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Celebrating the Historic Synagogue 0 Comment(s)

On June 9, 2015, we celebrated the 139th anniversary of the historic 1876 synagogue with Mayor Muriel Bowser and D.C. Councilmembers Jack Evans, Brianne Nadeau, and Elissa Silverman (seen below left).

The program included historic readings from the original dedication service, which was attended by President Ulysses S. Grant, making him the first U.S. president to ever attend a synagogue service. Participants included several descendants of former congregants who prayed in the building and three local rabbis: Rabbi Bruce Lustig (Washington Hebrew Congregation), Rabbi Gil Steinlauf (Adas Israel Congregation), and Rabbi Arnold Resnicoff (Captain, Chaplain Corps, USN, retired).


Part of our "Last Call" series of programs in the 1876 synagogue before it is moved--for the second time--as part of the Capitol Crossing development. 

Learn more about the move

Remembering Henry Brylawski 0 Comment(s)

Speaking at the rededication of the synagogue, 1975

JHSGW Collections

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.

Read Washington Post obituary

Making a Museum - Issue 2 0 Comment(s)

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.

On Site

Equipment along I-395

Courtesy of 3rdsttunnel.com

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.

For more information, visit www.3rdsttunnel.com

A New Jewish Museum

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.

Museum Workshops

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

Chase Rynd

Courtesy of 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 exhibitionJewish 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."

Synagogue at 5th and G Streets, NW.

JHSGW Collections.

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.

Collection Connection

Bill Patram and wife Audrey with Bernard Glassman at the 125th anniversary of the synagogue's dedication, 2001

JHSGW Collections.

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.

Download entire interview (PDF)

Did You Know?

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.

Object of the Month: March 2015 0 Comment(s)

Description: Black and white photograph of Justice Arthur Goldberg with Albert and Lillian Small at the 1975 rededication of the historic 1876 Adas Israel Synagogue. Justice Goldberg was an active member of Washington’s Jewish community. For years, he and his wife Dorothy hosted an annual Passover seder with members of Washington's political and intellectual elite as guests.

Arthur Goldberg (1908 – 1990) came to Washington from Chicago in the 1950s. A labor lawyer, he was the general counsel for both the Congress of Industrial Organizations and the United Steelworkers of America, which merged to form the AFL-CIO in 1955. In 1961, President John F. Kennedy appointed him as Secretary of Labor. The following year, Kennedy appointed Goldberg to the Supreme Court, and, in 1965, President Lyndon Johnson appointed him as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations.

The Goldbergs’ D.C. Seders

Early guest list and draft menu for Goldbergs’ 1961 Seder

Library of Congress

In 1961, just two months after Arthur Goldberg’s appointment as Secretary of Labor, the Goldbergs hosted a Seder attended by national and international leaders. According to a draft guest list in the Arthur J. Goldberg Papers in the Library of Congress, invitees included President and Mrs. John F. Kennedy, Speaker of the House Sam Rayburn, Chief Justice Earl Warren, Justice William Brennan, Senator Everett Dirksen, Senator Paul Douglas, AFL-CIO President George Meany, Israeli Labor Attaché Nataan Bar-Yaakov, family, and friends. Ultimately, the President and First Lady did not attend the Seder. JHSGW president, Sam Brylawski, who was then eight years old and whose family were neighbors of the Goldbergs, filled one of the Kennedys' places at the Seder table.

The evening's menu included beef bourguignon, potato kugel, whole hot peaches, prunes, and apricots. According to a draft menu, well-known D.C. Jewish restaurateur Duke Zeibert made matza ball soup based on a “yeshiva chef’s recipe” published in the New York Times.

Throughout the decade, the Goldbergs’ Seders were lively occasions attended by a list of well-known figures. As a law clerk for Justice Goldberg, legal scholar Alan Dershowitz attended. In his memoir Chutzpah, he recalled, “George Meany would sing Irish ballads; Hubert Humphrey would tell stories; and Dorothy Goldberg would sing Yiddish labor union songs.”[1]

The Family’s Haggadah

Page from The Goldberg Haggadah

Library of Congress

Similar to many families, the Goldbergs’ Seder centered on their family Haggadah, which was adapted from various published versions. In The Goldberg Haggadah, as they titled it, the story of the Israelites is a symbol for contemporary struggles like civil rights. Displayed here is a page from the family's Haggadah, with the hosts’ initials next to assigned readings. In the margin is a note from Dorothy Goldberg, reminding her to mention the description of the Exodus in the African-American spiritual “Go down, Moses.”

Their Haggadah is explicitly American in tone, arguing, “Pesach calls us to the eternal pursuit of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” In the introduction to her own published Haggadah, Cokie Roberts, journalist and daughter of Congressional Representatives Lindy and Hale Boggs, remembers participating in the Goldbergs’ 1967 Seder “with gusto” when “the crowd started singing freedom songs from the civil rights and labor movements, held over from the days when Goldberg had been a leading labor lawyer.”[2] Brylawski, who went on to work at the Library of Congress, adapted parts of the Haggadah for his family’s Seders. “We used it several years,” he told the Society. “It's wonderful — tying Moses to the contemporary labor movement.”

Creating a Home with the Seder

Georgetown Law Center professor and another former Goldberg clerk, Peter Edelman, well-known for his legal career and public service, also attended the Goldberg Seders. In a lecture on Goldberg’s legal achievements, Edelman reminisced, “You went to Passover Seder; it didn't matter whether you were Jewish or not — you came to Passover Seder at his house. The crowd just got bigger and bigger. That's probably why he had to leave Chicago — because he needed to start a new crowd in Washington.”[3]

And that he did, both in future Seders at home and for the wider Jewish community. In 1964, Goldberg participated in a model Seder at Washington Hebrew Congregation to show Jewish students how Seders should be conducted. After leaving Washington for New York, Goldberg continued to host an annual Seder at his home in the Waldorf Astoria Hotel. Goldberg returned to Washington in 1971 and continued this tradition.

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This is the kind of story that you will encounter in the Society’s future museum showcasing the Washington region’s Jewish life and heritage.

Do you have a uniquely Washington Seder? Tell us about your Passover traditions.

 

[1] Alan Dershowitz, Chutzpah  (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1992) p. 61.
[2] Cokie Roberts and Steven V. Roberts, Our Haggadah: Uniting Traditions for Interfaith Families (New York: Harper, 2011) p. xxxv.
[3] Peter Edelman, “Arthur J. Goldberg’s Legacies to American Labor Relations,” John Marshall Law Review, Volume 32, Issue 4 (1999) p. 676.

Object of the Month: January 2015 0 Comment(s)

Top: Torah ark with arrows noting areas where paint was sampled
Bottom: Microscopic excavation of paint showing a newly-discovered layer of gold leaf

Like stratified layers of soil tell the story of the natural world, paint layers can tell a rich story of a building and the communities that lived there. Recently, the Society undertook a study of the paint in the sanctuary of its historic 1876 synagogue. The findings of this Historic Paint Analysis help us to piece together an idea of the building’s original appearance 138 years ago, and provide a map for future restoration activities. The project was funded in part by the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the MARPAT Foundation.

While this research rendered a nearly complete picture of the sanctuary's original paint and wood finishes, further study is needed to solve a remaining mystery: was there always a biblical passage painted on the Torah ark? If so, was it originally gold leaf?

The Historic Synagogue

Entrance and side to the historic 1876 Synagogue, now the Lillian and Albert Small Museum

In 1876, Adas Israel Hebrew Congregation built this synagogue at 6th and G Streets, NW. The building was the first purpose-built synagogue in Washington, DC. By all accounts, the sanctuary’s original appearance was quite modest. Its walls were whitewashed, with wood wainscoting below stained to look like walnut.

The most significant “extravagance” was on the Torah ark, which had some gold-leaf on the edges of its columns and cornice. Today it includes the familiar “Ma Tovu” passage from Numbers 24:5 in gold: “How lovely are your tents, O Jacob, your dwelling places, O Israel!” A June 1876 newspaper article about the synagogue’s dedication noted the presence of biblical quotation expressing reverence for synagogues. However, the article did not indicate whether or not the passage was painted direction above the ark, and if it appeared in gold or another color.

In 1908, the congregation sold the building to a real estate investor who converted the first floor to store fronts, and leased the second floor to a succession of churches. In 1969, when the building was marked for demolition, the Jewish Historical Society saved the building by moving it three blocks to 3rd and G Streets, NW. In 1975, JHSGW rededicated the building as the Lillian & Albert Small Jewish Museum. Learn more about the building’s history.

Since that time, the Jewish Historical Society has sought to restore the building to its original appearance. The Historic Paint Analysis is just one of the many tools that create a picture of the building’s original appearance in 1876. Other sources of information include newspaper accounts from the building’s dedication, and photographs from the 20th century.

Historic Paint Analysis

Making a crater in the paint on a railing below a window.

JHSGW worked with Worcester Eisenbrandt, Inc. (WEI) to carry out the historic paint analysis.  WEI’s analyst excavated tiny craters and took dozens of samples of paint and varnish from throughout the main sanctuary and its balcony area. Locations included walls, window frames, the newel post on the stairway to the balcony, and, of course, on the Torah ark.

The craters revealed layer upon layer of paint and varnish, each representing a “moment” in the building’s history. This crater from the wainscot rail ringing the entire room shows the first layer of finish – a varnish – and successive layers of paint, including “graining” layers that emulated the appearance and rare, expensive woods. More recent layers included white, brown, and green paint, as well as a thick layer of dirt.

A crater on one of the walls reveals layers of paint and varnish added since 1876.

Future research might help to reveal precisely when each layer – including the dirt – was added and the length of time it was visible. This information, coupled with the timeline of the building’s inhabitants, would make it possible to imagine what the interior of the building looked like at different times.

Perhaps the most significant discovery was the existence of a layer of gold paint added within a few years of the synagogue’s construction on the columns that support the second floor. For the mostly immigrant congregation of modest means, this decoration was likely a costly addition.

Viewed under a microscope, a cross section of the same wall reveals various layers of varnish, paint, and even dirt. 

In addition to the craters, WEI’s analyst placed cross sections from the wall finishes under the microscope. These provided a “side view” that revealed all the different layers of paint, varnish, and wallpaper in some cases. In this image, a thick layer of dirt from the period when the sanctuary was used a warehouse for shops on the first floor is visible.

There are still unanswered questions about some of the paint. The Hebrew inscription over the ark (called an entablature) is a reproduction of text that was present when the synagogue was dedicated. Yet, we do not yet know if the biblical passage was inscribed on the ark or on another piece of material and attached to the ark when the sanctuary was built, and if it was gold leaf. The Historic Paint Analysis found some gold leaf or paint below the several layers of paint. However, it is inconclusive whether or not the “older” layers are in fact just the bleeding through of the newer paint.

Detail of the inscription over the Torah ark, presently in gold paint.

In December 2014, JHSGW raised support for another round of analysis on the entablature to answer this question. Thanks to an anonymous gift in memory of Margot Heckman and contributions from other community members, we will be able to solve this mystery.