Great Depression and New Deal

The stock market crash of 1929 ushered in the Great Depression, but Roosevelt’s New Deal created thousands of new government jobs and helped ease hardships in Washington.

Many small Jewish-owned businesses struggled with the economic downturn of the Depression. Some closed; some carried customers on credit. Jewish charitable organizations helped those in need. The United Hebrew Relief Society expanded its mission and employed professional social workers, becoming the Jewish Social Service Agency in 1933.

Newly created Federal government jobs spurred the arrival in droves of liberal Jewish men and women. The children of immigrant parents who had come to the U.S. to escape oppression, they were ideal candidates to help develop and implement social reform laws.

Although you saw apple sellers on the street corners, you didn’t see them like the rest of the country.

Isabelle Gichner Oral History, 1980

All we cared about was the government. We thought we were saving our system of democracy.

Joseph Rauh, JHSGW Interview, 1989

Photo of Giant store exterior

1936: Nehemiah Cohen and Samuel Lehrman chose Washington for their new business venture, hoping federal workers would provide a strong market even during the Depression. Their first Giant supermarket opened at Georgia Avenue and Park Road, NW, in the midst of a snowstorm.

Courtesy of the Naomi and Nehemiah Cohen Foundation.

photo of cash registers inside

1936: Giant cashiers await their customers.

Courtesy of the Naomi and Nehemiah Cohen Foundation.

Shulman photo
letterhead

1931: As penniless Jewish men arrived in search of work, Anna Shulman and others founded the Hebrew Sheltering Society. The Society provided kosher meals, a change of clothes, and lodging.

JHSGW Collections. Gift of Roberta and Lawrence Shulman.

JSSA Annual Report

This annual report for the Jewish Social Service Agency shows expenses for refugee assistance, social workers, and the Jewish Foster Home.

JHSGW Collections. Gift of Jewish Social Service Agency. 1994.07

Luna Diamond

1945: Luna Ereza Diamond worked as secretary to Congressman Clinton P. Anderson (New Mexico), shown here. Her father, Sol Ereza, was a Sephardic immigrant and spiritual leader of the Sephardic community in Washington in the 1920s. Diamond continued to work with Anderson when he became Secretary of Agriculture and later a U.S. Senator.

JHSGW Collections. Gift of Luna Ereza Diamond. 1996.32

Photo of Joe Rauh

1935: Joseph Rauh was one of many Jewish New Dealers recruited by Harvard law professor Felix Frankfurter to help shape the New Deal policies and programs. After clerking for Supreme Court Justices Benjamin Cardozo and Felix Frankfurter, he worked in the Department of Labor. Following his wartime service, he became a prominent civil rights lawyer in Washington.

Copyright The Washington Post. Reprinted by permission of Washingtoniana Division, DC Public Library.

Photo of Clara Schiffer

1935: Clara Goldberg, a Radcliffe alumna from Boston, took the first civil service exam for college graduates. She then moved to Washington, where she could earn more money and find more interesting work than in her hometown. Soon after President Roosevelt signed the Social Security Act, she started her career at the new Social Security Board.

JHSGW Collections. Gift of Clara Goldberg Schiffer. 2004.30.1

photo of Robert Nathan

1933: After graduating from the Wharton School, economist Robert Nathan joined the Department of Commerce and worked on the first estimates of national income rates. In the 1940s, he served on the Planning Committee of the War Production Board and later in the Office of War Mobilization and Reconversion.

Courtesy of Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, FSA/OWI Collection, LC-USE6-D-002445.

Photo of Kronheim delivery cart

1932: Milton S. Kronheim opened his first liquor store at 3218 M Street, NW, in 1903. After working as a bail bondsman during Prohibition, he returned to the liquor business in 1932 and became the largest wholesale distributor in the area. Here, Kronheim (seen standing in front of the boxes on the left) makes a wine delivery to Union Station.

JHSGW Collections. Gift of Milton S. Kronheim Estate. 1998.54

Jewish Ledger cover

September 26, 1930: The first issue of The National Jewish Ledger, a local Jewish newspaper, featured a New Year’s message to Washington Jews from President Herbert Hoover.

Courtesy of Washington Jewish Week.

Photo of Giant store exterior
photo of cash registers inside
Shulman photo
letterhead
JSSA Annual Report
Luna Diamond
Photo of Joe Rauh
Photo of Clara Schiffer
photo of Robert Nathan
Photo of Kronheim delivery cart
Jewish Ledger cover