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On the Road: Moving the Archives 0 Comment(s)

You've probably heard the historic synagogue is moving again -- but did you know the Society's archival collections need to move first? The collections will remain off-site for several years while the synagogue is relocated to its new home and we build our new museum facility.

How do you move an archive?

For the last several months, staff and volunteers have been conducting inventories, updating catalog records, preparing detailed condition reports and photographs of all the objects, and re-housing and packing collections in acid-free storage boxes.

What is moving?

More than 500 linear feet of archival documents, 500 historic artifacts, 5,000 photographs, 75 scrapbooks, and historic furnishings including stained glass windows, synagogue pews, light fixtures, and even the chandelier in the sanctuary will be moved out of the synagogue.

How will the collections be moved?

The collections will be packed by experienced art handlers and transported in a climate-controlled, air-ride truck.

Acid-free document boxes house the archival collections. The boxes will be placed in commercial bins lined with special archival foam for extra cushioning during transit, and then set on shelving in the storage facility.

Large items including historic pews and stained glass windows will be soft-packed using a combination of virgin polyethylene, cardboard, bubble wrap, and blankets.

Where will the collections be housed?

Collections Committee touring the off-site storage facility

A museum-services company will store the collections in their facility with museum-level security, fire protection, and 24/7 climate control. The collections will be kept in a controlled-access storage vault where our staff will be able to access and work with the collections at any time.

After visiting the facility earlier this year, Merrill Lavine, a museum registrar and Collections Committee member, reported, "I've worked with collections at several local fine arts companies and none of them are close to what this company offers in terms of professionalism, service, attention to detail, and personal pride in their business."

Will the archives be accessible to researchers?

The archives will be closed beginning May 10, 2016. Limited research service via telephone and email may be available in the next several months while we complete the move. We plan to re-open to researchers in September 2016, but anticipate that research requests will require several days advance notice to allow for retrieval of materials. Please check our website for updates.

Close-up of iron gate outside the historic synagogue

What will happen to the fence, our only outdoor collection item, that surrounds the synagogue?

Designed and built by Gichner Ironworks in 1975, the beautiful iron fence will be removed, restored, and a portion re-installed at the synagogue's eventual new site at 3rd and F Streets.

We're very excited to set this move in motion and progress along towards building our new museum!

Voices of the Vigil: Highlights and Accomplishments 0 Comment(s)

Thank you for supporting Voices of the Vigil, our award-winning exhibition telling the story of D.C.’s Soviet Jewry movement. We’re pleased to share these accomplishments and highlights from its regional tour:

  • Nine venues throughout Washington, D.C., Maryland, and Virginia
  • American Association for State and Local History’s Leadership in History Award of Merit
  • Companion website -- including oral histories and memoirs, education curriculum, activist profiles, and slides -- that attracted more than 8,000 visits in less than two years
  • Accompanying catalog featuring memoir by Natan Sharansky and recollections of Ambassador Richard Schifter
  • 60 related archival donations between 2008 and 2014
  • Commissioned new multimedia performance by Robyn Helzner, performed four times
  • Support from 85 personal contributions, family foundations, congregations, and other community organizations — including Humanities DC grants and a special gift underwriting the Northern Virginia tour and a performance by Robyn Helzner

Exhibition venues between December 2013 and February 2016:

  1. Washington Hebrew Congregation, Washington, D.C.
    * Premiere featured Natan Sharansky; 250 attendees including City Councilmember Jack Evans
    * Open house featured former Congressmember Connie Morella
    * Lecture by renowned civil-liberties attorney Nathan Lewin on his related activities
    * Special visit by former Congressmember Michael Barnes
    * Three curator-led tours including one followed by discussion with two former activists
  2. Jewish Community Center of Greater Washington, Rockville, MD
    * Maryland premiere featured remarks by Ambassador Richard Schifter and performance by Robyn Helzner; 200 attendees including Senator Ben Cardin, Congressmember Chris Van Hollen, and County Executive Ike Leggett
    “Designing a Movement” talk with graphic designer Avy Ashery
    * Education programs for 175 students from Charles E. Smith Day School and Washington Hebrew Congregation
    * Five docent-led tours including a Russian ESOL class
  3. Adas Israel Congregation, Washington, D.C.
    * Performance by Robyn Helzner
  4. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library, Washington, D.C.
    * Hosted in honor of Jewish American Heritage Month
    * Curator-led tour
  5. Gesher Jewish Day School, Fairfax, VA {aside_1}
    * Participated in panel discussion 
  6. Agudas Achim Congregation, Alexandria, VA
    * Performance by Robyn Helzner
  7. Beth El Hebrew Congregation, Alexandria, VA
    * Curator-led adult education class
    * Curator-led school group
  8. B'nai Israel Congregation, Rockville, MD
    * Congregation organized seniors program and religious-school program
    * Participated in panel discussion
  9. Temple Rodef Shalom, Falls Church, VA
    * Congregation organized four-part series including performance by Robyn Helzner

New archives donation coincides with 30th anniversary of Natan Sharansky’s release 0 Comment(s)

At a panel discussion in conjunction with our travelling exhibition Voices of the Vigil at B'nai Israel Congregation last month, JHSGW Executive Director Laura Apelbaum met Bobbie Berger, who offered her an exciting new artifact for our collection. It is a commemorative photograph of the prisoner exchange on February 11, 1986, which is best known for the release of the dissident Natan Sharansky. After nine years in a Soviet prison, he walked over Glienicke Bridge from East to West Germany, and was brought to the U.S. Consulate in Frankfurt, and from there to Israel. He later became an official in the Israeli government and now serves as Chairman of the Executive of The Jewish Agency for Israel.

Commemorative photograph of Natan Sharansky’s release on Glienicke Bridge, Berlin, Germany, 1986

JHSGW Collections. Gift of Bobbie Berger.

The U.S. diplomat William Bodde Jr. was Consul General in Frankfurt at the time of Sharansky’s release. Bodde was involved in the prisoner exchange and met Sharansky on his arrival in Frankfurt. Later, U.S. Ambassador Richard Berg gave him this framed commemorative picture of Glienicke Bridge and an inset photograph of Sharansky walking over the bridge as a thank-you gift for working on the exchange.

Bodde later gave the commemorative picture to his close friend, Bobbie Berger. Now, we are delighted to receive it for our collection and excited to learn more about the object and event.

On the set: Angela Merkel enjoying a chat with director Steven Spielberg and actor Tom Hanks on Glienicke Bridge

Berlin, Germany, November 28, 2014

Bundesregierung/Bergmann

Glienicke Bridge was the setting for other Cold War East-West prisoner exchanges including the one depicted in the much acclaimed movie, Bridge of Spies. It’s still in the theaters, so plan on a movie night to learn more about this topic. While shooting the movie, Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg had a prominent visitor: German chancellor Angela Merkel came to see them on the original set of Glienicke Bridge. 

Q&A with New Curatorial Team! 0 Comment(s)

We're pleased to introduce our new curatorial team -- 

Christiane Bauer, Curator

Headshot of Christiane Bauer
Christiane’s most recent work experience was at the Sprengel Museum in Hanover, Germany where she worked as a provenance researcher. Prior to that, she worked at the Jewish Museum Berlin for seven years in a variety of curatorial and exhibition-related positions. She is fluent in German and English and has basic knowledge of both Hebrew and Yiddish. 

Christiane holds a BA and MA in German History and Jewish Studies from the Free University of Berlin and is currently enrolled in a PhD program in American history at Ludwig Maximilians University Munich and University of Kassel, Germany. Her dissertation project focuses on post-war German American identity; for her research she spent 10 months traveling throughout the U.S. and conducted more than 60 oral history interviews.

Christiane recently moved to Washington, D.C. from Germany and is very excited and honored to join our team. 

Get to know Christiane! 

  1. What excites you about your new position?
    Building a new museum and working on a new exhibition that will shape the museum’s future scope and reputation is the most exciting project I could imagine myself working on as a curator. I’m very excited about this great opportunity and looking forward to its manifold challenges.
     
  2. What told you the Jewish Historical Society was a good fit for you?
    I felt very drawn towards the variety of assignments the position encompasses and which match perfectly with my background in curating exhibitions, working with archival and artifact collections, and conducting oral history interviews. I instantly liked the idea of working on an exhibition which emphasizes political history and the issue of social justice. It’s a great fit for D.C. and sets JHS apart from other museums. 
     
  3. What do you hope to learn here?
    I’m excited to learn more about D.C.’s unique Jewish history and hope to do that through a lot of interaction with the community. Also, the intersection of Jewish history with the local and national civil rights movement is a fascinating topic which I can’t wait to dive into more. 
     
  4. What are you enjoying about living in Washington, D.C.?
    I like the city’s international profile and its extensive cultural scene. D.C. seems to be the hub for many political, social, and cultural endeavors worldwide. A big draw for me personally is that I have access to some of the most prominent museums in the world and that there’s always an interesting event at an embassy, gallery, or institute to go to.
     
  5. People might be intrigued by a German working on a PhD in American History. When did you discover your interest in this topic?
    I discovered my interest in this topic when I attended a conference on German immigrants and their descendants in New York City. During the presentations it became apparent that not a lot of emphasis had been made to illustrate immigrants’ attempts to maintain a meaningful connection to their heritage after having settled in their new home. So I did an oral history interview study with second generation immigrants about their perception of being German-American, how they relate to their German heritage, and what stories, rituals, and traditions they keep up and transfer to the next generation. In that sense, I consider my PhD topic as part of American but also German History.

Martin Moeller, Senior Curatorial Consultant

Headshot of Martin Moeller
Martin has served as the Senior Vice President/Senior Curator at the National Building Museum since 2001. We have known Martin since 2005, when he was instrumental in bringing our Jewish Washington Scrapbook exhibition to the Building Museum.

Martin has worked as an independent curator, writer, and editor and consulted for clients including the Museum of the City of New York, The Liberty Science Center in Philadelphia, and other museums and non-profit organizations.  He has an extensive background in curating major exhibitions as well as in D.C. history and architecture.

Martin previously worked as the Executive Director of the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture and the Executive Director of the Washington Chapter of the American Institute of Architects. He holds a MA and BA in Architecture from Tulane University.  

Get to know Martin!

  1. What about our work and plans for the new museum interests you?
    First, I have been keenly interested in Jewish history and culture since my early teen years, when the family of my best friend at the time, who was Jewish, helped to take care of me after my mother died suddenly. I spent a lot of time at my friend’s house, where I enjoyed learning about Jewish traditions and rituals and drawing comparisons to my own family’s Catholic and Protestant roots. Since then, I have considered Judaism to be a part of my cultural heritage (though I do not practice any religion). 

    Second, I am very interested in Washington’s local history, as distinct from the national political developments that typically overshadow our city’s distinct identity. I think most visitors and many locals underestimate the breadth and richness of the city’s ethnic history. JHSGW has played a vital role in preserving and telling stories of Washington’s Jewish community, but its visibility has been limited to date. The new museum will bring greater prominence and reach not only to JHSGW, but also to those stories.
     
  2. What impact do you expect Capitol Crossing to have on our neighborhood and the new museum?
    It’s amazing how much damage even a relatively modest freeway cut such as that of the I-395 spur can do to the surrounding neighborhood. It isolated Union Station from the central business district, created pockets of abandonment and disinvestment, and then hampered redevelopment even during major building booms. Capitol Crossing will repair that urban wound. It has the potential to redefine perceptions of the city center while fostering new traffic patterns and potentially creating a new urban nexus. JHSGW's museum will obviously benefit from that. Indeed, if key retail attractions such as Eataly sign on as expected, JHSGW may have vast new audiences at its doorstep!
     
  3. What do you enjoy about working as a museum curator in Washington, D.C.?
    Like most curators, I suppose, I enjoy research, but I also greatly enjoy sharing what I have learned with the public. Washingtonians tend to be smart and culturally curious. They not only make great audiences for exhibitions and programs, but also engaged participants—they ask good questions and they talk to other people about what they have seen and learned. I love watching visitors move through an exhibition and seeing their faces light up when they discover something fascinating.

Making a Museum - Issue 4 0 Comment(s)

Have you heard? We're building a new museum!
The 1876 synagogue is moving a block south to Third & F Streets, NW, where the Society will build an adjacent, state-of-the-art Jewish museum.
The new complex will anchor a $1.3-billion mixed-used project called Capitol Crossing — a five-building office, retail, and residential complex developed by Property Group Partners — which will extend onto a newly-built platform over Interstate 395.

On Site

The synagogue’s streetscape has been permanently altered – the trees on the adjacent sidewalk were removed in August. Around the construction zone, utilities continue to be relocated, including the installation of the new water main along Third Street. Down on I-395, crews have been installing deep foundation columns and walls and excavating the Second Street retaining wall.

For more information, visit www.3rdsttunnel.com.

A New Jewish Museum

Excerpt from SmithGroup JJR presentation to the JHSGW Board of Directors.

In late October, the Board of Directors selected SmithGroup JJR as architects for the new museum.

The selection process began with sending a Request for Qualifications to approximately 20 firms with experience in additions to historic buildings, museum design, and complex projects in Washington, D.C. After receiving packages from 12 firms, the Museum Steering Committee invited five firms for interviews. Three of the five were asked to submit fee proposals and participate in a design exercise and additional interview. The Steering Committee then visited local projects designed by the two finalists.

This decision to engage SmithGroup JJR took into account the firm’s extensive museum experience, attention to value engineering, and pricing.

Catching Up With… Lief Dormsjo, Director, District Department of Transportation

Nominated by Mayor Muriel Bowser soon after she took office, Leif Dormsjo was confirmed as director of the District of Columbia Department of Transportation in March. Making a Museum spoke with Dormsjo, who was previously deputy secretary of the Maryland Department of Transportation, about the Third Street Tunnel Project, the first phase of Capitol Crossing.

MaM: When you came to DDOT, how much did you know about Capitol Crossing?

Dormsjo: I knew about the project mainly from the concerns raised about some of the traffic impacts. Shortly before Mayor Bowser came into office, there was a story about the idea that 395 would be closed permanently during the construction period. And that generated a lot of severe reaction from the Congressional delegations. I know Senator [Mark] Warner and Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton intervened pretty rapidly to try to halt any plans associated with that.

MaM: What’s happening now and what is DDOT’s involvement?

Dormsjo: As you can see from the site right now, they’re working on those caissons. So you’ve got a lot of heavy equipment, you’ve got a lot of personnel out on the job site. We’ve got to keep them safe… And then we’re also looking very closely at the travel experience: whether or not we have clear signage and we’ve got clear markings on the road, or the Jersey barriers have been set up appropriately. So far we haven’t had any issues on the safety front. It is slower travel through there, without a doubt—that kind of is the price of progress—but it’s safe travel.

MaM: Is this the biggest transportation-related project in the District right now?

Dormsjo: This is the Big Kahuna in terms of real-estate development in the city. It’s three whole city blocks. So the development program is really exciting and will generate a lot of activity in this area. The infrastructure piece is $200 million. That’s a big-ticket project, but—as far as our transportation program—the South Capitol Bridge project is north of $500 million. Now, the construction here is being done by the private company. It’s not a government project. There’s no government money in the project, which is pretty phenomenal… And it’s great that they’re actually going to be making some improvements that the public will benefit from on the transportation side. They’re going to replace all the ventilation systems, give us a brand new tunnel ventilation system.

MaM: So that part of the highway will not only be decked over, but upgraded.

Dormsjo: We’re going to be the beneficiary of new equipment, new systems, and hopefully a ventilation system that’s durable for the long haul. The highway system helps us support commerce and commuting. You’ve got to have a roadway system that works not just for the District residents, but also our visitors and employees coming from Virginia, Maryland, and elsewhere. So this is a great example of us reinvesting in the Eisenhower Highway System, but at the same time not being held back by those original transportation-planning decisions. We’re able to kind of remake history a bit here and retrofit a highway that’s served its purpose, and will continue to serve its purpose. But the 1950s and ’60s style of transportation planning—neighborhood connectivity, urban planning principles, walkable green neighborhoods was not in their vocabulary.

MaM: How does transit-oriented thinking fit into the project?

Dormsjo: When you look at a project you normally want to see what percentage of your trips are going to be auto category vs. transit vs. pedestrian… They’re got a very healthy percentage that’s in that transit-pedestrian-and-bike category. Development that’s emphasizing those categories of travel are the ones that we really want to support. Certainly there’s good bus service running through there—not just the Metro, but we have our Circulator bus that comes through there as well.

Collection Connections

From left to right, then-JHSGW President Henry Brylawski, Rep. Fred Schwengel—also president of the U.S. Capitol Historical Society, and Rabbi Stanley Rabinowitz look at the model at a fundraising event, 1969

Bernard Glassman, who was featured in a previous issue of Making a Museum, contributed this scale model of the historic synagogue to use in meetings between the Jewish Historical Society and government agencies during the efforts to preserve the building in the late 1960s. The model is now on display in the Lillian & Albert Small Jewish Museum.

Did You Know?

Page from HABS architectural drawings. 

Library of Congress.

Due to its significance as the first synagogue erected in Washington, DC, the 1876 building is included in the Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS).

HABS, the National Park Service’s effort to document the country’s architecture, is the federal government’s oldest historic preservation program. HABS’s records are housed at the Library of Congress and the synagogue’s documentation, which includes photographs, a detailed description of the building and its history, and architectural drawings, can be accessed online.

The material was prepared in 1969 before the synagogue was moved and was updated later to indicate the new location. The architectural drawings depict the synagogue’s interior and exterior prior to the restoration work, which was completed five years after the move. Four of five accompanying photographs show the building at Sixth & G Street, NW. The fifth depicts the building moving down G Street, NW.