Meet Erika Rief Hornstein

Growing up in the Owings Mills area, Erika Rief Hornstein left Baltimore after high school but returned for graduate school where she earned an MBA/MA in Design Leadership at Johns Hopkins Carey School of Business and the Maryland Institute College of Art. Today, she is a Design Strategy Manager at the Johns Hopkins School of Nursing, working on research projects and programs that improve quality of life and independence for older adults.

During her time in graduate school, Erika served as a volunteer docent at the Jewish Museum of Maryland (JMM) and now sits on the Board. We spoke to Erika to discuss her involvement with the JMM, what the future of the museum holds, and how young adults can meaningfully get involved in agencies of The Associated.

Why the JMM?

I’ve always been interested in Jewish history, stemming from my days at Beth Tfiloh. During college, I interned at the Jewish Museum and enjoyed it so much that when I found extra time during graduate school, I decided to return and volunteer as a docent.

Following graduation, my husband and I were living in Harbor East and very active in B’nai Israel Congregation, which is located right next to the museum. Therefore, I had a vested interest in helping the neighborhood thrive. I met with Marvin Pinkert, the former executive director of the museum, and he explained the vision of the museum and its future presence in Jonestown. As the JMM looks to become more inclusive in various ways, the board was eager to add a new member from a less represented age group.  And that’s when I joined the board.

Shortly after joining, I became a member of the Visioning Committee, which was formed to guide the museum’s physical expansion. Our goals were ambitious for a tight timeline, including hiring an architecture firm, formulating stakeholder conversations, and providing feedback on initial plans. It was such a privilege to be a part of this process, which at its core was trying to define how the JMM’s footprint could shape Baltimore Jewish Community and Jonestown Community. Unfortunately, the project was put on hold because of COVID-19, but I hope to continue to be involved when it resumes.

I understand there is now a new Executive Director.

Yes. I was also asked to serve on the selection committee for our new executive director. Being a part of an executive search process was a great learning experience for me. And, I was able to make sure applicants were asked about their perspective on young adult engagement. I am very excited about Sol Davis’s vision for the museum and the experience he brings.

How has the pandemic affected the museum?

Our major focuses are turning our exhibits into virtual experiences and increasing programming partnerships. The latest temporary exhibit, Jews in Space, has been live* and virtual since September (*as of publication the museum is closed to visitors). We’ve also created partnerships with Jewish and non-Jewish across and outside of the United States. For instance, we’ve been able to partner with Jewish Museums in South Africa and in Australia for a “Jewish Museums Across the Seas” series. It’s been wonderful to be able to engage people from all over the world who might not be able to physically visit Baltimore.

I’m also involved in the marketing and outreach committee. I’m focused on contacting synagogues that are within a 1 hour driving distance, like Annapolis, D.C. and Northern Virginia to let them know about our digital programs and private tours. The hope is that if we can introduce them to the museum now with digital opportunities, after the pandemic, the museum will be a top of mind destination for them to come visit.

What was the most interesting thing you learned about Jewish Baltimore from your time as a docent?

While interning at the museum, I was also conducting extensive research into my family’s genealogy. I got to go into the archives myself and locate several artifacts of my own family members, including the original Yiddish by-laws of B’nai Israel Synagogue that listed my family as congregants. As a docent, I make sure to weave in my family history story with the tour script which enhances the participants’ experience.

Any other volunteer memories?

I did a tour for Moishe House with 15 young adults who grew up in the suburbs or in other states, but now lived in the city and had no idea all of the Jewish history that surrounded them. It’s always special to me to be able to bring the history of Baltimore to life with people living here in the present. For example, next time you are in Little Italy, take a look around and see if you can spot the Yiddish mural still visible.

You mention your love of Jewish history. If you could go back in time, what era would you return to and why? Who would you want to meet?

This is a really tough one! Due to all of my genealogy research, I think I’d have to say I’d like to return to my great-great-grandmother’s town in Lithuania in 1880 and follow her journey to the United States in 1904. I’ve made a lot interesting discoveries about how she came here as a widow with three young children but there are still a lot of the “why’s” missing from the story for which I would love to have answers.

How can young adults be more involved with the JMM?

First of all, attend JMM programs and keep an eye out for new exhibits! The museum offers such creative programming around its exhibits and culturally relevant topics for all ages. The JMM promotes dialog around Jewish history, values, and social issues, so there is really something for everyone. I also hope that as the world opens back up, it grows as a community space for young adults to host educational, social, and cultural programs. If you’re interested in getting involved more formally on a museum committee, please reach out and I’d be happy to connect you.

Any advice you could give for young adults looking to take steps towards active volunteering?

For Jewish Baltimore, The Associated has so many opportunities for volunteering, networking, and professional development through its agencies. No matter your volunteer, personal, or professional interests, you can find an organization, committee, or interest group that aligns. Reach out to The Associated to learn more.

Once you find an opportunity, it’s helpful to frequently evaluate your time on a committee or as a volunteer. Think about what value you are bringing. Your time is valuable and so is the effort on the part of the agency to engage you. Make sure the relationship is working and if it’s not, approach someone you trust and discuss with them how to reshape your role so that both you and the organization are benefitting. For more information about the JMM’s upcoming exhibits and programs, check out the museum’s website and follow on Facebook or Instagram.

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The Associated is a home for everyone in the Baltimore Jewish community. We offer several email lists to help people find a community, engage with their peers and support Jewish journeys around the world.

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