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Voices of the Vigil: Highlights and Accomplishments 0 Comment(s)

Thank you for supporting Voices of the Vigil, our award-winning exhibition telling the story of D.C.’s Soviet Jewry movement. We’re pleased to share these accomplishments and highlights from its regional tour:

  • Nine venues throughout Washington, D.C., Maryland, and Virginia
  • American Association for State and Local History’s Leadership in History Award of Merit
  • Companion website -- including oral histories and memoirs, education curriculum, activist profiles, and slides -- that attracted more than 8,000 visits in less than two years
  • Accompanying catalog featuring memoir by Natan Sharansky and recollections of Ambassador Richard Schifter
  • 60 related archival donations between 2008 and 2014
  • Commissioned new multimedia performance by Robyn Helzner, performed four times
  • Support from 85 personal contributions, family foundations, congregations, and other community organizations — including Humanities DC grants and a special gift underwriting the Northern Virginia tour and a performance by Robyn Helzner

Exhibition venues between December 2013 and February 2016:

  1. Washington Hebrew Congregation, Washington, D.C.
    * Premiere featured Natan Sharansky; 250 attendees including City Councilmember Jack Evans
    * Open house featured former Congressmember Connie Morella
    * Lecture by renowned civil-liberties attorney Nathan Lewin on his related activities
    * Special visit by former Congressmember Michael Barnes
    * Three curator-led tours including one followed by discussion with two former activists
  2. Jewish Community Center of Greater Washington, Rockville, MD
    * Maryland premiere featured remarks by Ambassador Richard Schifter and performance by Robyn Helzner; 200 attendees including Senator Ben Cardin, Congressmember Chris Van Hollen, and County Executive Ike Leggett
    “Designing a Movement” talk with graphic designer Avy Ashery
    * Education programs for 175 students from Charles E. Smith Day School and Washington Hebrew Congregation
    * Five docent-led tours including a Russian ESOL class
  3. Adas Israel Congregation, Washington, D.C.
    * Performance by Robyn Helzner
  4. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library, Washington, D.C.
    * Hosted in honor of Jewish American Heritage Month
    * Curator-led tour
  5. Gesher Jewish Day School, Fairfax, VA {aside_1}
    * Participated in panel discussion 
  6. Agudas Achim Congregation, Alexandria, VA
    * Performance by Robyn Helzner
  7. Beth El Hebrew Congregation, Alexandria, VA
    * Curator-led adult education class
    * Curator-led school group
  8. B'nai Israel Congregation, Rockville, MD
    * Congregation organized seniors program and religious-school program
    * Participated in panel discussion
  9. Temple Rodef Shalom, Falls Church, VA
    * Congregation organized four-part series including performance by Robyn Helzner

New archives donation coincides with 30th anniversary of Natan Sharansky’s release 0 Comment(s)

At a panel discussion in conjunction with our travelling exhibition Voices of the Vigil at B'nai Israel Congregation last month, JHSGW Executive Director Laura Apelbaum met Bobbie Berger, who offered her an exciting new artifact for our collection. It is a commemorative photograph of the prisoner exchange on February 11, 1986, which is best known for the release of the dissident Natan Sharansky. After nine years in a Soviet prison, he walked over Glienicke Bridge from East to West Germany, and was brought to the U.S. Consulate in Frankfurt, and from there to Israel. He later became an official in the Israeli government and now serves as Chairman of the Executive of The Jewish Agency for Israel.

Commemorative photograph of Natan Sharansky’s release on Glienicke Bridge, Berlin, Germany, 1986

JHSGW Collections. Gift of Bobbie Berger.

The U.S. diplomat William Bodde Jr. was Consul General in Frankfurt at the time of Sharansky’s release. Bodde was involved in the prisoner exchange and met Sharansky on his arrival in Frankfurt. Later, U.S. Ambassador Richard Berg gave him this framed commemorative picture of Glienicke Bridge and an inset photograph of Sharansky walking over the bridge as a thank-you gift for working on the exchange.

Bodde later gave the commemorative picture to his close friend, Bobbie Berger. Now, we are delighted to receive it for our collection and excited to learn more about the object and event.

On the set: Angela Merkel enjoying a chat with director Steven Spielberg and actor Tom Hanks on Glienicke Bridge

Berlin, Germany, November 28, 2014

Bundesregierung/Bergmann

Glienicke Bridge was the setting for other Cold War East-West prisoner exchanges including the one depicted in the much acclaimed movie, Bridge of Spies. It’s still in the theaters, so plan on a movie night to learn more about this topic. While shooting the movie, Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg had a prominent visitor: German chancellor Angela Merkel came to see them on the original set of Glienicke Bridge. 

“Thanksgiving—A Holiday of Family and Foods” 0 Comment(s)

JHSGW Collections. Gift of Lenore & Sol Gnatt.

A 1975 cookbook published by the Jewish Community Center of Greater Washington, Jewish Creative Cooking: 200 Years of Jewish Cooking in American -- With Over 4000 Years of Heritage includes a section called "Thanksgiving Around Our Table." It may be surprising to find such a section in a Jewish cookbook, but the introduction by Marcia Weinberg makes the connection:

Thanksgiving - A Holiday of Family and Foods

In the autumn of 1621, the Pilgrims of Plymouth Colony, grateful for the year they had survived, held a festival to celebrate the harvest. These early settlers, very much influenced by the Old Testament, saw themselves as the Israelites of old establishing a "New Canaan", a Promised Land on American shores. In gratitude and thanksgiving they hearkened to Exodus 23 (14-16) to hold... "a Feast of Ingathering at the end of the year when you gather in the results of your work from the field." Of course, the Fest of Ingathering referred to in Exodus is the festival of Sukkot, thereby giving an early "Jewish flavor" to our oldest American holiday. In fact, the very day of Thanksgiving -- Thursday -- also has its roots in Jewish history. Monday, Thursday and the Sabbath were the days on which the Torah was read in Jewish tradition. The pilgrims followed the practice of using these same days for religious instruction and meeting. When a day for feasting and thanksgiving was declared, these early settlers decided on Thursday, since it was one of the days which already had religious significance.

And with that, here are a few Thanksgiving recipes compiled in 1975:

Page of Thanksgiving recipes

JHSGW Collections. Gift of Lenore & Sol Gnatt.

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

Object No.: 2015.16.1
Donor: Pati Jinich
Description: Three-legged, hammered pewter salsa bowl made in Taxco, Mexico, 1950s

Pati Jinich, host of the PBS cooking show, Pati’s Mexican Table, donated her grandmother’s pewter salsa bowl to our collection this summer. Although salsa is far from a traditional Jewish food, its mixture of tomatoes, peppers, onions, and spices is appropriate for the blend of cultures that characterize so many members of the Washington area’s Jewish community.

Pati Jinich with JHSGW Executive Director Laura Cohen Apelbaum following an oral history interview.

Jinich’s grandparents purchased a pair of these bowls in the Mexican town of Taxco, a center of Mexican silversmithing (Jinich still owns the second bowl). The hammered pewter bowl is covered with Mexican folk-art designs and images such as Quetzacoatl, the Aztec god. “They really admired the Mexican arts; this bowl shows the bridge of what it meant to be European silversmiths in Mexico,” Jinich commented during an oral history interview with JHSGW Executive Director Laura Apelbaum.

Jinich (pronounced HEE-nich) is the granddaughter of Jewish refugees from Eastern Europe, was born and raised in Mexico, and came to Washington 15 years ago after a stint in Dallas. She now lives in Chevy Chase, Maryland. 

“Food has always been a gigantic part of our family,” Jinich said. “My zeide had what was like a bed and breakfast in their tiny shtetl. All they ever had to eat were potatoes and herring. They were very creative with those foods.”

Jinich’s paternal grandfather left Poland as a teenager during the early 1920s and, with the United States having severely restricted immigration, he made his way to Mexico City where he started a textile business. Her paternal grandmother arrived as a young girl a few years later with her extended family.

“They didn’t have much money, but what they had they spent on a Shabbat feast on Friday nights,” Jinich said. “They made Ashkenazi food with Mexican flavors, which quite honestly improves it. Normally, Ashkenazi foods are mild. She would make gefilte fish [red snapper instead of the European pike] in a tomato sauce, which is delicious.”

Her maternal grandfather, who established a silver business in Mexico, came from Bratislava (now in Slovakia) during World War II. Her grandmother, a seamstress, left her home near Vienna  for New York before moving to Mexico. The two had originally met in Europe and then reconnected in Mexico. Most of their families died during the Holocaust.

“My parents’ families were so different,” Jinich said. “You could tell their personalities by their food.

“My father grew up in a hard-working, lower, middle-class family,” Jinich explained. “They cooked Ashkenazi foods like potato latkes and gribenes [chicken-skin cracklings] along with Mexican foods like corn tortillas and guacamole. She made her own challah and delicious chocolate babka, which is a different sort when you make it with Mexican vanilla, cinnamon, and chocolate. They enriched the food they brought [from Europe] with Mexican ingredients.”

“On my mother’s side, they were very refined,” Jinich continued. “They didn’t come from Eastern European peasants. They came from big cities. They were successful [in Mexico]. My grandmother was a phenomenal cook. She made all of the Austrian cakes, the cookies, the strudels, very elaborate dumplings, and goulash. She just made [a few] Jewish dishes like matzo ball soup. It was clear with small matzo balls with parsley and nutmeg. My bubbe’s matzo ball soup, the broth wasn’t clear. It had noodles and kreplach and gigantic matzo balls. They were both delicious, but very different styles.”

The offspring of those varied backgrounds met on vacation in Acapulco and were soon married. Jinich is the youngest of their four daughters.

“My mom grew up with a tutor for this and a tutor for that,” Jinich said.  “She spoke German and French in addition to Spanish and English. They sent her to finishing school. Then she met my dad and fell in love and [her parents] were like, ‘He doesn’t even know what an artichoke is! He’s never had a glass of wine. He doesn’t know much about classical music.’”

Jinich and her husband Danny, who grew up in Mexico City in a family that was more religiously observant than hers, met on a blind date. Her mother and his father had dated briefly.

After they were married, they agreed they would move to the U.S. for a couple of years. They cut their honeymoon short so that he could start a banking job in Dallas. While they lived in Texas, Jinich wrote her thesis on Mexican democratic institutions and consulted on a Mexican cooking show for the local PBS station while he traveled frequently. When her husband received a job offer in D.C., they visited Washington on Cherry Blossom weekend.

“Washington was so international -- there were so many things to do, the food was phenomenal, and the cherry blossoms were out,” recalled Jinich. “We thought maybe we would be here a year, but instead of moving back to Mexico, we ended up staying.”

Jinich enrolled in a graduate program at Georgetown while she was about to give birth to the second of her three sons. After obtaining her master’s in Latin American Studies, she went to work at a think tank.

“I had taken courses for cooking at home and a lot of friends asked me to teach them Mexican cooking, which I had done in Dallas,” Jinich said. “I loved cooking so much I decided to start write food articles and pitched them to magazines. I wanted to incorporate the politics and culture of my background -- more than just the recipes.”

Prodded by the Mexican Cultural Institute, Jinich secured the funding to underwrite a curriculum in Mexican cooking. Her classes were soon sold out and were written about in The Washington Post and The New York Times, which led to appearances on local television and then to her own PBS show.

“I’m doing what I was meant to be doing,” said Jinich, who has also taught Mexican-Jewish cooking classes at the Lubavitch Center. “I get a lot of emails from people looking for long-gone recipes of food that their grandmothers used to make. I feel like I’m helping build bridges and breaking myths about what Mexicans are and what Mexican food is.”

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.