About Us: Mission & History
We explore the unique Jewish heritage of Washington as a hometown and as the nation's capital.
We are the region's foremost destination and source for American Jewish history. We engage and inspire adults and children through our exhibitions, landmark historic synagogue, public programs, and educational initiatives. We collect, preserve, and share material culture that documents the story of the Jewish community in the Washington, D.C., region as a lens through which broader national and international history may be explored.
Community. As a hub of Jewish life and culture in the region, we celebrate the region's Jewish heritage and continuity. We build and strengthen relationships.
Preservation. Ensuring that future generations will have the resources to examine and study the past, we safeguard primary historical resources.
Learning. Education is fundamental to nurturing the human spirit; we provide experiences that are instructive, engaging, interactive, and fun.
Inclusivity. We welcome all backgrounds, faiths, beliefs, and abilities. Our broad audience is encouraged to participate and share their perspectives.
Collaboration. Partnerships are key to our success; we collaborate with a broad array of individuals and organizations.
Sustainability. We prepare for the future through making sound choices and utilizing financial, community, and environmental resources effectively.
Copyright 1969, The Washington Post. Jim McNamara, photographer. Used with permission.
Founded by volunteers in 1960, the Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington was incorporated in 1965 as a nonprofit organization dedicated to interpreting Jewish history in the greater Washington area. In 1969, galvanized by the pending demolition of the oldest synagogue building in the nation's capital, Society members arranged for the historic building to be moved three city blocks to its present location (more photos of the move!). After extensive restoration, the synagogue was rededicated and opened to the public as the Lillian & Albert Small Jewish Museum in 1975.
The historic 1876 Adas Israel synagogue—the oldest in the Washington, D.C., area is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the D.C. Inventory of Historic Sites (PDF), and the Historic American Buildings Survey. It is an Official Project of the Save America's Treasures program.
In 2007, the Society purchased a building to house its first permanent administrative office building. The 8,000-square-foot building, located at 701 4th Street, NW, is located just steps from the historic synagogue. Special thanks to our Capital Campaign donors who helped underwrite this purchase.
The Society is planning the future move of the historic synagogue to a new site -- the corner of 3rd and F Street, NW. The new location will allow the synagogue to regain its original orientation facing east toward Jerusalem and will provide the Society with land on which to build an adjacent museum. Planning for this new facility has begun.