This morning, President Barack Obama spoke at Adas Israel Congregation in Washington, D.C. in celebration of Jewish American Heritage Month. Watch the speech in its entirety.
U.S. presidents have participated in the affairs of the Washington Jewish community since the founding of Washington’s first congregation. Indeed, President Obama is the second president to visit Adas Israel’s synagogue; the first was President Ulysses S. Grant in 1876! The following timeline features some of those presidential connections with Washington’s Jewish community.
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1856: President Franklin Pierce signed “An Act for the Benefit of the Hebrew Congregation in the city of Washington”, which ensured the right for Jews to purchase land for a synagogue in the District of Columbia. With this act, Washington Hebrew Congregation became the only congregation in the country with a Congressional charter.
1876: President Ulysses S. Grant became the first U.S. president to attend synagogue services when he attended the dedication of Adas Israel Synagogue at 6th & G Streets, NW. Grant stayed for the entire three-hour service and made a subsequent gift of $10 to the building fund. Learn more about President Grant’s visit to the synagogue and Ulysses S. Grant’s notorious General Orders No. 11 issued during the Civil War.
1898: President William McKinley attended the cornerstone laying of Washington Hebrew Congregation at 8th & I Streets, NW, attended by over 3,000 people. Learn more about Washington’s earliest synagogues.
1925: President Calvin Coolidge spoke during the cornerstone-laying ceremony of the Jewish Community Center at 16th & Q Streets, NW.
1926: Orthodox Zionists met with President Calvin Coolidge at the White House.
1930: The first issue of the National Jewish Ledger (now called Washington Jewish Week), featured a Rosh Hashanah message to Washington Jews from President Herbert Hoover.
Explore Jewish Washington in the 1930s.
1952: President Harry Truman attended the cornerstone-laying ceremony for Washington Hebrew Congregation’s new building at Massachusetts & Macomb Streets, NW.
1955: President Dwight D. Eisenhower spoke at the dedication of Washington Hebrew’s new synagogue. During his speech, President Eisenhower mused that it is incumbent upon his office that he should attend “such a great and significant event in the lives of one part of the great faiths that have made this country what it is, to pay his respects to that faith and to this event and to the people who have made it possible.” Read President Eisenhower’s entire dedication speech.
1983: President Ronald Reagan visited a Hanukkah celebration and met with Soviet Jewish emigres at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Washington in Rockville, Maryland. During the visit, President Reagan remarked, “To every religious dissident trapped in this cold and cruel land, let us pray that the warm lights of Hanukkah will spread out the spirit of freedom and comfort and sustain every person who is suffering tonight.” Read President Reagan’s complete speech. Learn more about the Washington area's movement to free Soviet Jewry.
2011: Former President Bill Clinton visited the Sixth & I Historic Synagogue for a wedding. Read about the visit in The Washington Post.
2012: President Barack Obama mentioned the historic 1876 Adas Israel synagogue when he told the story of General Grant’s General Orders No. 11 during Jewish American Heritage Month. Read President Obama's remarks.