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.
Object No.: 1998.24.4 Donor: Ann Hofberg Richards Description: Hofberg's menu, yellow and maroon printed cardboard, c.1950s
Background: Does this menu bring you back to a time when a corned-beef sandwich cost 35 cents? Many Washingtonians' have early memories of Hofberg's, located on the District line. Shepherd Elementary and Beth Sholom Sunday School students visited after class was over. When these young patrons became teenagers, they returned to Hofberg's, a great date place where all enjoyed the famous sandwiches, hot dogs, and pickles.
Some 40 years before opening his deli on Eastern Avenue, Abe Hofberg was born in Argentina, where his Eastern European parents had lived since they were children. Dora and Solomon Hofberg brought their family to Washington in the early 1920s. Abe and his siblings attended Roosevelt High School while their parents, like so many Jewish immigrants, ran a grocery store at 20th & E Streets, NW.
When Abe launched his first deli at 116 Kennedy Street, NW (seen left) in 1928, the family lived four blocks away at 710 Longfellow Street, NW. His parents opened the doors every day at 6 a.m., and took over the counter while Abe served his country during World War II.
Shortly after Abe's return home, he sold the business on Kennedy Street, but quickly picked up where he had left off. In 1948, he opened a new Hofberg's where Eastern, Alaska, and Georgia Avenues meet on the border between Washington and Silver Spring. The sandwich shop became an popular hang-out for area teens to grab a heaping sandwich and a dish of ice cream.
Over the years, Hofberg's added catering service, room service for a neighborhood motel, and The Penthouse, a dining room upstairs from the deli. A 1957 advertisement for the Penthouse's grand opening boasted the establishment would be "America's most lavish and hospitable kosher restaurant outside of New York."
When the ownership changed in 1969, Hofberg's spread into Montgomery County, but the suburban locations were never as popular as their D.C. predecessors. Ten years after Abe Hofberg retired, the Eastern Avenue deli was praised in The Washington Post: "In the case of Hofberg's…everybody comes out a winner." Regretfully, after decades of serving as a meet-and-eat spot, the shop closed in the early 1980s, followed by the Maryland locations in the next few decades. While Hofberg's is now part of Washington's history, many native Washingtonians fondly remember its renowned deli fare.
Do you have material documenting a local deli or restaurant that you'd like to donate to the Jewish Historical Society's collection? Please contact us at email@example.com or (202) 789-0900.
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.