The JHSGW archives host a number of valuable historic documents that are part of our oldest materials. Among them is a Ketubah (wedding contract) that dates back to the Civil War and a German Reisepass (passport) originating from 1845. These records illustrate two very interesting stories of the Jewish community in the Washington area and have been used to document its history in many ways.
The papers weathered overseas travel, a war, and the fingerprints of quite a few generations, before they arrived at their final destination: our archives. Each of these events and the many people who had the papers in their hands left a mark in the form of tears, stains, and, well, schmutz.
While these “personal touches” may add to their charm and historic patina, they also threaten the documents’ preservation for future generations. Since we are building a new museum with a new exhibition showcasing our rich collection on Jewish life in greater Washington, we are eager to give some of our artifacts an extra polish. This way our visitors can enjoy them in all of their beauty.
That is why we booked a special treatment for these two historic documents:
Civil War Ketubah
This wedding contract ensured and outlined the responsibilities of the groom Henry Baum in relation to his bride Bettie Dreisfus. It dates back to November 6, 1862, a Thursday in the middle of the raging Civil War. The tumultuous and depriving time may have had an impact on the simplicity of the document. Sometimes, a Ketubah is beautifully decorated and illustrated; this certificate is kept pretty plain.
As you can see from the before picture, the paper showed tears, stains, and deep folds, and was held together by tape.
First, the conservator gently dry cleaned the front and the back of the document with a special eraser to reduce dirt on the surface. The fragile areas and the parts written with iron gall ink were avoided as to not damage the writing or worsen the tears. Afterwards, the document was vacuum cleaned to get all the eraser crumbs off. The tape had to disappear, too, so our conservator used a hot-air pencil and a micro-spatula to scrape it off the paper. The residual adhesive was then removed with a gum eraser.
But how did the fold-overs get ironed out? Our conservator locally humidified them with ethanol and then dried them under weights and in between polyester boards and blotter.
To stabilize the mends, Japanese paper was applied with a solution of ethanol-thinned Zen shofu wheat starch paste. This paste of highly refined wheat starch, imported from Japan, is a natural and pure material used for repairing paper. After that, the losses were filled with Golden Acrylic toned Japanese paper that resembles the tone of the original document.
In the end, the whole document was humidified in a special little chamber and eventually rehoused in an acid-free, buffered folder for long-term preservation.
Here you can see the results of the extensive and painstakingly executed treatment:
This conservation project was rendered possible through the generous support of Janet Cohen, whose donation provided expert treatment by Quarto Conservation in Bethesda, MD. Janet reached out to us after finding her ancestors’ wedding contract in our online exhibition Jewish life in Mr. Lincoln’s City.
Janet Cohen’s support resulted in another exciting development! Through last year’s #GivingTuesday, we raised enough money to treat the historic passport from the Behrend Family Collection.
This German passport granted merchant Bernhard Behrend permission to travel from his hometown Rodenberg near Hanover to Frankfurt. Today, this trip would take about four hours on the highway; for Behrend it must have been at least a day trip if not more. Since Germany as we know it today was at the time a conglomerate of independent states, principalities, and cities, travelers had to get formal documents to pass borders and enter different dominions.
See this month’s Curator's Catch to get more information about Bernhard Behrend and the purpose of his travel.
The before picture shows many surface damages, stains, and various discolored tapes that held the pieces of the document together.
The first step towards a fresh look was to clean the surface using a hake brush. Similar to the conservation treatment of the Ketubah, the tape was removed using a hot-air pencil and then a gum eraser. Since these tapes turned out to be a little bit trickier to remove, our conservator had to try a few rounds until they were completely resolved. Cotton swabs moistened with an ethanol-based formula addressed the specific needs of the tape residues. In addition, applying a special earth powder helped to reduce further stains.
Afterwards, the document was vacuumed cleaned to get the powder off the surface. Using the same technique as with the wedding contract, the mends were stabilized and losses were filled with Japanese paper and Zen shofu wheat starch paste. Our conservator toned the infills matching the color of the document, evened out the folds, and rehoused the precious document in a new acid-free archival folder.
All this effort resulted in this final restoration to the right. What a transformation!
Through the support of these donors, the passport shines again: Ellen and David Epstein, Elizabeth Stewart, Constance Heller, Leonard Goldberg, Susan Berson, and Past President Dr. Michael Goldstein. We are infinitely grateful for their generosity.
These encouraging improvements are just what our collection needed. Yet, there is still more work to be done to make our archives glisten. Check out our Archival Wish List to learn about our most urgent collection needs.
Accession Number: 1994.11.02
Donor: Amy Nordlinger Behrend Goldstein
Description: machine-typed copy of original letter, April 27, 1917
One hundred years ago, on April 27, 1917, Rudolph Behrend, a prominent member of the Jewish community in Washington, D.C., sent this letter to the White House offering farmland owned by his mother for the use by the U.S. Army. Only three weeks earlier, President Woodrow Wilson had declared war on Germany and the whole country was preparing to send troops to Europe.
Jewish Washingtonians joined forces and supported the war effort in many ways. Rudolph Behrend himself offered his volunteer services to the United States "in any capacity". His mother Sarah, at the time 64-years-old, did so in giving her son permission to offer her parcel of land, marked P186/1 on the map, to the government with "... no condition annexed to this donation, excepting that the tract of land be used in the interest of the United Government during the War period."
Just a day later, Behrend received a response from the White House. Our research is still ongoing whether the government in fact used the parcel for farming, accommodation, or the like. Yet the offer itself and the prompt presidential thank-you is a wonderful way to commemorate Jewish Washingtonians' engagement during World War I.
These letters are part of a bigger collection of one of the founding families of the Jewish community in Washington, D.C. The Behrend family arrived in the mid-19th century from Germany and settled as merchants on 7th Street. Some of their members were influential in the founding of the Adas Israel Congregation and our historic synagogue building.
Looking at a collection for the first time is like fishing in deep water; you dive into unknown depths and you never know what you're going to get. It's one of the most exciting things about working with a new collection.
I invite you to take a look at what caught my eye while exploring the Jewish Historical Society archives in my first year at the JHS.
- Christiane Bauer, Curator
Accession No.: 2017.01
Donor: Andrea Choobineh
Description: 40"x40" neon-tube store sign, ca. 1966
This flashy neon sign from a Jewish book store in Wheaton, MD dates back to the 1960s. Abe's Jewish Book and Gift Store was founded by Abe Jacovsky (1914-1972) and carried books as well as Judaica and Jewish memorabilia. It moved to Wheaton in 1968 from its original location on Kennedy Street, NW. With its catchy motto, the only Jewish bookstore in the area catered to individual customers, the local Hebrew schools, and in 1970 even received an order from the White House for two leather Torah reproductions.
Abe Jacovsky's granddaughter Andrea Choobineh donated this sign, the first addition to our collection this year. The first "curator's catch" of 2017 could not illuminate our message better: "If it's Jewish, we have it!" describes perfectly what the Jewish Historical Society and our future museum are about.
"The Milton S. Kronheim, Sr. Collection: Celebrity and Friendship"
By Margery Elsberg
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in JHSGW's journal, The Record, in 1999 in celebration of the donation of more than 400 photographs from Milton S. Kronheim, Sr.’s famed lunchroom walls to our archival collections, through the generosity of the Kronheim Family. We are sharing it today on the occassion of the anniversary of the end of Prohibition.
For more than a half-century, Milton S. Kronheim’s treasured photographs lined the walls of his company lunchroom, a testimony to his longevity and success. Row after row of famous likenesses ensured an air of celebrity and friendship, power and triumph. They made the room inviting and exciting, easy to fill with laughter and conversation.
And filled it was, day after day, week after week, decade after decade. From around 1928, when Mr. Kronheim was about 40, until a few years before he died in 1986 at the age of 97, this Washington legend hosted lunches for an extraordinary array of friends: presidents and diplomats, justices and judges, senators and congressmen, lawyers, doctors, businessmen and boxers—surrounded always by those fabulous photos.
President Harry Truman was there, on the wall and in the flesh. So was Chief Justice Earl Warren and Associate Justices Thurgood Marshall, William J. Brennan, Jr., William O. Douglas and Sandra Day O’Connor. U.S. District Court Judge John J. Sirica, who presided over the Watergate trials, was one of Mr. Kronheim’s oldest cronies. The two men had met during Prohibition, when Mr. Kronheim was a bail bondsman and John Sirica was a young lawyer. That was before Mr. Kronheim returned to his first career, selling wine and spirits to a capital city where social calendars are filled with diplomatic and lobbyists’ receptions.
Mr. Kronheim was born in his parents’ home at K and 4½ Streets, SW, in the midst of Washington’s Jewish community. Arena Stage and Waterside Mall help fill that neighborhood now. In 1903, when he was just 14, young Milton dropped out of Business High and opened his first liquor store at 3218 M Street, NW. Married to the former Meryl Goldsmith (the marriage ended in divorce), Mr. Kronheim had two children, Judge Milton Kronheim, Jr. and Judith Stahl. For the last third of his life, he lived at the Mayflower Hotel.
Except for the Prohibition years, Mr. Kronheim stayed in the liquor business—and remained a teetotaler—building the largest wholesale distributorship in the Washington-Baltimore area and amassing a fortune in money, friendships and influence.
Every Sunday, Milton Kronheim pitched for his baseball team, the Kronheim A.C. Bearcats, until his arm gave out when he was in his mid-eighties. He played handball well after that. He loved his city, was loyal to his friends, fought against racial and religious prejudice and shared his wealth with the poor.
Mr. Kronheim was a major supporter of the Democratic Party (he gave more than $100,000 to the Democrats the year Truman won the White House) as well as to the State of Israel, Georgetown University, St. John’s College High School and the Little Sisters of the Poor. As his photographs document, he was honored by the National Conference of Christians and Jews (now the National Conference for Community and Justice), Washington Hebrew Congregation, the Ancient Order of Hibernians and the Washington Knights of Columbus. For years, he served on the advisory council of the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith.
The Kronheim photographs are both a pictorial biography and a who’s who of Washington throughout most of the 20th century. The following pages contain a few of the thousands of photographs that lined the walls of the Milton S. Kronheim Company dining room on V Street in Northeast for so many years. That’s where the plastic chairs were stackable, the food was delicious but plain, and the host was Washington’s best.
During my interview for this internship, our program and outreach manager, Sam Abramson, mentioned that the Society’s historic synagogue – the Lillian & Albert Small Jewish Museum – would be closing its doors at the beginning of the summer in preparation for it to be moved a few blocks away as part of a new building project. When I began my internship a few months later, I was excited to see how this change would impact my summer with the Society. The museum’s upcoming move ultimately provided me with an exciting and unique experience that I can’t imagine getting anywhere else. Over the course of my internship, I have worked with every member of the Society’s small and dedicated staff on a wide range of projects, many (but not all) somehow relating to the synagogue’s move and the planning of the new museum.
I worked with Sam to create a brand new volunteer manual, reach out to schools about educational programs, and set up for the final events hosted in the historic synagogue before its closing. Earlier this summer, I helped Wendy Turman, our director of collections, update entries in our collections database to ensure that all of our holdings were accounted for as the archives were packed up. I later photographed professional movers as they wrapped up some of these items to move them to a storage facility. I spent time with our curator Christiane Bauer, conducting research for the new museum’s core exhibition. We went to the DC Library to research primary sources about an organization called Neighbors, Inc. We went through boxes of documents ranging from fliers for book fairs to invitations for luncheons with diplomats, looking for connections to D.C.’s Jewish community. Under Christiane’s supervision, I also undertook a major research project on the involvement of Jewish women in D.C. during the Civil Rights Movement. I eventually used some of this research to write a blog article (stay tuned!) discussing a few of the amazing women I’d learned about and asked readers for artifacts and interviews relating to their own experiences with the movement. With these projects and the other tasks I performed during my internship, I was able both to learn and to feel like I was making a meaningful contribution to the development of the new museum and its exhibitions.
Previously, most of my knowledge of the museum field came from classes and lectures. This summer, I’ve gained a deeper understanding of museum work with the help of a kind and supportive staff. As our collections were moved into storage, I was able to participate in and understand collections management at a new level as I tagged items with their accession numbers and watched as shelves of archival boxes were carefully marked and put into a truck. Sifting through piles of documents in the library and sitting in on meetings about plans for the new museum’s exhibitions allowed me to see the huge amount of work and planning that goes into content creation for museums. As I leave my internship I am excited to apply everything I’ve learned here to my studies and future work, and I am looking forward to staying in contact with the Society and one day walking through their new museum.
Rebecca Friedman is a rising senior at Johns Hopkins University, working on a B.A. in History with minors in Jewish Studies and The Program in Museums and Society.