From Civil War-era postal clerks to ambassadors and presidential advisors, Jewish Washingtonians have served the community at local, national, and international levels.
President Lyndon B. Johnson received hate mail when he appointed Washingtonian Sheldon S. Cohen as Commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service in 1964. Thirty-seven years later, Senator Joseph Lieberman, an Orthodox Jew who did not campaign on the Sabbath, became the first Jewish candidate for Vice President.
Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, federal agencies once blocked to Jewish workers became increasingly open. The number of elected Jewish officials has steadily increased. Where once Jewish appointees were a matter of comment, they now serve without mention.
Washington Jews have been involved in the city’s governance since 1886, when Adolphus Solomons was elected to the Board of Education. Since then, members of the local Jewish community have helped shape civic life in the nation’s capital as appointed and elected officials, fundraisers, and activists.
If there is one ethical principle which, more than any other, exemplifies the essence of Judaism, it is the mandate to do Justice to our fellow man.
John Hechinger, 1968, Address at Washington Hebrew Congregation annual meeting
1968: When Sheldon S. Cohen became IRS Commissioner, he was among the first Washington-born Jews to be appointed to the highest levels of government, and, at age 37, among the youngest. Above, Commissioner Cohen advises President Lyndon B. Johnson on national tax policy.
Courtesy of Sheldon S. Cohen.
1990: Partner in the real estate JBG Companies, Washingtonian Joseph B. Gildenhorn served the community as president of the Hebrew Home and The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington. In 1988 he accompanied President George Bush to Israel, and the following year was appointed Ambassador to Switzerland.
Courtesy of Joseph B. Gildenhorn.
1990: Stuart Eizenstat (right) moved to Washington in 1977 as a domestic policy adviser to President Jimmy Carter. He made the city his home when he served the local community as president of the Jewish Community Center of Greater Washington from 1989 to 1991. Eizenstat held several positions in the Clinton administration, but he claims his place in Jewish history as the architect of Holocaust-era restitution agreements.
Courtesy of Stuart Eizenstat.
1994: Washingtonian and consumer advocate Ann Brown served as Chairman of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Division from 1994 to 2001. Brown is shown here with Vice President Al Gore at her swearing-in ceremony.
Courtesy of Ann Brown.
2001: Ambassador Stuart Bernstein grew up in Washington, attending Sunday School at the Jewish Community Center on 16th Street. President George W. Bush appointed Bernstein as Ambassador to Denmark in 2001, where he served until 2004.
Courtesy of Stuart Bernstein.
1964: A founder of the “Voteless DC” League of Women Voters, Nettie Ottenberg spent a lifetime trying to bring about social change and voting rights for Washingtonians. Here, Ottenberg, seated in back left, encourages District voters to register and vote in the city’s first local elections in over 150 years.
Copyright Washington Post; reprinted by permission of the DC Public Library.
1961: President John F. Kennedy appointed Walter Tobriner as Chairman of the D.C. Board of Commissioners in 1961. Tobriner had earlier served as President of the Board of Education during the 1950s, when he oversaw the desegregation of the city’s schools. Tobriner later served as Ambassador to Jamaica. Tobriner is shown here with President Kennedy (far left) presenting the keys of the city to the President of Brazil (center), João Goulart, in 1962.
JHSGW Collections. Gift of Constance Povich. 2004.13
1969: President Lyndon B. Johnson appointed John Hechinger as the first Chairman of the D.C. City Council in 1967. Gilbert Hahn, appointed by President Richard M. Nixon, succeeded him as the second Council Chairman in 1969. Hahn served in that role until 1972, when the Home Rule Act took effect, providing for a locally elected mayor and city council. Here, outgoing Chairman Hechinger (left) greets incoming Chairman Hahn.
Copyright The Washington Post; reprinted by permission of the DC Public Library.