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Object of the Month: October 2014 0 Comment(s)

Object No: 2012.21 
Donor: Andrew Ammerman
Description: Typed note in German, Albert Einstein to H. Max Ammerman, March 1938.

Translation:

26 March 1938

A. Einstein
112 Mercer Street
Princeton, New Jersey, U.S.

Dear Mr. Ammerman:
Mr. Fritz Moses told me that you have kindly agreed to assist me with my small assistance effort.

Thank you and best regards.

Yours,
Albert Einstein


In October 1933, Albert Einstein permanently settled in the United States where he accepted a position at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton University. The rise of the Nazi Party to power in Germany earlier that year, and its subsequent exclusion of Jews from universities, led Einstein to renounce his German citizenship.

Even before settling in the U.S., Einstein began a tireless campaign to assist Jews and other "enemies" of the Nazi government find positions in universities in Great Britain and outside of Europe. He was part of an international network that raised money and advocated with government bureaucrats to obtain visas for refugee academics, as well as family and friends.

In this brief message on his personal, embossed stationery, Einstein thanks Washington attorney H. Max Ammerman for helping with a "small assistance effort." Ammerman worked in the law office of Louis Ottenberg, who facilitated immigrant proceedings for many Jewish refugees.

Albert Einstein sailing with Grete Lebach, Huntington, New York, 1937

Albert Einstein Collection, Leo Baeck Institute

Searching through the catalogue records of the Einstein Archives of Hebrew University provided a clue to Einstein's reference to a "small assistance matter." Companion correspondence in the University archives reveals Einstein's concern for Margarete "Grete" Lebach.

Lebach and Einstein were close acquaintances from his time in Berlin. She was a frequent visitor to his cabin in the countryside until Einstein emigrated from Germany in 1933. Lebach appears with Einstein in this photograph taken in 1937 in Huntington, New York by famed portraitist Lotte Jacobi.

At the time Einstein wrote this letter in March 1938, Lebach was in Vienna suffering from cancer and in dire need of surgery. Perhaps because of her relationship with Einstein, Nazi authorities denied Lebach the surgery. If the "small assistance effort" was to help Lebach, then it was unsuccessful. Lebach died in Vienna in August 1938.

Object of the Month: September 2014 0 Comment(s)

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

Louis D. Brandeis, 1930

JHSGW Collections.

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

Page of Brandeis's law school notes, May 1977
 

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.

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

Object No.: 2006.3.1
Donor: Stephanie Silverstein
Description: Menu from Comet Liquor and Deli, 1815 Columbia Road, NW, 1990s.
 
 

Fisher Photography

Do you remember Comet Liquors in Adams Morgan on Columbia Road between 18th and 19th Streets? It had a distinctive neon sign. Most who remember the business don't realize it was opened by a Jewish immigrant in 1940 and continued to be Jewish-owned throughout its existence.
 
When Oscar Gildenhorn opened Comet Liquor in 1940, the neighborhood was not yet called Adams Morgan. The name had caught on by the time Gildenhorn's son-in-law Howard Speisman took over management 25 years later. Sidney Drazin bought Comet in 1980. Drazin, a native Washingtonian, had served in World War II and then run a few different businesses before buying Comet.
 
In 1989, as neighborhood demographics changed, Drazin added a deli counter. Earlier in the 20th century, it was common for Jewish grocers in Washington to move into the liquor business, but now, a few decades later, a liquor man was adding food to his business.
 
Shortly after this change, Drazin (seen left) brought in a chair so he could sit while at work. He quickly found that customers wanted to sit and chat, so he set up a table and a few chairs by the entrance. These extra pieces of furniture changed the atmosphere of the store. The Washington Post wrote that Comet became a "kind of plastic-chaired neighborhood salon." Regulars came from all walks of life – from blue-collar workers to investment bankers – and they sat around the table to socialize and debate. Drazin was a popular neighborhood personality. One regular told the Post that "Sid was the surrogate parent to all the lost souls of Adams Morgan, all the single people who needed a confidence boost."
 
When Drazin died in 2005, in a show of community affection, Rabbi Ethan Seidel's eulogy ran in The InTowner newspaper. Drazin's widow Bernice shut Comet while the family sat shiva, and a shrine of flowers and cards grew outside the door. After running the store for a few months, Bernice decided to close Comet permanently. The above menu highlights the deli offerings at the time – with whitefish salad and lox served on a bagel hinting at the Jewish ownership.
 
Drazin's niece, Stephanie Silverstein, who worked for the Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington at the time, alerted the Society's archivists to the impending loss of Comet's historic materials. JHSGW staff embarked on a rescue mission to document the business – Jewish-owned for 60 years. We arranged for a professional photographer to take exterior and interior photographs before the store closed. The iconic neon sign was purchased by a local restaurateur and now hangs at his restaurant, Comet Ping Pong on Connecticut Avenue, NW.
 
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.

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

Accession No: 2013.38
Donor: Lenore & Sol Gnatt
Description: Two community cookbooks, 1950s.
  - A Pinch of This and a Dash of That (Montgomery County Jewish Community Center Sisterhood, c. 1955)
  - Eating Pleasure by Sisterhood Measure (Shaare Tefila, Washington D.C., 1958)

These cookbooks illustrate food trends of the 1950s when America's table experienced many changes in the wake of World War II. As the nation's capital, Washington, D.C. was not only uniquely impacted by the wartime influx of government and military personnel, but was also influenced by soldiers returning home.

Palates of the Pacific Theatre

During the war, American GIs overseas were exposed to new ingredients and dishes. They came back to America craving these flavors. Suddenly, chow mein noodles and sweet and sour variations of popular dishes appeared in restaurants and on the dining room table. A recipe for an Asian-inspired Sweet and Sour Tomato Soup (with or without meatballs) is in the 1958 cookbook entitled Eating Pleasure by Sisterhood Measure. Exotic ingredients such as pineapple gave traditional Ashkenazi dishes a Pacific flair.

Sweet and Sour
Tomato Soup

with or without meatballs
by Selma Swartz
Eating Pleasure by Sisterhood Measure
Beef Oriental
calls for canned pineapple
by Bertha Liebersohn
A Pinch of This and a Dash of That
Sweet and Sour Tongue
by Lenny Gnatt
(donor of the cookbooks)
A Pinch of This and a Dash of That

Fresh from the box

Another culinary impact of World War II was the demand for quick and easily prepared meals using mixes. During the war, many American women found themselves working away from the home in support of the war effort.

Illustration in Eating Pleasure by Sisterhood Measure

Simultaneously, factories had perfected the production of these goods, and they became more widely available. Quick meals from mixes meant that working women could still prepare dinner for their families. One popular mix was Jello, which inspired a full chapter on molds and salads in A Pinch of This and a Dash of That—a far cry from the side dishes served today.

While many American women ended their wartime employments after the 1945, their culinary habits had been forever changed. Resourceful home cooks looking for ways to save time used mixes in their traditionally made-from-scratch dishes. Even the knish, a popular Ashkenazi dumpling, did not escape the trend. A recipe for knishes in A Pinch of This and a Dash of That uses store-bought pie crust mix to make the dough.

Above all else, these cookbooks demonstrate Washington's ever-evolving Jewish foodways. What will the recipes we share today say about our community decades from now?

The Jewish Historical Society recently acquired these two 1950s cookbooks as part of a larger Washington-area cookbook collection. Stay tuned for future recipes and stories from this cookbook collection!

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.

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

Accession No.: 1995.16
Donor: Ruth and Vivian Weinstein
Description: Two grabbers, made of wood and metal, each stand 50" tall.

In the 1960s, Ruth and Vivian Weinstein took over Harry's Market, their parents' cornerstore in Mount Rainer, Maryland. They were among the few women who owned and ran a "mom and pop" store. Traditionally, women helped their husbands and fathers wait on customers and keep the shop's books. Rarely were they sole proprietors or shop managers.

Vivian and Ruth's parents, Leah and Harry Weinstein, had opened Harry's Market in 1924. They were among the hundreds of Jewish immigrants who opened "mom and pop" grocery stores in all four quadrants of Washington, D.C., as well as the Maryland and Virginia suburbs.

The grocery business was popular with immigrants because it required little start-up capital and minimal knowledge of English. In fact, many grocers learned English by reading can labels in their stores.

Receipt books from Harry's Meat Market, early 1930s. Each book tracks the account of one customer or household.

JHSGW Collections. Gift of Ruth and Vivian Weinstein.

These Jewish merchants lived above or behind the shop and ran out to assist customers who rang the bell. Sidney Hais remembered, "In those days, you waited on each individual customer. There was no such thing as self-service… It was exhausting." Grabbers such as the ones pictured here were used to reach cans and other items from high shelves.

The Weinsteins were part of District Grocery Stores (DGS), which provided cooperative buying power and a means to fight discrimination from non-Jewish wholesalers. Explained by Jenna Weissman Joselit in The Forward, "At once indispensable and taken for granted, the grocery store owner sought out the company of other grocers. Banding together, they formed trade associations that not only expanded their purchasing power, but also provided opportunities for socializing and for exchanging ideas."

Weinstein sisters, Vivian and Ruth, in front of their store, mid-1990s. 

JHSGW Collections. Gift of Ruth and Vivian Weinstein.

The era of mom-and-pop grocery stores started declining with the end of Prohibition in 1933, the movement of population from the city to the suburbs in the late 1940s and 1950s and the introduction of self-service supermarkets. Harry's Meat Market was one of the last Jewish-owned mom-and-pop grocery stores in the Washington area. The Weinsteins' sisters ran the store until 1996.

To learn more about mom-and-pop grocery stores in Washington, D.C., visit our online exhibition, Half a Day on Sunday!

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.