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An Exploratory Trip 0 Comment(s)

Our curator Christiane Bauer recently went on an inspirational trip to New York City and came back with lots of new ideas for our museum planning -- and exhibition recommendations!

First, she visited the Leo Baeck Institute where the Stolen Heart: The Theft of Jewish Property in Berlin’s Historic Center, 1933–1945 exhibition hosts an innovative 3D video map by C&G Partners. This amazing feature incorporates archival images and topographic time-lapse elements.

Photos 3D interactive map video

Christiane's next stop was The Jewish Museum's exhibition, Pierre Chareau: Modern Architecture and Design. This exhibition about the French architect uses many new technologies -- high-tech projections, virtual reality, and state-of-the-art installations. Get wowed by the innovative features that point to a new direction in exhibition design and interpretation!

Lastly, Christiane explored the New-York Historical Society's temporary exhibit The First Jewish Americans: Freedom and Culture in the New World, which offers an insight into the beginnings of the Jewish experience in America. They address topics similar to those planned for our new museum -- for example, how Judaism reinvented itself in the unique setting of America -- except in an earlier era of American history. Check out the museum's accompanying programs, especially the one on February 15 where many issues and people with Washington, D.C., connections will be discussed.

Reflections on a Summer with JHSGW 0 Comment(s)

Rebecca researching at DC Library's Washingtonian Collection

During my interview for this internship, our program and outreach manager, Sam Abramson, mentioned that the Society’s historic synagogue – the Lillian & Albert Small Jewish Museum – would be closing its doors at the beginning of the summer in preparation for it to be moved a few blocks away as part of a new building project. When I began my internship a few months later, I was excited to see how this change would impact my summer with the Society. The museum’s upcoming move ultimately provided me with an exciting and unique experience that I can’t imagine getting anywhere else. Over the course of my internship, I have worked with every member of the Society’s small and dedicated staff on a wide range of projects, many (but not all) somehow relating to the synagogue’s move and the planning of the new museum.

I worked with Sam to create a brand new volunteer manual, reach out to schools about educational programs, and set up for the final events hosted in the historic synagogue before its closing. Earlier this summer, I helped Wendy Turman, our director of collections, update entries in our collections database to ensure that all of our holdings were accounted for as the archives were packed up. I later photographed professional movers as they wrapped up some of these items to move them to a storage facility. I spent time with our curator Christiane Bauer, conducting research for the new museum’s core exhibition. We went to the DC Library to research primary sources about an organization called Neighbors, Inc. We went through boxes of documents ranging from fliers for book fairs to invitations for luncheons with diplomats, looking for connections to D.C.’s Jewish community. Under Christiane’s supervision, I also undertook a major research project on the involvement of Jewish women in D.C. during the Civil Rights Movement. I eventually used some of this research to write a blog article (stay tuned!) discussing a few of the amazing women I’d learned about and asked readers for artifacts and interviews relating to their own experiences with the movement. With these projects and the other tasks I performed during my internship, I was able both to learn and to feel like I was making a meaningful contribution to the development of the new museum and its exhibitions.

Previously, most of my knowledge of the museum field came from classes and lectures. This summer, I’ve gained a deeper understanding of museum work with the help of a kind and supportive staff. As our collections were moved into storage, I was able to participate in and understand collections management at a new level as I tagged items with their accession numbers and watched as shelves of archival boxes were carefully marked and put into a truck. Sifting through piles of documents in the library and sitting in on meetings about plans for the new museum’s exhibitions allowed me to see the huge amount of work and planning that goes into content creation for museums. As I leave my internship I am excited to apply everything I’ve learned here to my studies and future work, and I am looking forward to staying in contact with the Society and one day walking through their new museum.

Rebecca Friedman is a rising senior at Johns Hopkins University, working on a B.A. in History with minors in Jewish Studies and The Program in Museums and Society. 

Voices of the Vigil: Highlights and Accomplishments 0 Comment(s)

Thank you for supporting Voices of the Vigil, our award-winning exhibition telling the story of D.C.’s Soviet Jewry movement. We’re pleased to share these accomplishments and highlights from its regional tour:

  • Nine venues throughout Washington, D.C., Maryland, and Virginia
  • American Association for State and Local History’s Leadership in History Award of Merit
  • Companion website -- including oral histories and memoirs, education curriculum, activist profiles, and slides -- that attracted more than 8,000 visits in less than two years
  • Accompanying catalog featuring memoir by Natan Sharansky and recollections of Ambassador Richard Schifter
  • 60 related archival donations between 2008 and 2014
  • Commissioned new multimedia performance by Robyn Helzner, performed four times
  • Support from 85 personal contributions, family foundations, congregations, and other community organizations — including Humanities DC grants and a special gift underwriting the Northern Virginia tour and a performance by Robyn Helzner

Exhibition venues between December 2013 and February 2016:

  1. Washington Hebrew Congregation, Washington, D.C.
    * Premiere featured Natan Sharansky; 250 attendees including City Councilmember Jack Evans
    * Open house featured former Congressmember Connie Morella
    * Lecture by renowned civil-liberties attorney Nathan Lewin on his related activities
    * Special visit by former Congressmember Michael Barnes
    * Three curator-led tours including one followed by discussion with two former activists
  2. Jewish Community Center of Greater Washington, Rockville, MD
    * Maryland premiere featured remarks by Ambassador Richard Schifter and performance by Robyn Helzner; 200 attendees including Senator Ben Cardin, Congressmember Chris Van Hollen, and County Executive Ike Leggett
    “Designing a Movement” talk with graphic designer Avy Ashery
    * Education programs for 175 students from Charles E. Smith Day School and Washington Hebrew Congregation
    * Five docent-led tours including a Russian ESOL class
  3. Adas Israel Congregation, Washington, D.C.
    * Performance by Robyn Helzner
  4. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library, Washington, D.C.
    * Hosted in honor of Jewish American Heritage Month
    * Curator-led tour
  5. Gesher Jewish Day School, Fairfax, VA {aside_1}
    * Participated in panel discussion 
  6. Agudas Achim Congregation, Alexandria, VA
    * Performance by Robyn Helzner
  7. Beth El Hebrew Congregation, Alexandria, VA
    * Curator-led adult education class
    * Curator-led school group
  8. B'nai Israel Congregation, Rockville, MD
    * Congregation organized seniors program and religious-school program
    * Participated in panel discussion
  9. Temple Rodef Shalom, Falls Church, VA
    * Congregation organized four-part series including performance by Robyn Helzner

Q&A with New Curatorial Team! 0 Comment(s)

We're pleased to introduce our new curatorial team -- 

Christiane Bauer, Curator

Headshot of Christiane Bauer
Christiane’s most recent work experience was at the Sprengel Museum in Hanover, Germany where she worked as a provenance researcher. Prior to that, she worked at the Jewish Museum Berlin for seven years in a variety of curatorial and exhibition-related positions. She is fluent in German and English and has basic knowledge of both Hebrew and Yiddish. 

Christiane holds a BA and MA in German History and Jewish Studies from the Free University of Berlin and is currently enrolled in a PhD program in American history at Ludwig Maximilians University Munich and University of Kassel, Germany. Her dissertation project focuses on post-war German American identity; for her research she spent 10 months traveling throughout the U.S. and conducted more than 60 oral history interviews.

Christiane recently moved to Washington, D.C. from Germany and is very excited and honored to join our team. 

Get to know Christiane! 

  1. What excites you about your new position?
    Building a new museum and working on a new exhibition that will shape the museum’s future scope and reputation is the most exciting project I could imagine myself working on as a curator. I’m very excited about this great opportunity and looking forward to its manifold challenges.
     
  2. What told you the Jewish Historical Society was a good fit for you?
    I felt very drawn towards the variety of assignments the position encompasses and which match perfectly with my background in curating exhibitions, working with archival and artifact collections, and conducting oral history interviews. I instantly liked the idea of working on an exhibition which emphasizes political history and the issue of social justice. It’s a great fit for D.C. and sets JHS apart from other museums. 
     
  3. What do you hope to learn here?
    I’m excited to learn more about D.C.’s unique Jewish history and hope to do that through a lot of interaction with the community. Also, the intersection of Jewish history with the local and national civil rights movement is a fascinating topic which I can’t wait to dive into more. 
     
  4. What are you enjoying about living in Washington, D.C.?
    I like the city’s international profile and its extensive cultural scene. D.C. seems to be the hub for many political, social, and cultural endeavors worldwide. A big draw for me personally is that I have access to some of the most prominent museums in the world and that there’s always an interesting event at an embassy, gallery, or institute to go to.
     
  5. People might be intrigued by a German working on a PhD in American History. When did you discover your interest in this topic?
    I discovered my interest in this topic when I attended a conference on German immigrants and their descendants in New York City. During the presentations it became apparent that not a lot of emphasis had been made to illustrate immigrants’ attempts to maintain a meaningful connection to their heritage after having settled in their new home. So I did an oral history interview study with second generation immigrants about their perception of being German-American, how they relate to their German heritage, and what stories, rituals, and traditions they keep up and transfer to the next generation. In that sense, I consider my PhD topic as part of American but also German History.

Martin Moeller, Senior Curatorial Consultant

Headshot of Martin Moeller
Martin has served as the Senior Vice President/Senior Curator at the National Building Museum since 2001. We have known Martin since 2005, when he was instrumental in bringing our Jewish Washington Scrapbook exhibition to the Building Museum.

Martin has worked as an independent curator, writer, and editor and consulted for clients including the Museum of the City of New York, The Liberty Science Center in Philadelphia, and other museums and non-profit organizations.  He has an extensive background in curating major exhibitions as well as in D.C. history and architecture.

Martin previously worked as the Executive Director of the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture and the Executive Director of the Washington Chapter of the American Institute of Architects. He holds a MA and BA in Architecture from Tulane University.  

Get to know Martin!

  1. What about our work and plans for the new museum interests you?
    First, I have been keenly interested in Jewish history and culture since my early teen years, when the family of my best friend at the time, who was Jewish, helped to take care of me after my mother died suddenly. I spent a lot of time at my friend’s house, where I enjoyed learning about Jewish traditions and rituals and drawing comparisons to my own family’s Catholic and Protestant roots. Since then, I have considered Judaism to be a part of my cultural heritage (though I do not practice any religion). 

    Second, I am very interested in Washington’s local history, as distinct from the national political developments that typically overshadow our city’s distinct identity. I think most visitors and many locals underestimate the breadth and richness of the city’s ethnic history. JHSGW has played a vital role in preserving and telling stories of Washington’s Jewish community, but its visibility has been limited to date. The new museum will bring greater prominence and reach not only to JHSGW, but also to those stories.
     
  2. What impact do you expect Capitol Crossing to have on our neighborhood and the new museum?
    It’s amazing how much damage even a relatively modest freeway cut such as that of the I-395 spur can do to the surrounding neighborhood. It isolated Union Station from the central business district, created pockets of abandonment and disinvestment, and then hampered redevelopment even during major building booms. Capitol Crossing will repair that urban wound. It has the potential to redefine perceptions of the city center while fostering new traffic patterns and potentially creating a new urban nexus. JHSGW's museum will obviously benefit from that. Indeed, if key retail attractions such as Eataly sign on as expected, JHSGW may have vast new audiences at its doorstep!
     
  3. What do you enjoy about working as a museum curator in Washington, D.C.?
    Like most curators, I suppose, I enjoy research, but I also greatly enjoy sharing what I have learned with the public. Washingtonians tend to be smart and culturally curious. They not only make great audiences for exhibitions and programs, but also engaged participants—they ask good questions and they talk to other people about what they have seen and learned. I love watching visitors move through an exhibition and seeing their faces light up when they discover something fascinating.

Making a Museum - Issue 3 0 Comment(s)

Have you heard? We're building a new museum!
The 1876 synagogue is moving a block south to Third & F Streets, NW, where the Society will build an adjacent, state-of-the-art Jewish museum.
The new complex will anchor a $1.3-billion mixed-used project called Capitol Crossing — a five-building office, retail, and residential complex developed by Property Group Partners — which will extend onto a newly-built platform over Interstate 395.

On Site

If you’ve visited the Lillian & Albert Small Jewish Museum in the past month, you can’t miss the construction. Work has officially reached the historic synagogue. Crews are installing a new 8” water main along the east side of Third Street, NW, from Massachusetts Avenue to E Street.

For more information, visit www.3rdsttunnel.com.

A New Jewish Museum

NEH Advisory Panel meeting

Earlier this year, we were awarded a prestigious grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) to plan the core exhibition in our new museum. The central experience of the museum, the core exhibition will reflect stories that distinguish the Washington-area Jewish community and its history. Our issues-oriented exhibition will enable visitors to explore regional and national history through the lens of area Jewish history.

In June, we kicked off our NEH advisory panel with a meeting to discuss themes and storylines for the exhibition. Our team includes top scholars, board members with related expertise, community advisors, and technical experts. Their insight and feedback on a variety of issues is helping us plan the core exhibition, develop a list of artifacts and topics to showcase, and test new ideas.

Our advising scholars:

  • Spencer Crew, Robinson Professor of American, African American, and Public History, George Mason University; former Director, Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History
  • Jenna Weissman Joselit, Charles E. Smith Professor of Judaic Studies & Professor of History, The George Washington University
  • Pamela Nadell, Professor and Chair, Department of History; Patrick Clendenen Chair, Women's and Gender History; Director, Jewish Studies Program. American University
  • Suleiman Osman, Associate Professor, American Studies Department; Director of Undergraduate Studies, The George Washington University
  • Eric S. Yellin, Associate Professor of History and American Studies, University of Richmond

Meet the Neighbors: Holy Rosary Church

Heading east toward Capitol Hill, F Street comes to a stop at Holy Rosary Church, only a block from the Jewish Historical Society’s 1876 synagogue. Just as the synagogue was threatened by construction and then saved, the church too was slated for demolition when it was in the proposed path of Interstate 395 in the mid-1960s.

Father Ezio Marchetto with JHSGW Director Laura Cohen Apelbaum

“The only reason why this church survived is because it was the only Italian parish and the people really fought to preserve it,” says Father Ezio Marchetto. He became pastor of “the Italian Church at Judiciary Square” in June of 2013, a few months before Holy Rosary celebrated its centennial. Though the church was spared, the highway project destroyed the Italian neighborhood of which it was the religious, social, and cultural focus.

The Capitol Crossing development now underway will reopen F Street. The rebuilt neighborhood will be very different from the old, but Holy Rosary’s sanctuary has been filling up thanks to a recent wave of Italian immigration.

College-educated, but in many cases unable to find work in Italy, these immigrants are being hired for jobs in medical research, information technology, and other fields, according to Marchetto. “Plus all the people that are coming to work at the [Italian] embassy, the consulate, the World Bank, NATO, military people. These are all young families with children,” he says.  

The Vicenza-born pastor talks about the church’s continuing role as a “point of reference” for the now-dispersed and largely suburbanized Italian American community, including many second- and third-generation parishioners. Holy Rosary is also a special site in Washington for representatives of Italy and the Vatican. These officials attend annual celebrations at Holy Rosary such as the Festa della Republica Italiana (Festival of the Italian Republic, June 2) and the Messa per i Caduti in Guerra (Mass for the Fallen in War, November 4).

Capitol Crossing will bring changes to the campus of the beautiful church, completed in 1923. After the rectory, currently blocking F Street, is demolished, a new facility will be erected behind the church. A fenced garden will complete the landscape.

Holy Rosary is also using the opportunity to expand Casa Italiana—a language school, meeting/performance hall and café—caffé espresso, to be properly Italian—with striking statues of Marconi, Dante, Michelangelo, and Verdi in front. A dozen rooms will be added and Casa Italiana’s offerings of Italian language, literature, art and cooking classes, opera, concerts and film screenings are expected to grow.

“I think this community has a lot to offer,” says Father Marchetto. “Now I think what we have to do is to start to offer what we have to other communities.” The potential for cooperative programming with nearby cultural organizations, including Holy Rosary’s soon-to-be-even-closer neighbor, the Jewish Historical Society, is clear.

Collection Connections

Invitation to Synagogue Move, 1969
This invitation to “witness the moving of Washington’s oldest synagogue” was displayed for eight years in the National Building Museum exhibition Symbol and City. Alongside the invitation was a large photo banner depicting the synagogue move in progress.

Did You Know?

Mission of Light church, mid-1940s

After 32 years in the building, Adas Israel sold its first synagogue at Sixth & G Streets, NW, to Stephen Gatti, an Italian fruit dealer and real estate investor who lived a block away. Gatti divided up the first floor to house several retail shops. Over the years, the businesses included a bicycle shop, barber, grocery store, and Anthony Litteri's market (yes, that A. Litteri.). The upstairs sanctuary first hosted Saint Sophia, a Greek Orthodox congregation now located on Massachusetts Avenue near the National Cathedral, followed by a Pentecostal group known as Bible Hall, and then the Good Samaritan Chapel and the Mission of Light Church.

Although Jewish law frowns on the re-use of synagogues for other than Jewish use, many 19th and 20th-century American synagogues have been converted to churches, stores, or other secular uses—a phenomenon much more common in the United States than elsewhere.  

Eventually, the former synagogue lost its religious connection and the sanctuary was converted into a storage space for the downstairs businesses. The ark was used as a broom closet!