believe really strongly in the power of museums to make history more accessible to the public, but also to raise awareness about things that are going on in the world and to be a place where people can have difficult conversations and explore issues that are really complex. I think that’s something that I really appreciate about museums and what kind of draws me to work in that space.
There’s a ton of Jewish history in the Washington, D.C., area. What is the personal satisfaction that you get out of working with CJM and the history involved with this community?
I think it’s really cool to get to see people connect to history that feels very personal to them. Part of my job is leading tours for groups that come into the museum and a lot of those groups are local people from synagogues or local organizations, and I’ll get people who will see things in the museum that they very much see themselves in and that they recognize and stories that they recognize, or they’ll see a picture of an event and say, ‘Oh, I was there, this person I know was there.’ And I always end up hearing a lot of interesting stories from people. So, I think it’s cool working in a local history space just to be able to see people connect with their history in that way.
How does your Jewish identity impact your daily life?
I think that my Jewish identity very much plays a role in my commitment to social justice. This is a very Avodah answer. I think that’s kind of what drove me to be a part of Avodah – to participate specifically in a Jewish social justice program because I feel that my identity as a Jew really pushes my drive for change. And I think that it’s also special to me to work at a Jewish museum. I grew up in a big Jewish space in Greater Boston, there’s a big Jewish community there. [While] I don’t necessarily always feel like there are parts of the local history that are personal to me, I think I do see a lot of connections and I can still kind of see my own story reflected in the museum, especially since we talk a lot about activism and a lot about Jewish activists. I think that’s something that I can really relate to.