D.C. Jewish History Blog Subscribe via RSS

In honor of Immigrant Heritage Month 0 Comment(s)

Our collection includes very colorful range of objects immigrants brought with them when they came from to the United States. Learn the stories behind some of our most surprising and beautiful immigrant artifacts.

What objects couldn’t you leave behind?

An heirloom like this silver wedding cup is a precious object handed down from generation to generation. It is used during the wedding ceremony while the rabbi recites betrothal blessings.
 

Our cup was manufactured in Augsburg, Germany, in 1690, and brought to the U.S. by a family in the 19th century. They first moved to Philadelphia and then to Washington, D.C.
 

The cup was probably used in their descendants’ weddings and could have symbolized the connection to the old home and the founding of a new family in a new place.

Sisters Rose and Emma Auerbach grew up in Kishinev (in today's Moldova). Both immigrated in December 1905 and settled in Washington, D.C., where Emma worked as dressmaker and Rose as a seamstress.
 

This quilt was a wedding gift from Emma to Rose, who married Myer Dessoff before they came to Washington, D.C. Rose brought it with her on the long trip from Kishinev. The beautifully crafted quilt then decorated their new home on Fifth Street, NW.

This small prayer book (Hebrew on cover: Siddur Tefillah) fits perfectly in a pocket. In fact, this 2x3" book is a traveler’s siddur and accompanied the Litvin family on their way from Latvia in 1911. The family later joined Adas Israel Congregation in Washington, D.C. They likely used the book in the congregation's new synagogue at 6th & I Street, NW (today's Sixth & I Historic Synagogue)

As bulky as a samovar might be to bring on a long trip, Rachel Polakoff from Russia made sure that she could always brew traditional Russian tea in her new home country. Rachel came to Washington, D.C, in 1911 with her family and passed this keepsake down to her son Joseph who became one of the most acclaimed journalists in the Washington area.

Fannie Schindler Sager made her way from Lithuania to Maryland in 1893. We have quite a few objects from Fannie and her family in our collection, but the most astonishing one is this washboard. It came with her on her long journey from Europe. Among the few things she could pack in her bag, she chose this wooden household appliance. We can only guess why she wanted to bring it!

Some objects people brought with them to the United States were picked up along the way and tell us more about their trip and the route they took.
 

When Jacob Flint came from Russia to the U.S., his passport was wrapped in this cover. It is a promotional item that was distributed by the German travel agency Friedrich Missler in Bremen. This agency specialized in passage for emigrants from Poland and the Slavic countries to the U.S. and had many offices outside of Bremen.
 

Most probably, Jacob Flint was gifted this passport cover when he purchased a steamship ticket for his immigration to the U.S. via Bremerhaven (harbor of Bremen).

Learning About and Sharing D.C.‘s Jewish History 0 Comment(s)

Training to lead the walking tour of Arlington National Cemetery

In the spring of 2015, I started to volunteer with the Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington (JHSGW) to learn more about DC’s Jewish history and to receive hands-on experience in a Jewish historical institution that provides museum education. I helped with educational programs that included curriculum-based education in the Lillian & Albert Small Jewish Museum for students, as well as walking tours and educational programming for the public at large.

Now, in the spring of 2016, I’m nearing the official end of my internship with JHSGW. During my 20-hour-per-week internship, from January 2016 through May 31, 2016, my responsibilities in educational and public programming have expanded and I have received substantive work experiences in other facets of JHSGW's work. All of these experiences have prepared me for a future career in the history and museum world, and the internship combined well with my program in Experiential Education and Jewish Cultural Arts (EE/JCA) at The George Washington University.

One important facet of an educational walking tour is to connect participants with the environment and topography that is under study. My internship allowed me to utilize what I was learning in the EE/JCA program, receive guidance and mentorship from the JHSGW staff, and enhance my role as a public-facing educator. Some settings where I facilitated learning experiences for participants included the downtown walking tour in 7th Street, NW, area of Washington, DC, as well as tours of H Street, NE, and Arlington National Cemetery. The mentorship and classwork allowed me to deliver the best walking tour possible, as well as learn how to situate Jewish history in the broader context of DC history and related historical events.

In addition to presenting history, my internship also allowed me to help preserve history. One snowy January afternoon, I traveled to Arlington, Virginia, to meet Dr. Sholom Friedman and his daughter, Karen. While sitting in Dr. Friedman’s Public Shoe Store, which has recently closed, his answers to my questions covered his family’s arrival in the United States from Tsarist Russia, the beginning of Etz Hayim Congregation, and how consumer trends in the latter half of the 20th century affected what was bought and sold at Public Shoe Store. This oral history is now saved in the JHSGW collection.

I also added Washington Jewish Week articles about DC’s Jewish community to the archivists’ reference files, and I like to think of these articles and the oral history I conducted like the stops on the walking tours -- many sites on the walking tours were forgotten by the community for a long time. Today, however, hundreds of Hebrew school students, as well as visitors from all over the world of all different faiths and affiliations, come to JHSGW to learn and to retrace the steps of D.C.’s Jewish history.

And like the walking tour locations, perhaps one day, the articles or Dr. Friedman’s oral history will be used in an exhibit in JHSGW’s upcoming museum or used as part of a mosaic of sources in a groundbreaking study of the Washington, DC, area. Only time will tell how these sources will be used, but one thing has been clear from the first day that I volunteered -- JHSGW is an integral part of a network of academic, cultural and historical institutions in Washington, DC, that provide sophisticated programming that allows our community to be more historically and culturally literate. I’m proud to have been a part of it.

As an added bonus, JHSGW underwrote a pizza party for my last day!

Michael A. Morris is a Master’s student in Experiential Education and Jewish Cultural Arts at The George Washington University.