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Pop Quiz: U.S. Presidents and Washington’s Jewish Community 0 Comment(s)

Here are the answers to the quiz we published earlier this week. Over 100 people participated in the quiz, with only a handful answering all eight questions correctly! Thank you so much for your responses, and enjoy learning about the relationships and experiences between U.S. presidents and Washington's Jewish community. 

 

1.  This U.S. president promised religious freedom and intolerance in a now famous letter to the Jews of Newport.


President George Washington issued a short but immensely important letter to the Hebrew Congregations of Newport, Rhode Island promising that this new government will give "to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance."

(Other answer options: Franklin D. Roosevelt and Thomas Jefferson)

 

 

2.  Why was President Ulysses S. Grant's attendance at the dedication service for our historic synagogue (Original Adas Israel) in 1876 so significant?

 

President Ulysses S. Grant attended the dedication of the Adas Israel synagogue (now the Lillian & Albert Small Jewish Museum) on June 9, 1876. Grant remained for the entire three-hour service and gave a $10 donation to the synagogue building fund. During the Civil War, then General Grant had issued General Order 11, which expelled Jews "as a class" from the Department of Tennessee. Grant's attendance at Adas Israel may have served as an act of contrition. 

(All of the above)

 

3.  Which president spoke at the groundbreaking ceremony for the Jewish Community Center on 16th Street, NW?

 

President Calvin Coolidge addressed the crowd in 1925 and closed his remarks by saying, "As those who come and go shall gaze upon this civic landmark, may it be a constant reminder of the inspiring service that has been rendered to civilization by men and women of the Jewish faith."

(Other answer options: Woodrow Wilson and Warren G. Harding)

 

4.  Who was the first Jewish candidate on a major-party presidential ticket?

 

Senator Joseph Lieberman, an Orthodox Jew who did not campaign on the Sabbath, was Senator Al Gore’s running mate in 2000.

(Other answer options: Jacob K. Javits and Abraham Ribicoff)

 

5.  What enterprising Washington businessman provided lumber to build the inaugural stands for Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman, and Dwight D. Eisenhower?

 

Sidney Hechinger first donated lumber to build the inaugural platform in front of the Capitol in 1933. After the ceremonies, he dismantled the stand and sold pieces cut from the wood as inaugural souvenirs.

(Other answer options: Alexander Hecht and Max Lansburgh)

 

6.  Which congregation is named in an Act signed into law by President Franklin Pierce that entitles Jewish congregations in Washington, D.C. to the same rights and privileges as churches?

 

President Franklin Pierce signed “An Act for the Benefit of the Hebrew Congregation in the city of Washington” on June 2, 1856. Washington Hebrew had petitioned Congress for legislation to ensure its right to own property in the city.

(Other answer options: Adas Israel Congregation and Kesher Israel)

 

7.  Which President sent his Jewish chiropodist (foot doctor) on a secret wartime peace mission?

 

Isachar Zacharie tended the feet of President Abraham Lincoln and several other Cabinet officials during the Civil War. In 1863 Lincoln sent him to Richmond to meet with Confederate Secretary of State Judah P. Benjamin to propose peace negotiations.  The errand was unsuccessful.

(Other answer options: Theodore Roosevelt and James Monroe)

 

8.  This prominent Jewish Washingtonian formed close relationships with every U.S. president from Abraham Lincoln to Woodrow Wilson, and was appointed Consul General to Egypt. 

 

Simon Wolf's 1918 autobiography was aptly named Presidents I Have Known. For Wolf's 70th birthday, his daughter, Florence Gotthold, compiled three books filled with over 400 personal messages from leaders of the day -- including several presidents, politicians, authors, and supreme court justices!

(Other answer options: Alfred Mordechai and Bendiza Behrend)

Presidents Visiting D.C. Synagogues 0 Comment(s)

Rabbi Gil Steinlauf greeting President Obama at Adas Israel

Adas Israel Congregation

This morning, President Barack Obama spoke at Adas Israel Congregation in Washington, D.C. in celebration of Jewish American Heritage Month. Watch the speech in its entirety. 

U.S. presidents have participated in the affairs of the Washington Jewish community since the founding of Washington’s first congregation. Indeed, President Obama is the second president to visit Adas Israel’s synagogue; the first was President Ulysses S. Grant in 1876! The following timeline features some of those presidential connections with Washington’s Jewish community.

Have a story of a national leader’s visit to your synagogue? Tell us about it at info@jhsgw.org.

Facsimile copy courtesy of Washington Hebrew Congregation. Original in National Archives.

1856: President Franklin Pierce signed “An Act for the Benefit of the Hebrew Congregation in the city of Washington”, which ensured the right for Jews to purchase land for a synagogue in the District of Columbia. With this act, Washington Hebrew Congregation became the only congregation in the country with a Congressional charter.

Receipt sent to the Executive Mansion for President Grant’s donation

Library of Congress

1876: President Ulysses S. Grant became the first U.S. president to attend synagogue services when he attended the dedication of Adas Israel Synagogue at 6th & G Streets, NW. Grant stayed for the entire three-hour service and made a subsequent gift of $10 to the building fund. Learn more about President Grant’s visit to the synagogue and Ulysses S. Grant’s notorious General Orders No. 11 issued during the Civil War.

1898:  President William McKinley attended the cornerstone laying of Washington Hebrew Congregation at 8th & I Streets, NW, attended by over 3,000 people. Learn more about Washington’s earliest synagogues.

JHSGW Collections

1925:  President Calvin Coolidge spoke during the cornerstone-laying ceremony of the Jewish Community Center at 16th & Q Streets, NW.

JHSGW Collections

1926: Orthodox Zionists met with President Calvin Coolidge at the White House.  

1930: The first issue of the National Jewish Ledger (now called Washington Jewish Week), featured a Rosh Hashanah message to Washington Jews from President Herbert Hoover.
Explore Jewish Washington in the 1930s.

1952: President Harry Truman attended the cornerstone-laying ceremony for Washington Hebrew Congregation’s new building at Massachusetts & Macomb Streets, NW.

Washington Hebrew Congregation

1955: President Dwight D. Eisenhower spoke at the dedication of Washington Hebrew’s new synagogue. During his speech, President Eisenhower mused that it is incumbent upon his office that he should attend “such a great and significant event in the lives of one part of the great faiths that have made this country what it is, to pay his respects to that faith and to this event and to the people who have made it possible.” Read President Eisenhower’s entire dedication speech.

Left to right: Joel Breslau (United Jewish Appeal Federation President), Soviet emigre Tamara Feldblyum, JCCGW senior citizen Ida Luzanski, high-school student Charles Wolstein, President Reagan, and JCCGW President Philip Margolius.

Ronald Reagan Presidential Library

1983: President Ronald Reagan visited a Hanukkah celebration and met with Soviet Jewish emigres at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Washington in Rockville, Maryland. During the visit, President Reagan remarked, “To every religious dissident trapped in this cold and cruel land, let us pray that the warm lights of Hanukkah will spread out the spirit of freedom and comfort and sustain every person who is suffering tonight.” Read President Reagan’s complete speechLearn more about the Washington area's movement to free Soviet Jewry.

White House photo by Paul Morse

2005: President George W. Bush visited the Sixth & I Historic Synagogue just prior to a major event celebrating 350 years of Jewish life in North America. Read President Bush’s remarks

2011: Former President Bill Clinton visited the Sixth & I Historic Synagogue for a wedding. Read about the visit in The Washington Post.

2012:  President Barack Obama mentioned the historic 1876 Adas Israel synagogue when he told the story of General Grant’s General Orders No. 11 during Jewish American Heritage Month. Read President Obama's remarks.

Another Successful Jewish American Heritage Month 0 Comment(s)

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:

  • Exhibition, Jewish Life in Mr. Lincoln's City, was on display at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library
  • Led 8 walking tours:
    • Washington Hebrew Congregation’s 6th grade, EntryPointDC’s young professionals group, and a public tour of Downtown DC
    • Arlington National Cemetery for the public, Women of Temple Rodef Shalom, and a Jewish school from North Carolina
    • Old Town Alexandria for the Adas Israel Congregation Sisterhood and Jewish Federations of North America staff
  •  Presented 5 talks on topics about local Jewish heritage for:
    • OASIS at Montgomery Mall
    • U.S. Customs and Border Protection
    • EntryPointDC’s Shavuot Study Night
    • Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library
    • Jewish Community Center of Greater Washington's annual meeting (related blog post)

100 Years of Jewish Community Life 0 Comment(s)

Last week, the Jewish Community Center of Greater Washington held its annual meeting and celebrated its 100th anniversary. JHSGW Executive Director Laura Apelbaum spoke at the meeting and recounted a few highlights from the last 100 years of JCC history. Here are some excerpts from her talk:

Among the most treasured objects in our archival collections are 34 scrapbooks documenting the JCC from the 1920s into the 1980s. Each scrapbook is filled with invitations, programs, flyers, and newsclippings, creating a wonderfully colorful and rich compendium of the Center’s activities and our community's history.

Opening the first scrapbook page, we find a photograph of a 3-story brick townhouse at 415 M Street, NW. One hundred years ago, young Jewish men and women wanted to create a place for social interaction, cultural activities, and athletics. They formed the Young Men's and Young Women's Hebrew Associations - predecessors to today's JCC. In 1913, the YMHA purchased this home as their headquarters. They fielded baseball, tennis, and bowling teams, went on picnics and beach trips, held debates and dances, and raised funds for Jewish overseas relief during World War I. In 1914, they sold the building to the newly formed Hebrew Home and moved into other rented facilities.

The next scrapbook opens to a panoramic photograph of President Calvin Coolidge speaking to a crowd assembled at the corner of 16th and Q for the cornerstone laying ceremony of the JCC's new building. The national Jewish Welfare Board provided an initial $50,000, while developer Morris Cafritz and Jewish leader Joseph Wilner led the $500,000 building campaign.  In his speech, Coolidge remarked "Hebraic mortar cemented the foundations of American democracy."

Another scrapbook reveals a photograph of young men in uniform dancing cheek to cheek with young women in the JCC's gym during World War II. The Center’s policy "Your uniform is your admission" made the JCC the central place to meet and socialize for Jewish servicemen and women stationed in Washington. Young women called "government girls" were flocking to DC to work in war agencies, and a JCC room registry helped them find housing in Jewish homes that provided kosher meals.

As the Jewish community grew in postwar years and began moving north and west into the suburbs, many Jewish communal organizations and synagogues followed. Turning the page, we find a smiling Charles E. Smith holding a ceremonial shovel alongside the youngest student at the JCC's nursery school and the oldest resident of the Hebrew Home at the 1967 groundbreaking for the new Rockville facility on Montrose Road.

The JCC's history showcases our community's unique relationship as the nation’s capital where presidents attend holiday events and groundbreakings. At the same time, the JCC holds many personal connections and has played a central part in the lives of many families for the past century.

What are your memories from the JCC?

Object of the Month: May 2013 0 Comment(s)

Left to right: Elaine Klawans & Morton Funger; Margie Blanken & Robert Funger; Phyllis Lidoff & Sonny Feldman; Lillian Witt and unknown.

Object No:
2010.27.1
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

Opening ball of four-day conclave of Pi Tau Pi fraternity, Mayflower Hotel, December 27, 1926. 

JHSGW Collections, gift of Albert H. Small

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.

Flyer for AZA's annual
Yom Kippur dance, 1939.
 

JHSGW Collections, gift of Sol Lynn.

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.

Alumni Luncheon, Kappa Sigma chapter of Phi Delta Sorority, Mayflower Hotel's Chinese Room, April 3, 1948.

JHSGW Collections, gift of Margot Heckman.

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.