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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
9. Eruv Encloses All Three Branches of the Federal Government
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;
Please join us in remembering the life of former JHSGW president Henry Brylawski. Henry passed away on June 2, 2015, just a few days shy of his 102nd birthday.
A lifelong resident of Washington, D.C., Henry graduated from Central High School before receiving his law degree from National University Law School (now George Washington University). Following military service during World War II, Henry worked as an attorney in private practice in Washington for over 50 years.
Henry served as president of the Society from 1969-1971 and was instrumental in our work to save and move the synagogue in 1969. He later chaired the D.C. Joint Committee on Landmarks, the predecessor of the Historic Preservation Review Board. There, he had a major hand in D.C.'s earliest preservation laws.
In honor of his 100th birthday in 2013, Mayor Vincent Gray proclaimed the date “Mr. Henry Brylawski Day,” and the Washington Jewish Week wrote an article.
Services will be held on Sunday, June 7, 9:30 a.m., at Washington Hebrew Congregation, 3935 Macomb Street, NW, Washington, D.C., with a reception to follow.
Object No. 2014.06.01 Donor: Frank Gilbert Description: Louis D. Brandeis (1856-1941) used this notebook during his final semester as a law student. Nearly four decades later, he became the first Jew appointed to the Supreme Court.
Born in Louisville, Brandeis cultivated a love of law and legal debate under the strong influence of his uncle Lewis Dembitz, a scholarly lawyer. He attended Harvard Law School (1875-1877) where he achieved the highest grade point average in the school's history – a record that stood for over 80 years – and graduated before his 21st birthday. At Harvard, Brandeis had reveled in the “almost ridiculous pleasure which the discovery or invention of a legal theory gives me.”
In 1907, Brandeis put that creativity to use in a case involving the constitutionality of limiting the hours that female laundry employees could be asked to work. His sister-in-law, Josephine Goldmark, worked for the National Consumers League in New York City, and provided Brandeis with data on the workers. He combined this information with data from medical and sociological journals that showed that working too many hours was detrimental to the women's health. Brandeis used this information to supplement his legal reasoning and argument. Brandeis won the case (Muller v. Oregon). His unprecedented use of extra-legal information before the Supreme Court quickly became routine and such arguments became known as a “Brandeis brief.”
Brandeis was attracted to “the ethic, or prophetic standards of Judaism,” as biographer Melvin Urofsky explains.1 Brandeis contributed to Jewish philanthropies, and his advocacy for workers led him to support causes of great importance for millions of Jewish immigrants. As a mediator for a garment workers strike in 1911, Brandeis felt a kinship with the mostly Jewish immigrants on both sides. This sentiment stoked a sense within Brandeis that Jews and Judaism could only survive and grow with the establishment of a Jewish homeland. In 1914, he became President of the Zionist Organization of America, and, for years after, one of American Zionism’s leading intellectual forces. His close relationship with President Woodrow Wilson, who trusted Brandeis’s counsel and intellect, was instrumental in winning U.S. support for the Balfour Declaration, the British government’s expression of support for a Jewish homeland in Palestine.
President Wilson Nominates Brandeis To The Supreme Court
That Brandeis had argued on behalf of the workers against corporate interests was expected. He was such a defender of the rights of labor and consumers that he became known as the “People's Attorney.” According to Melvin Urofsky's acclaimed biography, Louis D. Brandeis: A Life, Woodrow Wilson had considered asking Brandeis to be his Attorney General shortly after his election in 1912. Ultimately, the new president was dissuaded by his advisors because of concerns about the reaction of the business community.
So when President Woodrow Wilson nominated Brandeis to the Supreme Court on January 28, 1916, the opposition was heated because of both the nominee's progressive politics and his religion. The confirmation battle raged for four months. Brandeis' nomination was the first that included a public hearing. Former President – and future Chief Justice -- William Howard Taft opposed Brandeis as did former Secretary of State Elihu Root, and seven of the 16 former presidents of the American Bar Association. Taft referred to Brandeis as "a muckraker … a man who has certain high ideals in his imagination, but who is utterly unscrupulous."
Various business leaders veiled their antisemitism with such phrases as “a self-advertiser” and “a disturbing element in any gentleman's club.” Harvard President A. Lawrence Lowell signed a petition which said Brandeis lacked “judicial temperament.” Still, some opposition referenced Brandeis's Jewish background, but did not necessarily emerge from antisemitic perspective. The New York Times, owned by a Jewish family, argued against Brandeis on the basis of his Zionism.
Early during the fight over his nomination, Brandeis wrote to his friend, Harvard Law School Dean Roscoe Pound, “I doubted very much whether I ought to accept, but the opposition has removed my doubts.”
After months of unprecedented debate that included veiled antisemitic accusations, public letters from President Wilson and former Harvard President Charles W. Eliot, who had known Brandeis for more than 40 years, carried the day. It was an election year and conservative Southern Democrats ultimately supported their President. On June 1, the nomination was approved by a 47-22 margin. Only one Democrat, Nevada's Francis Newlands, voted against Brandeis.
Brandeis On The Court
If Taft and Brandeis were uncomfortable serving together on the Court from 1921 to 1930, imagine how the latter felt during his 23 years on the bench alongside Justice James McReynolds, who expressed his antisemitic feelings boldly: he would leave the conference room when Brandeis began speaking and would not return until the more junior justice was finished.
However, by the time Brandeis retired from the Court in 1939, his wise service had changed the minds of many of his detractors. The Times, which, in 1916, accused Brandeis of seeking “to supplant conservatism by radicalism,” termed him “one of the great judges of our time.” The paper praised him for treating the Constitution, “as no iron straightjacket, but a garment that must fit each generation.”
The Notebook's Significance
In 1915, the year before his appointment to the Court, Brandeis gave this notebook to his daughter Susan Gilbert (née Brandeis) when she entered University of Chicago Law School. Like her father, Gilbert faced discrimination, but hers was not just because of her religion, but also her gender. Nevertheless, she went on to a distinguished legal career, first as a special assistant to the United States attorney in New York City, and later in private practice. When she argued a case before the Court in 1925, her father recused himself.
It was Susan's son, Frank, a past JHSGW President, who recently donated this notebook to the Society's collection. In 2003, Gilbert wrote a reminiscence about his grandfather for the Society's journal, The Record. Gilbert described the warmth and intellectual stimulation that he felt visiting his grandfather's apartment on California Street, NW, as well as his grandparents' home in Chatham, Massachusetts. Gilbert wrote, “Although we were very young, Grandfather treated us as persons who had minds.”
The Society recently completed an oral history interview with Gilbert, who is among the leading figures in the field of historic preservation. Among his many achievements, Gilbert is known for his leadership in the effort to rescue New York's Grand Central Station from demolition.
1. Melvin Urofsky, Louis D. Brandeis: A Life (New York: Schocken Books, 2012) pp. 18-19, 401.
Director of Collections Wendy Turman quips that she never knows what to expect when she answers the phone at Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington. The Society has many functions: answers about life-cycle events of Jewish Washingtonian ancestors, organizes programming events and walking tours, or recently the State Department called to confirm details about a Jewish veteran of Normandy for the anniversary of D-Day. Similarly, a day in the life of a JHSGW intern is full of adventures and surprises.
I love being an intern because I feel like Mystique, the shape-shifter in X-Men who can mimic any role. Beyond mimicking though, the intern has the opportunity to become each role. During my time at JHSGW, I have been an archivist, editor, and a writer, deliverer of challah, paper-folder, paper-cutter (cutting paper and getting cut by paper), historian, researcher, tour guide, and deliverer of brochures. I have spent most of my time learning archival arrangement, description, and organization, but like any life experience, small details become highlights: caramel coffee, quickly mastering the postage machine, slowly mastering the photocopier, delivering challah for Jewish American Heritage Month in May, and select pieces that caught my attention in the archives.
I assisted with the papers of Rabbi Tzvi Porath, Rabbi Marvin Bash, Martin Miller, and the National Jewish Democratic Council. I appreciated the opportunity to learn archival techniques by engaging with these charismatic figures. I blogged about a few of my findings, including a Hebrew note from Golda Meir to Rabbi Porath, as well as the story of the bar mitzvah of 70-year-old Harry Koenick in 1976. Yesterday in the archival material of Rabbi Porath, I read Jewish Digest, a digest of general Jewish publications, from 1959, which included a piece about Otto Frank, as well as a series of essays on what qualifies a Jew.
Do you notice brochures in hotels? Do you know how brochures arrive at hotels? Interns. Last Monday, I thoroughly enjoyed delivering "Downtown Jewish Washington" walking tour brochures to most of the hotels in downtown D.C. It was truly my privilege to discover each beautiful hotel and share a bundle of our walking tour brochures with them.
Although I have learned archival description, I can barely describe the fantastic work environment at JHSGW. In the white office building across from Adas Israel historic synagogue, Claire, Laura, Mary Ann, Wendy, Sam, and Zachary are a terrific team. They each contribute their background and expertise, and it is amazing how much six people do. I have been beyond fortunate to work with them. Before this summer, I had professional experience in Philosophy and Politics but only academic experience in History. As an undergraduate History and Philosophy double major hoping to enter a History PhD program directly after college, my objective for this summer has been to gain professional experience in History, specifically archival work. I applied to JHSGW because I am passionately interested in Judaism, History, and Washington, D.C. This experience has exceeded my high expectations.
Rebecca Brenner is a senior at Mount Holyoke College, working on a B.A. in History and Philosophy.