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Object of the Month: August 2015 0 Comment(s)

Accession No.: 2011.22
Donor: Frank H. Rich, Sr.
Description: In 1974, Frank H. Rich (1921–2015) ran for D.C. City Council. His involvement in politics began after the 1968 riots following Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination.

Rich’s Shoes newly-opened store at 10th and F Streets, NW, 1919.

A Washington Institution

Frank Rich’s family had deep roots in Washington. His maternal great grandfather, Abraham Hart, was a volunteer in the Union Army in the Civil War and was on the Board of Education in Washington, D.C. Frank’s paternal ancestors belonged to Washington Hebrew Congregation in the 19th century, and his great-grandfather Bernard Rich, was a founder of Adas Israel Congregation in 1869. That same year, Bernard founded a men's clothing store, B. Rich & Sons, at 7th and O Streets, NW. Bernard’s sons, Max and Louis, later took over the store and decided to specialize in shoes. In 1919, they moved the business into a four-story building at 10th and F Streets, NW.

Max had three sons, Edwin, Herbert, and Melvin, and two daughters, Ernestine and Fanny.[1] Herbert took over the family business and married Rosa Hart Frank, the granddaughter of Abraham Hart. (A scrapbook in JHSGW’s collection chronicles the Hart and Rich families from the 1860s-1960s).

Frank Hart Rich

Herbert and Rosa’s son, Frank, grew up on Buchanan Street, off 16th Street, NW. In 1942, after earning a degree in business administration at Lehigh University, he enlisted in the army and worked in administration for the Army Air Corps (precursor to the Air Force) in Assam, India. He supported flights over “The Hump,” the dangerous air crossing over the Himalayas to resupply U.S. air bases and aid the Chinese war effort against Japan. He distinguished himself and quickly rose to become a major.

Flooring advertisement featuring renovated 10th and F Streets, NW, location, 1950s.

JHSGW Collection.

Frank returned to the U.S. in 1946. In a 2011 interview, he told the Society that he was desperate for a new pair of shoes: “My shoes were in such terrible shape from the monsoons and everything. They were terrible.” But he could not simply pick up a new pair from his family’s business. Because of wartime rationing of materials like rubber and leather, Frank had to first go to Wilmington, Delaware, to get a document from the army allowing him to obtain the shoes.

After his return to Washington, Frank found a job as an assistant buyer at the Hecht Company’s shoe department. Soon thereafter, Frank’s father Herbert invited him to work for Rich’s Shoes. Frank agreed.

Frank set to work expanding the business to serve postwar Washington’s growing population in the 1940s and 1950s. He renovated Rich’s Shoes’ iconic 10th and F Street, NW, location. He also focused on cutting-edge trends that appealed to young shoppers and opened a new store at 1516 Wisconsin Avenue, NW, in Georgetown in 1953, followed more than a decade later by the Gaminerie, a boutique modeled after a shop with the same name he had visited in Paris. In 1955, he opened a spacious location in a new shopping center in Chevy Chase, Maryland. The business continued to expand. In 1961, Frank sold the family’s building on 10th and F and moved the business to 1319-21 F Street, NW. Every new location was a hit.

Washington Daily News story on opening of the new store in Georgetown, 1953.

JHSGW Collection.

Civic Activism

Frank translated his business success into a variety of civic activities. As president of the National Shoe Retailers Association, he testified and wrote op-eds for The Washington Post against low-cost and low-quality shoe imports from abroad. He was a board member of several local organizations, including the Washington Performing Arts Society and a founding board member of Temple Sinai.

Perhaps his greatest civic activism came in the aftermath of the riots following the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. in April 1968. Looting caused $50,000 (in 1960s dollars) in damage to Rich’s Shoes downtown location. In his interview with the Society, Frank recalled, “I came downtown and, of course, all of the windows were out. The store was full of tear-gas [canisters]. Everything was upside down.” Within a few days, the business was up and running, but Frank felt the need to help the greater downtown business community. He started Project Progress, an employment organization focused on helping unemployed African-American residents of D.C.

He soon joined the Metropolitan Washington Urban Coalition, a group of business owners and city officials who sought to rebuild D.C.’s decimated downtown. He was the organization’s president from 1969-1971. John W. Hechinger, a former City Council Chairman and owner of a regional chain of hardware stores, said that Frank used his relationship with business leaders across the city “to get to know the leaders of the black community, as well as the frustrations of the rank and file of the black community. His earnestness advanced interracial harmony.”

Frank Rich campaign advertisement, 1974.

JHSGW Collection.

Frank saw home rule as the key to improving the city, particularly for African Americans, which represented the majority of D.C.’s residents. In 1970, he testified before the Senate District Committee in favor of home rule for the nation’s capital. He later noted that the committee was hostile and “generally [was] against what I was there for.” In 1974, Frank ran as an at-large candidate for the D.C. City Council. He ran, he said at the time, because “this is the first city government and, if home rule is to survive, we need responsible people [who can manage].” He narrowly lost the election.

Frank Rich’s dedication to revitalizing D.C. led to his involvement in a range of civic activities. He was an outspoken advocate for redevelopment of F Street, NW (where his store was located), preservation of the Willard Hotel, and expansion of the Metro system – the construction of which paradoxically hurt his business, turning F Street into a perennial construction site that deterred most shoppers.

Rich’s Shoes was the longest-operating family business in D.C. when Frank and his youngest son Ned closed it in 1987. The course toward the 1990s revitalization of downtown Washington came too late to save Rich’s Shoes.

Frank remained a steadfast and outspoken advocate for his hometown, and especially for home rule. In 2012, a D.C. City Council proclamation recognizing Frank’s contributions as a business and civic leader quoted him: “I always tried, wherever I was or whatever I was doing, to give my empathy to people who deserve more out of life than what they are getting – whether voting rights or job opportunities.” When he passed away earlier this year, DC Vote, an organization for which Frank volunteered weekly for more than a decade, described him as “a symbol of what D.C. had contributed to the nation.”

[1] Melvin Rich was a civil engineer who worked on numerous D.C.-area structures, including the British Embassy, the Kennedy-Warren apartments, and the refurbishment of the Washington Monument in 1934.

Object of the Month: July 2015 0 Comment(s)

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.

Ida Jervis, 1977. 

JHSGW Collections.

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.

Women representing Jewish organizations, including the National Council of Jewish Women, E.R.A. March, 1978

Photograph by Ida Jervis, JHSGW Collections.

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.”

Unidentified woman from Illinois University displaying six-pointed Jewish-star patch, E.R.A. March, 1978. 

Photograph by Ida Jervis, JHSGW Collections.

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.

Cover of premier issue of Lilith Magazine, 1976. 

www.lilith.org

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 info@jhsgw.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.

Remembering Purim in Selma 0 Comment(s)

In honor of this week’s 50th anniversary of “Bloody Sunday” and the following successful march from Selma to Montgomery in 1965, we share this highlight from our archives. In this booklet, Rabbi Joseph Weinberg z’l reflects on his dramatic experiences during the civil rights demonstrations in Selma – including how he celebrated Purim in jail with several other clergy after their arrest. 

On March 7, 1965, some 600 civil rights marchers in Alabama attempted to march from Selma to the state capital, Montgomery. Only six blocks into the journey, the marchers were brutally attacked by law enforcement officials at the Edmund Pettus Bridge. The event came to be called “Bloody Sunday.”

Soon after, Martin Luther King, Jr. put out a call to clergy of every faith to join a court-protected march a few weeks later. Rabbi Joseph Weinberg, then serving a San Francisco congregation, traveled to Selma, Alabama, with a delegation of northern California rabbis.

The rabbis arrived a week before the march and, upon arrival, they joined a larger group of clergy in a peaceful picket in a white neighborhood close to the home of Mayor Joe Smitherman. The goal was to directly present the civil rights struggle to the town’s white residents. The 39 clergy were immediately arrested, 21 of which spent the night in the local jail.

It was the eve of Purim, and so the rabbis began to plan a service, inviting the Christian ministers to join them. As Rabbi Weinberg recounts:

“I followed Rabbi Saul Berman, reading some selections of the story of Esther in English, and concluded with a closing prayer, the theme of which was that Haman was not a man who lived long ago, but rather an idea that finds its embodiment in every age against which men must struggle and against which we were presently engaged in bearing witness.”

Rabbi Weinberg’s recounting of the following days describe further demonstrations and clashes with the police, futile attempts to speak with the mayor, and community meetings. On March 21, 1965, Rabbi Weinberg joined Reverend King and thousands of others in Selma to start the historic march to Montgomery. Weinberg remembers:

And so I marched that warm Sunday afternoon down a highway in Alabama, arm in arm with Black, Chinese, Christian, Jew, and Buddhist. All of us were marching to testify that in our generation we, too, would participate in the redemption of our brethren from the land of Egypt.

A few years later, Rabbi Joseph Weinberg moved to Washington, D.C., where he served Washington Hebrew Congregation from 1969 to 1999. His children reprinted his Selma recollections in this special booklet for Father’s Day 1992. We are grateful to his widow, Marcia Weinberg, for contributing it to our archives earlier this year.

A New Acquisition and the Vigil for Alan Gross 0 Comment(s)

Rabbi Arnold Saltzman gives "Free Alan Gross" sign to Executive Director Laura Cohen Apelbaum. The sign shows Gross and his wife, Judy, at the Western Wall in Jerusalem.

Alan Gross's recent release from captivity in Cuba marks a moment of celebration and reflection for the Washington-area Jewish community. Among the many activists celebrating is Rabbi Arnold Saltzman, a leader of a weekly vigil for three years in front of the Cuban embassy.

In the days following Alan Gross's release, Rabbi Saltzman donated a "Free Alan Gross" sign to the Society's archival collections. We took this special opportunity to record his first-hand experience of the weekly vigil as well as his perspective on the Jewish community's responsibility to defend those who cannot defend themselves.

JHSGW (Q): What was your reaction when you first heard about Alan Gross's arrest and imprisonment, and at what point did you decide to act?

Rabbi Saltzman (A): I heard about Alan Gross's imprisonment over four years ago. My friend and neighbor, Gwen Zuares, is Judy Gross's sister. Early on, she asked if I knew about Alan, and then she kept me informed. She was distraught and greatly concerned for his well-being and for his family's well-being. Gwen let me know when the demonstrations were beginning, and I got involved as I thought this type of demonstration could have positive results.

Q: With so many worthy advocacy causes swirling around us, how were you able to attract people to this issue and get them involved in the vigil? 

A: The Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC), its executive director Ron Halber, and staff (especially Adina Remz) deserve credit as does the Interfaith Council of Metropolitan Washington for helping get people to the vigil in the beginning. 

We do not know why some people chose to participate nor could we make it their priority. I shared some of my previous activism experience in order to interest people. From the beginning, I wrote statements to be read at the vigil. These gave focus, reminding people over and over what we were there for, what we were trying to accomplish, and how it fulfilled both a religious and civic responsibility. 

Q: What is the story behind the sign that you recently donated to the Society? 

A: These signs were carried every week at the vigil and were in synagogue lobbies around the Washington area. We brought one to the State Department so they would see Alan's photo – a reminder. 

Originally, The Jewish Federation provided a grant to print the posters. We began to run short, though, so I spoke to one of my congregants, Ed Apple, who owns Prince Frederick Graphics. I asked him for a price for reprinting, but he said he knew Alan Gross and gave us a gift. In addition, Gwen said she would find the money to print it, but I don't think it was needed. 

I donated this "Free Alan Gross" sign to the archives of the Jewish Historical Society to remind our community, now and in the future, of what we can accomplish together. Engagement with the government as well as asserting our rights to demonstrate as citizens are essential to finding a responsible resolution to a difficulty which otherwise might have been ignored or lost on someone's desk.

Q: Your leadership in this kind of advocacy work began long before the vigil in front of the Cuban embassy. How did your involvement with the vigils on behalf of Soviet Jewry, both in New York and in Washington, shape your tactics in Alan Gross's case? 

A: We learned from earlier demonstrations, including those for desegregating the New York City School system, and demonstrating for Soviet Jewry both in NYC and in Washington, D.C., that there were many good results. 

As a high school student, I marched in Harlem, and people applauded at the doors of their brownstone buildings. They were looking for a positive change. That was accomplished. When we demonstrated in Washington, D.C. opposite the Soviet Embassy, we demonstrated in silence. It was just the presence of demonstrators of every age group, from all walks of life, sent a message to those at the embassy. People who cared could be found at these vigils. Those who returned more than once, and those from our congregations and from the interfaith community. 

Once, in front of the Soviet Embassy, we sang the "Hush of Midnight," a contemporary S'lichot service prior to Rosh Hashanah, including the prayer Ashre -- "Happy are they who dwell in Thy house, they will ever praise Thy name." We sang Sh'ma Koleinu -- "Hear our Voice, accept our prayer in mercy, have mercy upon us." We sang Mi She'anah Avraham Avinu, Hu Ya'aneinu -- "May the One who answered Abraham, May that One answer us." After that day, we were asked not to sing anymore. Perhaps they were listening at the Embassy?  

We learned that there would always be individuals who said what we were doing was a waste of time and energy. We read such opinions in the press. Yet, I never believed that, as I saw us a community strengthened by these demonstrations. Everyone sought a way to express their concern. I made sure that my children, Josh and Michael, participated in the Soviet Jewry vigil, so that they could have that experience, continuing my experience and their grandparents' experience.

Read Rabbi Saltzman's memories of his involvement with the local Soviet Jewry movement.

In this recent situation, it was more difficult in that there was misinformation coming from some media originating from the Cuban government. That created some reluctance and doubt among some in the community who did not show up or discontinued their participation. From previous experience, I knew this could be a long process requiring persistence and belief that Alan Gross and his family had a spotless record of work and commitment to the Jewish community and humanitarian work. 

Q: The vigil that you lead was a critical part of a much larger effort. Where did it fit within the broader context of organizations and government institutions fighting for Alan Gross's release? 

A: Most importantly, this vigil gave Alan Gross himself the hope that people cared and were not going to let up. How does one keep sane for five years in a high security prison, while you're ill, losing weight, knowing of the emotional and physical deterioration of many loved ones at home, and unable to do anything about it? 

Our vigil let the Cubans know we were serious in our concern, and you know they recorded and taped us every time we were there, and their employees and diplomats exited the building as the sound of voices magnified by the bullhorn penetrated the walls of the building. Our vigil was seen by Cubans and people going to Cuba as they applied for visas across the street. This vigil let our government know that this was urgent – a priority that needed attention. We are citizens who spoke up for a fellow citizen who was not politically connected. 

The JCRC and Jewish Federation used their advocacy and connections to make this a priority in the halls of Congress. We coordinated with the JCRC and the Gross family's wishes and the requests of their legal representatives, and we tried to do what was helpful and supportive while their legal team worked other channels. A group of us from the vigil went to meet with a Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for South America and Cuba, Deputy Secretary of State Alex Lee, to express our concern, and inquire what else they were doing for Alan Gross and what else they thought we might do. 

At that meeting, I communicated that the message Alan Gross had done nothing wrong was getting lost in media coverage and that they had to find a way to correct that. Without that assurance that he was innocent, people were reluctant to act on his behalf. Shortly afterwards, there were news stories and statements steering the conversation back to where it needed to be - Alan Gross is in prison and needed to be freed. He had been sentenced unjustly. 

Q: Alan Gross's release came alongside a monumental breakthrough in U.S.-Cuban relations. How do you perceive your role and the role of the Washington-area Jewish community in contributing to this change? 

A: Our vigil to free Alan Gross was part of a much broader strategy to gain his release. For some it may be insignificant, but for those who participated, it has left an indelible impression. We used our right to demonstrate and assemble to good effect. We spoke out. We continued a time-honored American and Jewish tradition of not accepting the stern outcome as final, and we were determined to overcome this cruel and unjust imprisonment. 

Along the way, we discovered something we already knew from previous vigils like the one for Soviet Jewry: there is a community in more than name and it does not care which denomination you belong to. We had Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist, Renewal, and Humanistic Jews, Catholics and all participate in these vigils.

We found a caring community for Alan Gross and his family. We found people with Cuban roots, such as Carlos Lumpuy who translated my words into Spanish at the demonstrations. Students from the Hebrew Academy, BBYO, and public high schools joined us and brought our concerns back to their fellow classmates. Educational Directors brought the issue to their students. 

We established that even though it was difficult to park near the Cuban embassy, we could find parking, we could show up, and we could learn from each other. Some brought prayers recited by rabbis, some brought songs, sung by their cantors, some brought presence. Our message was Hineni! -- "I am here!" -- and willing to do whatever is necessary to resolve this matter, and to give thanks when it happens. We learned that it can be a lonely occupation to do this when you return every week.  

Q: Now that Alan has returned to the U.S., how do you suggest we preserve this story for future generations? What are the core lessons we need to ensure future generations learn from this story? 

A: The first lesson is one of religious and philosophical responsibility. As Pirkei Avot (Sayings of the Fathers) teaches, while we are not required to finish our efforts, we are not free from trying. Phyllis Margolius, Dr. Richard Morgenstein, and Daniel Mann joined us and believed in this, yet they did not live to see this wonderful day of Alan Gross's freedom.  

We learn that Pidyon Shvuyim, rescuing the hostage or captive, is the responsibility of the community and a great mitzvah. We learn that "to Save a Life, is to Save a World." We know that Alan Gross will not be the only person to be treated in this manner. Alan Gross can enjoy his life in freedom and rescuing one American gives us confidence that our government values its citizens and will do whatever is necessary to protect and defend them.  

Our government listened and responded to our concern and the concerns of the family of Alan Gross as articulated so eloquently by Judy Gross. Ultimately, President Barack Obama had to make the decision to do this, removing a stumbling block for a new day in Cuban-American relations. Alan Gross originally went to Cuba to help Cubans, and ironically, his unjust imprisonment and his being freed will result in helping Cubans by changing American policy.

Saving a good man who strongly identifies as both American and Jewish, whose first words to the public were "Chag Sam'e'ach" should give us something to ponder. The lesson of history is that we cannot be silent. Saving one man and participating in that cause gives us a reason to rejoice. There are times when good people need to know what is right and how to act on those beliefs. There are those who will minimize the relationship of our presence, and I do not want to exaggerate its importance either.