Friday, December 17, 2010

The (Jewish) Father of Federal Indian Law

We finished our 50th Anniversary Salon Series on a high note December 1, when Dalia Tsuk Mitchell told the story of Felix Cohen, the "Father of Federal Indian Law" (1907-1953).

The program was a collaboration between the Society and the Interior Museum, and took place at the Department of the Interior's magnificent New Deal-era auditorium. We learned about the evolution of Cohen's views on legal pluralism and the place of Native Americans and other minority groups in the United States, and how Cohen's experiences as a Jewish American shaped those views. Cohen is most known for the Handbook of Federal Indian Law, still the standard source in its field today.

A diverse group came out on a cold, cloudy day--including many Interior Department employees, a group from Temple Beth Ami, other people from our and the Interior Museum's mailing lists, and even a man who once worked with Cohen.

At the end of the talk, Professor Mitchell read a famous line that pretty much sums up Cohen's philosophy:

"The Indian plays much the same role in our American society that the Jews played in Germany. Like the miner's canary, the Indian marks the shifts from fresh air to poison gas in our political atmosphere; and our treatment of Indians, even more than our treatment of other minorities, reflects the rise and fall in our democratic faith."

Special thanks to Diana Ziegler (pictured at left, with me and Professor Mitchell) from the Interior Museum for making this program possible.

The Interior Museum recorded the lecture and will be placing an audio file online. Stay tuned for a link!

Check out Professor Mitchell's award-winning biography to learn more.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Annual Meeting (or, JHSGW, you don't look a day over 50!)

On June 9, 1960, ten Jewish Washingtonians met in a living room to discuss founding a historical society that would help preserve the story of Jewish life in Washington. Each year since, the Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington has held an annual meeting, an open session of the executive board. This year’s annual meeting, convened on November 14, was a particularly special one, as we celebrated our 50th anniversary.

The Society used the meeting, and the lovely space at Congregation Adas Israel, as an opportunity to showcase our progress over the past fifty years to the hundred and fifty members and guests who attended. Through banners, posters, photo albums, and objects, we looked back at some of our favorite exhibitions, guest speakers, and programs, as well as looked ahead at the impending synagogue move and where the Society is headed in its next fifty years. I certainly learned a lot in researching and reading the materials, and, judging by the lively conversation that followed the meeting, many of our guests were intrigued as well.

We were fortunate this year to be joined by Marvin Kalb (pictured at right), host of The Kalb Report and the last newsman hired by the incomparable
Edward R. Murrow. In his keynote address, Kalb discussed the changes he’s seen in the Washington, DC area and in the journalism profession in the last fifty years. Most notably to his eye, the profession has been diverted from a focus on reporting news with honesty and respect to a focus on taking sides and being the first to break a story.

During the board meeting portion of the afternoon’s festivities, we did take care of some necessary business, including voting on by-laws about the size of the board and term limits for the board president. We also elected a new slate of board members, appointed honorary directors, and bid a fond farewell to the departing members of the board.
Following the official proceedings, all in attendance partook of a delectable spread, including a giant, amply-frosted cake, which I had the joyous—and messy—task of slicing and serving. (For the 51st, I’ll remember to bring an apron!)

We look forward to seeing you at next year’s meeting—and to sharing the Society’s next fifty years with you!

December's Object of the Month

JHSGW 50th anniversary logoTo honor our 50th anniversary, we invite you to peek into our archives each month. This month, we commemorate Hanukkah and the Soviet Jewry Movement.

From the Archives...
Soviet Jewry vigil photograph

Archives Record
Object #: 2009.30.4
Donor: Ida Jervis
Description: Photograph of a group from Arlington Fairfax Jewish Congregation celebrating Hanukkah at the daily vigil for Soviet Jewry, 1973. Photograph by Ida Jervis.

Background: In 1970, protesting on behalf of Soviet Jews who were denied permission to emigrate from the Soviet Union, Washington Jews started a daily vigil across the street from the Soviet Embassy on 16th Street, NW. Local synagogues and Jewish organizations were assigned specific days to ensure daily attendance. The vigil was maintained until 1991 when Soviet policies began changing and Jews were permitted to emigrate.

The vigil was the most acclaimed of Washington’s Soviet Jewry activities. The Soviet Jewry movement (c. 1963-1991) was a worldwide effort to free Soviet Jews, who were unable to emigrate or practice Judaism without persecution or discrimination. Across the United States, grassroots groups sprang up to work on behalf of these disenfranchised people. Washington’s Jewish community organized and participated in rallies, demonstrations, and other protest activities.

Washington-area activists came together again a few years ago when they partnered with the Jewish Historical Society to discuss how to ensure the community’s contribution to the Soviet Jewry movement would be documented for posterity. The first meeting resulted in a new collection in the Society’s archives of more than 20 written or recorded memoirs of movement activists, more than 50 photographs, political buttons (such as the one seen at left), t-shirts, organizational records, and Prisoner of Conscience bracelets.

On December 10, 2010, the community gathered across the street from the former site of Soviet Embassy to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the start of the daily vigil. This event kicked off the beginning of a Society project, which includes creating a new exhibition and public programs to highlight the efforts of the local community on behalf of the Soviet Jews.

For more information about this new project or to donate archival material, contact Claire Uziel at 202 789 0900 or
To contribute to the new exhibition and public programs:
  • click here and enter "Soviet Jewry" in the Designation box
  • send a check (write “Soviet Jewry” in the note) to JHSGW, PO Box 791104, Baltimore, MD 21279-1104
  • call our office at (202) 789-0900 and charge your contribution to your credit card

Friday, December 10, 2010

Soviet Jewry vigil commemoration

Today was one of the coldest days of the year. Yet rarely have I felt so much warmth--even while standing outside for an hour.

Forty years ago today--on Human Rights Day, 1970--a small group of activists began a vigil outside the Soviet embassy on 16th Street, NW. They gathered that day to protest verdicts of treason, and subsequent death sentences, against Jewish dissidents in the Soviet Union. For the next 20-plus years, they kept their vigil every day, rain, snow, or shine, hot or cold, until the Soviet Union finally allowed Jews to practice their faith freely and to leave the country.

Today, many who had kept that vigil all those years, plus several others, including some of the vigil's beneficiaries--around 125 people in all--gathered again as part of the Society's project to document the Soviet Jewry movement here in Washington.

Much has, of course, changed. The embassy across the street now flies the Russian tricolor instead of the Soviet hammer-and-sickle. The building that hosted the vigil then belonged to the International Union of Electrical Workers. It now belongs to the National Council of La Raza--which was gracious enough to host today's commemoration.

Several speakers who had participated in the vigil talked about their experiences today, including Rabbi David Saperstein of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, Norman Goldstein of the Society's Soviet Jewry project committee, and Pastor John Steinbruck of Luther Place Memorial Church. The president and CEO of the National Council of La Raza, Janet Murguia, noted similarities between the Soviet Jewry movement and struggles for human rights now. A refusenik who had moved to Washington spoke about what the movement meant to him.

As someone who was 11 years old when the Soviet Union collapsed, I stood there in awe at these activists' persistence, and their willingness to take a stand for people many of them didn't know. It made me all the more excited to work on the Society's project to document this movement. Already many of the activists have recorded their own oral histories.

Stay tuned--in the next couple of years, we plan to create an exhibition and a Web site and/or publication. Click here to contribute to the project. If you'd like to receive updates or want to know more, please get in touch!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

November's Object of the Month

JHSGW 50th anniversary logoTo honor our 50th anniversary, we invite you to peek into our archives each month. This month, we commemorate Veterans' Day.

From the Archives...
Four Immortal Chaplains postage stamps

Archives Record
Object #: 1995.06.2
Donor: Teresa Goode Kaplan
Description: Sheet of postage stamps, 1948.
Stamps depict the sinking S.S. Dorchester and portraits of the Four Immortal Chaplains

In 1948, Chaplain Alexander Goode (far right on the stamp) and three Christian chaplains were memorialized on this three-cent stamp for their heroism during World War II.

Alexander Goode grew up in Washington, D.C. He graduated from Eastern High School, and served Washington Hebrew Congregation during the summers while studying for his ordination at Hebrew Union College.

At age 32, Rabbi Goode enlisted as a military chaplain. He was assigned to the Dorchester, an overcrowded ship carrying more than 900 soldiers and civilian workers to the European front.
In February 1943, just miles off the Greenland coast, a German U-boat torpedoed the ship. In the ensuing pandemonium, Chaplain Goode and three Christian chaplains calmly directed their fellow soldiers to lifeboats. Chaplain Goode and the other chaplains gave away their life jackets and joined arms at the ship’s railing—praying and singing hymns to men on lifeboats and in the water. The ship sank 27 minutes later, taking the chaplains with it.

The Distinguished Service Cross and Purple Heart were awarded posthumously to the chaplains’ next of kin, and a one-time only posthumous Special Medal for Heroism was authorized by Congress and awarded by the President Eisenhower on January 18, 1961.

Chaplain Goode is one of thirteen Jewish chaplains who has perished while in service. At Arlington National Cemetery, there are memorials for Protestant chaplains, Catholic chaplains, and World War I chaplains. Earlier this year, the Association of Jewish Chaplains began a campaign to honor Jewish chaplains with a new memorial. The memorial is slated to be unveiled in Spring 2011.

To complement the new memorial, the Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington is partnering with the Jewish Genealogy Society of Greater Washington to create a brochure of Jewish sites in the Arlington National Cemetery. Points of interest will include the new chaplains’ memorial, the graves of statesman and military leaders, and the space shuttle memorials.

Do you have wartime material that you’d like to donate to the archival collection? Call (202) 789-0900 or email

Would you like to contribute to make publication of the new Jewish Sites in Arlington National Cemetery brochure possible? Click here to donate now (put “Arlington brochure” in the Designation box) or send a check to JHSGW, P.O. Box 791104, Baltimore, MD 21279 (indicate Arlington brochure in the memo line).

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

October's Object of the Month

JHSGW 50th anniversary logoTo honor our 50th anniversary, we invite you to peek into our archives each month.

From the Archives...
Jewish Lions Club banner

Archives Record
Object #: 2010.21.1
Donor: Jewish Lions Club
Description: Banner, 33 ¼" x 53 ½"

The Jewish Lions Club formed in 1937 as a social club for local teenage boys. Members were 16 to 18 years old and met on Sundays at the Jewish Community Center. The 1941 Certificate of Incorporation describes the business of the club as “social, athletic, and for the promotion of friendship.” During World War II, as each club member left to serve in the armed services, a star with his name was embroidered on this club banner. All 25 club members who served eventually returned home safely.

Click here to learn more about the Jewish Lions Club and how the Jewish Historical Society received the banner.

Do you have Jewish teen life material that you’d like to donate to the archival collection? Contact us at or (202) 789 0900.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Anthony Cohen Speaks at Historic Synagogue

Last week Tony Cohen, Founder and President of the Menare Foundation, came by the Lillian & Albert Small Jewish Museum to talk about his, and his ancestors', journeys along the Underground Railroad. We were thrilled to attract 50 people at lunchtime on a Tuesday--D.C. and Maryland primary day at that!

Tony riveted our guests with stories about his journeys retracing the Underground Railroad, tracing his family's Jewish-Indian-African roots, and his work--even with Oprah Winfrey(!)--on preserving the Underground Railroad's legacy. Even though it was the lunch hour, few people left early--a testament to Tony's skills as a storyteller.

If you missed it, never to fear--WETA's Forum Network recorded it. You can catch the lecture online in the near future.

Click here for more information on our upcoming programs--we hope to see you soon!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Anna Shulman's homecoming

This Sunday, over 120 people of different ages, ethnicities, and religions showed up for our one-woman living history show Anna Shulman: Queen of H Street at the Atlas Performing Arts Center.

It was a homecoming of sorts. The show takes place in Anna and Abe Shulman’s dry goods store at 1237 H Street, NE—a block away from the Atlas—during the Great Depression. It tells the heartwarming story of Anna’s life and of the H Street neighborhood.

We were particularly thrilled that many nearby residents came to learn about their neighborhood’s history. In the picture you can see a Sign Language interpreter--several students and staff members from Gallaudet University came. Thanks to the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities and the Shulman family for funding this free performance.

If you missed the show, you can always bring it to your school, synagogue, community group, or wherever; click here for more information. And keep an eye out for a H Street walking tour in the future!

Monday, September 13, 2010

Object of the Month: September 2010

JHSGW 50th anniversary logoTo honor our 50th anniversary, we invite you to peek into our archives each month.

From the Archives...
Jewish New Years card, ca. 1910

Archives Record
Object #: 1997.06.1
Donor: Edith and Charles Pascal
Description: Rosh Hashanah pop-up card featuring welcomed immigrants, 6” x 3.5” (1.75” deep when pop-up is unfolded), 1909

The central image on this Rosh Hashanah pop-up card is known as "Finding Refuge in America.” Attributed to Joseph Keller, the original chromolithograph is in the collections of the Jewish Theological Seminary’s Library.

Click here to learn more about the image and the history of these sorts of cards.

Do you have special greeting cards that you’d like to donate to the archival collection? Contact us at or (202) 789 0900.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Object of the Month: August 2010

JHSGW 50th anniversary logoTo honor our 50th anniversary, we invite you to peek into our archives each month.

From the Archives...
Camp Louise Bracelet

Archives Record
Object #: 2005.1.1
Donor: Penny Feuerzeig
Description: Metal chain bracelet. Individual letter charms on the bracelet spell out CAMP LOUISE.

Located in western Maryland’s Catoctin Mountains, Camp Louise was founded by Lillie and Aaron Straus and Baltimore’s Jewish community in 1922 to provide a week’s rest to immigrant women who worked in sweatshops. With assistance from Ida Sharogrodsky of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, it evolved into a summer camp for girls. Nearby Camp Airy for boys opened in 1924. The Jewish Community Center in D.C. gave scholarships for local children to go to these camps until it opened its own camp in 1942.

Click here to learn more about the camps today!

Do you have materials documenting your summer camp experiences? To donate, contact us at or (202) 789 0900.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Joel's Retirement-- Happy and Sad

The staff all gathered on June 30 for a final luncheon in honor of our colleague of eight years, Joel Wind (that's Joel in the back row in the center). Joel served as the Society's Administrator a.k.a my right hand. He handled everything-- from bank deposits, to restoration projects and our Homeland Security grant. He saw and could do it all. Joel excelled at giving tours of the historic synagogue and I often received lovely thank you notes from visitors extolling Joel's tours. So it's with sadness that we say good bye to Joel as he retires from the Society. But we are happy to have Joel continue as an active member and part of the JHSGW family.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

White House Reception a First

Nearly forgot to write about the amazing experience I had at the first ever Jewish American Heritage Month (JAHM- pronounced "JAM") reception hosted at the White House by President and Mrs. Obama. That's me (below on the far rt) with Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz (4th from the left) the original cosponsor of the JAHM resolution.

Above, I'm on the far right with the JAHM national steering committee in the Blue Room. A total thrill to be included among the smallish crowd-- I serve on the national steering committee for JAHM-- the only representative from a local Jewish museum or historical society. Since JAHM's inception 4 years ago, JHSGW has been at the forefront-- annually cosponsoring an event on Capitol Hill.

Along with colleagues from across the country, we continue to plan activities to get the word out about JAHM and the contribution of our community to our country. Thrilling at this event to be in the same room as baseball great Sandy Koufax, baseketball great Dolph Schayes, the TeaEO of Honest Tea and even the CEO of Spanx not to mention the owners of Manischewitz.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Object of the Month: July 2010

JHSGW 50th anniversary logoTo honor our 50th anniversary, we invite you to peek into our archives each month.

From the Archives...
Bicentennial Photograph

Archives Record
Object #: 2008.18.6
Donor: Sandra and Dr. Clement Alpert
Description: 6.5”x10” black and white photograph. Rabbi Louis Gerstein, Amy Gerstein (left) and Cecile and Dr. Seymour Alpert (right) with President Gerald Ford (center) on July 12, 1976 in the Oval Office of the White House.

On July 12, 1976, as part of the nationwide bicentennial celebrations, rabbis from six colonial congregations presented President Ford with a Bicentennial letter. Representatives were present from Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim (Charleston, SC), Congregation Shearith Israel (New York, NY), Congregation Jeshuat Israel (Newport, RI), Congregation Mikveh Israel (Philadelphia, PA), Congregation Mickve Israel (Savannah, GA), and Congregation Beth Ahabah (Richmond, VA).

Rabbi Louis Gerstein, who served Shearith Israel for 32 years, posed in the Oval Office with his wife Amy, President Ford, and Dr. Seymour and Cecile Alpert. Dr. Alpert was on the Jewish Bicentennial Commission of Greater Washington. The Alperts were active members of Washington, D.C.’s Jewish community. They were philanthropists and leaders in organizations such as the Jewish Community Council, Israel Bonds, and United Jewish Appeal (a predecessor to The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington).

Do you have materials documenting the D.C.-area Jewish community’s bicentennial celebrations? To donate, contact us at or (202) 789-0900.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Raising funds for Arlington cemetery monument to Jewish chaplains

From article in this week's Washington Jewish Week:

With plans set for a monument honoring Jewish chaplains to be dedicated at Arlington National Cemetery Columbus Day weekend, the Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington has initiated a campaign to help raise funds for that memorial and to create a new glossy brochure of Jewish sites in the cemetery.
Read the rest of the article!

Contribute to the campaign (be sure to put "Arlington Campaign" in the Designation box)!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

An Intern's JHSGW Experience

My name is Stacey and this is my first and sadly, last blog entry for JHSGW. I was an intern here for the past month or so before I begin a master’s program in museum education at GWU next week. I hope to someday be an educator at a Jewish museum, so my time here has definitely been valuable. What does an intern at JHSGW do? A little bit of everything! Besides the obligatory intern tasks of making copies and preparing mailings, in my short amount of time here I helped curatorial assistant David lead tours of our historic synagogue, made preliminary plans for bus tours of Jewish sites in both Philadelphia and Richmond, created an evaluation form to send to educators whose classes have taken field trips here, and even got to pick up a copy of Obama’s presidential proclamation of Jewish American Heritage Month at the White House (during which I had a brief encounter with the First Dog, Bo).

I had a great time here getting a taste of the goings-on at a small Jewish museum. Because of our small size, staff members wear more hats, if you will, than at larger institutions. This means that our curator also leads educational programs and occasionally writes grants, our assistant archivist is also our webmaster, and so on. Therefore, I had a wide range of experiences during my time here, and I probably am leaving this internship with a greater amount of knowledge and new skill sets than if I had interned at a larger museum.

I am sad to leave JHSGW, but I hope to continue lending a hand with programs in the late summer and fall. One thing I especially hope to assist with is our youth education programs. Since I was only here in the summer, I never got to experience a class trip to our historic synagogue. We have some terrific lesson plans written for these programs, so I can’t wait to take part in helping kids learn about D.C. Jewish history!

Friday, June 11, 2010

Alexandria Walking Tour

This past Sunday I led 17 people around Old Town Alexandria. Here's a picture of me pointing out the home of Henry Strauss, Alexandria's first Jewish mayor (1891-1897). We also visited the sites of former synagogues and Jewish businesses--including two containing markers of their Jewish owners.

This is the fourth time I've led the tour since we developed it last year, and it continues to be a hit! Stay tuned for when we offer it in the fall.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Object of the Month: June 2010

JHSGW 50th anniversary logoTo honor our 50th anniversary, we invite you to peek into our archives each month.

From the Archives...
1876 Synagogue

Lillian  & Albert Small Jewish MuseumThe 1876 synagogue, built by Adas Israel Congregation as its first home, is the largest item in our collection. President Ulysses S. Grant attended the dedication services on June 9, 1876, and donated $10 to the synagogue’s building fund, the equivalent of $200 today.

The congregation soon outgrew its home and built a new synagogue at Sixth & I Streets, NW, in 1908. Its first building was sold and used by a succession of churches, a bicycle shop, a dentist, a barber, and even a pork BBQ!

It stood for more than 90 years on the site before the new subway system (Metro) wanted to demolish the building to build its new headquarters. Read more to learn how the building was saved!

Monday, May 10, 2010

Guest Speaker at Capitol Visitor Center

Just returned from speaking to staff of Capitol Visitor Center (CVC) at one of their weekly lunch and learns. Inspirational always to be in their terrific space and hear about their first year of operation. A new underground entry to tour the Capitol and first rate museum-- though we are so much smaller, we share many common operational and museum issues.

Can't convey how supportive their staff was-- amazed really at the quality of our exhibits, publications, and programs compared to our number of staff and our budget. My talk focused on two issues I find important in museum work-- 1) working thematically to create exhibits with accompanying publications, tours, curricula, websites, etc. and 2) the importance of strategic planning.

Special thanks to the CVC's Communications Manager (and JHSGW member) Sharon Gang who arranged this meeting. That's Sharon on the left with me in the Great Hall at the CVC.

Object of the Month: May 2010

JHSGW 50th anniversary logoTo honor our 50th anniversary, we invite you to peek into our archives each month.

From the Archives...
Flag of Israel, 1948

Archives Record
Object #: 2003.22.1
Donor: Ruthe Katz
Description: Israeli flag signed by local Zionist leaders, May 14, 1948

Background: Leaders of Washington's Zionist community signed this Israeli flag at Isador and Bessie Turover's celebration of Israel's independence. Signers included Ruth and Joseph Cherner, Rebecca and John Safer, Minnie and Abe Kay, and Louis Grossberg.

Click here to see enlarged signature area of the flag.

Learn more about community celebrations of Israel's independence!

Monday, April 26, 2010

Special VIP Guests on Arlington National Cemetery Walking Tour

Yesterday I had the amazing experience of accompanying Ambassador and Mrs. Michael Oren on our walking tour of Jewish "sites" in Arlington National Cemetery. Volunteer guides Les Bergen and Ernie Marcus provided a terrific insider's tour.

The most touching moments were watching the Israeli Ambassador place stones atop the headstones of one of Hadassah's first two nurses in Palestine in 1913-- Rae Landy and on the grave of Justice Arthur Goldberg. The Ambassador, a history professor himself, gave a wonderfully inspiring talk at the grave of Orde Wingate-- the British officer who was the father of the Israeli IDF teaching the nascent Jewish army how to fight. Orgate was killed along with other Brits and Americans when their plane was downed in the Burma theater during WWII.

It was a day filled with JHSGW programming -- uber-volunteer Marc Livingston led a walking tour of downtown DC, David McKenzie led an exhibit tour of Jewish Washington now on display at the Historical Society of Washington, and Maryann and Al Friedman hosted a salon for members to view their incredible collection of Hudson River School paintings.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Yom Ha'atzmaut

Today is Israel's Independence Day. Israel’s first Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion, declared the State’s independence on May 14, 1948. At 6:11 pm, President Truman officially recognized the new State. As pictured at right, Washingtonians gathered at the Jewish Agency building on Massachusetts Avenue, NW. The crowd cheered as the flag of the new State of Israel was raised on Embassy Row.

To celebrate, we invite you to peruse our online slideshow that chronicles the involvement of the Washington Jewish community in the struggle for Jewish statehood.

Copyright The Washington Post. Reproduced with permission.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Days of Remembrance

Today Congress gathered to remember the tragedy of the Holocaust. Almost on a daily basis we receive phone calls asking for the Holocaust Museum's phone number. I answered such a call just now.

Every member of our staff has its number by their phone to assist. Why? Our organization has the benefit of having "Jewish" as the first word of its name-- hence we are listed in the phone book under "Jewish." The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum is harder to find. So we have been an unofficial directory for years. Filling a role to help visitors and our community locate this important colleague museum and in a small way faciliatate remembering the hard lessons of the past.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Barnes & Noble Talk Success

I was thrilled to have an enthusiastic audience for a book talk on Jewish Life in Mr. Lincoln's City yesterday at Barnes & Noble in Rockville. The talk originally schedule for a snowy February evening to coincide with the president's birthday had been moved to April and what turned out to be the prettiest day of this spring.

Thanks to those who gave up their sunny Sunday to listen in. April has many connections to Jewish life during the Civil War in our area. Many are sad and associated with Lincoln's assassination on April 14, 1865-- the arrival of Dr. Charles Liebermann to the president's bedside vigil at the Peterson Boarding House, the marching of 125 members of Washington Hebrew Congregation in the funeral procession on April 19, and the Lansburgh brother's donation to the creation of a memorial statue to the fallen president (which still stands in front of the old City Hall now the DC Court of Appeals at 5th and D Streets, NW).

The date of the assassination was also the fifth day of Passover that year and the associations were not lost on those that eulogized the fallen leader. Lincoln was referred to as Moses leading the nation out of the house of bondage. He was eulogized both at Washington Hebrew Congregation and Beth El Hebrew Congregation in Alexandria.

Disney's Lessons

So what could my Spring break vacation to Walt Disney World possibly teach me about working in an authentic historic site?? After all, the kids were immediately on to it. They quickly said, "Mommy, everything here is fake."

Here's the thing. I noticed that even at Disney folks are looking for ways to create personal experiences. Their staff or "cast members" as they are called play a prominent role in leading programs, asking questions, involving the audience. Far different than my last Disney experience. It seems visitors like the personal touch. That confirms what we have been working to achieve for years-- staff, volunteers, and board members interacting with the public at programs, walking tours, and other activities. Putting a face to our communal history.

Plus we have the added bonus of a real, authentic historic site. We will soon unveil great new plans for our site to educate and enthuse our visitors. And unique new ways to give a personal and unique touch to our tours and programming-- stay tuned!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Object of the Month: April 2010

JHSGW 50th anniversary logoTo honor our 50th anniversary, we invite you to peek into our archives each month.

From the Archives...
Circumcision gown, 1877

Archives Record
Object #: 2000.04.1
Donor: Amy Goldstein
Description: Circumcision gown, 1877. White cotton with white embroidery and eyelet work on the bottom of the skirt and bodice

In 1877, Rudolph Behrend was born at 706 Seventh Street, NW, now home to Legal Sea Food, part of the recent revival of the downtown neighborhood. Amnon and Sarah Behrend dressed their infant son in this handmade gown for his brit (ritual circumcision).

Read more about Rudolph's family!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

AAM Advocacy Days

I got my first taste of Hill lobbying this week when I participated in the American Association of Museums' Advocacy Days on Capitol Hill. On Monday, I attended a workshop revealing insider tips on how to prepare and talk to legislators.

Then on Tuesday, the real deal. Visits to two Congressional offices where along with colleagues from museums across the country we encouraged increased federal support for museums. I joined a group visit to a staffer of our own DC Representative Eleanor Holmes Norton. Afterward, I met with folks in the office of Representative Ed Perlmutter from Colorado. That's me in the back right corner of the photo.

In addition to our museum, I had been asked to represent the Council of American Jewish Museums—the professional group for the more than 60 Jewish museums nationwide. As a former chair of that group, I like to participate and show support however I can to our sister institutions throughout the country. It’s been an interesting experience, and I was able to meet some really interesting new colleagues. And I always love telling folks about our Museum and how our historic synagogue was moved-- it never ceases to amaze.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Circus Comes to Town

On this beautiful, sunny afternoon, I found myself staring out the window. Why is everyone gathered along the street below? It's mid-March so it could only mean one thing-- the elephants are coming!

Sure enough, with email, cell phones and twitter, we soon learn that the circus has come to town and the elephant parade will once again pass by the corner of 3rd & G.

Something about seeing the elephants parade by against the backdrop of the red brick of the historic synagogue is just visually compelling. And it always brings a smile to my face. I even saw that most of the DC police officers lining the route were smiling.

So many thanks to David McKenzie for taking these snaps of the parade. Hope it makes you smile too.

Object of the Month: March 2010

JHSGW 50th anniversary logoTo honor our 50th anniversary, we invite you to peek into our archives each month.

From the Archives...
Passover salt-water bowl

Archives Record
Object #: 2009.34.10
Donor: Robert Barkin
Description: Egg-shaped salt-water bowl, date unknown

This three-legged saltwater bowl would have been used at a seder (ceremonial Passover meal). Salt water's role during the seder is to remind the meal participants of their Jewish ancestors' tears and sweat when they were slaves in Egypt.

Read more about the bowl and donor's family!

Monday, March 15, 2010

Third Salon a Touchdown!

Yesterday the Society held the third of our series of salons, this one featuring sportswriter David Elfin. Twenty-seven people braved a rainy day to come to the home of our executive director, Laura Cohen Apelbaum.

David has written for the Philadelphia Bulletin, Syracuse Post-Standard, Washington Post, and Washington Times, and served as president of Congregation Beth Chai. He regaled us with stories of his career in sports—including how he got Darrell Green, Art Monk, and Russ Grimm into the NFL Hall of Fame—recapped the Redskins’ 2009 season, and looked into the Burgundy and Gold’s future. After the lecture, everyone stayed around for a kosher tailgate meal. All in all, a great way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

We still have plenty of other salons coming up, and we’d love to see you at a future event!

Monday, March 8, 2010

JHS part of Massive "Learn In" at Convention Center

Billed as 70 sessions in 7 hours on March 7, the massive "learn in" yesterday did not disappoint. I was honored to be asked to give an illustrated lecture on our exhibit and book, Jewish Life in Mr. Lincoln's City, at this annual event hosted by PJLL (Partnership for Jewish Life & Learning) at the DC Convention Center. Several hundred "students" of all ages attended sessions on everything from tips on baking challah to notions on Jewish prayer. I was awed by the SRO (that's standing room only) attendance at our session. This was a terrific opportunity to teach about our community's history in a room of folks new to the Society and its programs.

For another blogger's perspective on the event and more photographs, check out Rachel Mauro's JewishDC post.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Featured in The Examiner!

Executive Director Laura Apelbaum recently spoke about the Society's new book, Jewish Life in Mr. Lincoln's City with The Examiner. Check out the interview!

To hear more about the book, join Laura for a book talk at the Rockville Barnes & Noble on Sunday, April 11th.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Synagogue in the Snow

It’s been a crazy couple of weeks with two major snowstorms in a row. Thought you’d enjoy pictures of our historic synagogue—the building has never seen this much snow in one winter in its 133-year history! Other significant snowstorms it has seen include:

- January 27-28, 1922 - 28 inches from the "Knickerbocker Storm," so named because it caused the Knickerbocker Theater's roof to collapse, killing 98 and injuring 133 people.
- February 11-13, 1899 - 20.5 inches
- February 18-19, 1979 - 18.7 inches from the "Presidents Day Storm"

Friday, January 15, 2010

The stuff of history

When I was about nine or ten, I went to cheder at 6th and G. We lived in southeast Washington, within the shadow of the dome of the Capitol. I was never afraid to walk home after dark, through the Capitol grounds, singing “Adon Olam” or “Ayn Kalohanu” at the top of my voice.
--Rose Hornstein, oral history, 1969

We love this quotation. It sums up being a child who worshipped—and went to school—in the original Adas Israel synagogue (seen in the lower right corner of the photo). We love it so much that we're going to use it in an exhibit we’re planning for the synagogue.

We wanted to find out more about Rose Hornstein. That’s where some detective work came in. Thanks to an obituary of Rose’s brother, we were able to find her nieces. They’re searching for photos for us right now. Most importantly, Rose’s two nieces told us about their lives growing up in Washington—one even shared a synagogue newsletter she had written.

So when you think that no one is interested in your family’s story, think again! Thanks to the Hornstein family, we’ve been able to learn more about going to school in our building.

Challah delivery!

Yesterday, I had the privilege of accompanying program committee members Donna Bassin and Frank Spigel to the DC Central Kitchen to donate challah.

Last May we sold and distributed challah in our Penn Quarter neighborhood during Jewish American Heritage Month. We offered the option to purchase challah to donate to the DC Central Kitchen. 19 people took that option, and yesterday Frank, Donna, and I dropped off 19 loaves. Kitchen Director Jerald Thomas was on hand to accept our donation.

Thanks to Donna for coordinating the challah pickup from Bethesda and drop-off at the DC Central Kitchen. We'll have challah available again in May this year, $5 for a single loaf or $20 for the month. If you want to donate challah to the Central Kitchen this year, email us at!

Monday, January 11, 2010

1st Salon a Hit!

Fans of Broadway and musical theater gathered in the warm and inviting living room of members Arlene & David Epstein yesterday to hear Murray Horwitz, actor, entertainer, and playwright recount how his hit Broadway show, Ain't Misbehavin' became a Broadway standard.

The salon was a hit itself-- completely sold out and with a waiting list that would have filled another living room!

Here's a photo of me at the far left standing next to Murray and our hosts the Epsteins.

Murray held our rapt attention as he recalled listening to records borrowed from the Dayton Public Library as a kid and discovering Fats Waller's music. He began a personal quest to learn everything he could about Waller and his unique style of playing swing music.

We listened to a bit of Waller music and heard about Murray's experience writing a show that was first performed in a small cabaret and then moved to Broadway where it won a Tony-- all in four months.

Special thanks to our hosts and guest speaker for setting such a high bar with our new series of monthly salons in celebration of our 50th Anniversary. Click here to learn more about upcoming salons.

Monday, January 4, 2010

New and 50th Year!

The new year is also the Society's 50th anniversary year! You can learn about our history on the About page of our website.

To celebrate this special year, we're proud to announce a year of monthly gatherings throughout the community. The current program listing can be found here. Continue to check the page for updates!