Monday, February 10, 2014

Note from Beatles' First U.S. Concert Unearthed on Eve of Show's 50th Anniversary

The Beatles!
Gift of John Lynn.
JHSGW Collections.
Braving a freezing snowstorm the night of February 11, 1964, thousands of fans streamed to the Washington Coliseum to see the Beatles perform their first concert in the United States. The venue's owner, Harry Lynn (1916-2006), kept a promotional photo of the "Fab Four," which he included in voluminous scrapbooks, added just this week to the Society's collection.

On the eve of the 50th anniversary of the concert, JHSGW archivists have discovered a personal note on the back of this photo, written to Lynn and signed by the band.

Sometime along the way, however, this photo, along with dozens of other photos and notes given to Lynn over the years, was glued on to rigid board. The note and signatures are visible as mirrored indentations made by the pen.

Harry Lynn.
Gift of John Lynn.
JHSGW Collections.
Removing the board and the glue adhering it poses a difficult preservation and conservation problem. However, picking out the note will be possible with specialized imaging equipment, which the Smithsonian's Museum Conservation Institute will provide to assist JHSGW next week.

As the city and country gear up to celebrate 50 years of Beatlemania in the U.S., JHSGW is adding to that story. The recent donation of Harry Lynn's Washington Coliseum scrapbooks, contributed by his son John and facilitated by JHSGW president Sam Brylawski, will be our February Object of the Month. They will reveal even more of our city's fascinating part in one of the last century's most important cultural movements.

LEARN MORE!

  -- WUSA-9 video
  -- Tomorrow, 1:00 p.m., Kojo Nnamdi Show, WAMU
  -- Tomorrow, John Kelly's Washington Post column

Friday, December 27, 2013

Object of the Month: December 2013

Object No.: 2006.3.1
Donor: Stephanie Silverstein
Description: Menu from Comet Liquor and Deli, 1815 Columbia Road, NW, 1990s.

Comet Liquor menu, 2000s

Photography of Comet Liquor store front, 2005
Fisher Photography
Do you remember Comet Liquors in Adams Morgan on Columbia Road between 18th and 19th Streets? It had a distinctive neon sign. Most who remember the business don't realize it was opened by a Jewish immigrant in 1940 and continued to be Jewish-owned throughout its existence.

When Oscar Gildenhorn opened Comet Liquor in 1940, the neighborhood was not yet called Adams Morgan. The name had caught on by the time Gildenhorn's son-in-law Howard Speisman took over management 25 years later. Sidney Drazin bought Comet in 1980. Drazin, a native Washingtonian, had served in World War II and then run a few different businesses before buying Comet.

In 1989, as neighborhood demographics changed, Drazin added a deli counter. Earlier in the 20th century, it was common for Jewish grocers in Washington to move into the liquor business, but now, a few decades later, a liquor man was adding food to his business.

Sidney Drazin at the Comet Liquor counterShortly after this change, Drazin (seen left) brought in a chair so he could sit while at work. He quickly found that customers wanted to sit and chat, so he set up a table and a few chairs by the entrance. These extra pieces of furniture changed the atmosphere of the store. The Washington Post wrote that Comet became a "kind of plastic-chaired neighborhood salon." Regulars came from all walks of life – from blue-collar workers to investment bankers – and they sat around the table to socialize and debate. Drazin was a popular neighborhood personality. One regular told the Post that "Sid was the surrogate parent to all the lost souls of Adams Morgan, all the single people who needed a confidence boost."

When Drazin died in 2005, in a show of community affection, Rabbi Ethan Seidel's eulogy ran in The InTowner newspaper. Drazin's widow Bernice shut Comet while the family sat shiva, and a shrine of flowers and cards grew outside the door. After running the store for a few months, Bernice decided to close Comet permanently. The above menu highlights the deli offerings at the time – with whitefish salad and lox served on a bagel hinting at the Jewish ownership.

Drazin's niece, Stephanie Silverstein, who worked for the Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington at the time, alerted the Society's archivists to the impending loss of Comet's historic materials. JHSGW staff embarked on a rescue mission to document the business – Jewish-owned for 60 years. We arranged for a professional photographer to take exterior and interior photographs before the store closed. The iconic neon sign was purchased by a local restaurateur and now hangs at his restaurant, Comet Ping Pong on Connecticut Avenue, NW.

This year, in conjunction with the Jewish Food Experience, our Objects of the Month feature DC's rich Jewish food history. For stories about this history and the latest on the local Jewish food scene – recipes, restaurants, chefs, events, and volunteer opportunities – visit jewishfoodexperience.com.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Object of the Month: October 2013

Accession No: 2013.38
Donor: Lenore & Sol Gnatt
Description: Two community cookbooks, 1950s.
A Pinch of This and a Dash of That (Montgomery County Jewish Community Center Sisterhood, c. 1955)
Eating Pleasure by Sisterhood Measure (Shaare Tefila, Washington D.C., 1958)

These cookbooks illustrate food trends of the 1950s when America's table experienced many changes in the wake of World War II. As the nation's capital, Washington, D.C. was not only uniquely impacted by the wartime influx of government and military personnel, but was also influenced by soldiers returning home.

Palates of the Pacific Theatre 
During the war, American GIs overseas were exposed to new ingredients and dishes. They came back to America craving these flavors. Suddenly, chow mein noodles and sweet and sour variations of popular dishes appeared in restaurants and on the dining room table. A recipe for an Asian-inspired Sweet and Sour Tomato Soup (with or without meatballs) is in the 1958 cookbook entitled Eating Pleasure by Sisterhood Measure. Exotic ingredients such as pineapple gave traditional Ashkenazi dishes a Pacific flair.
Sweet and Sour
Tomato Soup

with or without meatballs
by Selma Swartz
Eating Pleasure by Sisterhood Measure
Beef Oriental
calls for canned pineapple
by Bertha Liebersohn
A Pinch of This and a Dash of That
Sweet and Sour Tongue
by Lenny Gnatt
(donor of the cookbooks)
A Pinch of This and a Dash of That

Photo of receipt books, early 1930s
Illustration in
Eating Pleasure by Sisterhood Measure
Fresh from the box
Another culinary impact of World War II was the demand for quick and easily prepared meals using mixes. During the war, many American women found themselves working away from the home in support of the war effort.

Simultaneously, factories had perfected the production of these goods, and they became more widely available. Quick meals from mixes meant that working women could still prepare dinner for their families. One popular mix was Jello, which inspired a full chapter on molds and salads in A Pinch of This and a Dash of That—a far cry from the side dishes served today.

While many American women ended their wartime employments after the 1945, their culinary habits had been forever changed. Resourceful home cooks looking for ways to save time used mixes in their traditionally made-from-scratch dishes. Even the knish, a popular Ashkenazi dumpling, did not escape the trend. A recipe for knishes in A Pinch of This and a Dash of That uses store-bought pie crust mix to make the dough.

Above all else, these cookbooks demonstrate Washington's ever-evolving Jewish foodways. What will the recipes we share today say about our community decades from now?

The Jewish Historical Society recently acquired these two 1950s cookbooks as part of a larger Washington-area cookbook collection. Stay tuned for future recipes and stories from this cookbook collection!

This year, in conjunction with the Jewish Food Experience, our Objects of the Month feature DC's rich Jewish food history. For stories about this history and the latest on the local Jewish food scene – recipes, restaurants, chefs, events, and volunteer opportunities – visit jewishfoodexperience.com.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Object of the Month: September 2013

Accession No.: 1995.16
Donor: Ruth and Vivian Weinstein
Description: Two grabbers, made of wood and metal, each stand 50" tall.


Monday, September 9, 2013

JHSGW receives Ohev Sholom archives!

We are delighted to announce that Ohev Sholom – The National Synagogue has donated the synagogue’s extensive historical records to the JHSGW archives.

Board minutes, membership files, financial books, cemetery records, photographs, and other memorabilia reveal the synagogue's long and rich history.

In the coming months, our archivists will work to catalog and re-house the records in archival, acid-free boxes and folders to ensure their long-term preservation. In the meantime, join us on a sneak peek into the history of the third oldest congregation in Washington, D.C.
Newly arrived Russian immigrants founded Ohev Sholom in 1886 and rented temporary quarters on 7th Street, NW.  In 1906, the congregation moved into a former church at 5th and I Streets, NW  (left).
Across town, residents of Southwest founded Talmud Torah Congregation in 1887 and built a new synagogue on E Street, SW (right).

Minute books handwritten in Yiddish detail Talmud Torah's daily life in 1905, while a meeting notice for Ohev Sholom documents the congregation's efforts to hire a new cantor in 1927.

During World War II, Ohev Sholom supported Russian War Relief with a donation of $105 in 1942. A few years later, in 1948, Talmud Torah Congregation gathered in the sanctuary to accept a new American flag. 


The city's two oldest orthodox congregations merged in 1958 to become Ohev Sholom Talmud Torah Congregation, and in 1960 the newly combined congregation moved into a new white limestone synagogue at 16th and Jonquil Streets, N.W.
An extensive series of newsletters and anniversary booklets traces the synagogue's history and growth from the 1960s through the 1990s.


In 1994, the synagogue established a branch in Olney, Maryland. By 2006, the branch had become fully independent and the original congregation had officially changed its name to become Ohev Sholom - The National Synagogue.

We are grateful to the congregation for this opportunity to help preserve the community's history.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Object of the Month: August 2013

Object No.: 2005.5.5
Donor: Seymour Rich
Description: Rich’s Famous Cherry Blintzes box, c.1950s. Includes color illustration of blintzes, instructions for use, and list of ingredients.

Background: In a city not known as a delicatessen kingdom, Seymour Rich reigned as the “Blintz King” for decades. His mouthwatering blintzes fed hungry State Department officials, ambassadors, as well as everyday Washington workers looking for authentic deli fare.

Twenty-one-year-old Rich opened his first deli, Seymour's, at 6th and H Streets, NW, in 1939. By 1945, he had moved to 19th and E Streets, NW, to run Rich’s Restaurant.  For more than 28 years, Rich’s menu included blintzes, chopped liver, and overstuffed corned beef sandwiches. The restaurant served a mix of federal government employees from nearby federal agencies as well as employees of the neighboring American Red Cross headquarters. Rich’s son, Ronald, recalls, “…you may not believe me when I tell you, but people were waiting in line to the curb to get in at lunch. [Dad] would not seat two people at a table of four. They’d have to share with another group of one or two in order to fit everyone in at lunch.”

Poster advertising Rich’s frozen cheese blintzes, c. 1950s.
According to Ronald Rich, "the secret
to the blintzes was hard work. I don’t know what
made them great -- love and affection, I guess.
We could not make them fast enough."
Soon the popular blintzes appeared in the frozen food aisle at Giant Food. Rich’s famous blintzes now appeared on plates across the greater Washington area.

In the 1970s, Rich opened an upscale restaurant, The Golden Table, in the Columbia Plaza complex near the State Department and the Kennedy Center. For 16 years, the restaurant was popular with State Department officials and ambassadors.

Rich’s restaurants were truly a family affair. Son Ronald who started by making sandwiches later became his father’s business partner; his wife, Florence, served as a hostess; and daughter, Jacqueline, a painter and sculptor, created restaurant decor. After selling The Golden Table, the Richs opened carryout delis throughout the city, including Rich’s Pickle Barrel, Rich’s Alley, Rich’s More Than A Deli, and Rich’s Table in Chevy Chase.

Do you have material documenting a local Jewish-owned business that you’d like to donate to the Jewish Historical Society’s collection?  Please contact us at info@jhsgw.org or (202) 789-0900.

This year, in conjunction with the Jewish Food Experience, our Objects of the Month feature DC's rich Jewish food history. For stories about this history and the latest on the local Jewish food scene – recipes, restaurants, chefs, events, and volunteer opportunities – visit jewishfoodexperience.com.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Object of the Month: July 2013


Accession No.: 2012.36
Donor: Sheldon S. Cohen
Description: Videotaped oral history of the Honorable Sheldon S. Cohen featuring stories of growing up in Jewish Washington, his career in the federal government, and his leadership in the local Jewish community. Recorded in 2011.


Background: For many Jewish immigrants, the "mom and pop" business was vehicle for upward economic and social mobility. The dream of Jewish immigrants was to see their children become doctors, lawyers, teachers, and businessmen.

Sheldon S. Cohen certainly fulfilled this dream. His father, Herman, a Lithuanian immigrant, bought a business the year Cohen was born. Cohen grew up helping his father in the family business, Potomac Butter and Egg Co., which sold dairy products and eggs to grocery stores and small restaurants. Here are his recollections of working with his father:

[Dad's] warehouse was directly behind our house on Morse Street. It was an old stable. My mother kept the books. She had a little office in the basement of our house. I used to help her. My dad's business was just across the alley from our backyard, in this old hay warehouse. There were two or three other warehouses. And, in fact, the Sunshine Bakery was down the street in another old warehouse building behind another homes on that street.
[Dad] would have the eggs delivered from the farms or from wholesalers down in Shenandoah Valley, who would gather and deliver them to him. He would process them, clean them up…I used to grade them for size. I could pick up an egg and tell you whether it was a small, medium, or large and, if you weighed it, you'd find out I was right 99% of time. Cracked eggs went to the bakers.
To tell if an egg was good, you would candle the egg… If you hold the egg up to a light close by, you can see the yolk. You can see whether the yolk is formed properly, or broken, or if there's blood or albumin in the egg. [You need to do this to every egg.] I got so that as a teenager I could do almost as fast as the professionals would do it.
I was the cleanup man or I was an egg candler, when I had to be… [This was] a regular part of my existence... I would help with the cheese or I would help with the smaller things that didn't take up a lot of time and weren't too big to carry around.
Cohen (left) with President Johnson
in the Oval Office, 1968.
Courtesy of Sheldon S. Cohen.
Eleven years after graduating first in his class at GW Law School, Cohen became chief counsel for the Internal Revenue Service. A year later, at age 37, he was nominated by President Johnson for the position of IRS Commissioner – making him the youngest to hold this post.

In the week after the nomination, Cohen's childhood work with his father at Potomac Butter and Egg appeared twice in Washington Post storiesshowing everyone's love of a good "American Dream" story.

This year, in conjunction with the Jewish Food Experience, our Objects of the Month feature DC's rich Jewish food history. For stories about this history and the latest on the local Jewish food scene – recipes, restaurants, chefs, events, and volunteer opportunities – visit jewishfoodexperience.com.