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.
Here are the answers to the quiz we published earlier this week. Over 100 people participated in the quiz, with only a handful answering all eight questions correctly! Thank you so much for your responses, and enjoy learning about the relationships and experiences between U.S. presidents and Washington's Jewish community.
1. This U.S. president promised religious freedom and intolerance in a now famous letter to the Jews of Newport.
President George Washington issued a short but immensely important letter to the Hebrew Congregations of Newport, Rhode Island promising that this new government will give "to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance."
(Other answer options: Franklin D. Roosevelt and Thomas Jefferson)
2. Why was President Ulysses S. Grant's attendance at the dedication service for our historic synagogue (Original Adas Israel) in 1876 so significant?
President Ulysses S. Grant attended the dedication of the Adas Israel synagogue (now the Lillian & Albert Small Jewish Museum) on June 9, 1876. Grant remained for the entire three-hour service and gave a $10 donation to the synagogue building fund. During the Civil War, then General Grant had issued General Order 11, which expelled Jews "as a class" from the Department of Tennessee. Grant's attendance at Adas Israel may have served as an act of contrition.
(All of the above)
3. Which president spoke at the groundbreaking ceremony for the Jewish Community Center on 16th Street, NW?
President Calvin Coolidge addressed the crowd in 1925 and closed his remarks by saying, "As those who come and go shall gaze upon this civic landmark, may it be a constant reminder of the inspiring service that has been rendered to civilization by men and women of the Jewish faith."
(Other answer options: Woodrow Wilson and Warren G. Harding)
4. Who was the first Jewish candidate on a major-party presidential ticket?
Senator Joseph Lieberman, an Orthodox Jew who did not campaign on the Sabbath, was Senator Al Gore’s running mate in 2000.
(Other answer options: Jacob K. Javits and Abraham Ribicoff)
5. What enterprising Washington businessman provided lumber to build the inaugural stands for Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman, and Dwight D. Eisenhower?
Sidney Hechinger first donated lumber to build the inaugural platform in front of the Capitol in 1933. After the ceremonies, he dismantled the stand and sold pieces cut from the wood as inaugural souvenirs.
6. Which congregation is named in an Act signed into law by President Franklin Pierce that entitles Jewish congregations in Washington, D.C. to the same rights and privileges as churches?
President Franklin Pierce signed “An Act for the Benefit of the Hebrew Congregation in the city of Washington” on June 2, 1856. Washington Hebrew had petitioned Congress for legislation to ensure its right to own property in the city.
7. Which President sent his Jewish chiropodist (foot doctor) on a secret wartime peace mission?
Isachar Zacharie tended the feet of President Abraham Lincoln and several other Cabinet officials during the Civil War. In 1863 Lincoln sent him to Richmond to meet with Confederate Secretary of State Judah P. Benjamin to propose peace negotiations. The errand was unsuccessful.
(Other answer options: Theodore Roosevelt and James Monroe)
8. This prominent Jewish Washingtonian formed close relationships with every U.S. president from Abraham Lincoln to Woodrow Wilson, and was appointed Consul General to Egypt.
Simon Wolf's 1918 autobiography was aptly named Presidents I Have Known. For Wolf's 70th birthday, his daughter, Florence Gotthold, compiled three books filled with over 400 personal messages from leaders of the day -- including several presidents, politicians, authors, and supreme court justices!
(Other answer options: Alfred Mordechai and Bendiza Behrend)
Earlier this week, our friends at The Forward published a list of 10 facts about Jewish Washington, D.C. called "Of Goldie Hawn, Theater J and 8 Other Things About (Jewish) Washington D.C." We’re adding our hometown voice with ten things you might not know about Washington’s Jewish history.
1. Home to the Only Congressionally-Chartered Shul
1856: Washington Hebrew—the city’s first Jewish congregation—successfully petitioned Congress (then constitutionally responsible for D.C. law) for legislation ensuring its right to purchase property.
2. The Civil War Couldn’t Keep the Jewish Community Apart
1862: Because Civil War travel restrictions prevented Washingtonian Henry Baum from traveling to his bride, Virginian Bettie Dreifus’s home in Alexandria, the marriage took place in D.C.
20th Century: From hundreds of Jewish immigrant-owned "mom and pop" liquor stores to producer-distributor-powerbroker Milton Kronheim, Jewish Washingtonians have helped quench the thirsts of Washington’s denizens for over a century.
6. First Israeli Flag-Raising on Embassy Row
1948: President Harry Truman’s recognition of Israel’s independence on May 14, 1948, spurred hundreds to stream to Embassy Row to cheer and dance as the new state’s flag was first raised.
7. Ferris Bueller Actor Bar-Mitzvahed in Maryland Suburbs
1957: Years before Ben Stein became a speechwriter for President Nixon, an actor, and game show host, his family sent this invitation to celebrate his bar mitzvah at the Montgomery County Jewish Community Center (today’s Ohr Kodesh Congregation) in Chevy Chase, Maryland.
8. The Beatles’ First U.S. Concert
1964: Washington Coliseum owner Harry Lynn hosted the "Fab Four" for their first U.S. concert on February 11, 1964, the day after the band's roaring introduction on the Ed Sullivan Show.
9. Eruv Encloses All Three Branches of the Federal Government
Today: Built in 1876, the historic Adas Israel synagogue was saved from demolition in 1969 by moving it three city blocks, where it now stands as the Lillian & Albert Small Jewish Museum. The synagogue will move again: once to a temporary location, and finally to the corner of 3rd and F Streets, NW, where it will be the focal point for the Society’s new Jewish museum;
This morning, President Barack Obama spoke at Adas Israel Congregation in Washington, D.C. in celebration of Jewish American Heritage Month. Watch the speech in its entirety.
U.S. presidents have participated in the affairs of the Washington Jewish community since the founding of Washington’s first congregation. Indeed, President Obama is the second president to visit Adas Israel’s synagogue; the first was President Ulysses S. Grant in 1876! The following timeline features some of those presidential connections with Washington’s Jewish community.
Have a story of a national leader’s visit to your synagogue? Tell us about it at firstname.lastname@example.org.
1856: President Franklin Pierce signed “An Act for the Benefit of the Hebrew Congregation in the city of Washington”, which ensured the right for Jews to purchase land for a synagogue in the District of Columbia. With this act, Washington Hebrew Congregation became the only congregation in the country with a Congressional charter.
1876: President Ulysses S. Grant became the first U.S. president to attend synagogue services when he attended the dedication of Adas Israel Synagogue at 6th & G Streets, NW. Grant stayed for the entire three-hour service and made a subsequent gift of $10 to the building fund. Learn more about President Grant’s visit to the synagogue and Ulysses S. Grant’s notorious General Orders No. 11 issued during the Civil War.
1898: President William McKinley attended the cornerstone laying of Washington Hebrew Congregation at 8th & I Streets, NW, attended by over 3,000 people. Learn more about Washington’s earliest synagogues.
1925: President Calvin Coolidge spoke during the cornerstone-laying ceremony of the Jewish Community Center at 16th & Q Streets, NW.
1926: Orthodox Zionists met with President Calvin Coolidge at the White House.
1930: The first issue of the National Jewish Ledger (now called Washington Jewish Week), featured a Rosh Hashanah message to Washington Jews from President Herbert Hoover. Explore Jewish Washington in the 1930s.
1952: President Harry Truman attended the cornerstone-laying ceremony for Washington Hebrew Congregation’s new building at Massachusetts & Macomb Streets, NW.
1955: President Dwight D. Eisenhower spoke at the dedication of Washington Hebrew’s new synagogue. During his speech, President Eisenhower mused that it is incumbent upon his office that he should attend “such a great and significant event in the lives of one part of the great faiths that have made this country what it is, to pay his respects to that faith and to this event and to the people who have made it possible.” Read President Eisenhower’s entire dedication speech.
1983: President Ronald Reagan visited a Hanukkah celebration and met with Soviet Jewish emigres at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Washington in Rockville, Maryland. During the visit, President Reagan remarked, “To every religious dissident trapped in this cold and cruel land, let us pray that the warm lights of Hanukkah will spread out the spirit of freedom and comfort and sustain every person who is suffering tonight.” Read President Reagan’s complete speech. Learn more about the Washington area's movement to free Soviet Jewry.
2005: President George W. Bush visited the Sixth & I Historic Synagogue just prior to a major event celebrating 350 years of Jewish life in North America. Read President Bush’s remarks.
2011: Former President Bill Clinton visited the Sixth & I Historic Synagogue for a wedding. Read about the visit in The Washington Post.
Here are the answers to the quiz we published last week. There were 146 quiz takers and 20 got all the answers correct! Based on the responses, questions 3, 4, and 7 were easiest, while questions 1 and 5 were trickiest. We hope you learn something about the presidents' relationship and experiences with D.C.'s Jewish community.
1. Who was the first president to attend synagogue services in the United States?
2. Which president spoke at the groundbreaking ceremony for the Jewish Community Center on 16th Street, NW?
President Calvin Coolidge addressed the crowd in 1925 and closed his remarks by saying, "As those who come and go shall gaze upon this civic landmark, may it be a constant reminder of the inspiring service that has been rendered to civilization by men and women of the Jewish faith." (Other answer options: Woodrow Wilson and Warren G. Harding)
3. Who was the first Jewish candidate on a major-party presidential ticket?
Senator Joseph Lieberman, an Orthodox Jew who did not campaign on the Sabbath, was Senator Al Gore’s running mate in 2000. (Other answer options: Jacob K. Javits and Abraham Ribicoff)
4. What enterprising Washington businessman provided lumber to build the inaugural stands for Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman, and Dwight D. Eisenhower?
Sidney Hechinger first donated lumber to build the inaugural platform in front of the Capitol in 1933. After the ceremonies, he dismantled the stand and sold pieces cut from the wood as inaugural souvenirs. (Other answer options: Alexander Hecht and Max Lansburgh)
5. Which congregation is named in an Act signed into law by President Franklin Pierce that entitles Jewish congregations in Washington, D.C. to the same rights and privileges as churches?
President Franklin Pierce signed “An Act for the Benefit of the Hebrew Congregation in the city of Washington” on June 2, 1856. Washington Hebrew had petitioned Congress for legislation to ensure its right to own property in the city. (Other answer options: Adas Israel Congregation and Kesher Israel)
6. Which President sent his Jewish chiropodist (foot doctor) on a secret wartime peace mission?
Isachar Zacharie tended the feet of President Abraham Lincoln and several other Cabinet officials during the Civil War. In 1863 Lincoln sent him to Richmond to meet with Confederate Secretary of State Judah P. Benjamin to propose peace negotiations. The errand was unsuccessful. (Other answer options: Theodore Roosevelt and James Monroe)
7. Which native Washingtonian received hate mail when President Lyndon B. Johnson appointed him head of the Internal Revenue Service?
President Johnson appointed Sheldon S. Cohen General Counsel of the IRS in 1963 and later Commissioner of the IRS, a post he held through the end of Johnson’s term in early 1969. (Other answer options: Simon Wolf and Gilbert Hahn)