Thursday, December 22, 2011

Chanukah with the DC Council

L to R: Laura Apelbaum, JHS Executive Director;
Debbie Linick, JCRC;
Irv Nathan, D.C. Attorney General;
Chairman Kwame Brown
The Jewish Historical Society celebrated the first night of Chanukah at City Hall with the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) and D.C. City Councilmembers.  Blessings were said, candles lit, colorful dreidels twirled, and best of all, jelly doughnuts eaten.  Attendees had a special opportunity to see two menorahs from our collection up close, including one handcrafted out of tin in Russia and brought to the U. S. in the 1880s.  If you missed your chance to snack on jelly doughnuts, join the JCRC at City Hall on the last night of Chanukah, Tuesday, December 27th, when they'll repeat the festivities.

More photos from the event!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Object of the Month: December 2011

Object #:1998.17.2
Donor: Nancy Bushwick Malloy
Description: Metallic, hinged Chanukah banner, 31" long, 1950s-1960s

Background: This banner, an example of holiday decorations manufactured after World War II, adorned the Georgetown home of Ukrainian immigrants Louis and Rebecca Weinstein, to celebrate Hanukkah. This trend toward observing Hanukkah with songs, gifts, and decorations developed as the 20th century progressed.

Do you have material documenting the local Jewish community that you'd like to donate to the Jewish Historical Society's collection? Please contact us at or (202) 789-0900,

Thursday, December 8, 2011

A good cause

JHSGW Board Member, Bill Rice, hands a check to
Michael F. Curtin, Jr., CEO of DC Central Kitchen.
Earlier this year, we collected donations to benefit DC Central Kitchen, located 3 blocks from our office.  DC Central Kitchen provides at-risk individuals meals, counseling services, and job training.  On Tuesday, December 6, 2011, we dropped off a check for $95 and met DC Central Kitchen CEO, Michael F. Curtin, Jr.  We thank everyone who contributed to this good cause.

Monday, December 5, 2011

A homecoming of sorts

When I give a tour of our historic 1876 synagogue, I always like to discuss the entirety of the building's history--its use as a synagogue, a Greek Orthodox church, the three Protestant churches, and the retail stores that have called this red brick building home.

So you could imagine my excitement last week when a member of the archives committee of St. Sophia's Greek Orthodox Cathedral called me and asked if their group could come visit the building. St. Sophia's used the sanctuary between 1910 and 1919, after Adas Israel had moved out. So, of course I said yes, we'd love to have the group come down!

Six members of the archives committee visited Monday morning. Sadly, all of the early records of St. Sophia's were lost to fire, so the committee is trying to fill in holes in their congregation's history. So, I showed them the pictures we have and told them the stories we know. They also told me some of their congregation's history, giving me new information that I can now use in tours.

My colleague Lisa took this picture (on the right) of the group standing on the bimah at the front (pardon the tarp--we're replacing our windows). When the sanctuary housed St. Sophia's, the same space served as the altar. The only picture we have from the time of St. Sophia's shows a priest--whom our visitors identified as Right Reverend Ioakim Alexopoulos--standing in the same spot!

All in all, it was quite the jovial gathering--a homecoming of sorts.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Object of the Month: November 2011

Object #: 2001.16.6
Donor: Brenda Pascal
Description: Photograph of Fred Kolker holding knife over turkey’s neck, 1948.  Paper label reads "President Truman's Turkey/French World's Champion Bicycle Riders/Washington, D.C.”

Background: Established in 1930 by Fred Kolker, Kolker Poultry became one of the largest wholesale poultry distributors in the region.  In fact, during World War II, Kolker sold all his poultry to the U.S. Army.  As Kolker said in an oral history, “My chicken went to our soldiers who were located all over the world…My name, Kolker Poultry Co., was stenciled on each box and the boys from Washington, D.C., wrote me letters, thanking me for the good poultry they received.”

Fred Kolker (wearing hat) and
Mayor Marion Barry (right) at
the renaming of the market, 1984
The business was located in the Florida Avenue Market, now called the Capital City Market (just east of the intersection of Florida & New York Avenues, NE).  At 81 years old, Fred Kolker was called “the self-styled dean of the market” in The Washington Post.  He retired four years later, but remained chairman and president of the company.

The context of the photograph featured here is unknown: Who were these champion cyclists? What was their business with Kolker?  What did they have to do with Truman’s turkey?  Nonetheless, it is timely for the season.

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 or (202) 789-0900.

Friday, November 11, 2011

In the news: Jewish Chaplains Memorial

Last week I had the honor of going out to Arlington National Cemetery to show Congressman Bob Turner, members of his staff, and a Voice of America crew the new Jewish Chaplains Memorial.

Congressman Turner--recently elected from a New York district that is one-third Jewish--had contacted our friends at the Jewish Federations of North America about showing him the monument. When the staff members at JFNA had scheduling conflicts, they called on us.

It was touching to explain the story of the effort to create the monument, both to the Congressman and the VOA crew. The picture here shows Milo, the VOA cameraman, and Congressman Turner in front of the memorial. Thanks to JFNA for letting me be a part of this visit.

You can check out the VOA story, including a quote from me, here.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Jewish History on the Air

Had a great chance the other day to share some of our community's Civil War stories with a wider audience. Kojo Nnamdi on WAMU - 88.5 FM - interviewed me about stories of Civil War soldiers (such as Leopold Karpeles, shown here), General Grant's Order No. 11, and the Jewish community in Washington during the war years. My first time on live radio and really fun to share some of these little known stories. You can still listen in or read the transcript through a link on our website:

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Youth Summit for “Parade”

Cynthia Peterman, guest instructor,
leads a discussion about
American Jewish history in the 1900s
This past Sunday, eighth and ninth graders from Beth El Hebrew Congregation (Alexandria) and Shaare Torah (Gaithersburg) participated in a workshop with Lisa Hershey, our Education Consultant, to prepare them to see the musical Parade at Ford’s Theatre.  The workshop took place at Ford’s Theatre’s brand new education space: The Center for Education and Leadership.  Students spent time reviewing the Leo Frank case, learning about stereotypes, and discussing the role of media today and back in the 1900s.  Students even had a chance to use their cell phones to create a pretend text message, as part of a larger conversation about using social media to stand up to injustice.  Students’ theater tickets and lunch were underwritten by supporters of JHSGW.

The Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington is partnering with Ford's Theatre on its upcoming production of Parade, a drama with music based on the true story of the trial and lynching of Leo Frank. Parade runs September 23 - October 30, 2011  
Parade is the first production of Ford's Lincoln Legacy Project, a five-year effort to create a dialogue around the issues of tolerance, equality, and acceptance.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Object of the Month: October 2011

Archives Record

Object #: NNCF48
Description: Photograph of the exterior an early Giant supermarket, 1940s. Courtesy of Naomi and Nehemiah Cohen Foundation

Background: Nehemiah Cohen, a grocery store owner, and Samuel Lehrman, a food distributor, met in Pennsylvania, at Lehrman’s Harrisburg Wholesale Grocery Co. warehouse.  Eventually, they partnered to start a supermarket business and chose Washington for their new business venture.  They hoped federal workers would provide a strong market even during the Depression.

Samuel Lehrman and Nehemiah Cohen
shake hands
Their first Giant supermarket opened at Georgia Avenue & Park Road, NW, in February 1936.  Giant Food soon became one of the leading businesses in the Washington region as well a leader in corporate philanthropy.  By the 1950s, Giant Food had grown into a regional chain with more than 50 stores in the city and suburbs. Giant remained a locally owned family business until 1998 when it was sold to Royal Ahold, Inc.

Society archivists recently completed a five-year project funded by the Naomi and Nehemiah Cohen Foundation to preserve the history of Giant Food through oral histories and archival cataloging.  The Giant Food Archival Collection includes corporate records, correspondence, marketing and publicity files, and an extensive set of photographs and negatives. The project also includes 17 oral history interviews.  A selection of the photographs may be seen on the Jewish Historical Society’s online catalog here.

Birthday cake from Giant’s Heidi Bakery
made in celebration
of Israel’s bar-mitzvah birthday, 1961
Nehemiah Cohen’s granddaughter Nina Cohen, added Giant material to the Society’s archives earlier this year.  Her donation includes papers and photographs (such as the one seen here) documenting the activities and philanthropy of her grandfather as well as her father, Emanuel Cohen.

Join the Society at Adas Israel Congregation on Sunday, November 6, 2011, from 3:00 to 5:00 p.m., when we will celebrate the Giant Food Archival Project at our annual meeting. Visit our Programs page for more information!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

L'Shana Tova/Happy New Year

May you have a year of health, happiness, and peace.

From the Board and Staff of the Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington and its Lillian & Albert Small Jewish Museum.

We hope to see you at an upcoming program!

Visitors from Everywhere

August and September seem to be our "high season" at the Lillian & Albert Small Jewish Museum. We've had several walk-in visitors each week, including some from overseas. In the last two months we've had the privilege of giving tours to people from:
  • North Carolina
  • Colorado
  • California
  • New York
  • Michigan
  • Pennsylvania
  • Florida
  • Missouri
  • Slovenia
  • Czech Republic
  • The Netherlands
  • Germany
A lovely couple from the Czech Republic sent me some nice photos after their tour, two of which I've posted here. It's been a great experience meeting people from so many places--I've learned a lot through the back-and-forth with our visitors.

Want to come visit our synagogue? Bring your friends or family when they're in town? Just get in touch--we'd love to have you visit.

And a Happy New Year to all!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Object of the Month: September 2011

Archives Record
Object #: 2001.07.1
Donor: Sol Lynn
Description: Flier for Aleph Zadik Aleph’s Yom Kippur dance, 1939

Background: Starting in 1933, the local Alpha Zadik Alpha (AZA), a Jewish boys' fraternity affiliated with B'nai B'rith, sponsored an annual post-Yom Kippur Dance.  AZA was one of one of the more than 60 fraternities, sororities, clubs, and Zionist youth groups around which the social lives of Washington's Jewish teenagers revolved for nearly half a century. These organizations provided settings where teens could mingle and forge an American identity.  Jewish teens canoed on the Potomac, danced in Glen Echo's pavilion, and organized Purim Balls at the Jewish Community Center.

Excluded from the sororities, fraternities, and clubs of their non-Jewish classmates, Jewish teenagers created their own social sphere blending their Jewish identity with secular activities.  AZA's mission was "to provide athletic, social, and educational programs, to serve both community and Judaic interest, and to host oratory and debate competitions." Members met on Sunday afternoons at the Jewish Community Center at 16th & Q Streets, NW.

In 1934, the local AZA hosted more than 500 members from across the country at the 11th annual national convention at the Willard Hotel.  Six years later, they welcomed some 300 members from neighboring states to the nation’s capital for a conference and party at the Raleigh Hotel (12th & Pennsylvania Ave, NW).  The four-day event included oratorical and debate contests and bowling and basketball tournaments, as well as a banquet and dance.

Do you have material documenting local Jewish teen life that you'd like to donate to the Jewish Historical Society’s collection?  Please contact us at or (202) 789-0900.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Telling Jewish Washington's Story

Last week I was honored to visit Revitz House, part of Charles E. Smith Life Communities, to speak to the Haifa Group of Hadassah of Greater Washington. When I arrived in Rockville--unfortunately a few minutes late, thanks to the joys of Connecticut Avenue--I walked into a room full of bright-eyed and bushy-tailed people ready to learn--at 8 p.m.(!)--about the history of Jewish Washington, from 1795 to the present day.

Over the next 40 minutes, we exchanged in a lively give-and take. The group did not hesitate to ask questions, and many shared their memories with this 31-year-old non-native Washingtonian. I was sad to leave, as we were all ready to continue, even at 9 p.m.!

A special thanks to Marsha Werner, who arranged the talk. Want a speaker from JHSGW to come to your group? Just let us know!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Sending Books with Rabbi Howard Gorin

Rabbi Howard Gorin and me
with the donated books
A few weeks ago, we boxed up around 70 books about Judaism or Jewish history that we had accumulated in the office.  We wondered if we'd find one person who'd want them all, but we needn't have worried -- Rabbi Howard Gorin stepped up and very enthusiastically, too!

Not only does Rabbi Gorin serve the local congregation of Tikvat Israel, he's also involved Jewish communities throughout the world.  He'll sort through these books and send some to developing Jewish communities in Nigeria, some to a new Judaica collection in a university library in India, and he'll keep others for book sales, whose profits will help ship other books  When Rabbi Gorin picked up the books from our office, we were intrigued to learn about their potential futures.

If you're interested in Rabbi Gorin's various book projects, visit his website and read this article.

Monday, August 22, 2011

An Interactive Internship

This summer, I had the privilege to intern at the Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington. I hope to one day work in a Jewish museum, and have served as an intern at the Jewish Museum of Milwaukee and as a volunteer docent at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. As a museum studies student with many interests, what attracted me most to the Society was the opportunity to work on a wide range of projects instead of being restricted to one department as is often the case at larger institutions. Some of my projects included:
  • Developing a cumulative timeline of local Jewish history
  • Adding new sections to an online exhibit
  • Helping set up and take down traveling exhibits
  • Leading tours of the historic Adas Israel synagogue
  • Assisting with public programs and special events
  • Collecting content for an informational fundraising packet
My experiences at JHSGW showed me how small museums meet the challenges that larger museums may never need to worry about. I was thoroughly impressed by the creativity staff members used to collect, preserve, and share local Jewish history to the public. The staff invited me to share my input and become part of the program-building team. I even got to go on staff field trips to visit the Jewish Museum of Maryland and the German-American Heritage Museum, where we shared ideas and experiences with our colleagues. This hands-on approach enabled me to apply what I learned in my scriptwriting, marketing, fundraising, and history classes to real-life situations and tasks in the museum. I really enjoyed being able to work with every member of the JHSGW staff at some point over the course of the summer, whether it was assembling mailings, brainstorming new organizational logos, or leading a tour. 

My favorite undertaking this summer was leading tours of the 1876 Adas Israel Synagogue because I loved interacting with the visitors. The tours gave me the opportunity to share what I had learned about local Jewish Washington with the visitors. I loved the connections that I could draw between national and local history. I loved the discussions and dialogues that often began between the visitors and the museum staff, enabling both audiences to actively participate. More than anything, I loved the wide-open eyes and grins of amazement that the visitors made when I told them that the synagogue had moved three blocks on wheels, and would be moving again. The visitors asked all sorts of great questions, and I had a lot of fun answering them or in some cases throwing the questions back to the audience for ongoing discussion.

I am not ready to leave this internship, but alas my time is up. I plan to continue as a volunteer tour guide for both synagogue and walking tours in the fall, and I look forward to seeing what the Society does next!

Samantha Bass is a second-year Master’s student at The George Washington University, where she studies exhibit development, museum administration, and history.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Object of the Month: August 2011

Archives Record
Object #: 2010.25.4
Donor: Steven Blacher
Description: Photograph of Jake Flax holding a lasso while seated on a horse on location at Republic Pictures during a Variety Club convention in Hollywood. His sister Gertrude (woman on the right) watches in the background. c. 1950

Background: By 1913, brothers Sam (aged 26) and Jake Flax (aged 19) were both working as film distributors. Distributors, who found potential movie exhibitors in their local market, generally worked from buildings called film exchanges, which were owned by studios. Film exchanges stored films and often contained screening rooms.

In 1920, the Flax brothers joined together to own and operate Liberty Film Exchange. When Liberty’s parent company unified its distributors, the Flaxes’ office became Republic Pictures Corporation of Washington, D.C. Republic Pictures was one of the first major independent movie studios. It was known for Westerns, launching the careers of cowboy icons John Wayne, Gene Autry, and Roy Rodgers. The Flaxes’ office was the first of 39 Republic exchanges to operate under the new company.

The Washington Post reported that a crowd in excess of 600 including “practically all of the ‘show people’ in the Washington territory” attended the seven-hour housewarming at Republic Pictures’ new building at 925 New Jersey Avenue, NW, on May 20, 1935. Congratulatory telegrams, letters, and flowers arrived from across the country. When Sam died five years later, Jake continued with the business. Jake was also very active in the Variety Club, an organization of people in the entertainment industry that raised money for charities. Around the time of this photo, Jake was president of the local chapter, Tent No. 11. In 1947, he sold his Republic Pictures franchise but served as a branch manager until retiring in 1958. He passed away about a year later.

The Flax brothers were far from the only Washington-area Jews in the movie business. Because Jews were often shut out of traditional white-collar jobs, they were drawn to the opportunities offered by a new, high-risk enterprise in which they could be independent decision-makers. Aaron and Julius Brylawski, Max Burka, Fred Kogod, and Sidney Lust were among the local Jewish theater owners of the era.

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

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Learning the Trade

Working as archival intern at the Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington this summer proved both great fun and valuable professional experience. I very much enjoyed pouring over photographs, papers, and scrapbooks in the collections I helped process. Along the way, I learned much about the development of businesses, community institutions, and even families I know today, with walks around my adopted city enriched by the many images of Washington’s past I’ve seen in JHSGW’s collection. Considering that there have always been integral ties between the Jewish and larger communities in the District and beyond, JHSGW’s archival collection reveals much about the broader history of greater Washington as it addresses its core narrative of local Jewish history.

In addition to participation in a range of public and behind-the-scenes activities at JHSGW, my primary responsibilities involved the “processing”, or preparing for accessibility to researchers, of several archival collections. Although I’ve benefitted from some relevant coursework and contributed to a manuscript conservation project in the past, my previous experience with the (I think) fascinating business of arranging and describing archival collections was mostly limited to hypotheticals. This internship offered more active participation, with much of my summer devoted to scanning and cataloging photographs comprising the Naomi and Nehemiah Cohen Foundation collection; arranging and rehousing the Tifereth Israel collection; and arranging, cataloging, rehousing, and drafting both a finding aid and an Object of the Month entry for the Robert Rosenfeld Collection.

Working with the
Jewish Community Center records
Cataloging the Rosenfeld Collection also afforded an opportunity to experiment with JHSGW’s database software to express more nuanced relationships between items within larger collections, which could eventually benefit online searchers. I look forward to continuing the arrangement of the Jewish Community Center of Greater Washington Collection as I volunteer in the coming weeks.

Shelly Buring is a second-year Master’s student at the George Washington University, where she studies museum collections management and history.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Want to intern?

Want to gain some valuable experience while learning about D.C.-area Jewish history and contributing to a small organization?

JHSGW is looking for some interns for this fall. Read about the experiences our former interns Stacey, Sam, and Shelly had.

Interns work in a variety of activities, including (but not limited to):

1. Archives/collections management
2. Research
3. Education/Programs
4. Outreach/Marketing/Membership
5. Publications
6. Website/Exhibitions

Interested? To apply, please send the internship application, along with your resume, a cover letter detailing your interest in this internship and how it fits your goals, and a writing sample to: David McKenzie, Interpretive Programs Manager ( by September 1.

The internship is unpaid. Number of hours per week is flexible; schedule will be during normal business hours (9-5 Monday-Thursday).

Any questions? Contact David McKenzie at or (202) 789-0900.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Remembering Harry Kramer

I first met Harry Kramer when I interviewed him in 2000 for a video we created to accompany our exhibition on Jewish Teen Life in Washington. A soft-spoken and gentle man, Mr. Kramer spoke movingly about his experiences in the Jewish Lions Club, beginning in the 1930s. He also told me about the banner created by the Club during World War II; as each member entered the service, a white star was sewn onto the banner with the member’s name embroidered on it. All of the Lions Club members who served during the War returned safely home after the war, and they’ve been meeting and holding reunions ever since. The banner hung in our Teen Life exhibition, and we borrowed it again in 2005-2006 to display in our Jewish Washington exhibition at the National Building Museum.
Last year, Mr. Kramer and the Jewish Lions Club formally donated the banner to us to preserve in our archives. We spent a few hours together one day in September, recording the World War II memories of Mr. Kramer and other Club members Dave Gordin, Lou Kornhauser, Sol Gnatt, (seen from left to right; Harry Kramer second from right). Then Mr. Kramer and I carefully packed away the banner in an archival box in acid-free tissue.
When I learned today of Mr. Kramer’s recent death, I was so grateful that we had the chance to know him a bit, and that we are able to care for and preserve the physical artifacts that testify to his and others’ places in our community’s history.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Object of the Month: July 2011

Archives Record
Object #: 2011.15.1
Donor: Robert Rosenfeld
Description: Pair of First Lady “Lady Bird” Johnson’s brown leather gloves, c. 1967

Background: In 1967, Mrs. Johnson’s secretary sent these gloves to Parkway Cleaners, owned by Robert Rosenfeld, in Chevy Chase, Maryland, for cleaning. Although it proved impossible to clean these gloves without compromising their decorative condition, Parkway Cleaners enjoyed the continued patronage of the Johnsons as well as numerous other White House and Congressional clients.

The Rosenfeld family’s roots as Washington, D.C. cleaners reached back two generations earlier, to a business started in 1906 at 14th Street and New York Avenue, NW. Established by Bob Rosenfeld’s father, Moses C. Rosenfeld, in 1926, Parkway Cleaners and Dyers moved from Washington to Chevy Chase in 1930. By the 1960s, Parkway Cleaners boasted numerous federal officials and other prominent Washingtonians as clients, including President Lyndon and Lady Bird Johnson, Muriel Humphrey (wife of Hubert Humphrey, seen here in center with an unidentified woman and Mr. Rosenfeld), and Ann Buchwald (wife of Art Buchwald). Recognized for excellent service by the National Institute of Dry Cleaners, Parkway Cleaners was also asked to clean and reinstall draperies in both the Capitol and Blair House. Although ownership passed from the Rosenfeld family in 1980, Parkway Cleaners (seen at left about a year earlier) still operates today at the same Connecticut Avenue location it has occupied since 1930.

Earlier this year, Robert Rosenfeld donated a collection of materials documenting the business. Notable items in the Parkway Cleaners Collection include a fabric sample taken from the drapery at Blair House with a request for cleaning, a receipt for the cleaning or installation of drapes in “Mrs. Kennedy’s Bath Room” at the White House, numerous photographs of Robert Rosenfeld with his high profile clientele, personal notes from President and Mrs. Johnson, and other correspondence from well-known customers.

With its service to government agencies and prominent federal officials, Parkway Cleaners followed a long tradition of local Jewish-owned businesses providing service for clients of national importance. In addition to the Parkway Cleaners Collection, the Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington holds other material demonstrating this relationship, including a shoemaker’s bench and leather punch once belonging to “shoemaker to the presidents” Nathan Ring (ca. 1920) and a cake box designed by party planner Fae Brodie for the 1966 wedding of Luci Baines Johnson at the White House.

Do you have material documenting a relationship between the federal government and local Jewish-owned businesses that you’d like to donate to the Jewish Historical Society’s collection? Please contact us at or (202) 789-0900.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Mourning a lion of the community

We were saddened to learn of the death of Hyman Bookbinder this past Thursday, at the age of 95.

Bookie, as he was known, was a lion of the Jewish community and of the Washington area. He served as the American Jewish Committee's Washington representative, a lobbyist for the AFL-CIO, assistant director of the U.S. Office on Economic Opportunity, and an adviser to Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey, among many other accomplishments. His donation of mementoes marking his active participation in the Civil Rights movement are among the most cherished in the communal archive of the Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington.

In a 1986 interview with The Washington Post, Bookbinder commented that his "most cherished possession" was a banner reading "I Was There" at the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. At the 1963 rally, Bookbinder stood near Dr. Martin Luther King as he gave the famous "I Have a Dream" speech at the Lincoln Memorial.

Bookbinder graciously donated the banner to the Jewish Historical Society for display in our Jewish Washington exhibition at the National Building Museum, where it helped to recount Jewish participation in civil rights. Just last year, the pennant was featured as our inaugural Object of the Month, which showcases notable items in the Society’s collection.

Another notable contribution Bookie made to the Society’s archives was a photograph of himself among other activists protesting segregation at Maryland's Glen Echo Park in 1960. Bookie is in the center of the above photo.

Our condolences to the friends and family of Hyman Bookbinder. He will be sorely missed. May his memory be for a blessing.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Launching our online catalog

Today over 30 people came to our historic synagogue to learn about our new online archival catalog. Our archivist, Wendy, didn't just show everyone how to navigate the catalog, but also some of the treasures in our collections.

Among those who braved the heat were staff members from some of our sister organizations, including the National Building Museum, German-American Heritage Museum, Montgomery County Historical Society, and Library of Congress. The event was also a special tribute to Janice Goldblum, our volunteer collections committee chair and an archivist for the National Academies. We were proud to honor Janice's 20 years of service!

Miss the event? Never to fear--I live-tweeted it, so you can catch up here.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Australians Visit the Synagogue

Today I had the privilege of showing the Lillian & Albert Small Jewish Museum to a group from Australia! Thirty students from Notre Dame University in Freemantle, Australia, are here in Washington for three weeks, studying American politics and D.C. history at the Catholic University of America. Their professor, Leslie Woodcock Tentler from Catholic University, brought them to Washington's oldest synagogue after they toured other parts of the neighborhood.

I showed them the building's unique history--and how it fits into the history of this neighborhood, the Jewish community, and the city writ large. The picture shows students examining what the synagogue looked like just after its move in 1969.

We love to have classes--from kindergarten to college, from our city or from another hemisphere--come by our building and learn about Washington's Jewish history. At the university level, it's perfect for a D.C. history, urban history, or American Jewish history class.

Want to bring your group by? Click here for more information, or feel free to contact me!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Object of the Month: June 2011

Object #: 2011.7
Donor: Leo M. Bernstein Family Foundation
Description: Leo M. Bernstein Archival Collection, which includes biographical materials, correspondence, family history, professional & community recognition, photographs, scrapbooks, and other memorabilia about the life and work of Leo M. Bernstein, D.C. banker, real estate broker, Zionist, civil rights promoter, philanthropist, American history enthusiast and collector.

Professional Life
Born in Washington, D.C. in 1915, Leo Bernstein graduated from the city’s Central High School. He received an informal education in real estate while working with his father’s real estate investments. The 1906 deed for his grandfather’s kosher butcher shop and home at 816 Sixth Street, NW, is in the collection. He founded his own real estate company at age 18. Within a year, Bernstein challenged racial and religious covenants, which barred the sale of properties to persons of color or to Jews, selling a house in a “whites only” neighborhood near Howard University to an African-American professor.

While working in real estate, Bernstein went to night law school, graduating in 1936 from the Columbus Law School (now Catholic University’s Columbus School of Law). Over the next few decades, Bernstein owned and ran several D.C. banks. Seen here, Bernstein (right) and D.C. Commissioner Gilbert Hahn, Jr., raise the District of Columbia flag at the D.C. National Bank headquarters at 18th & K Streets, NW, in 1971.

History Enthusiast
Bernstein enjoyed collecting historic documents, especially those relating to American presidents; furniture; and other objects, exhibiting some of them in the lobbies of his banks. This interest led him to become involved in historic preservation in the Shenandoah Valley communities of Middletown and Strasburg, Virginia starting in 1960. There, Bernstein helped save and restore several buildings, including the 18th-century Wayside Inn. As documented by itineraries, correspondence, and photographs, Bernstein organized and hosted family reunions and getaway weekends for friends and colleagues there and at other hotels he owned in the region. Among the groups Bernstein welcomed was the Washington Board of Rabbis, which met at the Wayside Inn many times during the 1970s and 1980s.

Jewish Community Involvement

Bernstein’s involvement in Jewish causes and organizations was local, national, and international. These included Adas Israel Congregation, United Jewish Appeal, Hebrew Academy of Greater Washington, American Committee for the Weizmann Institute of Science, Anti-Defamation League, and Yeshiva University. Bernstein served on the board of the Jewish Historical Society for nine years in the 1970s and ‘80s. This 1983 certificate of appreciation from the D.C. Section of the National Council of Jewish Women was awarded for his support on the occasion of NCJW’s 90th birthday in 1983.

As a young man, Bernstein was active locally in the cause of Zionism. In a 1999 oral history, Bernstein told of secret meetings attended by community leaders like Abraham Kay, Joe Cherner, and Morris Pollin: “Before Israel was a state, we had many Haganah meetings. We were getting ready to help Jews get into Palestine. They needed money for guns, ammunition and ships. We met at my office at 718 Fifth Street.” One highlight of the collection is a 1948 letter from Joseph Cherner, president of the Louis D. Brandeis District of the Zionist Organization of America, appointing Bernstein chair of the Embassy Building Committee, charged with finding a suitable building for the first Israeli Embassy.

Donation of Collection
Bernstein passed away 2008 at the age of 93. The following year, the Jewish Historical Society started a major archival project funded by the Leo M. Bernstein Family Foundation to organize and preserve this extensive collection of Bernstein’s business and personal papers. The Society completed the project in 2010 and was honored to accept the Leo M. Bernstein Archival Collection when the Foundation formally donated it last month.

Do you have material documenting local Jewish individual that you’d like to donate to the Jewish Historical Society’s collection? Please contact us at or (202) 789-0900.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Preserving Community Heritage

Today our intern, Samantha, and I visited the U Street offices of the Humanities Council of Washington, D.C. We were there to pick up a check for a D.C. Community Heritage Project grant! Here I am with HCWDC's Executive Director, Joy Ford Austin.

Thanks to HCWDC and the MARPAT Foundation for giving us grants to create four exhibition panels in our historic synagogue and a panel outside. When you come to the Lillian & Albert Small Jewish Museum later this year, you'll see panels with images and text about the birth of Adas Israel, the building's architecture, the 1876 dedication service, President Grant's visit to the dedication, and neighborhood life in the early-to-mid 1900s. We're also creating a short video about the synagogue's history.

This project is the first phase of implementing an exhibition plan we created in 2009, with funding from HCWDC and the National Endowment for the Humanities. The entire exhibition--to be completed after the synagogue is moved--will tell the story of the synagogue building, its early congregants, and by extension the Judiciary Square neighborhood.

We're honored to be among the neighborhood and local history associations awarded grants from HCWDC this year. Be on the lookout for HCWDC's annual symposium on the Community Heritage Project, tentatively scheduled for December 8.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Honoring Jewish Chaplains

For years Chaplains Hill at Arlington National Cemetery has held monuments to Protestant and Catholic military chaplains killed in the line of duty--but none for their Jewish counterparts. Last week, we were honored to be a part of rectifying that.

On Thursday, Ken Kraetzer (left), Admiral Harold Robinson (center), and Shelley Rood of the Jewish Federations of North America (right)--who have been spearheading the effort--stopped by our office on their way to a meeting with the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts, which approves all monuments in the nation's capital and Arlington National Cemetery. They impressed us with their practice presentation, and apparently impressed the CFA with the real thing, as well--the design for the monument was approved, with only minor tweaks!

All of the funds needed for the creation of the Jewish Chaplains Monument at Arlington have been raised. Since last fall, we've been creating an accompanying brochure about Jews buried at Arlington (in cooperation with the Jewish Genealogy Society of Greater Washington). We've raised $2,000 of the $10,000 needed for that project; click here to donate (indicate that your donation is for Arlington Cemetery).

We'll look forward to the monument's dedication--now a step closer to happening.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

A Successful Jewish American Heritage Month!

Chairman Brown addresses the crowd
Photograph by Betty Adler
Our Jewish American Heritage Month programs culminated at City Hall last month, where we celebrated with D.C. Council Chairman Kwame Brown, the D.C. Council, and even the mayor.  This special event, co-organized with the Jewish Community Relations Council, included a kosher deli lunch and our exhibition, Jewish Life in Mr. Lincoln’s City, which was on view in the Wilson Building atrium.

During May we served 625 people through our programs.  Countless others viewed our exhibitions.

Debbie Linick of JCRC,
D.C. Attorney General Irvin Nathan,
JHSGW Executive Director Laura Apelbaum,
and D.C. Mayor Vincent Grey
Photograph by Betty Adler

Click on photos to enlarge.

    Thursday, May 5, 2011

    Challah Month

    This morning, our director Laura's husband, Perry, delivered 40 loaves of challah! Since May 2009, we've sold challah in the neighborhood as part of the celebration of Jewish American Heritage Month. This picture shows the challah before we sent it out.

    Interested in buying some? Click here to order--you can still get challah for the next 3 weeks for $15. If you order 5 per week in an office or building, we can deliver in the Penn Quarter area.

    And don't forget about the other ways you can join us in celebrating Jewish American Heritage Month!

    Tuesday, May 3, 2011

    Object of the Month: May 2011

    Object #: 1999.13.1
    Donor: Pearl Franck
    Description: Celebration for the 25th Anniversary of the State of Israel, May 1973. L to R: Bernie Rosenberg (celebration chair for Jewish Community Council of Greater Washington), D.C. Mayor Walter Washington, and Isaac Franck (executive director of the Jewish Community Council of Greater Washington)

    Background: Isaac Franck became executive director of the Jewish Community Council of Greater Washington in 1949. Franck, working with such influential Council presidents as Rabbi Isadore Breslau, Aaron Goldman, Albert E. Arent, Louis Grossberg, and Seymour D. Wolf, led the Community Council as it addressed a wide range of social and political problems.

    While the Council was formed to serve the local Jewish community, it did not shy away from issues that affected the greater good. Among these were issues of civil rights and desegregation, education, assistance to the poor, separation of church and state, equal opportunity, and Home Rule for the District of Columbia. For example, in 1953, the Council lent its name to the Thompson’s Restaurant court case, decided by the Supreme Court. The case ended segregation in public accommodations in Washington, D.C. Following desegregation of public schools the subsequent year, the Council worked with city and religious leaders to encourage a peaceful transition. In 1963, Franck arranged for Martin Luther King, Jr., to address a citywide meeting at Adas Israel. That August, King returned to Washington to give his “I Have a Dream” speech at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. The Council coordinated local Jewish involvement in the historic event. In this photo of the march, Franck is seen in the lower right.

    When Isaac Franck retired in 1973, Jewish Community Council membership had more than tripled. The Washington Post wrote that he “gave [the Jewish community] not only a degree of cohesion, he also sought for it a special place because of its location in the national’s capital.” During Franck's tenure, the Council grew dramatically and worked with other organizations and faiths. He enabled 173 local organizations to speak as one while taking action on a wide range of community matters.

    Today, the Council continues its important work with a new organizational name, the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington.

    Do you have material documenting local social justice movements that you’d like to donate to the Jewish Historical Society’s collection? Please contact us at or (202) 789-0900.

    Monday, April 4, 2011

    Object of the Month: April 2011

    Object #: 2006.2.23
    Donor: Mitchell Slavitt
    Description: Pair of shoulder marks worn by Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, c. 1945

    Background: Shortly after World War II, Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz sent his five-star shoulder boards, discolored from Pacific sea water, with an accompanying note (see below), to D.C. business owner Harry Slavitt.

    Slavitt had opened a liquor store in 1932 at 509 Seventh Street, SW, close to the Army War College at the Washington Barracks (the post was later renamed Fort McNair). During the war years, customers patronized his store from the College, Pentagon and other local military institutions. The interior of the store was decorated with military memorabilia and the vast majority of liquor was sold under Slavitt’s private label, “GHQ” (General Headquarters). Slavitt's sons Mitchell and Robert remember making deliveries to the White House mess, Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Secretary of Defense mess.

    Slavitt commissioned Gib Crockett, cartoonist for The Washington Post, to draw caricatures of many of his military customers. With these drawings, he created individualized labels for liquor bottles (such as the one seen here sent to General George Patton) and sent the bottles to these customers across the world. In appreciation, Slavitt received personal letters and autographed photographs. Over time, Slavitt amassed an impressive collection of letters, photographs, and other items such as these shoulder boards. Military customers brought friends and family to view the gallery room in the back of the store where much of this material was displayed. Among those customers represented in Slavitt’s collection are eight of the nine 5-star officers in U.S. military history: Henry “Hap” Arnold, Omar Bradley, Dwight Eisenhower, William Leahy, Ernest King, George Marshall, Douglas MacArthur, and Chester Nimitz. Additionally, photographs of Presidents Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson were sent by their military attachés.

    Slavitt himself volunteered for the Navy in 1943 and served in the Supply Corps. His wife, Helen, ran the store while he was away. In the early 1960s , the store moved to Fourth & M Streets, SW, and Slavitt sold the business a few years later. The liquor store, still named Harry’s, remained at Fourth & M under its new owners for about 10 years before relocating to the Waterside Mall one block away. The business was sold once more before closing around 2004.

    In 2006, Harry’s sons donated Nimitz’s shoulder boards as well as two albums containing a selection of Harry’s letters, photographs, and drafts of the custom cartoon bottle labels to the Jewish Historical Society.

    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 or (202) 789-0900.

    Wednesday, March 23, 2011

    Offering research assistance

    The other day Martin Moeller, Senior Vice President and Curator at our neighbor, the National Building Museum, asked our help in reviewing two entries he was updating for the next edition of the American Institute of Architects' Guide to the Architecture of Washington, D.C. We were honored to provide our expertise on the entries for our historic 1876 synagogue (now the Lillian & Albert Small Jewish Museum) and for the Sixth and I Historic Synagogue. Be on the lookout for the new version of this important architectural resource--also available as an iPhone app!

    Researching Washington-area Jewish history? Please do not hesitate to contact us--we're your go-to resource!

    Wednesday, March 2, 2011

    Object of the Month: March 2011

    Archives Record
    Object #: 2001.21.13
    Donor: Flora Atkin
    Description: Birthday postcard addressed to Eleanor Blumenthal from Rich’s shoe store, postmarked January 23, 1935

    Background: Bernard Rich opened a men’s clothing store at 1322-1324 Seventh Street, NW, in 1869. His sons Louis and Max soon joined the business. In 1894, B. Rich & Sons became a family shoe shop and, four years later, moved into the four-story building they had built at 10th & F Streets, NW.

    Rich’s Shoes remained at 10th & F for more than half a century, becoming a downtown landmark. In addition to this main store, Rich’s opened a branch in Georgetown by 1954 and another in Chevy Chase Shopping Center two years later. In 1961, the downtown shop relocated a few blocks west to a modern, new store at 1319-21 F Street, NW. A final branch opened in Farragut Square in 1968.

    To learn more about the business and Eleanor Blumenthal's family,
    click here!

    Photograph: Courtesy of the Library of Congress

    Point of Interest: The Rich’s building at 10th & F Streets, NW, is now home to Madame Tussauds, which came to Washington, D.C., in 2007.

    Wednesday, February 16, 2011

    Featured in The Examiner!

    Did you see this morning's copy of The Washington Examiner? I'm featured in the "3-Minute Interview" on page 5! Here's a picture of the article.

    You can also check it out online. Thanks to Susan Ferrechio of The Examiner for thinking of us!

    This is the second time someone from the Society has been featured--be sure to check out the interview with our director, Laura.

    Just to note: the historic synagogue is actually at 3rd and G, NW. It's been corrected in the online version.

    Friday, February 11, 2011

    Lincoln Exhibition at JCCNV!

    There are still 10 more days to see the framed panel version of our exhibition, Jewish Life in Mr. Lincoln's City, at the Jewish Community Center of Northern Virginia. It's there until February 22.

    The exhibition's 15 panels tell stories of Jewish life in Civil War-era Washington and Alexandria. As a bonus, we also have directories of known Jewish residents in Washington and Alexandria and extra pictures and documents on display.

    Can't make it to JCCNV before February 22? Then come see the show at B'nai Israel Congregation (March 4-April 4) or the Washington, D.C., Jewish Community Center (April 10-30).

    You can also buy the book and see illustrated lectures.

    Thanks to board member John Tolleris for his generous contribution, which allowed us to create the traveling version!