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.
For more information, visit www.3rdsttunnel.com.
A New Jewish Museum
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, that A. 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!