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

Accession No.: 2013.40
Donor: Ohev Sholom: The National Synagogue
Description: This symbol was posted prominently in businesses selling kosher food throughout the D.C. area. Below the “KOSHER” in Latin characters is a stylized Hebrew “kosher,” reminiscent of a menorah. If something is kosher, it is ritually fit for consumption by Jews according to Jewish dietary laws called kashrut. The supervision of kashrut is calledhashgacha in Hebrew.

Though packaged kosher food is ubiquitous in supermarkets today, fresh kosher meat and dairy usually fall under the supervision of a local organization composed of rabbis and food-production experts. A system for community-wide certification of kosher food – in particular meat – grew as the Jewish community grew.

For decades in the Washington, D.C. area, the preeminent rabbinical authority overseeing kashrut has been the Rabbinical Council of Greater Washington. The Council oversees bakeries, butchers, caterers, hotels, restaurants, and other establishments. In the 1960s, the still-young Rabbinical Council created this symbol to be visible in establishments under its supervision. Yet, the story of kashrut in D.C. started much earlier. The evolution of the Rabbinical Council’s kosher supervision reflects the growth of the area’s Jewish community.

Beginnings

Washington was home to as many as six kosher restaurants during the Civil War, but only a few shochets (ritual slaughterers) attended to Washington’s Jewish community by the turn of the 20th century. Most served a particular congregation. Simon Mundheim, who arrived in Washington with his wife and daughter in 1863, oversaw kosher meat production for Washington Hebrew Congregation and later Adas Israel Congregation. In 1897, Congregation Ohev Sholom, with mostly Russian and Eastern European Jewish immigrants, subsidized its religious school by charging an extra half cent per pound of kosher meat.

In 1901, there were two shochets on Seventh Street, NW, and one in the 4½ Street, SW, neighborhood. Also, in Center Market, where the National Archives stands today, a butcher sold kosher and non-kosher meat from the same table. In 1907, in the midst of an influx of east European Jews, the Agudas Hakehilot (Combined Congregations) was founded to oversee all aspects of Orthodox life in Washington, D.C., including production of kosher meat.

Within a few years, though, the Agudas Hakehilot’s authority came to be contested by the shochets whose work it oversaw. The organization mandated from which companies butchers could buy their meat, which inflated meat prices. The Agudas Hakehilot declared any meat from outside of the area – notably cheaper meat from Baltimore – as “alien meat” and non-kosher. Additionally, insufficient supervision of shochets led to a series of financial and health department scandals in the 1920s and 1930s.

In the face of high prices for their supplies, several kosher butchers in D.C. created the Boser Kosher (Kosher Meat) Association to collectively negotiate prices with the Agudas Hakehilot. In his memoir, Forty Years in Washington, Moshe Alex describes how the possibility of the Boser Kosher shochets turning to religious authorities in Baltimore to oversee kosher meat in D.C. convinced the Agudas Hakehilot to negotiate with the Kosher Boser Association to cap meat prices and expand the number of suppliers.

Kosher supervision poster from Agudas Hakehilot of Washington, D.C., 1962

JHSGW Collections

The Growth of the Rabbinical Council’s Kosher Supervision

Rapid expansion of Washington’s Jewish population from the late 1920s through 1940s led to the establishment of new kosher butcheries, delicatessens, and restaurants throughout the city. One of the better known examples was Hofberg’s, a kosher delicatessen that opened in 1928 on Kennedy Street, NW, and became a popular hangout for Jewish teens.

In the early 1940s, to improve its oversight of the expanding kosher meat production sector, the Agudas Hakehilot began employing kosher butchers directly or subsidized their salaries. Usually these butchers worked in small butcher shops located near Orthodox communities in Northwest D.C. Many of these shops were located on upper Georgia Avenue, NW, as this kosher supervision poster illustrates.

Advertisement for Rabbinical Council indicating the three butchers that it supervised, 1966

JHSGW Collections

The Agudas Hakehilotexpanded its purview as the Washington area’s Jewish population spread to suburban Maryland and northern Virginia in the 1950s and later. In the early-1960s, the organization changed its name to the Rabbinical Council and Combined Congregations of Greater Washington. The Rabbinical Council supervised only a few stores during this period, most of which were in D.C., according to this advertisement from 1966.

As the D.C. area’s Jewish community expanded, so too did the kosher supervision of the Rabbinical Council of Greater Washington. Today, it is the largest organization overseeing kashrut in the area.

Notice of Kosher certification revocation for Falkland Meat Market, 1960s

JHSGW Collections

Since the 1960s, observance of kosher dietary laws has expanded in the Washington area. A 2003 demographic survey of the Washington-area Jewish community found that 12% of the area’s Jewish population kept kosher homes, a substantial increase from 20 years earlier. Kosher markets and restaurants developed throughout suburban Maryland and northern Virginia. Most kosher institutions within D.C. closed as Jewish communities grew outside of the city after the 1950s. The handful of kosher ventures that have appeared in D.C. in recent years often have struggled to find a regular clientele.

Like most Jewish communities, a variety of independent kashrutorganizations and Mashgiachs (Kosher overseers) offer kosher supervisory services. For example, in February 2015, a council of local Orthodox pulpit clergy from suburban Maryland and northwest D.C. formed the Beltway Vaad, in part to provide kosher certification to area restaurants. The organization’s website recognizes that the Rabbinical Council of Greater Washington “serves as a primary kashrut organization” for the D.C. region.  

Alongside the Rabbinical Council, the Beltway Vaad and similar organizations are part of an evolving story of the Jewish community and Jewish life in the Washington, D.C. region. Whenever you see a kashrut symbol, keep in mind its part in the Jewish community’s much longer history.

 

Further Reading: Learn more about the 1902 kosher meat boycott in New York, which set the stage for Boser Kosher Association.

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This is the kind of story that you will encounter in the Society’s future museum showcasing the Washington region’s Jewish life and heritage.

Do you have a unique story about Washington’s history of kashrut? Tell us about it at info@jhsgw.org.

Object of the Month: December 2014 0 Comment(s)

Interior of Friendship grocery, ca. 1950s.

Accession No. 2014.33
Donor: Ronald S. Levine
Description: Collection of photographs documenting Friendship Deli, 4932 Wisconsin Avenue, NW, mid-1940s-1950s.

This December, will you join the collective shopping frenzy around Friendship Heights? As you meander past bustling shopping malls and boutiques, remember the neighborhood's quieter past as a home to small, mom-and-pop businesses. One of those businesses was a grocery and later a luncheonette called ‘Friendship.'

Herman Levine opened Friendship grocery shortly after the Second World War, in a small, two-story building at 4932 Wisconsin Avenue, NW, between Fessenden and Ellicott Streets. Like many mom-and-pop groceries, the store was on the first floor, and the family lived in an apartment on the second floor. "It was a typical mom-and-pop store," remembers Herman Levine's son Ron who, with his older sister Maxine, spent part of his childhood living ‘above the store.' "It was open 7 days a week, from 7:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. And my mother worked in the store, but would run upstairs to fix lunch and meals, and then go back to the store." Levine remembers being called home from school to help. "They would call the principal who would come into my classroom, and I knew that someone didn't show up for work that day." Herman usually took off Monday afternoons, and he and Ron would fish near the current site of the Kennedy Center.

Herman, Lillian, and Maxine Levine in front of Friendship grocery, ca. 1940s

From its beginnings, Friendship was a family affair. Levine, who was born in Brooklyn, NY, served as an airplane mechanic in Hawaii during the war and spent some time training in D.C. He met his wife, Lillian Furash, while staying at a boarding house for government workers on Nebraska Avenue, which Lillain's family owned. Lillian was born in Washington to immigrant parents originally from Pinsk, Russia. Shortly after the war, Herman and Lillian married. Lillian's father Jacob urged Herman to go into business, and helped him establish the grocery.

Friendship grocery was nestled within a strip of shops owned by Jewish, Greek, and Italian families. "The Kahn family ran a shoe store down the street," recalls Ron Levine. "Next to my father's store was a barber shop, and that was an Italian family. The toy store was next door, and next to them were Henry and Rose Greenbaum, and they had three kids. They lived above the shop, and were in business with Henry's brother. Both were survivors of Auschwitz. Next to them was a Greek florist. All of their children would run into each other's stores, and all of our parents watched us. On summer evenings we'd all be sitting out on Wisconsin Avenue and get together and talk. Our fathers were, of course, still in the businesses, still working."

Children whose parents owned stores adjacent to Friendship grocery
on the 4900 block of Wisconsin Ave, NW, ca. 1950s

Herman Levine and patron at Friendship when it was a grocery, ca. 1950s

In the early 1950s, a Safeway supermarket opened on the next block (it's still there). Unable to compete, Levine converted the grocery into the Friendship Delicatessen, a luncheonette that served breakfast and ‘kosher-inspired' sandwiches. Friendship Delicatessen offered signature items, including a version of a familiar D.C. favorite of the time. "Hot Shoppes came out with the Mighty Mo," recalls Ron, "and my dad came out with the Mighty Hy – because his nickname was Hy," short for his Yiddish name, Hyman. "It was a triple burger," similar to the Mighty Mo.

The Friendship Delicatessen flourished. Most of its regulars worked nearby at the WTTG (Channel 5) and WRC (Channel 4) studios, as well as at other offices and stores along Wisconsin Avenue. Within a few years, the family could afford to move to a house. They purchased and remodeled Lillian's childhood home on Nebraska Avenue – the same house where Herman and Lillian met.

"Once my dad changed the business to a deli, he worked Monday through Friday, and then closed up on the weekends," remembers Ron Levine. "After about 15 years, he had his weekends off." No longer needing to man the store on Saturdays and Sundays, Herman followed his passion for fishing. He purchased several progressively larger boats, which the family would take for deep-sea fishing excursions.

Herman retired in 1977 and sold his business. Similar to other Jewish Washingtonians, the Levines' mom-and-pop business helped the family to settle and prosper. The Levines and the Furashes live in the D.C. area.

Today, 4932 Wisconsin Avenue, NW, is home to the National Diving Center, which outfits SCUBA diving enthusiasts. The block continues to reflect the city's ethnic diversity, with Chinese, Thai, Mexican, French, and pizza restaurants, in addition to a bank, yoga studio, and pet groomer.

Note from Beatles’ First U.S. Concert Unearthed on Eve of Show’s 50th Anniversary 0 Comment(s)

Braving a freezing snowstorm the night of February 11, 1964, thousands of fans streamed to the Washington Coliseum to see the Beatles perform their first concert in the United States. The venue's owner, Harry Lynn (1916-2006), kept a promotional photo of the "Fab Four," which he included in voluminous scrapbooks, added just this week to the Society's collection.

The Beatles!

Gift of John Lynn. JHSGW Collections.

 On the eve of the 50th anniversary of the concert, JHSGW archivists have discovered a personal note on the back of this photo, written to Lynn and signed by the band.

Sometime along the way, however, this photo, along with dozens of other photos and notes given to Lynn over the years, was glued on to rigid board. The note and signatures are visible as mirrored indentations made by the pen.

Removing the board and the glue adhering it poses a difficult preservation and conservation problem. However, picking out the note will be possible with specialized imaging equipment, which the Smithsonian's Museum Conservation Institute will provide to assist JHSGW next week.

Harry Lynn

Gift of John Lynn. JHSGW Collections.

As the city and country gear up to celebrate 50 years of Beatlemania in the U.S., JHSGW is adding to that story. The recent donation of Harry Lynn's Washington Coliseum scrapbooks, contributed by his son John and facilitated by JHSGW president Sam Brylawski, will be our February Object of the Month. They will reveal even more of our city's fascinating part in one of the last century's most important cultural movements.

LEARN MORE!

Object of the Month: December 2013 0 Comment(s)

Object No.: 2006.3.1
Donor: Stephanie Silverstein
Description: Menu from Comet Liquor and Deli, 1815 Columbia Road, NW, 1990s.
 
 

Fisher Photography

Do you remember Comet Liquors in Adams Morgan on Columbia Road between 18th and 19th Streets? It had a distinctive neon sign. Most who remember the business don't realize it was opened by a Jewish immigrant in 1940 and continued to be Jewish-owned throughout its existence.
 
When Oscar Gildenhorn opened Comet Liquor in 1940, the neighborhood was not yet called Adams Morgan. The name had caught on by the time Gildenhorn's son-in-law Howard Speisman took over management 25 years later. Sidney Drazin bought Comet in 1980. Drazin, a native Washingtonian, had served in World War II and then run a few different businesses before buying Comet.
 
In 1989, as neighborhood demographics changed, Drazin added a deli counter. Earlier in the 20th century, it was common for Jewish grocers in Washington to move into the liquor business, but now, a few decades later, a liquor man was adding food to his business.
 
Shortly after this change, Drazin (seen left) brought in a chair so he could sit while at work. He quickly found that customers wanted to sit and chat, so he set up a table and a few chairs by the entrance. These extra pieces of furniture changed the atmosphere of the store. The Washington Post wrote that Comet became a "kind of plastic-chaired neighborhood salon." Regulars came from all walks of life – from blue-collar workers to investment bankers – and they sat around the table to socialize and debate. Drazin was a popular neighborhood personality. One regular told the Post that "Sid was the surrogate parent to all the lost souls of Adams Morgan, all the single people who needed a confidence boost."
 
When Drazin died in 2005, in a show of community affection, Rabbi Ethan Seidel's eulogy ran in The InTowner newspaper. Drazin's widow Bernice shut Comet while the family sat shiva, and a shrine of flowers and cards grew outside the door. After running the store for a few months, Bernice decided to close Comet permanently. The above menu highlights the deli offerings at the time – with whitefish salad and lox served on a bagel hinting at the Jewish ownership.
 
Drazin's niece, Stephanie Silverstein, who worked for the Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington at the time, alerted the Society's archivists to the impending loss of Comet's historic materials. JHSGW staff embarked on a rescue mission to document the business – Jewish-owned for 60 years. We arranged for a professional photographer to take exterior and interior photographs before the store closed. The iconic neon sign was purchased by a local restaurateur and now hangs at his restaurant, Comet Ping Pong on Connecticut Avenue, NW.
 
This year, in conjunction with the Jewish Food Experience, our Objects of the Month feature DC's rich Jewish food history. For stories about this history and the latest on the local Jewish food scene – recipes, restaurants, chefs, events, and volunteer opportunities – visit jewishfoodexperience.com.

Object of the Month: September 2013 0 Comment(s)

Accession No.: 1995.16
Donor: Ruth and Vivian Weinstein
Description: Two grabbers, made of wood and metal, each stand 50" tall.

In the 1960s, Ruth and Vivian Weinstein took over Harry's Market, their parents' cornerstore in Mount Rainer, Maryland. They were among the few women who owned and ran a "mom and pop" store. Traditionally, women helped their husbands and fathers wait on customers and keep the shop's books. Rarely were they sole proprietors or shop managers.

Vivian and Ruth's parents, Leah and Harry Weinstein, had opened Harry's Market in 1924. They were among the hundreds of Jewish immigrants who opened "mom and pop" grocery stores in all four quadrants of Washington, D.C., as well as the Maryland and Virginia suburbs.

The grocery business was popular with immigrants because it required little start-up capital and minimal knowledge of English. In fact, many grocers learned English by reading can labels in their stores.

Receipt books from Harry's Meat Market, early 1930s. Each book tracks the account of one customer or household.

JHSGW Collections. Gift of Ruth and Vivian Weinstein.

These Jewish merchants lived above or behind the shop and ran out to assist customers who rang the bell. Sidney Hais remembered, "In those days, you waited on each individual customer. There was no such thing as self-service… It was exhausting." Grabbers such as the ones pictured here were used to reach cans and other items from high shelves.

The Weinsteins were part of District Grocery Stores (DGS), which provided cooperative buying power and a means to fight discrimination from non-Jewish wholesalers. Explained by Jenna Weissman Joselit in The Forward, "At once indispensable and taken for granted, the grocery store owner sought out the company of other grocers. Banding together, they formed trade associations that not only expanded their purchasing power, but also provided opportunities for socializing and for exchanging ideas."

Weinstein sisters, Vivian and Ruth, in front of their store, mid-1990s. 

JHSGW Collections. Gift of Ruth and Vivian Weinstein.

The era of mom-and-pop grocery stores started declining with the end of Prohibition in 1933, the movement of population from the city to the suburbs in the late 1940s and 1950s and the introduction of self-service supermarkets. Harry's Meat Market was one of the last Jewish-owned mom-and-pop grocery stores in the Washington area. The Weinsteins' sisters ran the store until 1996.

To learn more about mom-and-pop grocery stores in Washington, D.C., visit our online exhibition, Half a Day on Sunday!

This year, in conjunction with the Jewish Food Experience, our Objects of the Month feature DC's rich Jewish food history. For stories about this history and the latest on the local Jewish food scene – recipes, restaurants, chefs, events, and volunteer opportunities – visit jewishfoodexperience.com.