When you hear that an English major from Florida is interning at a local history organization, you may scratch your head at first, but it made perfect sense to me. When not studying the literary arts, I also minor in both museum studies and art history, eventually wanting to go into the museum field. Because of my previous work at my university’s fine arts museum, I feel I have a decent understanding of the “art” part of my minor, however, the “history” was sort of lost. At the Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington (JHSGW) I got to work with the personal history of DC area, while also learning about the day to day at a history museum.
One of my first projects was working with the resident curator, Christiane, and the collection’s reference files. I was given a large stack of photocopied documents, magazines, and newspaper articles to sort through, categorize, and organize. A daunting task for any, but through this work, I was able to familiarize myself with the Greater Washington area and learn about the challenges the community faces. While reviewing files, I came across a few articles about the changing social climate of Washington neighborhoods with the introduction of a larger millennial population. I brought both the subject and my personal experience seeing the gentrification in the city to Christiane’s attention and she set me out on a research project.
She introduced me to the amusement park, Glen Echo. Located on the Potomac River, this leisure destination opened in 1891 and later became a major player in the desegregation of the Washington area. It was in the summer of 1960 when students from Howard University’s Non-violent Action Group (NAG) joined forces with local activists in the Bannockburn neighborhood -- among them many Jewish residents -- to picket the discrimination at Glen Echo. These protests eventually caught the eye of Hyman Bookbinder, a prominent lobbyist in DC and a Bannockburn inhabitant, who both joined the picketing and brought the issue to the then-U.S. Attorney General, Robert Kennedy. With the help of both Bookbinder and Kennedy, the management of Glen Echo backed down and allowed their first African-American guests in the summer of 1961.
While my initial readings of the influx of the millennial population on the DC area were mostly negative in regards to gentrification, my personal research on Glen Echo showed me that newer generations can still make changes for the better in their neighborhoods – like the students of NAG and the residents of Bannockburn. It was my first major research project that allowed me to uncover the history of the area, instead of my usual literary and artistic analysis.
My other projects included working with the program and outreach manager, Samantha Abramson, experiencing some of the behind-the-scenes of the various summer events that JHSGW put on. My duties included writing emails to invited guests, distributing an educational packet for nearby schools, and even creating a press release for one of our biggest events this summer, the inaugural Evelyn Greenberg Preservation Awards. This type of work showed me the amount of time and effort that goes in to fully engaging with a museum’s audience.
Everyone at the office made me feel genuinely welcomed and were happy to see me every day of my internship, and would even include me in on staff meetings as if I was part of the team. These meetings were informative as I would see the beginning steps of designing and planning a future museum, while also learning about the other departments of the office. The meetings were one of my favorite things because of how much information I was absorbing. Although my time here was short, seeing JHSGW during its formative years of planning their new museum left an impact on me and, while I’m excited to see my future in the museum field, I also look forward towards theirs.
Stephen Biegel is a senior at Florida State University, working on a B.A. in English Literature with minors in Art History and Museum Studies.
We're thrilled to publicly debut the conceptual rendering for the exterior of the new museum by our architects SmithGroup JJR.
The facility will feature an airy lobby, multipurpose room, three exhibition galleries, office suite, and program spaces.
We look forward to sharing more with you!
Major Progress on Capitol Crossing
In mid-June, Capitol Crossing, the $1.3-billion mixed-used project adjacent to the Lillian & Albert Small Museum, finished the highway deck on which the first of five planned buildings will be erected.
To celebrate this work, developer Property Group Partners released this time-lapse video of this phase of construction. Directly center and toward the back of the frame sits our historic synagogue, witness to the project.
In the coming months, the Lillian & Albert Small Jewish Museum will become more than just a witness, but rather a participant in the project. It will be picked up and moved to a temporary location for a few years until its new site at Third & F Streets, NW, is ready. We anticipate the first move will occur by the end of the year.
Preparing For The Synagogue Move
The first big step in the move of the Lillian & Albert Small Jewish Museum -- emptying the building -- is complete.
For seven days, a team specializing in relocating museum collections took great care packing the following into a truck:
500 linear feet of archival documents, photographs, and scrapbooks
153 oversized documents and photos in flat-file cases
6 original pews from Adas Israel, Ohev Sholom, Washington Hebrew, and Ohr Kodesh
As well as furnishings including:
20 metal shelving units
28 light fixtures
6 reproduction pews
2 custom-made museum-quality cabinets
2 bimah chairs
All of these items are now stored by a museum-services company in a controlled-access vault in a secure facility with fire protection and 24/7 climate control. Our staff will be able to access and work with the collections at any time.
Last week, Washington's Jewish community lost two pillars of life and culture in our region and beyond.
We remember Elie Wiesel and Max Ticktin's lasting legacies.
Elie Wiesel (1928-2016)
Holocaust survivor, author, Nobel laureate, and human rights activist Elie Wiesel was perhaps the world's most well-known Holocaust survivor. He dedicated his life to combating hate and remembering the Holocaust. A frequent visitor to Washington, he made a lasting impact on our community.
In 1978, President Jimmy Carter appointed Wiesel chairman of the Presidential Commission on the Holocaust. Wiesel's efforts at the commission led to the establishment of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, where his words greet visitors at the entrance: "For the dead and the living, we must bear witness."
Wiesel and his wife traveled to Washington in 1981 as part of a three-day conference that he organized to record the horrors of the Holocaust for posterity. During the conference, the Wiesels participated in a reunion of Holocaust survivors and liberators at U.S. State Department.
Among Wiesel's many social justice causes was the movement to free Soviet Jewry. Twenty years after his book, The Jews of Silence, raised public awareness of the plight of Soviet Jews, Wiesel addressed the crowd at the 1987 Freedom Sunday rally on the National Mall. "If I had three days, I would read the name of every Jew refused permission to leave the Soviet Union," he said. "All these names must be known."
Max Ticktin, an ordained rabbi, was one of the most influential and beloved professionals at Hillel and a longtime professor of Yiddish and Hebrew Literature at The George Washington University. After transforming several Hillel Foundations in the Midwest, his talents brought him to Washington as associate national director of Hillel. He was also an active member at Washington's Fabrangen and Yiddish of Greater Washington.
Last fall, our staff had the opportunity to conduct an oral history of Max Ticktin in partnership with the Washington Jewish Week. This interview was funded by a grant from the Koster Foundation. Below are several excerpts.
About his professional calling
"So, it's the teacher in me, it's the piece of me that feels I was put on this Earth to somehow to try to make some contacts with things that will survive my life and will be part of a consensus. A consensus, at the moment we are talking about a Jewish consensus. But it's obviously a Jewish consensus of commitments within a larger world, a larger politics."
On his passion for the Hebrew language
"The development of the Hebrew language in my lifetime is a miracle. A miracle in the sense that one has to realize that one becomes a wandering Jew, here's a bad pun, a wondering Jew instead of a wandering Jew. It's a matter of wonder and miracle that this is the only place on Earth where a language and a big part of culture was born out of suffering and pain and disruption and survived."
Our collection includes very colorful range of objects immigrants brought with them when they came from to the United States. Learn the stories behind some of our most surprising and beautiful immigrant artifacts.
In the spring of 2015, I started to volunteer with the Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington (JHSGW) to learn more about DC’s Jewish history and to receive hands-on experience in a Jewish historical institution that provides museum education. I helped with educational programs that included curriculum-based education in the Lillian & Albert Small Jewish Museum for students, as well as walking tours and educational programming for the public at large.
Now, in the spring of 2016, I’m nearing the official end of my internship with JHSGW. During my 20-hour-per-week internship, from January 2016 through May 31, 2016, my responsibilities in educational and public programming have expanded and I have received substantive work experiences in other facets of JHSGW's work. All of these experiences have prepared me for a future career in the history and museum world, and the internship combined well with my program in Experiential Education and Jewish Cultural Arts (EE/JCA) at The George Washington University.
One important facet of an educational walking tour is to connect participants with the environment and topography that is under study. My internship allowed me to utilize what I was learning in the EE/JCA program, receive guidance and mentorship from the JHSGW staff, and enhance my role as a public-facing educator. Some settings where I facilitated learning experiences for participants included the downtown walking tour in 7th Street, NW, area of Washington, DC, as well as tours of H Street, NE, and Arlington National Cemetery. The mentorship and classwork allowed me to deliver the best walking tour possible, as well as learn how to situate Jewish history in the broader context of DC history and related historical events.
In addition to presenting history, my internship also allowed me to help preserve history. One snowy January afternoon, I traveled to Arlington, Virginia, to meet Dr. Sholom Friedman and his daughter, Karen. While sitting in Dr. Friedman’s Public Shoe Store, which has recently closed, his answers to my questions covered his family’s arrival in the United States from Tsarist Russia, the beginning of Etz Hayim Congregation, and how consumer trends in the latter half of the 20th century affected what was bought and sold at Public Shoe Store. This oral history is now saved in the JHSGW collection.
I also added Washington Jewish Week articles about DC’s Jewish community to the archivists’ reference files, and I like to think of these articles and the oral history I conducted like the stops on the walking tours -- many sites on the walking tours were forgotten by the community for a long time. Today, however, hundreds of Hebrew school students, as well as visitors from all over the world of all different faiths and affiliations, come to JHSGW to learn and to retrace the steps of D.C.’s Jewish history.
And like the walking tour locations, perhaps one day, the articles or Dr. Friedman’s oral history will be used in an exhibit in JHSGW’s upcoming museum or used as part of a mosaic of sources in a groundbreaking study of the Washington, DC, area. Only time will tell how these sources will be used, but one thing has been clear from the first day that I volunteered -- JHSGW is an integral part of a network of academic, cultural and historical institutions in Washington, DC, that provide sophisticated programming that allows our community to be more historically and culturally literate. I’m proud to have been a part of it.
As an added bonus, JHSGW underwrote a pizza party for my last day!
Michael A. Morris is a Master’s student in Experiential Education and Jewish Cultural Arts at The George Washington University.