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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.

An Initial Encounter with the Archives of Rabbi Tzvi Porath 0 Comment(s)

On the first two days of my internship at the Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington, I was very pleasantly surprised to dive into the archival materials of Rabbi Tzvi Porath. I had the opportunity to learn archival organizational skills by sorting a special selection of his materials. Rabbi Porath was a prominent Jewish figure in Greater Washington in the second half of the twentieth century. His letters and other archival material reveal a man who reached out to community members at times of celebration, such as anniversaries and holidays, as well as times of sorrow, such as death and the Iranian Hostage Crisis. As the spiritual leader of the Ohr Kodesh Congregation from 1952 through 1984, Rabbi Porath displayed boundless charisma. He brought together community members and corresponded with American Presidents, Israeli Prime Ministers, and other important leaders.

I have sorted Rabbi Porath’s archival material into categories, including the presidential administrations of Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Ford, Carter, Reagan, and Clinton; the presidential inaugurations of Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon; correspondence with Israeli Prime Ministers Meir, Begin, and Rabin; correspondence with United States Supreme Court Justices O’Connor and Arthur Goldberg; a category for family or personal correspondence; and then I sorted the significant pile of remaining material, according to decade.

Although Rabbi Porath seems to have written most of his correspondence during the 1970s, the material from the 1957 Inauguration of President Eisenhower stands out to me. There is so much material from this historic moment that after I finished sorting, I actually felt as if I had attended the Presidential Inauguration of 1957. I learned that both the rabbi and his wife had tickets to the ball, ceremony, and parade, but only one ticket permitted entrance into the Capitol rotunda. Furthermore, I found that the guidebook, invitation, press release, program, and tickets from the weekend are each unique pieces of history. Rabbi Porath had all these items because he proudly served as Co-Chairman of the Religious Participation Committee. Here is a card from the Inaugural Committee of 1957 thanking Rabbi Porath for his valuable contributions in that role.

Note to Rabbi Porath from Golda Meir

In the fall of 1975, Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir addressed Rabbi Porath in Hebrew, “I was impressed with the artistic work of Ms. Marker and naturally am pleased… I send you and your congregation greetings for a good year, a year of peace for our people.”  She referred to a photograph of a bust of Meir that the rabbi had sent to her. I visited the final resting place of Meir at Mount Herzl in Israel last January, and I admire her as a strong female leader, so I appreciated the opportunity to engage in her correspondence with charismatic American spiritual leader Rabbi Porath.

Overall, Rabbi Porath emerges from this material as a lively figure who consistently reached out to community members in need. The archives contain various cards and letters that he wrote to community members who lost a loved one or needed his help. Strikingly, there was little to no change in his attitude or tone, whether he was addressing community members or world leaders. Rabbi Porath engaged members of his congregation and the surrounding community with the same level of earnestness that he used to address Americans Presidents and Israeli Prime Ministers. With invaluable hand-written notes and various content, the Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington is fortunate to possess the archival material of this extraordinary Washingtonian Jew.

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

Celebrating Israel@65 0 Comment(s)

Making birthday cards for Israel

On Sunday, June 9th, we participated in The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington's Israel@65 Festival at Union Market. More than 10,000 people, young and old, celebrated Israel's 65th

At our booth:

  • Children created Israel birthday cards.
  • An exhibition, Ties That Bind, told the story of Washington's role in the establishing the Jewish State.
  • We handed out 600 fans as well as posters about Washington's celebration of Israel's independence.

View our photo album of the event!

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.

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

Object #: 2011.7
Donor: Leo M. Bernstein Family Foundation
Description: Leo M. Bernstein Archival Collection, which includes biographical materials, correspondence, family history, professional & community recognition, photographs, scrapbooks, and other memorabilia about the life and work of Leo M. Bernstein, D.C. banker, real estate broker, Zionist, civil rights promoter, philanthropist, American history enthusiast and collector.

Professional Life
Born in Washington, D.C. in 1915, Leo Bernstein graduated from the city’s Central High School. He received an informal education in real estate while working with his father’s real estate investments. The 1906 deed for his grandfather’s kosher butcher shop and home at 816 Sixth Street, NW, is in the collection. He founded his own real estate company at age 18. Within a year, Bernstein challenged racial and religious covenants, which barred the sale of properties to persons of color or to Jews, selling a house in a “whites only” neighborhood near Howard University to an African-American professor.

While working in real estate, Bernstein went to night law school, graduating in 1936 from the Columbus Law School (now Catholic University’s Columbus School of Law). Over the next few decades, Bernstein owned and ran several D.C. banks. Seen here, Bernstein (right) and D.C. Commissioner Gilbert Hahn, Jr., raise the District of Columbia flag at the D.C. National Bank headquarters at 18th & K Streets, NW, in 1971.
 
History Enthusiast
Bernstein enjoyed collecting historic documents, especially those relating to American presidents; furniture; and other objects, exhibiting some of them in the lobbies of his banks. This interest led him to become involved in historic preservation in the Shenandoah Valley communities of Middletown and Strasburg, Virginia starting in 1960. There, Bernstein helped save and restore several buildings, including the 18th-century Wayside Inn. As documented by itineraries, correspondence, and photographs, Bernstein organized and hosted family reunions and getaway weekends for friends and colleagues there and at other hotels he owned in the region. Among the groups Bernstein welcomed was the Washington Board of Rabbis, which met at the Wayside Inn many times during the 1970s and 1980s.
 

Jewish Community Involvement
Bernstein’s involvement in Jewish causes and organizations was local, national, and international. These included Adas Israel Congregation, United Jewish Appeal, Hebrew Academy of Greater Washington, American Committee for the Weizmann Institute of Science, Anti-Defamation League, and Yeshiva University. Bernstein served on the board of the Jewish Historical Society for nine years in the 1970s and ‘80s. This 1983 certificate of appreciation from the D.C. Section of the National Council of Jewish Women was awarded for his support on the occasion of NCJW’s 90th birthday in 1983.

As a young man, Bernstein was active locally in the cause of Zionism. In a 1999 oral history, Bernstein told of secret meetings attended by community leaders like Abraham Kay, Joe Cherner, and Morris Pollin: “Before Israel was a state, we had many Haganah meetings. We were getting ready to help Jews get into Palestine. They needed money for guns, ammunition and ships. We met at my office at 718 Fifth Street.” One highlight of the collection is a 1948 letter from Joseph Cherner, president of the Louis D. Brandeis District of the Zionist Organization of America, appointing Bernstein chair of the Embassy Building Committee, charged with finding a suitable building for the first Israeli Embassy.

Donation of Collection
Bernstein passed away 2008 at the age of 93. The following year, the Jewish Historical Society started a major archival project funded by the Leo M. Bernstein Family Foundation to organize and preserve this extensive collection of Bernstein’s business and personal papers. The Society completed the project in 2010 and was honored to accept the Leo M. Bernstein Archival Collection when the Foundation formally donated it last month.

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

Object of the Month: May 2010 0 Comment(s)

JHSGW 50th anniversary logoTo honor our 50th anniversary, we invite you to peek into our archives each month.

From the Archives...
Flag of Israel, 1948

Archives Record
Object #: 2003.22.1
Donor: Ruthe Katz
Description: Israeli flag signed by local Zionist leaders, May 14, 1948

Background: Leaders of Washington's Zionist community signed this Israeli flag at Isador and Bessie Turover's celebration of Israel's independence. Signers included Ruth and Joseph Cherner, Rebecca and John Safer, Minnie and Abe Kay, and Louis Grossberg.

Click here to see enlarged signature area of the flag.

Learn more about community celebrations of Israel's independence!