This summer, Special Projects Manager Claire Uziel and Director of Collections Wendy Turman mark special anniversaries with the Society. We recently asked Wendy and Claire about their favorite and most memorable JHSGW moments.
Claire Uziel – 10th anniversary
Claire is proud of her work modernizing our organization. She helped move our website maintenance in-house and manages our social media presence. She recently worked with our web designer to migrate the website to an online system that allows the site to be updated from any computer instead of via software on her desktop computer.
Claire’s favorite moments include assisting researchers: "Pretty much every time a researcher says 'That's just what I was looking for!' when I send them material is a highlight. I always try to help people looking for material we don't have, but it's so great to be able to hand over exactly what someone's looking for."
Another highlight for Claire was her work on our award-winning exhibition, Voices of the Vigil. "In August 2008, we were invited to a meeting of Soviet Jewry activists who wanted to be sure the D.C. story was told. I went and handed out oral history tips and talked about how important it was for these folks to record their memories for future generations. I was 10 when the Soviet Union fell and so myself had extremely little working knowledge of the history. Over the next months, I received cassettes, DVDs, and typed documents of the activists' recollections. Every time I got a new email or package in the mail, I learned a little more about the local Soviet Jewry movement. It was an exciting time for my inbox and the archives."
Wendy Turman – 15th anniversary
Wendy’s favorite program is the June 9 celebration of the 1876 synagogue’s anniversary. She says, "I love seeing how people respond to being in the historic sanctuary and experiencing some of the sights and sounds that the original members may have seen or heard in 1876.”
Wendy’s favorite item in the collection is a banner carried by Hyman Bookbinder at the 1963 March on Washington: "It is such an honor to care for this object from such a momentous event in our nation's history. When we received the banner, I remember thinking 'I didn't think I would ever get to see or hold one of these.' It still gives me shivers."
One of Wendy’s most memorable experiences was conducting an oral history with Sheldon S. Cohen: “His story was so big I had to go back five times to get it all, and I know I didn’t get everything. From candling eggs when he was a teenager working in his father’s warehouse in northeast D.C. to working on legal matters for Lyndon & Lady Bird Johnson to meeting Nelson Mandela shortly after his release from prison, this story has something for everyone.”
Wendy’s favorite exhibition, like Claire, was Voices of the Vigil. “I loved the process of working with an incredible community advisory group to document the history of the Soviet Jewry movement and then bringing all those disparate voices together into a cohesive exhibit. And I have especially enjoyed the youth education programs we have done in conjunction with the exhibition -- watching kids interact with their parents and learn how ordinary people -- sometimes including their own families -- made a real difference in the world.”
Finally, Wendy sums her experience up by saying, “It has been a privilege to work here for 15 years, to learn the big and small stories that make up the history of this community, to care for everything from political buttons to scrapbooks to stained-glass windows, and to work with so many dedicated, creative, smart, and hard-working staff and amazing volunteers.”
The Society thanks Wendy and Claire for their decades of service!
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.
Maybe you read about a proposal floated to close part of I-395 a few months ago? The aim was to expedite work on Capitol Crossing, but after an uproar from commuters and politicians, the request was denied.
A revised construction plan was released in February, and the first phase of work on the highway soon began. Pile-driving, excavation, and demolition is underway. This phase of construction is scheduled to continue until August. Traffic will be impacted primarily overnight and on weekends.
The Society has been hosting workshops — 14 so far — to allow diverse audiences to evaluate proposed stories and themes for the new museum's core exhibition. Workshops in D.C. and the Maryland and Virginia suburbs are providing feedback that will guide curatorial decisions to make the new museum engaging and relevant for an array of audiences. These sessions also increase awareness about and interest in the new museum.
3 for the public | EntryPointDC young professionals | GWU Museum Studies class
JCCNV seniors | Jewish graphic designers | Jewish Museum of Maryland
Kehila Chadasha | Moishe House - Capitol Hill | NoVA young professionals
Parents of middle-schoolers | Religious-school principals | The Jewish Federation's ROUTES
Meet the Neighbors: National Building Museum
The National Building Museum opened in 1985 in the historic Pension Bureau headquarters on F Street, NW, between 4th and 5th Streets. According to Chase Rynd, executive director since 2003, Capitol Crossing will change how the National Building Museum interacts with the community.
"When that project is done, the National Building Museum will no longer be in a cul-de-sac. Right now, we're virtually at a dead end," he says. "When F Street reopens, I claim we will be in the center of the universe. More people than ever are going to look at this gigantic red-brick building and say, 'What the heck is that?'"
Rynd also looks forward to the critical mass that will result when the National Law Enforcement Museum and the new Jewish museum open to the public: "We want to become sort of the off-the-Mall museum center. The Mall attracts millions and millions of people, and they're clearly inclined to go to museums. So what we need to do is make sure we have a mechanism in place that broadcasts the fact that there are even more opportunities within walking distance."
His friendship with Society Executive Director Laura Apelbaum dates back to when the National Building Museum hosted the exhibition, Jewish Washington: Scrapbook of an American Community in 2005-2006. What was the motivation to do so? "The fact that it was a fellow institution that needed help. And, frankly-to be totally selfish about it-it was also a great exhibition that would draw an audience that may or may not have ever come to the museum. That's a win-win," he says.
Regarding future collaborations: "As long as it's beneficial to both institutions, sign us up. Then it just becomes a question of the 'little' things like scheduling, funding, personnel, resources..."
Catching Up With... Bernard Glassman
In a recent interview with Society Past President Bernard Glassman, he revealed that saving the original Adas Israel synagogue building in 1969 "is my legacy to my children. I consider it the one significant thing that I've accomplished in my life." Here is more from that interview:
MaM: How did you first become involved with the Jewish Historical Society?
Bernard Glassman: I received a notice of a walking tour of the old buildings in the city and that the original [Adas Israel] building was going to be included. I hadn't seen the building before and I was curious, so I joined the group. The walking tour was led by Evelyn Greenberg, who was critically important to this project. After the discussion of the building concluded, I handed her my card and I said to her: "If you ever want to do anything about trying to save this building, do get in touch with me." Lo and behold, she did, and that's how we began.
MaM: You'd been building houses for years by the time you saw the synagogue. When the question came up of how to move this building, you had an answer.
Glassman: My father bought property for a summer home on the Chesapeake. It had a small, white house on it. I said to him, "Let's buy the lot across the road, move the house over there, sell it, and then you'll have this beautiful waterfront lot where we can do anything you want to do."
That's how I met Wild Bill Patram, the house mover. He was a colorful character and a very capable guy. Without him, [the synagogue] could not have been moved. But because he'd helped move that little house, I knew him and I got in touch right away. When I asked if he could deal with the synagogue, he said, "Sure."
Patram cut the synagogue off at the head of the first-story windows and then jacked it up and proceeded to move it down to the street. He's got two half-tracks [vehicles with wheels in the front to help steer and continuous tracks in the back] pulling it from the curb through the first intersection heading east.
There is a traffic-signal controller right at that intersection of 5th and G. It's a gray box on a post and there are flames coming out of it-and I mean big flames! And it's burning gas. There are gas lines under the street. And I'm thinking, "Oy vey, this street intersection is about to explode and me with it because I'm standing right on it."
Believe me -- that could have happened because it took the gas company three quarters of an hour to get there. People were being pushed away by the police. That was the scariest moment of my life. That was miracle number one, period. G-d was looking out for us already, without any doubt.
MaM: Your parents belonged to Adas Israel. That was when the congregation had moved to Sixth & I?
Glassman: I was bar-mitzvahed [at Sixth & I]. My father was one of the original contributors to the current Adas Israel on Quebec Street, just off Connecticut Avenue. That's synagogue number three.
MaM: A lot of your interest in the Society is based in your roots in these three Adas Israel buildings. Are you interested in other aspects of Jewish history?
Glassman: Very much so. History is a number-one interest of mine, especially archaic history -- anything from Solomon on.
William B. "Wild Bill" Patram's Oral History, 2002
"Wild Bill" Patram, a structural moving engineer from Fairfax, Virginia, coordinated the historic synagogue's 1969 relocation. The building never would have survived without the crafty logistical skills of this specialist. Then-Society board member and journalist Sally Kline interviewed Patram in 2002 to record his story. Here's an excerpt:
How many buildings have you moved?
A little over 2,000. I specialized in the historical ones because I had better techniques. I moved the Foundry in Georgetown in 1973. They couldn't get anyone else to even bid on the famous Mother Seton house I moved in Emmitsburg, Maryland. It was built around 1750. Stone.
You must be a risk-taker to have done this work.
It's a high-risk business. You've got to have confidence that you'll study it long enough and find a way. The more complicated it is, you know it's going to take ten times longer than to move a normal one.
Would you consider [the synagogue] a routine move?
Oh no. This is special. Number one, it's heavy. It's old. It was very fragile.
In September 1969 after Metro officials appropriated the original site, the synagogue was saved from destruction by an Act of Congress. President Richard Nixon signed the bill into law, allowing the building to be acquired by the District of Columbia and then leased to the Society.
Longtime JHSGW member Paul Pascal led a tour of the history of Union Terminal Market and former sites of Jewish merchants. Check out the pictures! We plan to offer this tour again soon, so keep an eye out.
If you attended the tour, please comment here or email to tell what you thought! If a friend was on the tour, please share this request.
We've wrapped up another successful Jewish American Heritage Month, again showing our role as the source for community history!
You may have seen Arthur Welsh, the first American Jewish aviator, featured in the "Flashbacks" comic in the Sunday Washington Post. Our efforts led to this feature and the Society was mentioned in the final strip! You can now view the entire six-part series.
Executive Director Laura Apelbaum and board member Diane Wattenberg were featured in The Federation's Jewish Food Experience blog -- read the post about the winning National Spelling Bee word: knaidel.
We partnered again this year with the National Archives on a very special program featuring Holocaust survivor Gerda Weissman Klein.
We were also featured in Moment Magazine (download article) and we were out in the community a great deal:
Donor: Elaine Salen-Stouck Description: Teens around a table at Upsilon Lambda Phi fraternity party, Hotel Hamilton's Rainbow Room, c. 1950s.
Background: Today's Jewish youth may find it difficult to believe that their grandparents were not welcome in clubs and social activities a half century ago. Excluded from the sororities, fraternities, and clubs of their non-Jewish classmates, Jewish teenagers created their own social sphere blending their Jewish identity with secular activities.
The social lives of Washington's Jewish teenagers revolved around more than 60 fraternities, sororities, clubs, and Zionist youth groups from the 1920s through the 1960s. These organizations provided settings where teens could mingle and forge an American identity. Jewish teens canoed on the Potomac, danced in Glen Echo's pavilion, and organized Purim Balls at the Jewish Community Center.
High school fraternity and sorority life was filled with meetings, activities, and lavish dances, often held at the city's most elegant hotels. National conventions and conclaves gave local Jewish teens a chance to travel to cities like Albany, New Orleans, and Philadelphia. Here in Washington, more than 150 local delegates of Pi Tau Pi attended their fraternity's 1926 annual convention at the Mayflower Hotel (seen here).
The involvement of the teens in these social groups often served as the recipe for future community leadership. The Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington's exhibition, Members of the Club: Washington Jewish Teen Life, 1920s-1960s (watch accompanying video!), captured memories collected from community members about their teenage experiences. "There was something that touched us that was more than just the fun and dances… somehow we were intellectually and emotionally stirred, and for some of us it has been an intoxication throughout our lives," reflected Tamara Bernstein Handelsman, a member of Phi Delta. She has since been a member of the boards of many local Jewish organizations.
When the war came in December 1941, teen activities changed rapidly. Jewish youth pitched in, shifting their focus from dances and picnics to war bond drives and Red Cross work. In the post-war era, young baby boomers used their social events to promote and raise money for special causes. Mu Sigma cosponsored the Teddy Bear Hop, where all in attendance brought toys for Children's Hospital and Junior Village.
Signature events included Sigma Alpha Rho's Cherry Blossom Ball at the Shoreham Hotel and Sigma Kappa Sigma's Festival of Roses at the Hebrew Academy. Starting in 1933, Alpha Zadik Alpha (AZA) sponsored an annual post-Yom Kippur Dance that was the highlight of the social season for many Jewish teens. "Take it from me: you had to have a date, and the right date, at least two months ahead of time," recalled Gershon Fishbein(z'l) about his AZA days.
These shared experiences often led to lasting relationships. Sandy Levy Kouzel played bridge weekly for over 20 years with sorority sisters and Milton and Lois Kessler met at a dance and married six years later.
A menu from a Pi Tau Pi fraternity dinner dance in 1954 details a meal of cold turkey, stuffed celery, pickles, and melon fantasy for dessert. This selection is distinctly different from the salad, pasta, grilled chicken, and chocolate cake served at today's formal banquets and dances.
Many parents supported membership in teen groups as a way to build strong communal relationships in an increasingly assimilated Jewish Washington. These connections provided an enduring legacy: a sense of belonging, lifelong friendships, and preparation for community leadership.
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.