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Object of the Month: July 2011 0 Comment(s)

Archives Record
Object #: 2011.15.1
Donor: Robert Rosenfeld
Description: Pair of First Lady “Lady Bird” Johnson’s brown leather gloves, c. 1967
 
Background: In 1967, Mrs. Johnson’s secretary sent these gloves to Parkway Cleaners, owned by Robert Rosenfeld, in Chevy Chase, Maryland, for cleaning. Although it proved impossible to clean these gloves without compromising their decorative condition, Parkway Cleaners enjoyed the continued patronage of the Johnsons as well as numerous other White House and Congressional clients.
 

The Rosenfeld family’s roots as Washington, D.C. cleaners reached back two generations earlier, to a business started in 1906 at 14th Street and New York Avenue, NW. Established by Bob Rosenfeld’s father, Moses C. Rosenfeld, in 1926, Parkway Cleaners and Dyers moved from Washington to Chevy Chase in 1930. By the 1960s, Parkway Cleaners boasted numerous federal officials and other prominent Washingtonians as clients, including President Lyndon and Lady Bird Johnson, Muriel Humphrey (wife of Hubert Humphrey, seen here in center with an unidentified woman and Mr. Rosenfeld), and Ann Buchwald (wife of Art Buchwald). Recognized for excellent service by the National Institute of Dry Cleaners, Parkway Cleaners was also asked to clean and reinstall draperies in both the Capitol and Blair House. Although ownership passed from the Rosenfeld family in 1980, Parkway Cleaners (seen below about a year earlier) still operates today at the same Connecticut Avenue location it has occupied since 1930.
 

Earlier this year, Robert Rosenfeld donated a collection of materials documenting the business. Notable items in the Parkway Cleaners Collection include a fabric sample taken from the drapery at Blair House with a request for cleaning, a receipt for the cleaning or installation of drapes in “Mrs. Kennedy’s Bath Room” at the White House, numerous photographs of Robert Rosenfeld with his high profile clientele, personal notes from President and Mrs. Johnson, and other correspondence from well-known customers.
 
With its service to government agencies and prominent federal officials, Parkway Cleaners followed a long tradition of local Jewish-owned businesses providing service for clients of national importance. In addition to the Parkway Cleaners Collection, the Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington holds other material demonstrating this relationship, including a shoemaker’s bench and leather punch once belonging to “shoemaker to the presidents” Nathan Ring (ca. 1920) and a cake box designed by party planner Fae Brodie for the 1966 wedding of Luci Baines Johnson at the White House.
 
Do you have material documenting a relationship between the federal government and local Jewish-owned businesses that you’d like to donate to the Jewish Historical Society’s collection? Please contact us at info@jhsgw.org or (202) 789-0900.
 

Mourning a lion of the community 0 Comment(s)

We were saddened to learn of the death of Hyman Bookbinder this past Thursday, at the age of 95.

Bookie, as he was known, was a lion of the Jewish community and of the Washington area. He served as the American Jewish Committee's Washington representative, a lobbyist for the AFL-CIO, assistant director of the U.S. Office on Economic Opportunity, and an adviser to Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey, among many other accomplishments. His donation of mementoes marking his active participation in the Civil Rights movement are among the most cherished in the communal archive of the Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington.

In a 1986 interview with The Washington Post, Bookbinder commented that his "most cherished possession" was a banner reading "I Was There" at the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. At the 1963 rally, Bookbinder stood near Dr. Martin Luther King as he gave the famous "I Have a Dream" speech at the Lincoln Memorial.

Bookbinder graciously donated the banner to the Jewish Historical Society for display in our Jewish Washington exhibition at the National Building Museum, where it helped to recount Jewish participation in civil rights. Just last year, the pennant was featured as our inaugural Object of the Month, which showcases notable items in the Society’s collection.

Another notable contribution Bookie made to the Society’s archives was a photograph of himself among other activists protesting segregation at Maryland's Glen Echo Park in 1960. Bookie is in the center of the above photo.

Our condolences to the friends and family of Hyman Bookbinder. He will be sorely missed. May his memory be for a blessing.

Launching our online catalog 0 Comment(s)

Today, more than 30 people came to our historic synagogue to learn about our new online archival catalog. Our archivist, Wendy, didn't just show everyone how to navigate the catalog, but also some of the treasures in our collections.

Among those who braved the heat were staff members from some of our sister organizations, including the National Building Museum, German-American Heritage Museum, Montgomery County Historical Society, and Library of Congress. The event was also a special tribute to Janice Goldblum, our volunteer Collections Committee Chair and an archivist for the National Academies of Science. We were proud to honor Janice's 20 years of service!

Miss the event? Never to fear -- I live-tweeted it, so you can catch up here.

Australians Visit the Synagogue 0 Comment(s)

Today I had the privilege of showing the Lillian & Albert Small Jewish Museum to a group from Australia! Thirty students from Notre Dame University in Freemantle, Australia, are here in Washington for three weeks, studying American politics and D.C. history at the Catholic University of America. Their professor, Leslie Woodcock Tentler from Catholic University, brought them to Washington's oldest synagogue after they toured other parts of the neighborhood.

I explained the building's unique history--and how it fits into the history of this neighborhood, the Jewish community, and the city writ large. The picture shows students examining what the synagogue looked like just after its move in 1969.

We love to have classes -- from kindergarten to college, from our city or from another hemisphere -- come by our building and learn about Washington's Jewish history. At the university level, it's perfect for a D.C. history, urban history, or American Jewish history class.

Want to bring your group by? Click here for more information!

Object of the Month: June 2011 0 Comment(s)

Object #: 2011.7
Donor: Leo M. Bernstein Family Foundation
Description: Leo M. Bernstein Archival Collection, which includes biographical materials, correspondence, family history, professional & community recognition, photographs, scrapbooks, and other memorabilia about the life and work of Leo M. Bernstein, D.C. banker, real estate broker, Zionist, civil rights promoter, philanthropist, American history enthusiast and collector.

Professional Life
Born in Washington, D.C. in 1915, Leo Bernstein graduated from the city’s Central High School. He received an informal education in real estate while working with his father’s real estate investments. The 1906 deed for his grandfather’s kosher butcher shop and home at 816 Sixth Street, NW, is in the collection. He founded his own real estate company at age 18. Within a year, Bernstein challenged racial and religious covenants, which barred the sale of properties to persons of color or to Jews, selling a house in a “whites only” neighborhood near Howard University to an African-American professor.

While working in real estate, Bernstein went to night law school, graduating in 1936 from the Columbus Law School (now Catholic University’s Columbus School of Law). Over the next few decades, Bernstein owned and ran several D.C. banks. Seen here, Bernstein (right) and D.C. Commissioner Gilbert Hahn, Jr., raise the District of Columbia flag at the D.C. National Bank headquarters at 18th & K Streets, NW, in 1971.
 
History Enthusiast
Bernstein enjoyed collecting historic documents, especially those relating to American presidents; furniture; and other objects, exhibiting some of them in the lobbies of his banks. This interest led him to become involved in historic preservation in the Shenandoah Valley communities of Middletown and Strasburg, Virginia starting in 1960. There, Bernstein helped save and restore several buildings, including the 18th-century Wayside Inn. As documented by itineraries, correspondence, and photographs, Bernstein organized and hosted family reunions and getaway weekends for friends and colleagues there and at other hotels he owned in the region. Among the groups Bernstein welcomed was the Washington Board of Rabbis, which met at the Wayside Inn many times during the 1970s and 1980s.
 

Jewish Community Involvement
Bernstein’s involvement in Jewish causes and organizations was local, national, and international. These included Adas Israel Congregation, United Jewish Appeal, Hebrew Academy of Greater Washington, American Committee for the Weizmann Institute of Science, Anti-Defamation League, and Yeshiva University. Bernstein served on the board of the Jewish Historical Society for nine years in the 1970s and ‘80s. This 1983 certificate of appreciation from the D.C. Section of the National Council of Jewish Women was awarded for his support on the occasion of NCJW’s 90th birthday in 1983.

As a young man, Bernstein was active locally in the cause of Zionism. In a 1999 oral history, Bernstein told of secret meetings attended by community leaders like Abraham Kay, Joe Cherner, and Morris Pollin: “Before Israel was a state, we had many Haganah meetings. We were getting ready to help Jews get into Palestine. They needed money for guns, ammunition and ships. We met at my office at 718 Fifth Street.” One highlight of the collection is a 1948 letter from Joseph Cherner, president of the Louis D. Brandeis District of the Zionist Organization of America, appointing Bernstein chair of the Embassy Building Committee, charged with finding a suitable building for the first Israeli Embassy.

Donation of Collection
Bernstein passed away 2008 at the age of 93. The following year, the Jewish Historical Society started a major archival project funded by the Leo M. Bernstein Family Foundation to organize and preserve this extensive collection of Bernstein’s business and personal papers. The Society completed the project in 2010 and was honored to accept the Leo M. Bernstein Archival Collection when the Foundation formally donated it last month.

Do you have material documenting local Jewish individual that you’d like to donate to the Jewish Historical Society’s collection? Please contact us at info@jhsgw.org or (202) 789-0900.