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Pop Quiz: U.S. Presidents and Washington’s Jewish Community 0 Comment(s)

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.

(Other answer options: Alexander Hecht and Max Lansburgh)

 

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.

(Other answer options: Adas Israel Congregation and Kesher Israel)

 

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)

On the Occasion of Yitzhak Rabin’s 20th Yahrzeit 0 Comment(s)

Just before Yitzhak Rabin left Washington, Adas Israel Congregation honored him with the Shem Tov Award. The Congregation has presented the award annually since 1964 to members whose actions reflect the cardinal virtues of Judaism: justice, mercy, humility, and charity. Yitzhak Rabin and his wife, Leah, posed with Rabbi Stanley Rabinowitz in front of the Shem Tov Award in January 1973. 

Courtesy of Adas Israel Congregation. Photograph by Mel Chamowitz.

In Memory of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin
By Rabbi Stanley Rabinowitz

Editor's Note: The fallowing eulogy, previously published in the 1995 issue of The Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington’s journal, The Record, was delivered by Rabbi Stanley Rabinowitz during the memorial service held at Adas Israel Congregation the evening after Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin's funeral, November 6, 1995. More than 3,000 Washingtonians, Jews and non-Jews alike, attended the service. When the 1,500 seat sanctuary was filled, the crowd poured into adjoining social halls and out onto the steps of the synagogue. At the conclusion of the service, yahrzeit (memorial) candles were distributed. As the crowd stood and sang songs on the steps outside, hundreds of flames from the candles could be seen flickering in remembrance of Yitzhak Rabin. The service was organized by the United Jewish Appeal Federation of Greater Washington (now The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington).

This has been an incredible, emotionally draining day of mourning and tribute. The television screen has linked much of the world together in a single network as though we were one family, all tuned to the same channel in hope of finding solace, only to find the horizon dimmed by the grey tint of despondency. Even though the electronic media gave us the opportunity to enter into the hearts of a bereaved family and nation, we have come here tonight because we require a more personal form of comfort. In reciting the mourning prayers together, there is a measure of comfort.

That so many of this morning's eulogists stressed the multifaceted personality of Prime Minister Rabin only serves to illustrate the aptness of the rabbinic insight that every person has three names: one bestowed by his parents, a second name that he acquires by his own achievements in his lifetime, and a third name ascribed to him by his friends after his death. Many biographies have already delineated the noble name bestowed by his parents; his achievements have been glowingly described in the press and do not require my additions.

It would seem appropriate, however, to ponder the name history will give him; it is a persona that describes Yitzhak Rabin as a soldier, a diplomat, and a statesman. These three attributes do not do justice to his name.

As a soldier, he was a reluctant warrior; as a diplomat, he shunned pomposity and ceremony; as a statesman, he demanded not words but deeds. More accurate was the portrait depicted this morning by his granddaughter, Noa Ben Artzi, who portrayed him so movingly as a loving and sensitive grandfather, father, and husband, whose caressing hand and warm smile she will miss.

Those who knew him from his life in Washington will recall t hose attributes and mourn him as one would a friend.

Yitzhak Rabin came to Washington as his country's ambassador in 1968 after his miraculous victory in the Six Day War. We were honored that he and Leah made the Adas Israel Congregation their synagogue, though of course they were welcomed in every synagogue and church in the land.

Leah and Yitzhak's son, Yuval, this tall, handsome, and sturdy young man who recited the kaddish so movingly this morning, marked his becoming a bar mitzvah on this pulpit.

The recollection of that bar mitzvah impelled me to seek out the particular haftorah that he had chanted. It was from the prophet Zechariah and contained that marvelously prophetic line, "Blockade shall no longer exist, and Jerusalem will dwell in safety."

The year was 1968.

In September 1969, Ambassador Rabin accompanied Prime Minister Golda Meir to Adas Israel Congregation for the Bar Mitzvah of Gideon Argov, son of Shlomo Argov, an official from the Israeli Embassy and later Israel’s Ambassador to England.

Front from left: Rabbi Stanley Rabinowitz, Ambassador Rabin, Prime Minister Meir, and Simcha Dinitz, later Israel's Ambassador to the United States.

Courtesy of Adas Israel Congregation. Photograph by Mel Chamowitz.

Rabin was not a stranger to the synagogue, though he would complain that one reason he didn't attend more frequently was that every time he attended, he had to accept an aliyah to the Torah. The problem with that was that he insisted on reading his own Torah portion. And one day, pausing for a moment, he exclaimed, "There is a mistake here!" We had never noticed it. (We had to interrupt the service in order to bring a replacement scroll, for it is forbidden to use a defective scroll in religious worship.)

Newspapers today and yesterday wrote that Yitzhak Rabin projected a stern image: grim, unsmiling, and sometimes dour.

But as Noa testified and as his friends know, nothing could be further from the truth. He was a compassionate and sensitive person, delightfully relaxed in social settings, and given to hearty humor. What is true is that he was a serious person who did not readily reveal his feelings. What is equally true is he was an extremely humble person.

And what is also true is that he was weighed down with his concerns. As Defense Minister, he was concerned for the welfare of those in his charge, and as Prime Minister, he was concerned for the welfare of those missing in action, who were uppermost in his mind and who colored his interviews and public statements.

Further, not victories, but peace with his neighbors was on his mind. Recall the words of this reluctant warrior delivered on Mount Scopus after the Six-Day War:

Our victory celebrations are marred by sorrow and shock. The men in the front lines were witness not only to the glory of victory but to the price of victory: their comrades who fell beside them. The terrible price that our enemies paid touched the hearts of many of our men.

The year was 1967.

His quest for peace was not of recent vintage. In 1973 he spoke these words at a convocation at the Jewish Theological Seminary:

For 25 years we have been conducting a monologue on peace, trying very hard to transform it into a dialogue. That dialogue will yet come, of that I am convinced.

Responding to a letter challenging Israel to try harder to find a formula for peace, he responded 20 years ago:

We have sought to grasp what appeared to be a possible opening for peace, but we were quickly and brutally rebuffed. Our neighbors simply will not sit down with us. The best we hear is that peace with Israel will have to be left to the next generation. We don't accept this. We want peace now and we are ready to compromise very substantially in order to achieve it.

The date of that letter: 1975.

Leah Rabin, his wife, understood her husband best. Her heroic courage has been and continues to be an inspiration. Just a few months ago, after one of the brutal terrorist at tacks that befouled the year, she wrote a letter describing the agony and ecstasy which characterized their daily life:

Yitzhak is like the rock of Gibraltar. He doesn't lose his perspective, neither with the ecstasy nor with the agony. He just carries on, determined to reach his goal of a peace agreement.

After signing the Declaration of Intentions on September 13, 1993, Yitzhak Rabin shook the hand of PLO leader Yasser Arafat for the first time.

Courtesy of the White House. Photograph by Vince Musi.

This rock of Gibraltar bade farewell to Adas Israel when he completed his tour of duty as Ambassador. He said movingly:

I have been tendered many farewells by many groups, but none is more significant than the one that takes place in the synagogue, for I have learned that the synagogue is the heart and soul of Judaism and essential to its survival. My Jewish identity began with my first breath in Jerusalem. The encounter with the synagogue has given me a different way of living a Jewish life. It has been a rewarding experience.

This reluctant warrior captured the hearts of his listeners when he fairly pleaded at the signing ceremony at the White House:

No more war. Let there be an end to bloodshed, an end to weeping mothers, and an end to wives weeping for their husbands. Let us make true peace.

Yitzhak Rabin had both a close working relationship and a strong personal friendship with President Bill Clinton. This photograph was taken in the Oval Office, July 25, 1994.

Courtesy of the White House. Photograph by Callie Shell.

Rabin disproves a Hebrew adage comparing a person to a tree: "A giant tree is best measured only after it is cut down."

It really wasn't necessary to cut down the tree. We measured his greatness in the name he acquired in his lifetime.

Yehi Zichro Baruch.

His memory will remain an inspiration.

Rabbi Rabinowitz was Rabbi Emeritus of the Adas Israel Congregation, having served as Senior Rabbi from 1960-1986. He had served on Board of Directors of the Jewish Historical Society and authored The Assembly: A Century in the Life of the Adas Israel Hebrew Congregation of Washington. D.C., the definitive history of Adas Israel.

Ben Stein, the Beatles, and 8 Other Things about (Jewish) Washington 0 Comment(s)

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. 

Facsimile courtesy of Washington Hebrew Congregation. Original in National Archives.

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.

Baum-Dreifus ketubah.

JHSGW Collections. Gift of Martin Baum and Evelyn Conn.

3. First President to Attend a Synagogue Service

1876: President Ulysses S. Grant attended the three-hour dedication of Adas Israel’s synagogue on June 9, 1876, and even made a gift of $10 to the building fund

Receipt sent to the Executive Mansion for President Grant’s donation.

Library of Congress. 

4. Founder of the First National Jewish Sisterhood Organization

1913: Carrie Simon, founder of Washington Hebrew Congregation’s ladies auxiliary, brought together representatives from sisterhoods across the nation to create Reform Judaism’s National Federation of Temple Sisterhoods (today's Women of Reform Judaism).

Courtesy of Washington Hebrew Congregation. 

5. Jews Played a Big Part in the Alcohol Trade

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.

Learn about this whisky bottle with caricature of General George Patton commissioned by D.C. liquor store own Harry Slavitt for General Patton, 1940s.

JHSGW Collections. Gift of Mitchell Slavitt.

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.

Copyright The Washington Post.

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.

JHSGW Collections. Gift of Penny Feuerzeig.

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

Learn about JHSGW’s discovery of this autographed publicity photo of the Beatles to Harry Lynn, 1964.

JHSGW Collections. Gift of John Lynn.

9. Eruv Encloses All Three Branches of the Federal Government

1990: The Kesher Israel Rabbi Philip Rabinowitz Memorial Eruv encloses the White House, U.S. Capitol, and Supreme Court, as well as the Washington Monument and National Mall. 

Courtesy of Kesher Israel Congregation.

10. Home to a Mobile Synagogue

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;

JHSGW Collections.

Presidents Visiting D.C. Synagogues 0 Comment(s)

Rabbi Gil Steinlauf greeting President Obama at Adas Israel

Adas Israel Congregation

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 info@jhsgw.org.

Facsimile copy courtesy of Washington Hebrew Congregation. Original in National Archives.

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.

Receipt sent to the Executive Mansion for President Grant’s donation

Library of Congress

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.

JHSGW Collections

1925:  President Calvin Coolidge spoke during the cornerstone-laying ceremony of the Jewish Community Center at 16th & Q Streets, NW.

JHSGW Collections

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.

Washington Hebrew Congregation

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.

Left to right: Joel Breslau (United Jewish Appeal Federation President), Soviet emigre Tamara Feldblyum, JCCGW senior citizen Ida Luzanski, high-school student Charles Wolstein, President Reagan, and JCCGW President Philip Margolius.

Ronald Reagan Presidential Library

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 speechLearn more about the Washington area's movement to free Soviet Jewry.

White House photo by Paul Morse

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.

2012:  President Barack Obama mentioned the historic 1876 Adas Israel synagogue when he told the story of General Grant’s General Orders No. 11 during Jewish American Heritage Month. Read President Obama's remarks.

Harry Koenick: Bar Mitzvah at 70 0 Comment(s)

Last week, I was sorting the bar and bat mitzvah records of Rabbi Tavi Porath from Congregation Ohr Kodesh. Even after an informative, inspiring experience at the Soviet Jewry exhibit by the Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington at the D.C. Public Library, I could not imagine this particular story.

Harry Koenick was born in Russia in 1906. He escaped the Bolshevik Revolution by fleeing with his family to the United States in 1920. Although Koenick longed to perform his bar mitzvah at age 13 in 1919, famine, epidemics, and preparation for immigration kept him from this milestone. According to an article from The Washington Star, Koenick survived the typhoid epidemic that killed his mother in 1919, but it left him in poor health for a while. What is more, he was always hungry because of the famine.

Koenick settled into the United States and deeply appreciated his life with his wife and children. Throughout his life, he was very involved at Ohr Kodesh with Rabbi Porath. According to The Washington Star, “He has blown the shofar – a ram’s horn used in major Jewish holidays – at Ohr Kodesh for 27 years. He has recited the Bar Mitzvah service – but not as a formal Bar Mitzvah – at least two dozen times. But never, never was Harry Koenick the traditional Bar Mitzvah boy.”

In 1970, Koenick visited his hometown in Russia. He discovered the fate of all the Jews who grew up with him, according to the article mentioned above, “The German army had rounded up what was left of Shatsk’s Jewish population in the 1940s, stood them atop a hill three miles outside of town, and shot them, their bodies falling into a pit filled with lime.” During his visit, Koenick decided that he wanted to have a formal bar mitzvah at Ohr Kodesh when he turned 70. Specifically, he wanted a tune that he remembered from his childhood to ring from his new home congregation in the D.C. area.

On December 11, 1976, Harry Koenick was the traditional bar mitzvah boy at Congregation Ohr Kodesh with Rabbi Porath. He heard the tune from his childhood in his new home congregation. This event exemplified the warm American reception of Soviet Jewry, especially under the leadership of Rabbi Porath. The archives of Rabbi Porath contain extensive material from this event, including articles, correspondence, invitations, photographs, programs.

Rebecca Brenner is a senior at Mount Holyoke College, working on a B.A. in History and Philosophy.