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In Memory of Jack Kay 0 Comment(s)

Please join us in extending condolences to the family of Jack Kay, Jewish Historical Society Honorary Director, who passed away this weekend. Mr. Kay’s funeral will be held at Adas Israel Congregation, 2850 Quebec Street, NW, at 1 pm tomorrow, Tuesday, April 23, 2013.

Barbara and Jack Kay at our Guardian event at the Halcyon House, 2008

Mr. Kay was a key supporter of our work for many years. He began his Board service in 1999, became an Honorary Director in 2005 and served in this capacity until his death. He and his first wife, Ina, were among our first Guardian members. As a member of our Presidents Circle, he and his wife Barbara were major donors supporting the many aspects of our programs and operations. He generously supported our exhibitions during the past 20 years, including our Israel exhibition, Ties That Bind, in 1998 and Jewish Washington in 2005.

Mr. Kay understood the importance of our work preserving Jewish history in the nation's capital and established the Kay Family Archives through his many donations to the Society's collections. The Kay Family Archives include numerous photographs, scrapbooks, correspondence, personal papers, and other materials documenting the remarkable legacy that both he and his parents, Minnie and Abraham Kay, left in our community.

Our heartfelt condolences to Jack’s wife Barbara, his daughter Lauren, and his grandchildren.

May his memory be a blessing.

In Memory of Richard England 0 Comment(s)

It is with great sadness to notify you that Richard “Dick” England, husband of Honorary Director Lois England, passed away on Monday, April 1, 2013.

A memorial service was held on Thursday, April 4th at Washington Hebrew Congregation. Family suggests memorial gifts be made to Chess Challenge, The Multicultural Career Intern Program (at the Columbia Heights Educational Campus), or Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Washington.

The Englands announced a major contribution to the Society at the 50th anniversary annual meeting, 2010.

Lois has served on our Board for more than 20 years with a particular interest in archives.  Both she and Dick were among our earliest and staunchest supporters and boosters. They were among the original donors creating an endowment in their names in the late 1980s to perpetuate museum activities. They were among the original Guardian members, increasing their support annually. With each special project and exhibition, Lois and Dick were there with their support.  They hosted a wonderful event for major donors in their home about 10 years ago. When our exhibition Jewish Washington: Scrapbook of an American Community opened in the National Building Museum, the Englands thought that we should have a 30’ banner hang in the Great Hall and their support made that possible.

When we started our Capital Campaign to purchase our administrative office building, Lois and Dick were among the first supporters, later increasing their support so that they would be in a position to ask others for support—which they did. Again they were the first donors to the new museum generous giving us a $250,000 gift that they hoped would be used for the new museum, but were kind enough to designate as unrestricted.

We have benefited rom their wisdom and support.

Though Lois served on the Board, Dick was present at Guardian events, exhibit openings and annual meetings, lending his voice and support to our work. We will greatly miss him.

Remembering Ambassador Max Kampelman 0 Comment(s)

We at the Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington mourn Ambassador Max Kampelman, who passed away January 25 at the age of 92.

Kampelman was a leading figure in the Washington community from his arrival here in Washington in 1949. After serving on Senator Hubert Humphrey’s staff, Kampelman joined the law firm that is now Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson. He remained with the firm until his death.

 Kampelman is most known for his diplomatic achievements, representing the United States in negotiations with the Soviet Union in Madrid from 1980 to 1983, and in negotiations to reduce nuclear weapons from 1985 to 1989. Along with Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs Richard Schifter, Kampelman insisted on coupling weapons reductions with progress on human rights issues.

In addition to being involved internationally, Kampelman took a strong interest in the local community, serving as chairman of, among other organizations, WETA and the Friends of the National Zoo.

You can read more about his accomplished life here.

One of the biggest honors in my life was conducting an oral history with Ambassador Kampelman in March 2011. The interview was part of our Soviet Jewry movement project—I interviewed both Kampelman and Schifter to get the “view from the top,” to learn what role the movement played in U.S. government decision-making and diplomacy with the Soviet Union.

Our two-hour discussion, held at Kampelman’s law office two blocks from the White House, touched on many subjects—arms negotiations, the role of human rights, and Kampelman’s fascinating life story. Here is one of the more memorable stories he told me. He had just finished a speech in New York when a once-imprisoned Soviet Jewish refusenik approached him:

Kaddish for America’s First Jewish Aviator 0 Comment(s)

Last week, a crowd recited the Kaddish in memory of an unlikely aviation pioneer—a Jewish immigrant from Russia named Arthur L. Welsh. The occasion was the centennial of his tragic death at the College Park Airfield. Among those gathered were great grand-nieces and nephews of the little-known pioneering aviator. On June 11, 1912, Welsh was killed while testing a Wright-designed plane for military use.

The notion of a Jewish immigrant penetrating the Wright brothers’ inner circle seems improbable. Yet Welsh distinguished himself as one of the earliest and most respected pilots in our country. Unlike the Wright brothers, whose ancestors arrived in Massachusetts just 20 years after the Pilgrims, Al Welsh’s story began as one typical of a working class Jewish immigrant.

America’s first Jewish airman was born Laibel Willcher in Russia, where he lived until he came to this country with his parents as a boy. The family settled in Philadelphia. Shortly after Laibel's father died, his mother remarried.

In 1898, the family moved to Washington’s 4 ½ Street, Southwest, neighborhood—home to a small enclave of Jewish immigrants at the turn of the last century. This was the same neighborhood where another young Jewish immigrant was growing up—Asa Yoelson, a cantor's son who later changed his name to Al Jolson.

Like so many other Jewish families, Laibel and his family lived above the grocery store that his mother ran. His stepfather worked as a cutter in a tailor shop.

When Laibel joined the Navy in 1901, he gave his name as Arthur L. Welsh—perhaps to escape anti-Semitism. After his honorable discharge, Welsh returned to Washington and worked as a bookkeeper. He attended meetings of the Young Zionist Union, where he met his future bride, Anna Harmel. Their 1907 wedding was the first held at the then-Orthodox Adas Israel’s second synagogue at 6th and I Streets.

When the Wright brothers came to Fort Myer in 1908 and 1909, Al Welsh was among the throng who watched in fascination as the famous brothers tested their military flier.

Welsh chased and realized his dream of flying with the Wright brothers. Though he did not have the mechanical knowledge required, he embarked on a letter-writing campaign to gain the attention of the Wrights. After initial rejection, Welsh traveled to Dayton, Ohio, to appeal to the Wrights in person.

Arthur Welsh at the controls of a Wright C Flyer at College Park, MD, 1912.

Photo courtesy of College Park Aviation Museum, Jesse Ayer Collection

His persistence eventually overcame his lack of qualifications. Welsh trained directly under Orville Wright and became a trusted and skilled pilot—a notable achievement given the difficulties of flying a Wright plane. This young Jewish immigrant also gave lessons to the first military pilots, including the famed Henry "Hap" Arnold, later a five-star general and U.S. Army Air Chief of Staff during World War II.

In 1912, the Wrights sent Welsh home to test a new military plane at College Park Airport. He lived with his in-laws in his Southwest neighborhood, commuting on the streetcar from the family home on H Street.

During a test flight on June 11, 1912, Welsh and Lieutenant Leighton Hazlehurst crashed into a field of daisies. Both died instantly.

The funeral service, held at the Harmel family home, was delayed so Orville Wright and his sister Katherine would have time to arrive from Dayton. Orville served as a pallbearer, along with Hap Arnold and several of Welsh’s Jewish friends from the neighborhood. His coffin was draped in a silken tallis. The Yiddish newspaper The Forward reported, “All present were in tears including Mr. Orville Wright and his sister who were doing all they could to console the wife and mother of the deceased.”

Welsh was buried in the Adas Israel Cemetery in Anacostia. Welsh's wife Anna died in 1925 “of a broken heart,” as the family remembered. Their daughter, just two years old at the time of her father’s death, grew up in Southwest and later moved to London.

In the early 1930s, Welsh’s sister, Clara Wiseman, campaigned to gain public recognition for her brother. She urged the military to name an airfield in his honor, as they had done for Welsh’s copilot. But since Welsh had flown as a civilian, no such honor was forthcoming.

Today, perhaps her efforts have been vindicated. Last week the College Park Aviation Museum unveiled a new interpretive sign telling Welsh's story at the edge of the airfield where this young Jewish immigrant turned pioneer pilot lost his life a century ago.

Remembering Arthur Welsh 0 Comment(s)

This coming June will mark the centennial of Arthur Welsh's death in an airplane crash.

The story of Welsh, a Russian Jewish immigrant who settled in Washington, is one of our favorites. Likely after seeing an airplane demonstration at Fort Myer, Virginia, in 1908, he asked the Wright Brothers to hire him. After he persisted, they eventually agreed. He became one of their most trusted pilots and instructors, training several pilots (including "Hap" Arnold, head of the U.S. Army Air Forces during World War II) and demonstrating the new technology of flight until his untimely death when his Wright Flyer C crashed at College Park airfield on June 11, 1912.

At the cemetery, from the left, Paul, Tiffany, me, and Lisa

To commemorate the centennial of his death, we are collaborating with the College Park Aviation Museum to create a small exhibition and hold a special program. As part of the prep, we recently met with Paul Glenshaw, the exhibition's researcher and designer, and Tiffany Davis, Collection Curator at the Museum. We ventured together to pay our respects to Welsh at Southeast Washington's Adas Israel Cemetery. 

Interested in learning more about this remarkable Jewish Washingtonian? Visit the online exhibition we created several years ago, and come join us at the program in June!