Friday, December 7, 2012

Object of the Month: December 2012

Collection: JHSGW Institutional Records
Description: Invitation to the move of the 1876 historic synagogue, December 1969

Background: On December 18, 1969, after a series of urgent letters, frantic preparations, and collaboration from D.C. and federal government agencies, the Jewish Historical Society saved a historic structure from the wrecking ball. Moving the 270-ton building was a complicated feat and took three hours. Along the way, a gas main ruptured. The gas company burned off excess gas to prevent it from accumulating in nearby buildings, causing small fires in the manholes, which provided curious spectators with a bit of warmth on the bitterly cold day.

Built by Adas Israel Congregation and dedicated on June 9, 1876, the building originally stood at Sixth & G Streets, NW, in the heart of the city’s residential and commercial center. The congregation outgrew the building by 1906 and sold it to a real estate investor. Over the next 60 years, the first floor housed a bicycle shop, barber, a grocery store, delicatessen, and other businesses. A succession of churches worshipped upstairs in the sanctuary.

Over the years, the building’s original purpose faded from memory. By the late 1950s, a few members of the community started bringing the former synagogue’s history to the attention of JHSGW. Support was gathered for the building’s preservation, but a crisis soon struck. Metro, the new subway system, planned to demolish the entire block of buildings on which the synagogue stood in order to erect its headquarters. 

Today, the historic building is home to the Lillian & Albert Small Jewish Museum. Educational programs, school field trips, walking tours, and private events such as bar/bat mitzvahs and weddings take place in the former sanctuary.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Object of the Month: November 2012

Object No. 2011.2.32
Donor: Diane Liebert
Description: Photograph of D.C. Mayor Walter Washington presenting Janice Eichhorn with a framed letter that thanks her for Home Rule efforts, October 11, 1973

Background: Jan Eichhorn first arrived in Washington from Illinois in 1964 to work for her local Congressman, Ken Grey, but by the early 1970s, her focus had shifted. She became entrenched in Washington, D.C.'s struggle for Home Rule and representation in Congress. Eichhorn became the executive director of the Self-Determination for DC Coalition, which lobbied for Home Rule on behalf of more than 80 organizations. After Home Rule legislation passed in 1974, Eichhorn continued her political activism, serving as the first Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner of Ward 6B (South side of Capitol Hill to the Anacostia River), delegate to the DC Statehood Constitutional Convention, and remaining an active member of local Democratic organizations.

Eichhorn's devotion to her community was not only political.  She became involved in the Washington DC Jewish Community Center when it first returned to the city and served on its board from 1985 to 1990. Additionally, she formed Friends of Tyler School, an after-school mentoring and tutoring program near Barney Circle in 1990. The program, now called Jan's Tutoring House in her memory, has served more than 300 students.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Object of the Month: October 2012

Object No. 2012.08.01
Donor: Rabbi Arnold Saltzman
Description: Tallit bag (15"x10.5") made of burgundy velvet with a red, yellow, green, and blue flower trim. Features Star of David design.

Background: This hand-sewn tallit bag was used by three generations of Rabbi Saltzman's family. The bag, which likely dates to the 19th century, was handmade by Saltzman's maternal grandfather, Samuel Holzman, a tailor who emigrated from Russia to the United States.

In Holzman's bequest, each of his 18 grandchildren received something he had made for them from fabric. Their grandmother presented an  item to each grandchild after their grandfather's death. Saltzman received the bag prior to his bar mitzvah in 1961.

Saltzman’s father, Max, was a tailor who left Poland for America in 1904. By age 18, he owned a clothing manufacturing business in New York. As a fellow artisan, Max so admired his father-in-law's tallit bag that he soon "borrowed" it from his son. Not until Max's death in 1983 did his son reclaim the precious object.

Rabbi Saltzman used it through his remaining 22 years as Adas Israel Congregation's cantor and it accompanied him on his numerous trips to Israel. Once it became too fragile to use, Saltzman, now a rabbi, donated it to the Jewish Historical Society. The tallit bag is a wonderful reminder of beloved relatives and a world gone by.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Special Recent Accession

Accession No. 2012.21
Description: Typed German note signed by Albert Einstein, 1938
(click on image to enlarge)

In this brief message on his personal embossed stationery, famed physicist Albert Einstein discloses an effort to rescue family and friends from Germany as Nazism rose in the late 1930s. A translation reveals a thank-you note to attorney Max Ammerman for his assistance on a matter. According to family lore, the matter concerned helping a friend, colleague, or perhaps Einstein's mistress emigrate from Germany. At the time, Ammerman worked in the law office of Louis Ottenberg, who facilitated immigrant proceedings for many Jewish refugees.

Dear Mr. Ammerman:
Mr. Fritz Moses told me that you have kindly agreed to assist me with my small assistance effort.
Thank you and best regards.
Albert Einstein

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

End of an 18-Year Quest

At the Wilner gravesite in Adas Israel Cemetery,
from L to R: 
John Wilner, Richard Wilner,
Ginger Newmyer, Larry Wilner, and Jean Paul Pitou.
French researcher Jean Paul Pitou ended an 18-year quest last month when he visited the gravesite of Captain John Wilner at Adas Israel Cemetery in Anacostia. Pitou had been studying the 83rd Infantry Division and its role following the Normandy invasion in saving the town of Saint-Briac-sur-Mer in Brittany. Just months after the town was liberated in August, 1944, the people of St. Briac erected a large stone monument in memory of the three American soldiers who were killed there. Captain John Wilner of Washington, D.C., was among those listed. But Wilner's name was misspelled on the French monument as 'Woelner', a mistake that went unnoticed until 1994 when an American veteran, in town to commemorate the 50th anniversary of D-Day, noticed that the name Woelner did not appear in the historical records of the 83rd Division. It took years of searching before Pitou and fellow researchers Gille Billion and Antoine Nosier correctly identified the soldier who gave his life liberating St. Briac as Captain John Wilner, the company commander of the 709th Tank Battalion that supported the 83rd Infantry. With that information in hand, they traced his burial place to the Adas Israel cemetery in Anacostia.

The story began in Washington, D.C., in 1897, when Joseph Wilner, a recent immigrant from Vilna, Poland, opened a tailor shop on 6th Street, NW. While his business prospered, he and his wife Ida raised four sons: Bernard, Morton, Paul, and John. Joseph Wilner quickly became a prominent leader in the Jewish community, founding the Jewish Community Center in 1920s and serving as president of Adas Israel Congregation for 25 years. When World War II broke out, all four sons left Washington to serve their country. Just six weeks after Bernard died from an illness, the Wilners were notified of John's death in battle. Killed on August 15, 1944, while on a reconnaissance patrol in preparation for the attack to liberate the town, Captain John Wilner posthumously received the Bronze Star for his actions.

As part of Pitou's plans to attend the 83rd Infantry Division's 66th Reunion in Nashville, Tennessee this month, he contacted Glenn Easton, Executive Director of Adas Israel Congregation, for information about Wilner's final resting place. Easton quickly reached out to the extended Wilner family. John Wilner's daughter Cathy, who never met her father, made an emotional phone call to Pitou from her home in Switzerland. Neither she nor the rest of the Wilner family had known of the monument to her father or the town's annual memorial service. Weeks later, Pitou and Easton joined Joel Wind of the Jewish Historical Society and other members of the Wilner family at the Adas Israel cemetery on a warm July afternoon.

At the graveside, Pitou shared his research into the battle's history and gave family members an engraved stone and some soil from St. Briac. Later, Pitou visited the archives of the Jewish Historical Society to view documents and photographs of the Wilner family.

And the story will continue next year, when the village of St. Briac will correct the historical record by adding a plaque with Captain John Wilner's name to the monument on August 15, 2013.

These words from Captain John Wilner's letter to his daughter and his brother's children was found among his papers after his death.
More than anything, I value a cause, an ideal, which is decent and clean, representing relative happiness and insuring the validity of a few of the finer thing which life can offer... I am willing to die fighting for these things; I am happy to fight for them...

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Object of the Month: August 2012

Object No.: 2004.13.1
Donor: Constance Tobriner Povich
Description: Photograph of the 76th Board of Commissioners of Washington D.C.: (left to right) John Duncan, Walter Tobriner, Charles M. Duke, July 22, 1965.

Background: Walter N. Tobriner was a native Washingtonian and lawyer whose career was distinguished by his service to his hometown. He was appointed by President John F. Kennedy in 1961 to the city's Board of Commissioners. At that time, the Board was D.C.'s governing body whose three members were Presidential appointees. Tobriner served as its president for six years.

Although he had always been a strong advocate for some form of home rule for the city, Tobriner knew that 1961 was not the year to push for it. He felt, as The Washington Post reported, Congress would not pass a home rule bill unless the President actively worked for its enactment; the newly elected John F. Kennedy would be occupied with more pressing matters. Nevertheless, Tobriner was a visionary for positive change.

To learn more about Walter Tobriner and the civil service of Jewish community members, read the newest edition of our journal, The Record, a complimentary benefit of JHSGW membership. To purchase a copy, contact us at or (202) 789-0900.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Object of the Month: July 2012

Object No.: 2003.6.1
Donor: Fred Litwin
Description: 300-piece stained glass window in wooden frame, approx. 3' x 5'.  Purple, green, and orange design with central Star of David.

Background: Originally from a Brooklyn synagogue, Fred Litwin purchased this stained glass window in 1980.  For more than 20 years, he displayed it in his antique furniture store at 637 Indiana Avenue, NW.

Housed in one of the oldest remaining commercial buildings in the city, Litwin's was one of the last furniture stores that once crowded the Seventh Street area.  The 1960s had brought redevelopment to the area and small businesses struggled to stay in the neighborhood.  When Litwin closed his shop in 2003, he donated the window to JHSGW.The building, now about 185 years old, is now home to a Potbelly Sandwich Shop.

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.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Kaddish for America's First Jewish Aviator

Last week, a crowd recited the Kaddish in memory of an unlikely aviation pioneer—a Jewish immigrant from Russia named Arthur L. Welsh. The occasion was the centennial of his tragic death at the College Park Airfield. Among those gathered were great grand-nieces and nephews of the little-known pioneering aviator. On June 11, 1912, Welsh was killed while testing a Wright-designed plane for military use.

The notion of a Jewish immigrant penetrating the Wright brothers’ inner circle seems improbable. Yet Welsh distinguished himself as one of the earliest and most respected pilots in our country. Unlike the Wright brothers, whose ancestors arrived in Massachusetts just 20 years after the Pilgrims, Al Welsh’s story began as one typical of a working class Jewish immigrant.

America’s first Jewish airman was born Laibel Willcher in Russia, where he lived until he came to this country with his parents as a boy. The family settled in Philadelphia. Shortly after Laibel's father died, his mother remarried.

In 1898, the family moved to Washington’s 4 ½ Street, Southwest, neighborhood—home to a small enclave of Jewish immigrants at the turn of the last century. This was the same neighborhood where another young Jewish immigrant was growing up—Asa Yoelson, a cantor's son who later changed his name to Al Jolson.

Like so many other Jewish families, Laibel and his family lived above the grocery store that his mother ran. His stepfather worked as a cutter in a tailor shop.

When Laibel joined the Navy in 1901, he gave his name as Arthur L. Welsh—perhaps to escape anti-Semitism. After his honorable discharge, Welsh returned to Washington and worked as a bookkeeper. He attended meetings of the Young Zionist Union, where he met his future bride, Anna Harmel. Their 1907 wedding was the first held at the then-Orthodox Adas Israel’s second synagogue at 6th and I Streets.

When the Wright brothers came to Fort Myer in 1908 and 1909, Al Welsh was among the throng who watched in fascination as the famous brothers tested their military flier.

Welsh chased and realized his dream of flying with the Wright brothers. Though he did not have the mechanical knowledge required, he embarked on a letter-writing campaign to gain the attention of the Wrights. After initial rejection, Welsh traveled to Dayton, Ohio, to appeal to the Wrights in person.

His persistence eventually overcame his lack of qualifications. Welsh trained directly under Orville Wright and became a trusted and skilled pilot—a notable achievement given the difficulties of flying a Wright plane. This young Jewish immigrant also gave lessons to the first military pilots, including the famed Henry "Hap" Arnold, later a five-star general and U.S. Army Air Chief of Staff during World War II.

In 1912, the Wrights sent Welsh home to test a new military plane at College Park Airport. He lived with his in-laws in his Southwest neighborhood, commuting on the streetcar from the family home on H Street.

During a test flight on June 11, 1912, Welsh and Lieutenant Leighton Hazlehurst crashed into a field of daisies. Both died instantly.

The funeral service, held at the Harmel family home, was delayed so Orville Wright and his sister Katherine would have time to arrive from Dayton. Orville served as a pallbearer, along with Hap Arnold and several of Welsh’s Jewish friends from the neighborhood. His coffin was draped in a silken tallis. The Yiddish newspaper The Forward reported, “All present were in tears including Mr. Orville Wright and his sister who were doing all they could to console the wife and mother of the deceased.”

Welsh was buried in the Adas Israel Cemetery in Anacostia. Welsh's wife Anna died in 1925 “of a broken heart,” as the family remembered. Their daughter, just two years old at the time of her father’s death, grew up in Southwest and later moved to London.

In the early 1930s, Welsh’s sister, Clara Wiseman, campaigned to gain public recognition for her brother. She urged the military to name an airfield in his honor, as they had done for Welsh’s copilot. But since Welsh had flown as a civilian, no such honor was forthcoming.

Today, perhaps her efforts have been vindicated. Last week the College Park Aviation Museum unveiled a new interpretive sign telling Welsh's story at the edge of the airfield where this young Jewish immigrant turned pioneer pilot lost his life a century ago.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Object of the Month: June 2012

Object No.: 1999.36.1
Donor: Milton Weinstein
Description: Two-part green metal sign (28" x 116") with orange letters reading District Grocery Store, 1920s

Background:  This sign hung over Harry's Market in Mt. Rainier, Maryland for more than 70 years. Leah and Harry Weinstein bought the market in 1924 and became members of District Grocery Stores (DGS), a cooperative. DGS was formed in 1921 by a dozen Jewish grocers, providing cooperative buying power and a means to fight discrimination from non-Jewish wholesalers.

Through out its 72 years, Harry's Market supplied the neighborhood with groceries, beer and wine, diapers, school supplies, candy and other small necessitates. When Harry and Leah got older and could no longer run the store, daughters Vivian and Ruth (seen here), took over until closing in 1996.

The legacy of DGS lives on in the upcoming DGS Delicatessen, scheduled to open this summer at 1317 Connecticut Avenue, NW, just south of Dupont Circle.

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.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Synagogue Story Focus @ White House

Who could imagine that a long ago research inquiry would culminate with the President speaking at the White House about how President Ulysses S. Grant became the first sitting president to attend a synagogue service when he attended the dedication of Adas Israel's first synagogue--now the Lillian & Albert Small Jewish Museum?

In 1994, I contacted Dr. John Y. Simon, the editor of the Grant papers, to ask if there were any documents among those papers that related to Grant's visit to the synagogue. That's how I first learned that among Grant's papers housed at the Library of Congress was an original receipt for the $10 donation the president made to the synagogue's building fund in June 1876.

Since then we have used a facsimile copy of this marvelous document in our exhibits and educational programs. When we learned that the Library of Congress was mounting a comprehensive exhibit about American Jewish life in 2004, we alerted the curators to the existence of the receipt in their collection. It was included in their exhibit, From Haven to Home, next to Grant's Civil War expulsion order, the infamous Orders No. 11.

Earlier this year, I met the new national coordinator for Jewish American Heritage Month, Jennifer Mooney. I suggested to Jennifer that perhaps an appropriate theme this year would be Grant's issuance of Orders No. 11 and President Abraham Lincoln's revocation of that order. This is after all the 150th anniversary year of General Orders No. 11 issued December 17, 1862.
Me with Gary P. Zola, Director of the American Jewish Archives--and the Library of Congress documents relating to General Orders No. 11!
Our staff, board members, and supporters should be gratified to know that yesterday the story of Orders No. 11 was front and center at the White House's annual reception celebrating Jewish American Heritage Month. Upon entering the White House, the Library of Congress' Hebraic Section Chief and past president of JHSGW, Peggy Pearlstein, stood watch over a case of precious documents from the LOC--a letter of complaint from a Missouri B'nai B'rith chapter, the back of the envelope from that letter on which Abraham Lincoln wrote his revocation instructions, and the receipt from the Adas Israel Congregation thanking President Grant for his donation to the building fund of its new synagogue!!

Upstairs in the East Room as members of Congress and dignitaries gathered, President Obama spoke about this little known chapter in American history--giving it context by explaining each of the documents and calling on us to remain vigilant against anti-Semitism and prejudice in our country.

This is such a wonderful validation of our work at the Society and Museum. We work to uncover, tell, and educate lesser known chapters in American Jewish history for our visitors and the general public. We should be proud that our message is receiving national attention and our role on the national stage is bringing these stories to the fore.

And we should be most proud of our ongoing work to protect and preserve our special historic synagogue--the one that President Grant attended--which has this powerful story to tell.

Here's the president's speech.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Touring Historic Jewish Washington with Jewish Professionals

David displays a picture of Washington
Hebrew Congregation when it used to reside
at Greater New Hope Baptist Church
One of the Historical Society’s most popular events is tours of downtown Jewish Washington. Open to the public in the fall and spring, staff members are also on hand for private events. This morning, Interpretive Programs Manager David McKenzie and I met with a group of 17 Jewish communal professionals for a tour organized by The Jewish Federations of North America.

We started at the Lillian and Albert Small Jewish Museum, formerly the home of Adas Israel Congregation and the first synagogue in the Washington area, to discuss the migration of Jewish groups into the capital and the literal migration of this building from 6th and G to 3rd and G streets in 1969. Outside, we braved the humidity to walk around 7th Street, once a neighborhood with a sizeable Jewish minority in the 19th and early 20th centuries. We also saw the sites of former synagogues-turned-churches as well as the revitalized Sixth & I Historic Synagogue. Perhaps the most quirky, if not momentous historical artifact was when David showed us an iron rung for tying up horses on the side of the road, one of the few still left standing in the city.

David also talked about plans in the works to move the historic 1876 Adas Israel synagogue yet again, this time to 3rd and F streets, and answered a few questions for a Ha’aretz reporter. For more information on setting up walking tours with the Society in Washington or Alexandria, click here.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Residents connect to Jewish Washington

This post is by JHSGW's new archival intern, Rachel Mauro. In addition to her internship here, she runs a blog about Jewish life in Washington.

Barely three hours into my internship at the Jewish Historical Society, I suddenly found myself heading out to the Five Star Premier Residences in Chevy Chase, Md., to assist with a talk given by Interpretive Programs Manager David McKenzie.

Residents filled up the community hall to hear about local history. David’s talk, aided by a PowerPoint presentation of archival images, touched upon broad events, like the founding of the first synagogues in the District, and profiles of esteemed Jewish Washingtonians. It was a great way for me, personally, to get a scope of what the Society is all about.

For residents who lived through much of what David talked about, the talk was noticeably more personal. We learned as much about them as they did about us. One woman relayed that her husband’s grandfather was Moshe Yoelson, cantor at Talmud Torah Congregation at 467 E Street, SW, from 1892 to the 1920s, and entertainer Al Jolson’s father.

We quickly ran out of copies of the accompanying book, Jewish Washington: Scrapbook of an American Community, which is available for sale. To view the online exhibition, click here

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Object of the Month: May 2012

Object No.: C1-21    
Description: Photograph of Arthur Welsh, at the controls of a Wright brothers airplane, and smoking cigar, 1909-1912.

Background: Born in Russia in 1881, Laibel Wellcher immigrated with his family to Philadelphia and moved to Washington as a teen. His family lived above the grocery store his mother ran at 900 G Street, SW. When he enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1901, Wellcher changed his name to Arthur Welsh. His marriage to Anna Harmel in 1907 was the first wedding in Adas Israel’s new synagogue at 6th and I Streets, NW.

After watching Orville Wright’s flight demonstrations at Fort Myer, Virginia, in 1909, Welsh joined the Wright brothers’ first training class. A skilled pilot, Welsh trained many of America’s first aviators.  One of his students was Hap Arnold (seen here at far left, with Welsh), who went on to become the Commanding General of the Army Air Forces during World War II.   Arnold later remembered, “Welsh taught me all he knew. Or rather, he taught me all he could teach. He knew much more.”

In 1912, Welsh was tragically killed in a crash at the College Park Airfield during a test flight of a new military plane designed by the Wright brothers. He was buried in the Adas Israel cemetery in southeast Washington.  The Yiddish newspaper Forward reported, “All present were in tears including Mr. Orville Wright and his sister who were doing all they could to console the mother and wife of the deceased.”

Commemorate Welsh’s centennial and legacy with a special medal commissioned by the Jewish Historical Society. This limited edition, 2 ¼” medal is available in several finishes including Bronze ($50), Silver-plated ($75), and Gold-plated ($100). For more information, contact (202) 789-0900 or

To learn more about Arthur Welsh, join us on Tuesday, June 12th at 7:00 p.m. at the College Park Aviation Museum when we’ll celebrate his centennial with a special program, exhibition, and dedication of commemorative plaque. A reception follows the program.

Transportation: Free parking at the Aviation Museum or reserve seats on a private motorcoach from Adas Israel Congregation for $20 per person. Bus departs at 6:00 p.m., returns at 9:30 p.m. Advance registration and payment required online or (202) 789-0900.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Object of the Month: April 2012

Object No.: 2008.4.1
Donor: Frank Rich, Sr.
Description: Invitation to reception for the Grand Army of the Republic’s National Encampment, 1892 

Background: In 1861, German immigrant Abraham Hart joined the Union forces in Pennsylvania. He was wounded in battle the next year and convalesced in Washington. Hart remained in the city and, after the war, he worked as a lawyer and served as commander of the Department of the Potomac, Grand Army of the Republic (a Union veterans’ organization). Union veterans attended annual multi-day gatherings, or encampments, to commemorate their Civil War service. This invitation to a reception during an encampment is in a scrapbook that Hart’s great-grandson Frank Rich, Sr., donated to the Society.

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

To learn more about Jewish Americans’ role in the Civil War, join us on May 3rd at the National Archives when scholar Jonathan Sarna talks about his recent book, When General Grant Expelled the Jews.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Good Deeds Day Delivery

photo of toiletries An extra travel size bottle of shampoo and bar of soap may not make much of a difference in your life, but for others struggling with poverty and homelessness it makes a big difference. The Society decided to collect toiletries for our neighbors at Community Family Life Services, as our part for Good Deeds Day--a world-wide day of service that originated in Israel and is organized locally by the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington.

Joel Wind, JHSGW board member (seen here), and I dropped off a bag of toiletries at Community Family Life Services (CFLS), which operates down the street from us at First Trinity Lutheran Church, and we met their Executive Director, Claudia Thorne. We saw first-hand people benefitting from CFLS’s services while we made our donation. Check with us in March 2013 to find out what our next Good Deeds Day project will be.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Passover Cooking in the White House

On the way to the Passover cooking demo
with president of the Jewish Museum of Maryland,
Duke Zimmerman, and  others
I was really honored to be invited to the White House yesterday for a pre-Passover cooking demonstration with Joan Nathan and the WH Pastry Chef. Samples were abundant. The National Endowment for the Humanities and Jewish Museum of Maryland (which has an exhibit funded by NEH now on display about Jewish foodways) cosponsored the event with the White House Office of Public Engagement.

Read reporter Vered Guttman’s article from Haaretz to learn more about the afternoon. It was thrilling to have a content rich event in the President’s House – at least his office building b/c we were in the Old Executive Office Building!! Have a wonderful Passover.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Visitors from Polish Jewish Museums

Executive Director Laura Apelbaum and
President Sid Silver speak with visitor (at left)
Yesterday, we had the honor of hosting representatives of three Polish Jewish cultural institutions who are on a tour of Jewish cultural centers and museums in the U.S. The trip is part of a State Department program and its purpose is to show best practices of management, fundraising, outreach, educational programs, and community involvement.

Education Specialist Lisa Hershey (standing, left)
tells visitors about the synagogue's history
After viewing our short film about our 1876 historic synagogue (which we had outfitted with Polish subtitles for this visit!), our staff explained the many facets of our work.  We gave them a peek into the archives and samples of our PR materials.  They seemed to especially enjoy the coffee we offered, which was needed to help with jetlag!

After Washington, they’ll travel to Baltimore, Philadelphia, and New York. We’re envious of all the places they’ll see on their trip and know they’ll return home with plenty of new ideas for their institutions.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Object of the Month: March 2012

Archives Record
Object #: 1995.12
Donor: James Cafritz
Description: Youth Aliyah pledge card

Background: In Washington, a number of women lobbied and raised funds for Youth Aliyah, which was founded in 1933 and worked to rescue Jewish children from increasing danger in Europe and bring them to safety in Palestine.

Mildred Cafritz used her radio show and her influence as chair of Hadassah’s local Youth Aliyah Committee to appeal for funds for refugee children. By March 1945, her committee had raised $33,000 for housing, education, and vocational training.

Please join us on April 19th for a special Holocaust Remembrance Day program of spoken word and music at La Maison Française. Poet and writer, Davi Walders, accompanied by cellist, Douglas Wolters, present a unique collaboration of story portraits of women resisters intertwined with music by composers whose lives were interrupted tragically during the Holocaust.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Intriguing volunteer work

Have you ever wanted to be a fly on the wall where decisions about world affairs are being discussed or the history of our community is being shared? Transcribing oral history recordings at the Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington can give you a taste of those experiences.

Since early February 2012, I've had the opportunity to work on the transcription of an oral history recorded in January 2011 with Ambassador Richard Schifter as part of the Society's Soviet Jewry Project.  Schifter is Jewish American lawyer living in the Washington, D.C., area, who served as Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs from 1985 to 1992. He is currently heading the American Jewish International Relations Institute and the Center for Democracy and Reconciliation in Southeastern Europe. He takes the title of Ambassador from his tenure as the Deputy United States Representative in the United Nations Security Council with the rank of Ambassador during the 1980s.

Using earphones and the Jewish Historical Society's new software – Express Scribe – is trouble-free. The software includes easily accessed commands for advancing, reversing, adjusting the speed and volume of the speech of the interviewer and interviewee. Transcribing a three-hour interview took approximately four 6-hour volunteer days at the Society's offices at 4th and G Streets, NW.

Listening to Ambassador Schifter's recounting of his early life in Vienna, Austria, his immigration the United States at the age of 15 in 1938, his army service during World War II, his law school education and his subsequent extensive service within the U.S. Government dealing with human rights issues was the fascinating part of the assignment.

More oral histories recorded by the Society are available for transcription by willing volunteers. Please contact at (202) 789-0900 or if you are interested.

Elsie Heyrman Klumpner
JHSGW Volunteer

Friday, March 9, 2012

Program Recap: Jewish Women in Sport

Last Tuesday, we, the Goethe-Institut, and the Washington Jewish Film Festival hosted a panel discussion and film screening revealing the little-known history of Jewish women in sport. The discussion, graciously hosted by our friends at the Goethe-Institut, included Dr. Linda Borish of Western Michigan University, a historian and the film's executive producer, and historian Dr. Pamela Nadell of American University.

We first learned of Dr. Borish's film when she came to our archives to do research many years ago. In fact, she used some images from Jewish Community Center scrapbooks in the film. The archivists and I cheered when we saw the pictures from our collections!

Drs. Borish (sitting, right) and Nadell (sitting, left) had a wonderful dynamic during the discussion, enlightening the audience about the achievements and obstacles faced by Jewish women athletes. I learned a lot of new information, and had a lot of food for thought. For example, I found out how quite a few female Jewish athletes boycotted the 1936 Olympics in Berlin--even though it could be their only chance to compete at that level. I learned about the gender, ethnic, and religious issues with which Jewish women athletes grappled.

Afterwards a group of us joined Drs. Borish and Nadell for a lively lunchtime discussion. Miss the program? Never to fear, the Goethe-Institut kindly recorded the audio for us. We're finishing cleaning up the audio, so keep an eye out for it on our website!

Monday, March 5, 2012

Remembering Arthur Welsh

This coming June will mark the centennial of Arthur Welsh's death in an airplane crash.

The story of Welsh, a Russian Jewish immigrant who settled in Washington, is one of our favorites. Likely after seeing an airplane demonstration at Fort Myer, Virginia, in 1908, he asked the Wright Brothers to hire him. After he persisted, they eventually agreed. He became one of their most trusted pilots and instructors, training several pilots (including "Hap" Arnold, head of the U.S. Army Air Forces during World War II) and demonstrating the new technology of flight until his untimely death when his Wright Flyer C crashed at College Park airfield on June 11, 1912.

To commemorate the centennial of his death, we are collaborating with the College Park Aviation Museum to create a small exhibition and hold a special program. As part of the prep, we recently met with Paul Glenshaw, the exhibition's researcher and designer, and Tiffany Davis, Collection Curator at the Museum.

We ventured together to pay our respects to Welsh at Southeast Washington's Adas Israel Cemetery. This picture shows, from left, Paul, Tiffany, me, and Lisa.

Interested in learning more about this remarkable Jewish Washingtonian? Visit the online exhibition we created several years ago, and come join us at the program in June!

Friday, March 2, 2012

Exhibition Opening at French Embassy

Last night I, along with JHSGW board member Howard Morse (seen here), attended a special reception and exhibit opening at the Embassy of France for an exhibition about Hélène Berr, the French equivalent of Anne Frank. The exhibit “Hélène Berr—A Stolen Life” created by The Mémorial de la Shoah, is only on view for a few days at the embassy and then will travel to New York and eventually to the Virginia Holocaust Museum in Richmond, VA. This touching exhibit is based on Hélène’s journal, a beautifully written account of her life in Nazi-occupied Paris. Her journal was saved by her cook and only published in 2008. Hélène, just like Anne Frank, still believed in the goodness of people, even through all of the indignities and horrors she experienced. I am moved by her overwhelming positive view of humanity at its darkest hour.

JHSGW will commemorate Holocaust Remembrance Day, Thursday, April 19th at 7pm at the Embassy of France. I hope you will join us and La Maison Française as we remember courageous acts of women resisters, who proved that people are indeed good and stand up to injustice.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Looking for summer interns

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

JHSGW is looking for some interns for this summer. Read about the experiences of our former interns StaceySam, and Shelly(Note: Your name does not need to begin with "S" to intern here!)

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

Since we have a small staff, there's a good chance you will be dabbling in all of the above fields during the course of your internship!

Interested? To apply, please send the internship application, along with your resume, a cover letter (no more than one page) detailing your interest in this internship and how it fits your goals, and a writing sample to: David McKenzie, Interpretive Programs Manager ( by April 1.

The writing sample can be whatever you would like. Some have sent academic papers. Others have sent exhibition texts, archival finding aids, or other materials they've composed for their classes, internships, or jobs. Just as long as it gives us the chance to see how you write, it's fine with us.

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

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

Thursday, February 9, 2012

JHS Testifies @ City Council Hearing

Honored to be asked to testify at an oversight hearing at the DC City Council before Councilmember Tommy Wells in support of DC Community Heritage Project grants. That's me on the left with my back to the camera.

We have twice received these small grants to fund projects that combine the humanities and historic preservation-- once to convene a public meeting with esteemed academics to discuss what stories we should tell in our historic sanctuary and then to help fund the educational panels that now grace the sanctuary with those stories.

Unfortunately our city has too few resources available for humanities or historic preservation related projects. Perhaps by our presence today we have begun advocating for more support.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Object of the Month: February 2012

Archives Record
Object #: 2002.11.2
Donor: Jewish Community Center of Greater Washington
Description: Newsclipping featuring Jewish Community Center women basketball players practicing, February 22, 1935, Washington Times, included in JCC scrapbook.
From left to right, Betty Kronman, Alto Schnitzer, Dorothy Shatzman (with ball), Sally Parker, and Helen Bushlow.

Background: This 1935 newsclipping of JCC basketball players is from a collection of scrapbooks that document the JCC at 16th & Q Streets, NW. The scrapbooks date from 1919 to 1941 and include many newsclippings, program invitations, photographs, and calendars of events documenting lectures, music recitals, and sporting events.

The photo in this clipping is featured in a documentary, Jewish Women in American Sport: Settlement Houses to the Olympics. Executive Producer Dr. Linda Borish of Western Michigan University visited our archives while conducting research for the film. We are proud that she selected this photograph for inclusion in the documentary. Join Dr. Borish and the Jewish Historical Society for a noontime screening of the film on Tuesday, March 6, 2012, at the Goethe-Institut.

Do you have material documenting a local Jewish athlete that you’d like to donate to the Jewish Historical Society? Contact us at or (202) 789-0900.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Shabbat Service Honors Chaplain Alexander Goode

This past Friday, February 3, 2012, when the congregation gathered to welcome Shabbat at Washington Hebrew Congregation, the service marked the anniversary of the sinking of the WWII transport boat the Dorchester and the remarkable bravery of the Four Chaplains-- all of whom gave their lives that frigid night in the waters off Greenland so others could live.

Among the four chaplains was Rabbi Alexander Goode, who grew up in Washington and who was a member of Washington Hebrew. His name was among those on the yartzeit (memorial) list read aloud during the service. Rabbi Goode's name is the first listed on the new Jewish chaplains memorial pictured above at Arlington National Cemetery.

The story has been memorialized in many ways and guest speaker, Rabbi Arnie Resnicoff, himself a former Navy chaplain, recounted it adding details from his service in Vietnam, the Far East and Middle East.

As the service concluded, Rabbi Bruce Lustig reminded us that the Dorchester sunk in just 27 minutes--- a startling reminder of the fragility of life and the sacrifice of the Four Chaplains that cold night 69 years ago.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

White House Liaison Visits!

This morning we welcomed Jarrod Bernstein, Director of Jewish Outreach in the White House's Office of Public Engagement, to the Museum.

Archivist Wendy Turman (wearing the white gloves below!) gave Jarrod a taste of the archives focusing on some of our items related to the presidency (including a panoramic photo of President Coolidge dedicating the Washington DCJCC in 1925).

We are proud that our building has presidential connections. When President Ulysses S. Grant attended the synagogue's dedication service in 1876, he became the first sitting US president to attend a synagogue service.

We are now "connected" and exploring ways to work together.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Object of the Month: January 2012

Archives Record
Object #: 1993.09
Donor: Washington Jewish Week
Description: Photograph of students standing outside the Hebrew Academy, c. 1965

Background: Two years ago, the National Museum of American Jewish History requested this photo of Hebrew Academy students from our collection to include in its core exhibition and accompanying catalog.  We proudly gave permission for the photograph’s reproduction and use in this new major museum, which opened on Independence Mall in Philadelphia in November 2010.  The photograph is featured in the museum’s core exhibition in the "Jewish Education, American Classrooms" segment, which is part of the larger section called Choices and Challenges of Freedom: 1945 – Today.

The academy, later renamed the Melvin J. Berman Hebrew Academy of Greater Washington, was founded in 1944.  It occupied the pictured building at 16th Street and Fort Stevens Drive, NW, from 1951 to 1976.  Coincidentally, the building continues to serve Jewish education today as home to Jewish Primary Day School of the Nation’s Capital.

This photo is part of a large photographic collection donated by the Washington Jewish Week in 1993.  The collection is composed of nearly 500 photographs that had been published in the newspaper throughout the preceding years.

Do you have material documenting the local Jewish community that you’d like to donate to the Jewish Historical Society? Contact us at or (202) 789-0900.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Surprise visitors

Yesterday, Linda Silvern came to our office with a simple request: to see the photographs of the Jewish Foster Home that her uncle had taken. It turned into a visit that touched on many elements of local Jewish history.

Mrs. Silvern's parents met while living at the Jewish Foster Home.  Her father, Bucky Rosenthal, was one of five brothers; Bucky's future wife, Ann Gnatt, was also one of five.  Bucky's older brother, Joe, who also lived in the Foster Home and possibly took the two photographs of the Home that are in our archival collection, became a professional photographer. In fact, one of his photographs became internationally famous: Linda Silvern's uncle Joe Rosenthal took the famous photograph of the flag-raising at Iwo Jima.

Sol Gnatt, displaying his journal article, with me,
holding a copy of his photograph
With Mrs. Silvern yesterday was Sol Gnatt, an uncle from the other side of her family.  We'd known Mr. Gnatt to be the donor of the Jewish Foster Home photograph that was in our Jewish Washington exhibition.  Like photographer Joe Rosenthal, Mr. Gnatt spent his childhood in the Jewish Foster Home. He wrote an article about this experience for our journal, The Record, in 1989.  We were excited to have the opportunity to talk to him again and hear about his time at the Foster Home, eating ice cream with Aunt Minnie, going to religious school at Washington Hebrew, being a member of the Jewish Lions Club and one of the four men in his class at Wilson Teachers College (predecessor to the University of the District of Columbia).