Today is the 46th anniversary of the move of the historic Adas Israel synagogue. Dedicated by the congregation in 1876, the building stood for more than 90 years at Sixth & G Streets, NW, before being slated for demolition to make space for Metro's headquarters.
Three members of the Jewish Historical Society -- Evelyn Greenberg z"l, Henry Brylawski z''l, and Bernard Glassman -- worked tirelessly with D.C. and federal governments to save the building from the wrecking ball. To move a building in the federal city, President Richard Nixon had to sign a bill into law!
On December 18, 1969, the building was moved three blocks to its present location at Third & G Streets, NW. The first floor was too weak to survive a move, so the structure was severed horizontally and only the second and third floors (sanctuary and balcony levels) made the journey by flatbed truck. Read an interview with "Wild Bill" Patram, who engineered the move.
As part of a major new development project, the historic synagogue will soon move again -- this time one block south to the corner of Third & F Streets, NW. The new location will allow the synagogue to regain its original orientation facing east toward Jerusalem and will provide land on which to build an adjacent new museum. Follow our progress on this project through our Making a Museum e-newsletter.
Support these and other exciting activities with a year-end contribution to the Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington!
Prior to my internship at the Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington, I had little experience in behind-the-scenes museum work. What experience I did have came largely from volunteering, which in my experience meant working with visitor services. As a graduate student in Museum Studies at The George Washington University, I have taken many classes designed to prepare me to work in a museum environment. When I started at GWU, I thought I knew exactly what kind of work I wanted to do in museums and where I wanted to go.
But while working at the JHSGW, I saw the variety of opportunities open to me in museum work. I have seen the possibilities of what I can do with my degree and it validates my decision to pursue an M.A. I am reconfirmed in my love of museums and the important role they play in society and culture. The most beneficial aspect of this experience has been in the small size of the organization. I have become familiar with six people, gotten to know each of their jobs and responsibilities, and have had the privilege of helping each of them with varying tasks.
I have called other museums for research, helped edit a program video, written program fliers, invitations, program summaries, been on a walking tour of downtown Jewish DC, organized and communicated with program partners, looked online for possible acquisitions, set up for special events, given tours of the historic 1876 synagogue, attended a talk at the Library of Congress, written the Executive Director’s opening remarks for an event, performed audience evaluations, researched Yiddish history in DC, handled archived materials, attended the 139th dedication anniversary of the synagogue, and went on a staff field trip to the Anacostia Community Museum and The Frederick Douglass House. And this is all without mentioning the letter-folding, envelope-stuffing, and challah-delivering.
As a non-Jew who has always been interested in Judaism and Jewish culture, I have become used to the often puzzled looks I receive when explaining what kind of museums I want to work in. But I have always felt strongly that cultural history should be available to everyone, regardless of whether or not you identify with that group. This is what the JHSGW is doing for their community, and I appreciated being welcomed by the staff. I cannot say enough positive things about my time here. Not once have I felt like “the intern”: the staff gives me meaningful projects, welcomes my opinions, and values my work. The most validating thing of all is being able to immediately apply things I have learned in a classroom in a real world setting. I see tangible evidence that what I am learning will be helpful in any future museum I work in. And isn’t that the ideal of what can be gained by having students complete internships as part of their degrees?
Jaclyn Kimball is a second-year Master’s student in Museum Studies at The George Washington University, where she studies collections management, museum administration, and history.
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.
If you’ve visited the Lillian & Albert Small Jewish Museum in the past month, you can’t miss the construction. Work has officially reached the historic synagogue. Crews are installing a new 8” water main along the east side of Third Street, NW, from Massachusetts Avenue to E Street.
Earlier this year, we were awarded a prestigious grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) to plan the core exhibition in our new museum. The central experience of the museum, the core exhibition will reflect stories that distinguish the Washington-area Jewish community and its history. Our issues-oriented exhibition will enable visitors to explore regional and national history through the lens of area Jewish history.
In June, we kicked off our NEH advisory panel with a meeting to discuss themes and storylines for the exhibition. Our team includes top scholars, board members with related expertise, community advisors, and technical experts. Their insight and feedback on a variety of issues is helping us plan the core exhibition, develop a list of artifacts and topics to showcase, and test new ideas.
Our advising scholars:
Spencer Crew, Robinson Professor of American, African American, and Public History, George Mason University; former Director, Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History
Jenna Weissman Joselit, Charles E. Smith Professor of Judaic Studies & Professor of History, The George Washington University
Pamela Nadell, Professor and Chair, Department of History; Patrick Clendenen Chair, Women's and Gender History; Director, Jewish Studies Program. American University
Suleiman Osman, Associate Professor, American Studies Department; Director of Undergraduate Studies, The George Washington University
Eric S. Yellin, Associate Professor of History and American Studies, University of Richmond
Meet the Neighbors: Holy Rosary Church
Heading east toward Capitol Hill, F Street comes to a stop at Holy Rosary Church, only a block from the Jewish Historical Society’s 1876 synagogue. Just as the synagogue was threatened by construction and then saved, the church too was slated for demolition when it was in the proposed path of Interstate 395 in the mid-1960s.
“The only reason why this church survived is because it was the only Italian parish and the people really fought to preserve it,” says Father Ezio Marchetto. He became pastor of “the Italian Church at Judiciary Square” in June of 2013, a few months before Holy Rosary celebrated its centennial. Though the church was spared, the highway project destroyed the Italian neighborhood of which it was the religious, social, and cultural focus.
The Capitol Crossing development now underway will reopen F Street. The rebuilt neighborhood will be very different from the old, but Holy Rosary’s sanctuary has been filling up thanks to a recent wave of Italian immigration.
College-educated, but in many cases unable to find work in Italy, these immigrants are being hired for jobs in medical research, information technology, and other fields, according to Marchetto. “Plus all the people that are coming to work at the [Italian] embassy, the consulate, the World Bank, NATO, military people. These are all young families with children,” he says.
The Vicenza-born pastor talks about the church’s continuing role as a “point of reference” for the now-dispersed and largely suburbanized Italian American community, including many second- and third-generation parishioners. Holy Rosary is also a special site in Washington for representatives of Italy and the Vatican. These officials attend annual celebrations at Holy Rosary such as the Festa della Republica Italiana (Festival of the Italian Republic, June 2) and the Messa per i Caduti in Guerra (Mass for the Fallen in War, November 4).
Capitol Crossing will bring changes to the campus of the beautiful church, completed in 1923. After the rectory, currently blocking F Street, is demolished, a new facility will be erected behind the church. A fenced garden will complete the landscape.
Holy Rosary is also using the opportunity to expand Casa Italiana—a language school, meeting/performance hall and café—caffé espresso, to be properly Italian—with striking statues of Marconi, Dante, Michelangelo, and Verdi in front. A dozen rooms will be added and Casa Italiana’s offerings of Italian language, literature, art and cooking classes, opera, concerts and film screenings are expected to grow.
“I think this community has a lot to offer,” says Father Marchetto. “Now I think what we have to do is to start to offer what we have to other communities.” The potential for cooperative programming with nearby cultural organizations, including Holy Rosary’s soon-to-be-even-closer neighbor, the Jewish Historical Society, is clear.
Invitation to Synagogue Move, 1969
This invitation to “witness the moving of Washington’s oldest synagogue” was displayed for eight years in the National Building Museum exhibition Symbol and City. Alongside the invitation was a large photo banner depicting the synagogue move in progress.
Did You Know?
After 32 years in the building, Adas Israel sold its first synagogue at Sixth & G Streets, NW, to Stephen Gatti, an Italian fruit dealer and real estate investor who lived a block away. Gatti divided up the first floor to house several retail shops. Over the years, the businesses included a bicycle shop, barber, grocery store, and Anthony Litteri's market (yes, thatA. Litteri.). The upstairs sanctuary first hosted Saint Sophia, a Greek Orthodox congregation now located on Massachusetts Avenue near the National Cathedral, followed by a Pentecostal group known as Bible Hall, and then the Good Samaritan Chapel and the Mission of Light Church.
Although Jewish law frowns on the re-use of synagogues for other than Jewish use, many 19th and 20th-century American synagogues have been converted to churches, stores, or other secular uses—a phenomenon much more common in the United States than elsewhere.
Eventually, the former synagogue lost its religious connection and the sanctuary was converted into a storage space for the downstairs businesses. The ark was used as a broom closet!
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;