Accession No.: 2013.40 Donor: Ohev Sholom: The National Synagogue Description: This symbol was posted prominently in businesses selling kosher food throughout the D.C. area. Below the “KOSHER” in Latin characters is a stylized Hebrew “kosher,” reminiscent of a menorah. If something is kosher, it is ritually fit for consumption by Jews according to Jewish dietary laws called kashrut. The supervision of kashrut is calledhashgacha in Hebrew.
Though packaged kosher food is ubiquitous in supermarkets today, fresh kosher meat and dairy usually fall under the supervision of a local organization composed of rabbis and food-production experts. A system for community-wide certification of kosher food – in particular meat – grew as the Jewish community grew.
For decades in the Washington, D.C. area, the preeminent rabbinical authority overseeing kashrut has been the Rabbinical Council of Greater Washington. The Council oversees bakeries, butchers, caterers, hotels, restaurants, and other establishments. In the 1960s, the still-young Rabbinical Council created this symbol to be visible in establishments under its supervision. Yet, the story of kashrut in D.C. started much earlier. The evolution of the Rabbinical Council’s kosher supervision reflects the growth of the area’s Jewish community.
Washington was home to as many as six kosher restaurants during the Civil War, but only a few shochets (ritual slaughterers) attended to Washington’s Jewish community by the turn of the 20th century. Most served a particular congregation. Simon Mundheim, who arrived in Washington with his wife and daughter in 1863, oversaw kosher meat production for Washington Hebrew Congregation and later Adas Israel Congregation. In 1897, Congregation Ohev Sholom, with mostly Russian and Eastern European Jewish immigrants, subsidized its religious school by charging an extra half cent per pound of kosher meat.
In 1901, there were two shochets on Seventh Street, NW, and one in the 4½ Street, SW, neighborhood. Also, in Center Market, where the National Archives stands today, a butcher sold kosher and non-kosher meat from the same table. In 1907, in the midst of an influx of east European Jews, the Agudas Hakehilot (Combined Congregations) was founded to oversee all aspects of Orthodox life in Washington, D.C., including production of kosher meat.
Within a few years, though, the Agudas Hakehilot’s authority came to be contested by the shochets whose work it oversaw. The organization mandated from which companies butchers could buy their meat, which inflated meat prices. The Agudas Hakehilot declared any meat from outside of the area – notably cheaper meat from Baltimore – as “alien meat” and non-kosher. Additionally, insufficient supervision of shochets led to a series of financial and health department scandals in the 1920s and 1930s.
In the face of high prices for their supplies, several kosher butchers in D.C. created the Boser Kosher (Kosher Meat) Association to collectively negotiate prices with the Agudas Hakehilot. In his memoir, Forty Years in Washington, Moshe Alex describes how the possibility of the Boser Kosher shochets turning to religious authorities in Baltimore to oversee kosher meat in D.C. convinced the Agudas Hakehilot to negotiate with the Kosher Boser Association to cap meat prices and expand the number of suppliers.
The Growth of the Rabbinical Council’s Kosher Supervision
Rapid expansion of Washington’s Jewish population from the late 1920s through 1940s led to the establishment of new kosher butcheries, delicatessens, and restaurants throughout the city. One of the better known examples was Hofberg’s, a kosher delicatessen that opened in 1928 on Kennedy Street, NW, and became a popular hangout for Jewish teens.
In the early 1940s, to improve its oversight of the expanding kosher meat production sector, the Agudas Hakehilot began employing kosher butchers directly or subsidized their salaries. Usually these butchers worked in small butcher shops located near Orthodox communities in Northwest D.C. Many of these shops were located on upper Georgia Avenue, NW, as this kosher supervision poster illustrates.
The Agudas Hakehilotexpanded its purview as the Washington area’s Jewish population spread to suburban Maryland and northern Virginia in the 1950s and later. In the early-1960s, the organization changed its name to the Rabbinical Council and Combined Congregations of Greater Washington. The Rabbinical Council supervised only a few stores during this period, most of which were in D.C., according to this advertisement from 1966.
As the D.C. area’s Jewish community expanded, so too did the kosher supervision of the Rabbinical Council of Greater Washington. Today, it is the largest organization overseeing kashrut in the area.
Since the 1960s, observance of kosher dietary laws has expanded in the Washington area. A 2003 demographic survey of the Washington-area Jewish community found that 12% of the area’s Jewish population kept kosher homes, a substantial increase from 20 years earlier. Kosher markets and restaurants developed throughout suburban Maryland and northern Virginia. Most kosher institutions within D.C. closed as Jewish communities grew outside of the city after the 1950s. The handful of kosher ventures that have appeared in D.C. in recent years often have struggled to find a regular clientele.
Like most Jewish communities, a variety of independent kashrutorganizations and Mashgiachs (Kosher overseers) offer kosher supervisory services. For example, in February 2015, a council of local Orthodox pulpit clergy from suburban Maryland and northwest D.C. formed the Beltway Vaad, in part to provide kosher certification to area restaurants. The organization’s website recognizes that the Rabbinical Council of Greater Washington “serves as a primary kashrut organization” for the D.C. region.
Alongside the Rabbinical Council, the Beltway Vaad and similar organizations are part of an evolving story of the Jewish community and Jewish life in the Washington, D.C. region. Whenever you see a kashrut symbol, keep in mind its part in the Jewish community’s much longer history.
Further Reading: Learn more about the 1902 kosher meat boycott in New York, which set the stage for Boser Kosher Association.
This is the kind of story that you will encounter in the Society’s future museum showcasing the Washington region’s Jewish life and heritage.
Do you have a unique story about Washington’s history of kashrut? Tell us about it at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
Maybe you read about a proposal floated to close part of I-395 a few months ago? The aim was to expedite work on Capitol Crossing, but after an uproar from commuters and politicians, the request was denied.
A revised construction plan was released in February, and the first phase of work on the highway soon began. Pile-driving, excavation, and demolition is underway. This phase of construction is scheduled to continue until August. Traffic will be impacted primarily overnight and on weekends.
The Society has been hosting workshops — 14 so far — to allow diverse audiences to evaluate proposed stories and themes for the new museum's core exhibition. Workshops in D.C. and the Maryland and Virginia suburbs are providing feedback that will guide curatorial decisions to make the new museum engaging and relevant for an array of audiences. These sessions also increase awareness about and interest in the new museum.
3 for the public | EntryPointDC young professionals | GWU Museum Studies class
JCCNV seniors | Jewish graphic designers | Jewish Museum of Maryland
Kehila Chadasha | Moishe House - Capitol Hill | NoVA young professionals
Parents of middle-schoolers | Religious-school principals | The Jewish Federation's ROUTES
Meet the Neighbors: National Building Museum
The National Building Museum opened in 1985 in the historic Pension Bureau headquarters on F Street, NW, between 4th and 5th Streets. According to Chase Rynd, executive director since 2003, Capitol Crossing will change how the National Building Museum interacts with the community.
"When that project is done, the National Building Museum will no longer be in a cul-de-sac. Right now, we're virtually at a dead end," he says. "When F Street reopens, I claim we will be in the center of the universe. More people than ever are going to look at this gigantic red-brick building and say, 'What the heck is that?'"
Rynd also looks forward to the critical mass that will result when the National Law Enforcement Museum and the new Jewish museum open to the public: "We want to become sort of the off-the-Mall museum center. The Mall attracts millions and millions of people, and they're clearly inclined to go to museums. So what we need to do is make sure we have a mechanism in place that broadcasts the fact that there are even more opportunities within walking distance."
His friendship with Society Executive Director Laura Apelbaum dates back to when the National Building Museum hosted the exhibition, Jewish Washington: Scrapbook of an American Community in 2005-2006. What was the motivation to do so? "The fact that it was a fellow institution that needed help. And, frankly-to be totally selfish about it-it was also a great exhibition that would draw an audience that may or may not have ever come to the museum. That's a win-win," he says.
Regarding future collaborations: "As long as it's beneficial to both institutions, sign us up. Then it just becomes a question of the 'little' things like scheduling, funding, personnel, resources..."
Catching Up With... Bernard Glassman
In a recent interview with Society Past President Bernard Glassman, he revealed that saving the original Adas Israel synagogue building in 1969 "is my legacy to my children. I consider it the one significant thing that I've accomplished in my life." Here is more from that interview:
MaM: How did you first become involved with the Jewish Historical Society?
Bernard Glassman: I received a notice of a walking tour of the old buildings in the city and that the original [Adas Israel] building was going to be included. I hadn't seen the building before and I was curious, so I joined the group. The walking tour was led by Evelyn Greenberg, who was critically important to this project. After the discussion of the building concluded, I handed her my card and I said to her: "If you ever want to do anything about trying to save this building, do get in touch with me." Lo and behold, she did, and that's how we began.
MaM: You'd been building houses for years by the time you saw the synagogue. When the question came up of how to move this building, you had an answer.
Glassman: My father bought property for a summer home on the Chesapeake. It had a small, white house on it. I said to him, "Let's buy the lot across the road, move the house over there, sell it, and then you'll have this beautiful waterfront lot where we can do anything you want to do."
That's how I met Wild Bill Patram, the house mover. He was a colorful character and a very capable guy. Without him, [the synagogue] could not have been moved. But because he'd helped move that little house, I knew him and I got in touch right away. When I asked if he could deal with the synagogue, he said, "Sure."
Patram cut the synagogue off at the head of the first-story windows and then jacked it up and proceeded to move it down to the street. He's got two half-tracks [vehicles with wheels in the front to help steer and continuous tracks in the back] pulling it from the curb through the first intersection heading east.
There is a traffic-signal controller right at that intersection of 5th and G. It's a gray box on a post and there are flames coming out of it-and I mean big flames! And it's burning gas. There are gas lines under the street. And I'm thinking, "Oy vey, this street intersection is about to explode and me with it because I'm standing right on it."
Believe me -- that could have happened because it took the gas company three quarters of an hour to get there. People were being pushed away by the police. That was the scariest moment of my life. That was miracle number one, period. G-d was looking out for us already, without any doubt.
MaM: Your parents belonged to Adas Israel. That was when the congregation had moved to Sixth & I?
Glassman: I was bar-mitzvahed [at Sixth & I]. My father was one of the original contributors to the current Adas Israel on Quebec Street, just off Connecticut Avenue. That's synagogue number three.
MaM: A lot of your interest in the Society is based in your roots in these three Adas Israel buildings. Are you interested in other aspects of Jewish history?
Glassman: Very much so. History is a number-one interest of mine, especially archaic history -- anything from Solomon on.
William B. "Wild Bill" Patram's Oral History, 2002
"Wild Bill" Patram, a structural moving engineer from Fairfax, Virginia, coordinated the historic synagogue's 1969 relocation. The building never would have survived without the crafty logistical skills of this specialist. Then-Society board member and journalist Sally Kline interviewed Patram in 2002 to record his story. Here's an excerpt:
How many buildings have you moved?
A little over 2,000. I specialized in the historical ones because I had better techniques. I moved the Foundry in Georgetown in 1973. They couldn't get anyone else to even bid on the famous Mother Seton house I moved in Emmitsburg, Maryland. It was built around 1750. Stone.
You must be a risk-taker to have done this work.
It's a high-risk business. You've got to have confidence that you'll study it long enough and find a way. The more complicated it is, you know it's going to take ten times longer than to move a normal one.
Would you consider [the synagogue] a routine move?
Oh no. This is special. Number one, it's heavy. It's old. It was very fragile.
In September 1969 after Metro officials appropriated the original site, the synagogue was saved from destruction by an Act of Congress. President Richard Nixon signed the bill into law, allowing the building to be acquired by the District of Columbia and then leased to the Society.