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.
If you’ve visited the Lillian & Albert Small Jewish Museum in the past month, you can’t miss the construction. Work has officially reached the historic synagogue. Crews are installing a new 8” water main along the east side of Third Street, NW, from Massachusetts Avenue to E Street.
Earlier this year, we were awarded a prestigious grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) to plan the core exhibition in our new museum. The central experience of the museum, the core exhibition will reflect stories that distinguish the Washington-area Jewish community and its history. Our issues-oriented exhibition will enable visitors to explore regional and national history through the lens of area Jewish history.
In June, we kicked off our NEH advisory panel with a meeting to discuss themes and storylines for the exhibition. Our team includes top scholars, board members with related expertise, community advisors, and technical experts. Their insight and feedback on a variety of issues is helping us plan the core exhibition, develop a list of artifacts and topics to showcase, and test new ideas.
Our advising scholars:
Spencer Crew, Robinson Professor of American, African American, and Public History, George Mason University; former Director, Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History
Jenna Weissman Joselit, Charles E. Smith Professor of Judaic Studies & Professor of History, The George Washington University
Pamela Nadell, Professor and Chair, Department of History; Patrick Clendenen Chair, Women's and Gender History; Director, Jewish Studies Program. American University
Suleiman Osman, Associate Professor, American Studies Department; Director of Undergraduate Studies, The George Washington University
Eric S. Yellin, Associate Professor of History and American Studies, University of Richmond
Meet the Neighbors: Holy Rosary Church
Heading east toward Capitol Hill, F Street comes to a stop at Holy Rosary Church, only a block from the Jewish Historical Society’s 1876 synagogue. Just as the synagogue was threatened by construction and then saved, the church too was slated for demolition when it was in the proposed path of Interstate 395 in the mid-1960s.
“The only reason why this church survived is because it was the only Italian parish and the people really fought to preserve it,” says Father Ezio Marchetto. He became pastor of “the Italian Church at Judiciary Square” in June of 2013, a few months before Holy Rosary celebrated its centennial. Though the church was spared, the highway project destroyed the Italian neighborhood of which it was the religious, social, and cultural focus.
The Capitol Crossing development now underway will reopen F Street. The rebuilt neighborhood will be very different from the old, but Holy Rosary’s sanctuary has been filling up thanks to a recent wave of Italian immigration.
College-educated, but in many cases unable to find work in Italy, these immigrants are being hired for jobs in medical research, information technology, and other fields, according to Marchetto. “Plus all the people that are coming to work at the [Italian] embassy, the consulate, the World Bank, NATO, military people. These are all young families with children,” he says.
The Vicenza-born pastor talks about the church’s continuing role as a “point of reference” for the now-dispersed and largely suburbanized Italian American community, including many second- and third-generation parishioners. Holy Rosary is also a special site in Washington for representatives of Italy and the Vatican. These officials attend annual celebrations at Holy Rosary such as the Festa della Republica Italiana (Festival of the Italian Republic, June 2) and the Messa per i Caduti in Guerra (Mass for the Fallen in War, November 4).
Capitol Crossing will bring changes to the campus of the beautiful church, completed in 1923. After the rectory, currently blocking F Street, is demolished, a new facility will be erected behind the church. A fenced garden will complete the landscape.
Holy Rosary is also using the opportunity to expand Casa Italiana—a language school, meeting/performance hall and café—caffé espresso, to be properly Italian—with striking statues of Marconi, Dante, Michelangelo, and Verdi in front. A dozen rooms will be added and Casa Italiana’s offerings of Italian language, literature, art and cooking classes, opera, concerts and film screenings are expected to grow.
“I think this community has a lot to offer,” says Father Marchetto. “Now I think what we have to do is to start to offer what we have to other communities.” The potential for cooperative programming with nearby cultural organizations, including Holy Rosary’s soon-to-be-even-closer neighbor, the Jewish Historical Society, is clear.
Invitation to Synagogue Move, 1969
This invitation to “witness the moving of Washington’s oldest synagogue” was displayed for eight years in the National Building Museum exhibition Symbol and City. Alongside the invitation was a large photo banner depicting the synagogue move in progress.
Did You Know?
After 32 years in the building, Adas Israel sold its first synagogue at Sixth & G Streets, NW, to Stephen Gatti, an Italian fruit dealer and real estate investor who lived a block away. Gatti divided up the first floor to house several retail shops. Over the years, the businesses included a bicycle shop, barber, grocery store, and Anthony Litteri's market (yes, thatA. Litteri.). The upstairs sanctuary first hosted Saint Sophia, a Greek Orthodox congregation now located on Massachusetts Avenue near the National Cathedral, followed by a Pentecostal group known as Bible Hall, and then the Good Samaritan Chapel and the Mission of Light Church.
Although Jewish law frowns on the re-use of synagogues for other than Jewish use, many 19th and 20th-century American synagogues have been converted to churches, stores, or other secular uses—a phenomenon much more common in the United States than elsewhere.
Eventually, the former synagogue lost its religious connection and the sanctuary was converted into a storage space for the downstairs businesses. The ark was used as a broom closet!
Object No.: 1998.58.31 Donor: Ida Jervis Description: In this photograph by Ida Jervis, women supporting the feminist Jewish publication Lilith magazine rally on the west lawn of the U.S. Capitol, supporting ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment (E.R.A.) to the U.S. Constitution. One holds a sign that, reading right-to-left as if written in Hebrew, mixes symbols to represent Jewish women: the Jewish six-pointed star and symbol of Venus commonly used by many feminist groups.
Background: As the nation’s capital, Washington is the destination for people from all over the country to voice their opinions on critical issues in American life. Rallies and protests with tens-of-thousands of people marching through city streets are part of the fabric of life in this city.
For decades, Washington-area photographer Ida Jervis (1917-2014) captured this quality of Washington-area life. Her focus was the local Jewish community and Jews who came to Washington for specific events and causes. From the 1960s through 1980s, Jervis documented seemingly every aspect of Jewish political and social life in the Washington region: civil rights marches, Soviet Jewry rallies, Israel Independence Day celebrations, Holocaust commemorations, exhibition openings, folk concerts, artists at work, and other political and cultural events.
Jervis photographed civic activism around Jewish causes, as well as Jews who were active for other causes. For her, these were all part of the Jewish community’s participation in American civic and political life. “I was a witness as the American Jewish community found its voice,” Jervis noted in a 1989 interview with The Washington Post.
In 2009, Jervis donated the largest collection of her photos to JHSGW (view a sample!). In 2013, her daughter, Margie Jervis, organized a campaign to better preserve the Society’s Ida Jervis Collection including to purchase a fireproof cabinet to house them. Other collections of Jervis’s work and papers are in the American Jewish Archives and the Smithsonian's Archives of American Art.
Capturing the 1978 E.R.A. March on Washington, D.C.
Of the many demonstrations that Jervis documented was the E.R.A. March on Washington, D.C. in July 1978.1 Among the 325 delegations to the march were several Jewish organizations, including the National Council of Jewish Women and the Union of American Hebrew Congregations. Some Jewish participants in other delegations self-identified by wearing patches or buttons with Jewish symbols like this woman from Illinois University.
At that time, it was the largest women’s-rights demonstration in U.S. history. Over 100,000 people representing different ethnic and religious communities from across the country marched down Constitution Avenue to the Capitol Building in support of the amendment.
The E.R.A. mandates legal equality for all sexes: “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.”
These participants were among the many first- and second- generation American Jewish women who were attracted to the feminist movement of the 1960s-1970s. They wanted to break down socially-accepted gender norms that hampered women’s equality in American life. They saw one of many solutions to this state of affairs in the creation of federal laws and a constitutional amendment such as the E.R.A., which sought to enshrine equal rights for women in the Constitution.
Emblematic of this group were Susan Weidman Schneider and Aviva Cantor. In 1976, they founded the Jewish feminist journal, Lilith Magazine. Both Schneider and Cantor gravitated toward feminism after childhood involvement in Jewish life. Schneider had been active in her synagogue, Jewish youth groups, Zionist causes, and Yiddish culture in her hometown of Winnipeg, Canada. She attended Brandeis University where she had her “political awakening” about the need to fight for women’s inequality. Cantor, a Bronx, NY, native, grew up attending the orthodox Ramaz Jewish day school. After studying at the Columbia University School of Journalism, she became an active promoter of progressive Jewish causes.
Schneider, Cantor, and their compatriots at the E.R.A. March on Washington were among the millions who help make Washington the stage for national issues. The E.R.A. continues to be one of those issues. Since its introduction in 1923, a succession of representatives has reintroduced the amendment to Congress. Most recently, in 2013, Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) reintroduced the E.R.A. in the Senate, and Carolyn B. Maloney (D-NY) sponsored the amendment in the House of Representatives. In spite of overwhelming positive public opinion for the amendment, the E.R.A. has never been ratified by a sufficient number of state legislatures.
Do you have a story about protesting Jewishly in Washington? Tell us about your Washington advocacy story at firstname.lastname@example.org.
1. National Woman’s Party’s founder, Alice Paul, wrote the E.R.A. in 1923. That year, the amendment was introduced to Congress, but did not pass. It was re-introduced several times subsequently, and passed by Congress in 1972. Congress gave a seven-year deadline for three-fourths of state legislatures to ratify the amendment – required for amending the Constitution. Demonstrators at the 1978 march called on Congress to extend the 1979 deadline. Congress subsequently extended the deadline to 1982, but no additional states voted for ratification.
This summer, Special Projects Manager Claire Uziel and Director of Collections Wendy Turman mark special anniversaries with the Society. We recently asked Wendy and Claire about their favorite and most memorable JHSGW moments.
Claire Uziel – 10th anniversary
Claire is proud of her work modernizing our organization. She helped move our website maintenance in-house and manages our social media presence. She recently worked with our web designer to migrate the website to an online system that allows the site to be updated from any computer instead of via software on her desktop computer.
Claire’s favorite moments include assisting researchers: "Pretty much every time a researcher says 'That's just what I was looking for!' when I send them material is a highlight. I always try to help people looking for material we don't have, but it's so great to be able to hand over exactly what someone's looking for."
Another highlight for Claire was her work on our award-winning exhibition, Voices of the Vigil. "In August 2008, we were invited to a meeting of Soviet Jewry activists who wanted to be sure the D.C. story was told. I went and handed out oral history tips and talked about how important it was for these folks to record their memories for future generations. I was 10 when the Soviet Union fell and so myself had extremely little working knowledge of the history. Over the next months, I received cassettes, DVDs, and typed documents of the activists' recollections. Every time I got a new email or package in the mail, I learned a little more about the local Soviet Jewry movement. It was an exciting time for my inbox and the archives."
Wendy Turman – 15th anniversary
Wendy’s favorite program is the June 9 celebration of the 1876 synagogue’s anniversary. She says, "I love seeing how people respond to being in the historic sanctuary and experiencing some of the sights and sounds that the original members may have seen or heard in 1876.”
Wendy’s favorite item in the collection is a banner carried by Hyman Bookbinder at the 1963 March on Washington: "It is such an honor to care for this object from such a momentous event in our nation's history. When we received the banner, I remember thinking 'I didn't think I would ever get to see or hold one of these.' It still gives me shivers."
One of Wendy’s most memorable experiences was conducting an oral history with Sheldon S. Cohen: “His story was so big I had to go back five times to get it all, and I know I didn’t get everything. From candling eggs when he was a teenager working in his father’s warehouse in northeast D.C. to working on legal matters for Lyndon & Lady Bird Johnson to meeting Nelson Mandela shortly after his release from prison, this story has something for everyone.”
Wendy’s favorite exhibition, like Claire, was Voices of the Vigil. “I loved the process of working with an incredible community advisory group to document the history of the Soviet Jewry movement and then bringing all those disparate voices together into a cohesive exhibit. And I have especially enjoyed the youth education programs we have done in conjunction with the exhibition -- watching kids interact with their parents and learn how ordinary people -- sometimes including their own families -- made a real difference in the world.”
Finally, Wendy sums her experience up by saying, “It has been a privilege to work here for 15 years, to learn the big and small stories that make up the history of this community, to care for everything from political buttons to scrapbooks to stained-glass windows, and to work with so many dedicated, creative, smart, and hard-working staff and amazing volunteers.”
The Society thanks Wendy and Claire for their decades of service!