A woman donning a mask at the polls while casting her vote. A family conducting a socially distanced funeral service. And visiting relatives saying hello to an elderly person through the window of a care facility. These are some of the images that The Lillian & Albert Small Capital Jewish Museum has collected to tell the story of the pandemic to future generations.
The goal is to create a digital archive or exhibit from the perspective of the Washington-area Jewish community, said Rebekah Sobel, the museum’s director of interpretation Rebekah Sobel. The museum has been accepting pandemic-related donations since May.
“As a capital Jewish museum, or as a history museum or as any museum in any community, I think it’s important that we document history, even if it’s as we’re going through it, so that we can interpret it and learn from it in all the variety of different contexts of the future,” Sobel said. “Part of our job as museum professionals is to figure out how to best interpret history, interpret the past, so that we can learn from it.”
Donations include recordings of Zoom calls, advertisements for digital programs, photos of people in masks and copies of emails sent out from schools announcing campus closures. Sobel hopes to begin receiving physical items related to the pandemic: n95 masks worn by Jewish doctors, homemade masks made by Jewish crafters or art produced during the pandemic by Jewish artists. As for digital material, the museum hopes to gather more information on all donated pieces. Sobel said every piece was an item that someone felt the need to share, preserve and donate to the museum.
“Right now, just getting things from people that they think is important to them is great, and really key,” she said. “So that’s all good content to help people of different ages re-experience and remember the past, even if it’s only five years from the past. My kids are little, and they’re going to remember something from this.
“But they won’t remember what we’re talking about right now. So for them to see what they lived through in another way, it’s super important.”
In addition to materials related to the pandemic, the museum is collecting signs and stories from the current Black Lives Matter protests. Material can be submitted to capitaljewishmuseum.org/digitalcollecting.
“If somebody has a protest sign from 1963, it’s just as important as a protest sign from 2020,” Sobel said. “That helps us preserve and interpret and understand history in D.C. So the Jewish part about experiencing COVID in D.C., or the Jewish inﬂuence on protesting, whether it’s in the ‘60s or the 2000s, it all has value.”