Frank Rich

Frank Rich

Columnist, The New York Times

My father’s family first resided in Washington before the Civil War. They were German-Jewish immigrants who came in and started a shoe store downtown that would ultimately blossom into a business that lasted from the late 1860s to the 1980s.

My mother’s family were Russian-Jewish immigrants who settled in the Lower East Side of Manhattan, moved to Brooklyn and my mother, her sister and her parents moved to Washington after the stock market crash during the Depression. It was there that she met my father who really was from one of those old native Jewish Washington families.

I grew up in Washington as a stage-struck kid in a city that was a company town of government. One of my earliest memories . . . was watching the Kennedy inaugural parade. I absolutely think it has had an enormous influence on me to this day because my whole career has been about culture and politics and where they meet, and about culture and news and history and where they meet.

I do think that there’s a Jewish element to it too, because even the small Jewish community that I grew up in had a cultural element that was often in those days more assertive than the general culture of pre-Kennedy Center Washington…. I vividly remember my mother as a young housewife in the 1950s going to the National Council of Jewish Women and taking oil painting classes that were taught by, they weren’t famous then, but they were taught by Morris Louis and Kenneth Noland. There was always that kind of thing going on that made a difference.

One of the things I liked about Temple Sinai or the atmosphere there was that there was a sense of concern about culture and literature which was not really true in the public schools. . . I was bar mitzvahed . . . at Temple Sinai on Military Road before an ark designed by Boris Aronson, a Broadway set designer . . . who would go on to design Fiddler on the Roof and a bunch of others, all the Stephen Sondheim musicals. So there was this element of Washington that paid off for me in my development. It might not have been the same if I had been in New York from the get-go.

June 3, 2005