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An Intern’s Perspective 0 Comment(s)

Stephen with President Grant at the original site of the 1876 synagogue during Grant's walk across the neighborhood

When you hear that an English major from Florida is interning at a local history organization, you may scratch your head at first, but it made perfect sense to me. When not studying the literary arts, I also minor in both museum studies and art history, eventually wanting to go into the museum field. Because of my previous work at my university’s fine arts museum, I feel I have a decent understanding of the “art” part of my minor, however, the “history” was sort of lost. At the Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington (JHSGW) I got to work with the personal history of DC area, while also learning about the day to day at a history museum.

One of my first projects was working with the resident curator, Christiane, and the collection’s reference files. I was given a large stack of photocopied documents, magazines, and newspaper articles to sort through, categorize, and organize. A daunting task for any, but through this work, I was able to familiarize myself with the Greater Washington area and learn about the challenges the community faces. While reviewing files, I came across a few articles about the changing social climate of Washington neighborhoods with the introduction of a larger millennial population. I brought both the subject and my personal experience seeing the gentrification in the city to Christiane’s attention and she set me out on a research project.

Glen Echo Protest, 1960

JHSGW Collections. Gift of Washington Jewish Week.

She introduced me to the amusement park, Glen Echo. Located on the Potomac River, this leisure destination opened in 1891 and later became a major player in the desegregation of the Washington area. It was in the summer of 1960 when students from Howard University’s Non-violent Action Group (NAG) joined forces with local activists in the Bannockburn neighborhood -- among them many Jewish residents -- to picket the discrimination at Glen Echo. These protests eventually caught the eye of Hyman Bookbinder, a prominent lobbyist in DC and a Bannockburn inhabitant, who both joined the picketing and brought the issue to the then-U.S. Attorney General, Robert Kennedy. With the help of both Bookbinder and Kennedy, the management of Glen Echo backed down and allowed their first African-American guests in the summer of 1961.

While my initial readings of the influx of the millennial population on the DC area were mostly negative in regards to gentrification, my personal research on Glen Echo showed me that newer generations can still make changes for the better in their neighborhoods – like the students of NAG and the residents of Bannockburn. It was my first major research project that allowed me to uncover the history of the area, instead of my usual literary and artistic analysis.

My other projects included working with the program and outreach manager, Samantha Abramson, experiencing some of the behind-the-scenes of the various summer events that JHSGW put on. My duties included writing emails to invited guests, distributing an educational packet for nearby schools, and even creating a press release for one of our biggest events this summer, the inaugural Evelyn Greenberg Preservation Awards. This type of work showed me the amount of time and effort that goes in to fully engaging with a museum’s audience.

Everyone at the office made me feel genuinely welcomed and were happy to see me every day of my internship, and would even include me in on staff meetings as if I was part of the team. These meetings were informative as I would see the beginning steps of designing and planning a future museum, while also learning about the other departments of the office. The meetings were one of my favorite things because of how much information I was absorbing. Although my time here was short, seeing JHSGW during its formative years of planning their new museum left an impact on me and, while I’m excited to see my future in the museum field, I also look forward towards theirs.

Stephen Biegel is a senior at Florida State University, working on a B.A. in English Literature with minors in Art History and Museum Studies.

Major Building Updates! 0 Comment(s)

Introducing the New Museum Exterior Concept!

SmithGroup JJR

We're thrilled to publicly debut the conceptual rendering for the exterior of the new museum by our architects SmithGroup JJR.

The facility will feature an airy lobby, multipurpose room, three exhibition galleries, office suite, and program spaces.

We look forward to sharing more with you! 

Major Progress on Capitol Crossing

In mid-June, Capitol Crossing, the $1.3-billion mixed-used project adjacent to the Lillian & Albert Small Museum, finished the highway deck on which the first of five planned buildings will be erected.

To celebrate this work, developer Property Group Partners released this time-lapse video of this phase of construction. Directly center and toward the back of the frame sits our historic synagogue, witness to the project.

In the coming months, the Lillian & Albert Small Jewish Museum will become more than just a witness, but rather a participant in the project. It will be picked up and moved to a temporary location for a few years until its new site at Third & F Streets, NW, is ready. We anticipate the first move will occur by the end of the year.

Preparing For The Synagogue Move

The chandelier coming down in the sanctuary

The first big step in the move of the Lillian & Albert Small Jewish Museum -- emptying the building -- is complete.

For seven days, a team specializing in relocating museum collections took great care packing the following into a truck:

  • 567 artifacts
  • 500 linear feet of archival documents, photographs, and scrapbooks
  • 153 oversized documents and photos in flat-file cases
  • 45 textiles
  • 6 original pews from Adas Israel, Ohev Sholom, Washington Hebrew, and Ohr Kodesh

As well as furnishings including:

  • 20 metal shelving units
  • 28 light fixtures
  • 6 reproduction pews
  • 2 custom-made museum-quality cabinets
  • 2 bimah chairs

All of these items are now stored by a museum-services company in a controlled-access vault in a secure facility with fire protection and 24/7 climate control. Our staff will be able to access and work with the collections at any time.

Taking down the plaques

Benches with blue blankets on them inside a cargo truck

Pews covered in protective blankets in the truck

*See More Photos*   Album 1 | Album 2

In honor of Immigrant Heritage Month 0 Comment(s)

Our collection includes very colorful range of objects immigrants brought with them when they came from to the United States. Learn the stories behind some of our most surprising and beautiful immigrant artifacts.

What objects couldn’t you leave behind?

An heirloom like this silver wedding cup is a precious object handed down from generation to generation. It is used during the wedding ceremony while the rabbi recites betrothal blessings.

Our cup was manufactured in Augsburg, Germany, in 1690, and brought to the U.S. by a family in the 19th century. They first moved to Philadelphia and then to Washington, D.C.

The cup was probably used in their descendants’ weddings and could have symbolized the connection to the old home and the founding of a new family in a new place.

Sisters Rose and Emma Auerbach grew up in Kishinev (in today's Moldova). Both immigrated in December 1905 and settled in Washington, D.C., where Emma worked as dressmaker and Rose as a seamstress.

This quilt was a wedding gift from Emma to Rose, who married Myer Dessoff before they came to Washington, D.C. Rose brought it with her on the long trip from Kishinev. The beautifully crafted quilt then decorated their new home on Fifth Street, NW.

This small prayer book (Hebrew on cover: Siddur Tefillah) fits perfectly in a pocket. In fact, this 2x3" book is a traveler’s siddur and accompanied the Litvin family on their way from Latvia in 1911. The family later joined Adas Israel Congregation in Washington, D.C. They likely used the book in the congregation's new synagogue at 6th & I Street, NW (today's Sixth & I Historic Synagogue)

As bulky as a samovar might be to bring on a long trip, Rachel Polakoff from Russia made sure that she could always brew traditional Russian tea in her new home country. Rachel came to Washington, D.C, in 1911 with her family and passed this keepsake down to her son Joseph who became one of the most acclaimed journalists in the Washington area.

Fannie Schindler Sager made her way from Lithuania to Maryland in 1893. We have quite a few objects from Fannie and her family in our collection, but the most astonishing one is this washboard. It came with her on her long journey from Europe. Among the few things she could pack in her bag, she chose this wooden household appliance. We can only guess why she wanted to bring it!

Some objects people brought with them to the United States were picked up along the way and tell us more about their trip and the route they took.

When Jacob Flint came from Russia to the U.S., his passport was wrapped in this cover. It is a promotional item that was distributed by the German travel agency Friedrich Missler in Bremen. This agency specialized in passage for emigrants from Poland and the Slavic countries to the U.S. and had many offices outside of Bremen.

Most probably, Jacob Flint was gifted this passport cover when he purchased a steamship ticket for his immigration to the U.S. via Bremerhaven (harbor of Bremen).

Learning About and Sharing D.C.‘s Jewish History 0 Comment(s)

Training to lead the walking tour of Arlington National Cemetery

In the spring of 2015, I started to volunteer with the Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington (JHSGW) to learn more about DC’s Jewish history and to receive hands-on experience in a Jewish historical institution that provides museum education. I helped with educational programs that included curriculum-based education in the Lillian & Albert Small Jewish Museum for students, as well as walking tours and educational programming for the public at large.

Now, in the spring of 2016, I’m nearing the official end of my internship with JHSGW. During my 20-hour-per-week internship, from January 2016 through May 31, 2016, my responsibilities in educational and public programming have expanded and I have received substantive work experiences in other facets of JHSGW's work. All of these experiences have prepared me for a future career in the history and museum world, and the internship combined well with my program in Experiential Education and Jewish Cultural Arts (EE/JCA) at The George Washington University.

One important facet of an educational walking tour is to connect participants with the environment and topography that is under study. My internship allowed me to utilize what I was learning in the EE/JCA program, receive guidance and mentorship from the JHSGW staff, and enhance my role as a public-facing educator. Some settings where I facilitated learning experiences for participants included the downtown walking tour in 7th Street, NW, area of Washington, DC, as well as tours of H Street, NE, and Arlington National Cemetery. The mentorship and classwork allowed me to deliver the best walking tour possible, as well as learn how to situate Jewish history in the broader context of DC history and related historical events.

In addition to presenting history, my internship also allowed me to help preserve history. One snowy January afternoon, I traveled to Arlington, Virginia, to meet Dr. Sholom Friedman and his daughter, Karen. While sitting in Dr. Friedman’s Public Shoe Store, which has recently closed, his answers to my questions covered his family’s arrival in the United States from Tsarist Russia, the beginning of Etz Hayim Congregation, and how consumer trends in the latter half of the 20th century affected what was bought and sold at Public Shoe Store. This oral history is now saved in the JHSGW collection.

I also added Washington Jewish Week articles about DC’s Jewish community to the archivists’ reference files, and I like to think of these articles and the oral history I conducted like the stops on the walking tours -- many sites on the walking tours were forgotten by the community for a long time. Today, however, hundreds of Hebrew school students, as well as visitors from all over the world of all different faiths and affiliations, come to JHSGW to learn and to retrace the steps of D.C.’s Jewish history.

And like the walking tour locations, perhaps one day, the articles or Dr. Friedman’s oral history will be used in an exhibit in JHSGW’s upcoming museum or used as part of a mosaic of sources in a groundbreaking study of the Washington, DC, area. Only time will tell how these sources will be used, but one thing has been clear from the first day that I volunteered -- JHSGW is an integral part of a network of academic, cultural and historical institutions in Washington, DC, that provide sophisticated programming that allows our community to be more historically and culturally literate. I’m proud to have been a part of it.

As an added bonus, JHSGW underwrote a pizza party for my last day!

Michael A. Morris is a Master’s student in Experiential Education and Jewish Cultural Arts at The George Washington University.

On the Road: Moving the Archives 0 Comment(s)

You've probably heard the historic synagogue is moving again -- but did you know the Society's archival collections need to move first? The collections will remain off-site for several years while the synagogue is relocated to its new home and we build our new museum facility.

How do you move an archive?

For the last several months, staff and volunteers have been conducting inventories, updating catalog records, preparing detailed condition reports and photographs of all the objects, and re-housing and packing collections in acid-free storage boxes.

What is moving?

More than 500 linear feet of archival documents, 500 historic artifacts, 5,000 photographs, 75 scrapbooks, and historic furnishings including stained glass windows, synagogue pews, light fixtures, and even the chandelier in the sanctuary will be moved out of the synagogue.

How will the collections be moved?

The collections will be packed by experienced art handlers and transported in a climate-controlled, air-ride truck.

Acid-free document boxes house the archival collections. The boxes will be placed in commercial bins lined with special archival foam for extra cushioning during transit, and then set on shelving in the storage facility.

Large items including historic pews and stained glass windows will be soft-packed using a combination of virgin polyethylene, cardboard, bubble wrap, and blankets.

Where will the collections be housed?

Collections Committee touring the off-site storage facility

A museum-services company will store the collections in their facility with museum-level security, fire protection, and 24/7 climate control. The collections will be kept in a controlled-access storage vault where our staff will be able to access and work with the collections at any time.

After visiting the facility earlier this year, Merrill Lavine, a museum registrar and Collections Committee member, reported, "I've worked with collections at several local fine arts companies and none of them are close to what this company offers in terms of professionalism, service, attention to detail, and personal pride in their business."

Will the archives be accessible to researchers?

The archives will be closed beginning May 10, 2016. Limited research service via telephone and email may be available in the next several months while we complete the move. We plan to re-open to researchers in September 2016, but anticipate that research requests will require several days advance notice to allow for retrieval of materials. Please check our website for updates.

Close-up of iron gate outside the historic synagogue

What will happen to the fence, our only outdoor collection item, that surrounds the synagogue?

Designed and built by Gichner Ironworks in 1975, the beautiful iron fence will be removed, restored, and a portion re-installed at the synagogue's eventual new site at 3rd and F Streets.

We're very excited to set this move in motion and progress along towards building our new museum!