Please join us in remembering the life of former JHSGW president Henry Brylawski. Henry passed away on June 2, 2015, just a few days shy of his 102nd birthday.
A lifelong resident of Washington, D.C., Henry graduated from Central High School before receiving his law degree from National University Law School (now George Washington University). Following military service during World War II, Henry worked as an attorney in private practice in Washington for over 50 years.
Henry served as president of the Society from 1969-1971 and was instrumental in our work to save and move the synagogue in 1969. He later chaired the D.C. Joint Committee on Landmarks, the predecessor of the Historic Preservation Review Board. There, he had a major hand in D.C.'s earliest preservation laws.
In honor of his 100th birthday in 2013, Mayor Vincent Gray proclaimed the date “Mr. Henry Brylawski Day,” and the Washington Jewish Week wrote an article.
Services will be held on Sunday, June 7, 9:30 a.m., at Washington Hebrew Congregation, 3935 Macomb Street, NW, Washington, D.C., with a reception to follow.
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.
Have a story of a national leader’s visit to your synagogue? Tell us about it at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
2005: President George W. Bush visited the Sixth & I Historic Synagogue just prior to a major event celebrating 350 years of Jewish life in North America. Read President Bush’s remarks.
2011: Former President Bill Clinton visited the Sixth & I Historic Synagogue for a wedding. Read about the visit in The Washington Post.
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
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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.
Like stratified layers of soil tell the story of the natural world, paint layers can tell a rich story of a building and the communities that lived there. Recently, the Society undertook a study of the paint in the sanctuary of its historic 1876 synagogue. The findings of this Historic Paint Analysis help us to piece together an idea of the building’s original appearance 138 years ago, and provide a map for future restoration activities. The project was funded in part by the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the MARPAT Foundation.
While this research rendered a nearly complete picture of the sanctuary's original paint and wood finishes, further study is needed to solve a remaining mystery: was there always a biblical passage painted on the Torah ark? If so, was it originally gold leaf?
The Historic Synagogue
In 1876, Adas Israel Hebrew Congregation built this synagogue at 6th and G Streets, NW. The building was the first purpose-built synagogue in Washington, DC. By all accounts, the sanctuary’s original appearance was quite modest. Its walls were whitewashed, with wood wainscoting below stained to look like walnut.
The most significant “extravagance” was on the Torah ark, which had some gold-leaf on the edges of its columns and cornice. Today it includes the familiar “Ma Tovu” passage from Numbers 24:5 in gold: “How lovely are your tents, O Jacob, your dwelling places, O Israel!” A June 1876 newspaper article about the synagogue’s dedication noted the presence of biblical quotation expressing reverence for synagogues. However, the article did not indicate whether or not the passage was painted direction above the ark, and if it appeared in gold or another color.
In 1908, the congregation sold the building to a real estate investor who converted the first floor to store fronts, and leased the second floor to a succession of churches. In 1969, when the building was marked for demolition, the Jewish Historical Society saved the building by moving it three blocks to 3rd and G Streets, NW. In 1975, JHSGW rededicated the building as the Lillian & Albert Small Jewish Museum. Learn more about the building’s history.
Since that time, the Jewish Historical Society has sought to restore the building to its original appearance. The Historic Paint Analysis is just one of the many tools that create a picture of the building’s original appearance in 1876. Other sources of information include newspaper accounts from the building’s dedication, and photographs from the 20th century.
Historic Paint Analysis
JHSGW worked with Worcester Eisenbrandt, Inc. (WEI) to carry out the historic paint analysis. WEI’s analyst excavated tiny craters and took dozens of samples of paint and varnish from throughout the main sanctuary and its balcony area. Locations included walls, window frames, the newel post on the stairway to the balcony, and, of course, on the Torah ark.
The craters revealed layer upon layer of paint and varnish, each representing a “moment” in the building’s history. This crater from the wainscot rail ringing the entire room shows the first layer of finish – a varnish – and successive layers of paint, including “graining” layers that emulated the appearance and rare, expensive woods. More recent layers included white, brown, and green paint, as well as a thick layer of dirt.
Future research might help to reveal precisely when each layer – including the dirt – was added and the length of time it was visible. This information, coupled with the timeline of the building’s inhabitants, would make it possible to imagine what the interior of the building looked like at different times.
Perhaps the most significant discovery was the existence of a layer of gold paint added within a few years of the synagogue’s construction on the columns that support the second floor. For the mostly immigrant congregation of modest means, this decoration was likely a costly addition.
In addition to the craters, WEI’s analyst placed cross sections from the wall finishes under the microscope. These provided a “side view” that revealed all the different layers of paint, varnish, and wallpaper in some cases. In this image, a thick layer of dirt from the period when the sanctuary was used a warehouse for shops on the first floor is visible.
There are still unanswered questions about some of the paint. The Hebrew inscription over the ark (called an entablature) is a reproduction of text that was present when the synagogue was dedicated. Yet, we do not yet know if the biblical passage was inscribed on the ark or on another piece of material and attached to the ark when the sanctuary was built, and if it was gold leaf. The Historic Paint Analysis found some gold leaf or paint below the several layers of paint. However, it is inconclusive whether or not the “older” layers are in fact just the bleeding through of the newer paint.
In December 2014, JHSGW raised support for another round of analysis on the entablature to answer this question. Thanks to an anonymous gift in memory of Margot Heckman and contributions from other community members, we will be able to solve this mystery.
Saved from demolition and relocated from its original site in December 1969, the Jewish Historical Society's 1876 synagogue building--the oldest such structure in Washington, D.C--will move again, becoming the focal point of a state-of-the-art Jewish museum at the corner of Third and F Streets, NW.
Our new museum complex will anchor a $1.3-billion mixed-used project called Capitol Crossing, adjacent to one of D.C.'s most vibrantly renewed neighborhoods.
Capitol Crossing--a six-building office, retail, and residential complex developed by Property Group Partners--will extend onto a newly-built platform over Interstate 395. By restoring F and G Street, part of the original L'Enfant Plan, the project will reconnect Capitol Hill and the East End.
Infrastructure work began in April. Utility relocation and upgrades, roadwork, and platform construction are expected to take five years. Making a Museum will continue to report as construction progresses. Follow project news at www.3rdsttunnel.com.
Property Group Partners has confirmed Eataly, a high-end Italian market and restaurant with six worldwide locations, will be joining our new neighborhood.
A New Jewish Museum
A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, the Capitol Crossing project will enable the Jewish Historical Society to write the next chapter in its history. Our new museum will be a welcoming place, showcasing the Washington region's Jewish life and heritage and reinterpreting our historic synagogue in engaging ways.
Our all-star team of preeminent consultants includes:
Scholars from The George Washington University, American University, George Mason University, and University of Richmond
The new spaces will contain galleries, classrooms, an archival reading room, an oral history studio, offices, and a green-roof garden terrace. Look for more about our plans in future issues of Making a Museum.
Meet the Neighbors: Georgetown University Law Center
Always separate from the main campus, Georgetown University Law Center arrived at its current location between First and Second Streets in 1971, a year or so after the relocation of the 1876 synagogue. According to Wallace J. Mlyniec, Lupo-Ricci Professor of Clinical Legal Studies: "When we moved here, most of residents of the old East End-Italian, Jewish, and African American middle-class families-had been moved out for the I-395 highway project."
Mlyniec has been involved in all of the Law Center's expansions since 1980. Pointing out that while construction projects are always somewhat disruptive to those living and working nearby, he predicts that Capitol Crossing "will bring an immense benefit to our students, staff, and faculty...making the entire neighborhood livelier 24 hours a day."
For several years, the Jewish Historical Society has organized walking tours for incoming Jewish students led by the Law Center's Jewish Chaplain Michael Goldman, a Society member. Other partnerships are likely once the highway is no longer a barrier and the new museum is completed.
Catching Up With… Henry and Sam Brylawski
Making a Museum chatted with the Jewish Historical Society's first presidential father-son pair, current president Sam Brylawski and his father, Henry Brylawski, 101. A few excerpts:
MaM: Soon after you became President in 1969, Henry, you took on the challenge of rescuing the former Adas Israel building.
Henry Brylawski: It was at the site of the Metro building, a full block between Sixth, Fifth, G, and F. In the end, the only building standing there was this synagogue on the corner. And of course they wanted us to get rid of it.
MaM: What was it like the day of the move?
Henry: It was greeted with astonishment by everybody that saw it. It was in the paper. And then after we got it on the foundation, we all breathed a sigh of relief. We have the building. We don't have the money to restore it, but we've got the building, we have the site.
MaM: For both of you: What is it about Washington Jewish history that interests you the most?
Henry: My wife's great-grandfather [Solomon M. Lansburgh] was the first ordained rabbi of Washington Hebrew Congregation and that was the 1850s. So that always interested me.
Sam Brylawski: My father had an interest in the history of this city my whole lifetime, and that affected me. And to me the historic synagogue represents post-Civil War Washington, when, as throughout America, all these immigrants are coming and they're establishing themselves in the United States.
MaM: How has the Jewish Historical Society changed over the years?
Sam: When my father was president, it was still, even after the building moved, a Society primarily of volunteers. We now have a professional staff, collecting the material culture of the Washington-area Jewish community, and preserving it, and interpreting it in new ways every year with new exhibitions and publications and public programs. It's extraordinarily active, with lectures and concerts and even singles gatherings. But we're bursting at the seams.
We've had a dream of having a museum for 10 years, even before the Capitol Crossing development opportunity. But then to have someone say, "You're going to move and we're going to provide you with a footprint to build an accompanying museum." Remember, the synagogue isn't even accessible to anyone disabled and now it will be. And now it will be in a setting that provides it some breathing room and with museum spaces that can help interpret the synagogue itself and vice-versa.
Henry: It will be more visible too. Because nobody really sees [the original] Adas Israel as they pass by.
Sam: And we'll be a central part of the redevelopment of this section of Washington. It will be an attraction.
Photograph from Synagogue Rededication, 1975
Albert and Lillian Small, key supporters of the synagogue restoration, greet Supreme Court Justice Arthur Goldberg (left), at the building's rededication as a museum. Albert Small grew up in the neighborhood, and his father, Isadore, was a member of the synagogue.
Did You Know?
The 1876 synagogue is the Sixth & I Historic Synagogue's big brother! When Adas Israel outgrew its original synagogue, the congregation erected a new synagogue up the street at Sixth & I Streets, NW. It was dedicated in 1908.