Friday, December 18, 2009

"History in Transit: 'Wild Bill' Patram’s Job to Remember"

(originally published in The Record, May 1970)

There are many things Jews might consider a moving experience: the bar mitzvah of a precious child, the loving embrace of a friend in a time of mourning, even a simple taste of Bubbe’s perfect chicken soup on a frigid winter day.

It was during such a day—December 18, 1969—that William B. “Wild Bill” Patram organized the passage of an antique building just right, thereby realizing a rite of passage for a whole community. The wind-chill factor may have dipped below the 20s on that bitter morning, but the warmth of the occasion made it a moving experience in more ways than one. Structural moving engineer Bill Patram of Fairfax, Virginia, now a retired silver-haired septuagenarian with a booming baritone voice and a vivid memory, recalls the job to move the old Adas Israel synagogue as a “good project.” Despite the challenges of the weather, a miniconflagration, the usual hassles with city bureaucrats, and one collateral casualty—in the form of a dead pigeon—the transition of the 237-ton object from Sixth and G Streets to Third and G Streets, NW, went mostly according to plan. Saved from destruction by an act of Congress after Metro officials appropriated the original site, the future home for the Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington and the Lillian and Albert Small Jewish Museum would never have survived without the crafty logistical skills of a specialist like Patram.

Download interview with "Wild Bill" Patram (PDF)

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Our first annual report!

We're thrilled to introduce our first annual report! Inside its pages, you will read about our 2008 major achievements, exhibitions, public programs, youth programs, member/donor benefit events, professional development, archival accessions, grants and contributions, new members, volunteers, and finances. It's chock-full of photos and details. We hope you enjoy it and welcome any feedback.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

New Book on Library of Congress' Shelves

It's a thrill to visit the African and Middle Eastern Reading Room at the Library of Congress. I always feel like Belle in the Beast's library with the mahogany bookcases and stairs to the upper shelves!

Yesterday JHSGW staff and leadership formally donated copies of Jewish Life in Mr. Lincoln's City to the Library. That's Mary-Jane Deeb, Chief of the African and Middle Eastern Division with our very own Peggy Pearlstein (center), Head of the Hebraic Section (and JHSGW past president) accepting the book from JHSGW President Sidney J. Silver.

Vice President Bill Rice and staff members Claire Uziel (co-editor of the book), David McKenzie, and Joel Wind were also on hand.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Visit to Jewish Greece

Just before Thanksgiving I was a conferee at the Association of European Jewish Museums conference in Athens, Greece.

Six years ago Zanet Battinou, the Director of the Jewish Museum of Greece, visited our Museum where I hosted a luncheon for her to meet DC museum professionals. Since then, we have shared ideas especially since the Jewish Museum in Athens is in a small, historic building. That's Zanet on the left in the photo with me during my trip to Greece.

It was exciting to see the Museum in person. A beautiful neo-Classical structure in the historic Plaka was totally gutted and an amazing spiral floor plate installed to create seven levels of exhibitry tracing the history of the Jews in Greece from ancient times to today.

Today, 5,000 Jews live in Greece. We toured the city visiting a synagogue and cemetery as well as the ancient city of Chalkis. At the Chalkis cemetery extraordinary excavations have revealed 15th century tombs of Kaballists. Their synagogue has stood on the same site since ancient times. What will become of this small community now numbering only 50 Jews?

Presentations on exhibitions in Europe showed two standouts about the history of keeping Kosher created by two museums in Germany-- the Jewish Museums of Berlin and Furth. Workshops focused on collections storage in small spaces (how appropriate) and Greek synagogue religious objects. I was particularly interested in the silver amulets, unique to Greece, sewn on parochets (curtains covering the ark) and dedicated at holidays. Successors to amulets of the ancient Greeks, the curator showed examples of those ancient amulets: arms, legs and even a forehead sculpted in marble.

Two outstanding museum field trips rounded out the conference. First, the the new and acclaimed Acropolis Museum with its glass floor allowing us to see down into the excavations of ancient Athens. The windows of the Museum allow a view of the Acropolis as you view it's treasures in the Museum. The Benaki Museum tells the history of Greek culture through pottery, sculpture, jewelry and costumes from ancient times to today. The view of Athens from the cafe on its highest floor is incredible. And the traditional Greek food was great too.

If you are traveling to Athens, I encourage you to visit the Jewish Museum of Greece. I'm happy to suggest some of the places I was able to see along with some of the tastes of Athens that I enjoyed.