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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.

---

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: February 2015 0 Comment(s)

Object No.: L-21
Description: Black-and-white panoramic photograph of a huge crowd and small band standing outside the Hebrew Home for the Aged. The Neo-Moorish building was the Hebrew Home for the Aged from 1925 to 1969. Text on the photograph reads: "Dedication Ceremonies at the Hebrew Home for the Aged - Nov. 29, 1925.” The property and the house in the middle-right background behind the row of cars belonged to John Yeabower (1827-1919), a mounted guard for President Abraham Lincoln. Photograph by Fenschert and Flack studio.

Building the Home

The Hebrew Home for the Aged, founded in 1910, opened its first facility in 1914. Its mission was “to provide a home where food, clothing and shelter shall be furnished free of charge to indigent aged persons of the Hebrew faith.” Most were homeless, elderly Jewish immigrants who spoke little or no English. The Hebrew Home’s first location, a townhouse at 415 M Street, NW, accommodated 10 people when it opened in 1914. A caretaker was the only fulltime staff on site. Within a few years, a long waiting list illustrated the need for a larger site with medical facilities. 

In 1922, the Hebrew Home’s board of directors announced plans to build a new, state of the art facility on Spring Road, NW. “Aunt Minnie” Goldsmith (1871-1971), Chair of the Building Fund Committee, opened a drive that, within a few weeks, raised the money necessary to start construction. The building’s future site on the former Yeabower estate was in the center of a growing Jewish community in Columbia Heights and Petworth. 

Appleton P. Clark, Jr.'s plan for a complex with the main entrance leading to synagogue, with retirement-community and hospital wings on either side. 

The Washington Post, November 22, 1925.

The new structure was meant to be a premier facility of its kind in the United States. It illustrated the ability of Washington’s Jewish community to look after some of its most vulnerable residents. Designed by local architect Harry A. Brandt, the building was described as “pure American style.” Its exterior combined maroon brick with buff limestone trim. In February 1924, a less ambitious set of plans by architect Appleton P. Clark, Jr. replaced Brandt’s initial design. Other examples of Clark’s work include the Washington Post Building, the Owl's Nest, and houses throughout D.C. 

Building commenced later that year with the laying of a corner stone for the first wing of the complex. Construction lasted for over year and was completed in late 1925.

Dedication Ceremonies

Dedication committee including Bernard Danzansky (center), “Aunt Minnie” Goldsmith (right), and Sy Hirshman (left).

Courtesy of Hebrew Home of Greater Washington

Shortly after construction began, the Building Committee started planning the building’s dedication. For weeks leading up to the event, The Washington Post covered preparations, as well as last-minute fundraising. A month before the dedication, the Building Committee held a Halloween party in the facility during the final stages of construction to raise money for furniture and supplies. 

The dedication ceremonies for the Hebrew Home for the Aged’s new facility on Spring Road were held on November 29, 1925. The festivities attracted leaders from Jewish organizations, and local and national government. A 60-member chorus comprised of members from different synagogues sang patriotic and Hebrew folk songs. Members of an American Legion post raised the colors, and Maryland Congressional Representative Fred N. Zihlman, chairman of the House District Committee, closed the dedication ceremonies. Following the dedication, the Ladies' Auxiliary of the Hebrew Home held a two-day housewarming in the building.

Couple reading in a sitting room (left), 1931, and a Social Hall (right), 1930.

Courtesy of Hebrew Home of Greater Washington

The new building included sun porches and balconies, sitting rooms and a social hall, and recreation rooms. Decorations identified the Jewish character of the building: six-pointed “Jewish” star motifs ringed the building between the second and third floors, similar star windows were prominent on the penthouse level, and Hebrew was visible on the building’s cornerstone.

Hebrew Home for the Aged, 1967.

Courtesy of Historical Society of Washington, D.C.

As Washington’s Jewish community grew in the 1930s and 1940s, so too did the number of elderly Jews who needed assistance from the Hebrew Home. By 1950, the facility had become overcrowded, with some residents sleeping in hallways and enclosed porches. Additionally, many residents required more sophisticated nursing and hospital facilities. In 1953, an addition significantly increased capacity and added a nursing home section, medical facilities, a chapel and synagogue, and additional recreational areas. Designed by architect William St. Cyr Barrington, the addition emulated the earlier building’s materials and style. 

The recessed penthouse level led to an outer patio area overlooking the neighborhood. On either side of the doorways are six-pointed “Jewish” star windows, exterior at left in 2005 and interior center in 2015. Because of overcrowding in the late 1960s, the penthouse was used as a ward, seen at right in 1965.

Left photo by Jeremy Goldberg; Center and right photos: Hebrew Home of Greater Washington.

In spite of the added space and services, the addition was unable to meet the needs the community’s needs. A new facility was built outside of D.C., in Rockville, MD, adjacent to the newly-constructed Jewish Community Center and Jewish Social Service Agency buildings. That building opened in 1969, renamed the Hebrew Home of Greater Washington. The DC National Guard and American Red Cross were among the teams that helped move residents to the new facility. 

The Spring Road property was sold to the District of Columbia, which converted the property into a community health center. After years of deferred maintenance, the building became dilapidated and closed in 2009.

A New Phase

Since 2009, neighborhood residents and city officials debated plans for the building, including a homeless shelter, senior housing, and condos. In 2014, the site was added to the D.C. Inventory of Historic Sites and the National Register of Historic Places. At the same time, D.C.’s government finalized plans to redevelop the site, preserving the existing structure, while constructing an addition. Once completed, the building will be a mix of market-rate and affordable housing.  

In February 2015, JHSGW staff toured the current, derelict building to identify artifacts from its time as a Hebrew Home for the Aged. While renovations in the 1970s and later erased most of the building’s original details, we did note some vestiges from the past.  

Above: Transom over original entrance with “Hebrew Home for the Aged” (1956)
Below: The engraved words are visible below layer of stucco (2015)

Top photo: Courtesy of Hebrew Home of Greater Washington

Original ceiling and crown moldings in social hall were hidden for years above a drop ceiling.


Terracotta six-pointed “Jewish” star on building’s façade. 

Cornerstone with Hebrew and English, partially covered by stucco.  


This Object of the Month is dedicated to the memory of Laurie England.
A great-granddaughter of “Aunt Minnie” Goldsmith, Laurie had a keen interest in local Jewish history and was a generous supporter of our Object of the Month series.


We are grateful for the assistance from Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Kent Boese, and Michelle J. Chin and Stephen Campbell of the D.C. Department of General Services in facilitating our tour of the former Hebrew Home building on Spring Street, NW.

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.

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

Interior of Friendship grocery, ca. 1950s.

Accession No. 2014.33
Donor: Ronald S. Levine
Description: Collection of photographs documenting Friendship Deli, 4932 Wisconsin Avenue, NW, mid-1940s-1950s.

This December, will you join the collective shopping frenzy around Friendship Heights? As you meander past bustling shopping malls and boutiques, remember the neighborhood's quieter past as a home to small, mom-and-pop businesses. One of those businesses was a grocery and later a luncheonette called ‘Friendship.'

Herman Levine opened Friendship grocery shortly after the Second World War, in a small, two-story building at 4932 Wisconsin Avenue, NW, between Fessenden and Ellicott Streets. Like many mom-and-pop groceries, the store was on the first floor, and the family lived in an apartment on the second floor. "It was a typical mom-and-pop store," remembers Herman Levine's son Ron who, with his older sister Maxine, spent part of his childhood living ‘above the store.' "It was open 7 days a week, from 7:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. And my mother worked in the store, but would run upstairs to fix lunch and meals, and then go back to the store." Levine remembers being called home from school to help. "They would call the principal who would come into my classroom, and I knew that someone didn't show up for work that day." Herman usually took off Monday afternoons, and he and Ron would fish near the current site of the Kennedy Center.

Herman, Lillian, and Maxine Levine in front of Friendship grocery, ca. 1940s

From its beginnings, Friendship was a family affair. Levine, who was born in Brooklyn, NY, served as an airplane mechanic in Hawaii during the war and spent some time training in D.C. He met his wife, Lillian Furash, while staying at a boarding house for government workers on Nebraska Avenue, which Lillain's family owned. Lillian was born in Washington to immigrant parents originally from Pinsk, Russia. Shortly after the war, Herman and Lillian married. Lillian's father Jacob urged Herman to go into business, and helped him establish the grocery.

Friendship grocery was nestled within a strip of shops owned by Jewish, Greek, and Italian families. "The Kahn family ran a shoe store down the street," recalls Ron Levine. "Next to my father's store was a barber shop, and that was an Italian family. The toy store was next door, and next to them were Henry and Rose Greenbaum, and they had three kids. They lived above the shop, and were in business with Henry's brother. Both were survivors of Auschwitz. Next to them was a Greek florist. All of their children would run into each other's stores, and all of our parents watched us. On summer evenings we'd all be sitting out on Wisconsin Avenue and get together and talk. Our fathers were, of course, still in the businesses, still working."

Children whose parents owned stores adjacent to Friendship grocery
on the 4900 block of Wisconsin Ave, NW, ca. 1950s

Herman Levine and patron at Friendship when it was a grocery, ca. 1950s

In the early 1950s, a Safeway supermarket opened on the next block (it's still there). Unable to compete, Levine converted the grocery into the Friendship Delicatessen, a luncheonette that served breakfast and ‘kosher-inspired' sandwiches. Friendship Delicatessen offered signature items, including a version of a familiar D.C. favorite of the time. "Hot Shoppes came out with the Mighty Mo," recalls Ron, "and my dad came out with the Mighty Hy – because his nickname was Hy," short for his Yiddish name, Hyman. "It was a triple burger," similar to the Mighty Mo.

The Friendship Delicatessen flourished. Most of its regulars worked nearby at the WTTG (Channel 5) and WRC (Channel 4) studios, as well as at other offices and stores along Wisconsin Avenue. Within a few years, the family could afford to move to a house. They purchased and remodeled Lillian's childhood home on Nebraska Avenue – the same house where Herman and Lillian met.

"Once my dad changed the business to a deli, he worked Monday through Friday, and then closed up on the weekends," remembers Ron Levine. "After about 15 years, he had his weekends off." No longer needing to man the store on Saturdays and Sundays, Herman followed his passion for fishing. He purchased several progressively larger boats, which the family would take for deep-sea fishing excursions.

Herman retired in 1977 and sold his business. Similar to other Jewish Washingtonians, the Levines' mom-and-pop business helped the family to settle and prosper. The Levines and the Furashes live in the D.C. area.

Today, 4932 Wisconsin Avenue, NW, is home to the National Diving Center, which outfits SCUBA diving enthusiasts. The block continues to reflect the city's ethnic diversity, with Chinese, Thai, Mexican, French, and pizza restaurants, in addition to a bank, yoga studio, and pet groomer.

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

Accession No. 2004.13
Donor: Constance Tobriner Povich
Description: Walter Tobriner and Fair Housing in Washington, D.C.

Tobriner taking oath to become president of the D.C. Board of Commissioners, 1961

Tobriner with President John F. Kennedy (far left) presenting the keys to the city to the president of Brazil, João Golart (center), 1962


Fighting Persistent Housing Discrimination

Walter N. Tobriner was a native Washingtonian and lawyer whose career was distinguished by his service to his hometown. While serving on the Board of Education from 1952-1961, he was responsible for carrying out desegregation of D.C.'s public schools. In 1961, President John F. Kennedy appointed Tobriner to the city's Board of Commissioners. At that time, the Commissioners were D.C.'s governing body whose three members were Presidential appointees. Tobriner served as its president for six years.

During that same period, Tobriner was Chairman of the National Capital Housing Authority. Ending housing discrimination in Washington, D.C. was among his priorities. In the early 1960s, real estate agents, developers, banks, and landlords had a "gentlemen's agreement" not to sell houses to non-whites.

In addition to fighting this informal discrimination, Tobriner sought to end discrimination in housing contracts. Some house deeds and neighborhood-association agreements included restrictive covenants that prevented residents from renting or selling to certain minorities. Even after the Supreme Court declared restrictive covenants unconstitutional in 1948 (Shelly v. Kraemer), a handful of prominent developers and neighborhood associations continued to include these covenants in contracts with homebuyers.

Consequently, many African-American, Jewish, and other District residents, as well as several foreign visitors, were unable to rent or purchase housing in some buildings and neighborhoods. It was an issue that had both a local and global resonance. Tobriner argued this point in his testimony before the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights in 1962:

"In certain sections of our city, persons are still denied equal access to housing for no reason other than that of their religion or the color of their skin. With the emergence of a score of African nations, the problem of African diplomats in finding housing has added a new dimension to what is already a matter of concern."

Many African states had won independence from their European colonizers over the previous decade. In Washington, their new diplomats were unable to rent or purchase homes in the same neighborhoods as their counterparts from other countries.

Tobriner brought about fair housing ordinances aimed at ending this discrimination. But it was only in 1968, the year after he left the Board of Commissioners, that federal law followed suit. The Fair Housing Act of 1968 prohibited discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, and national origin.
 

A Regional Dimension: Restrictive Covenants

Housing discrimination was not confined to Washington, D.C. As thousands of Jews migrated to suburban Maryland and Virginia in the 1940s−1960s, many encountered restrictive covenants in deeds and contracts. Although legally unenforceable after 1948, even deeds for some new homes included such clauses.

This 1949 covenant in a deed for a house in Bethesda, MD stipulates that the property could not be sold or even leased to African Americans, "Armenians, Jews, Hebrews, Persians, and Syrians." However, this restriction did not apply to servants living in the house.

1949 Restrictive Covenant for Marywood Subdivision, Bethesda, MD

Courtesy of Myra Sklarew

Many homeowners have since had restrictive-covenant clauses legally removed from their deeds. Still, the deeds for some houses throughout the Washington area continue to include similar clauses – although they are legally unenforceable. The current owner of this house in Bethesda decided to keep the clause in her deed as a testament to the history of housing discrimination in the D.C. area.

Have a story about facing housing discrimination in the D.C. area?  We want to hear it: info@jhsgw.org or (202) 789-0900