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Object of the Month: May 2011 0 Comment(s)

Object #: 1999.13.1
Donor: Pearl Franck
Description: Celebration for the 25th Anniversary of the State of Israel, May 1973. L to R: Bernie Rosenberg (celebration chair for Jewish Community Council of Greater Washington), D.C. Mayor Walter Washington, and Isaac Franck (executive director of the Jewish Community Council of Greater Washington)

Background: Isaac Franck became executive director of the Jewish Community Council of Greater Washington in 1949. Franck, working with such influential Council presidents as Rabbi Isadore Breslau, Aaron Goldman, Albert E. Arent, Louis Grossberg, and Seymour D. Wolf, led the Community Council as it addressed a wide range of social and political problems.

While the Council was formed to serve the local Jewish community, it did not shy away from issues that affected the greater good. Among these were issues of civil rights and desegregation, education, assistance to the poor, separation of church and state, equal opportunity, and Home Rule for the District of Columbia. For example, in 1953, the Council lent its name to the Thompson’s Restaurant court case, decided by the Supreme Court. The case ended segregation in public accommodations in Washington, D.C. Following desegregation of public schools the subsequent year, the Council worked with city and religious leaders to encourage a peaceful transition. In 1963, Franck arranged for Martin Luther King, Jr., to address a citywide meeting at Adas Israel. That August, King returned to Washington to give his “I Have a Dream” speech at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. The Council coordinated local Jewish involvement in the historic event. In this photo of the march, Franck is seen in the lower right.
When Isaac Franck retired in 1973, Jewish Community Council membership had more than tripled. The Washington Post wrote that he “gave [the Jewish community] not only a degree of cohesion, he also sought for it a special place because of its location in the national’s capital.” During Franck's tenure, the Council grew dramatically and worked with other organizations and faiths. He enabled 173 local organizations to speak as one while taking action on a wide range of community matters.
Today, the Council continues its important work with a new organizational name, the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington.

Do you have material documenting local social justice movements that you’d like to donate to the Jewish Historical Society’s collection? Please contact us at info@jhsgw.org or (202) 789-0900.

The (Jewish) Father of Federal Indian Law 0 Comment(s)

We finished our 50th Anniversary Salon Series on a high note December 1, when Dalia Tsuk Mitchell told the story of Felix Cohen, the "Father of Federal Indian Law" (1907-1953).

The program was a collaboration between the Society and the Interior Museum, and took place at the Department of the Interior's magnificent New Deal-era auditorium. We learned about the evolution of Cohen's views on legal pluralism and the place of Native Americans and other minority groups in the United States, and how Cohen's experiences as a Jewish American shaped those views. Cohen is most known for his Handbook of Federal Indian law, still the standard source in its field today.

A diverse group came out on a cold, cloudy day -- including many Interior Department employees, a group from Temple Beth Ami, other people from our and the Interior Museum's mailing lists, and even a man who once worked with Cohen.

At the end of the talk, Professor Mitchell read a famous line that pretty much sums up Cohen's philosophy:

"The Indian plays much the same role in our American society that the Jews played in Germany. Like the miner's canary, the Indian marks the shifts from fresh air to poison gas in our political atmosphere; and our treatment of Indians, even more than our treatment of other minorities, reflects the rise and fall in our democratic faith."

Special thanks to Diana Ziegler (pictured at left, with me and Professor Mitchell) from the Interior Museum for making this program possible.

Check out Architect of Justice: Felix S. Cohen and the Founding of American Legal Pluralism, Professor Mitchell's award-winning biography, to learn more.