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Learning About and Sharing D.C.‘s Jewish History 0 Comment(s)

Training to lead the walking tour of Arlington National Cemetery

In the spring of 2015, I started to volunteer with the Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington (JHSGW) to learn more about DC’s Jewish history and to receive hands-on experience in a Jewish historical institution that provides museum education. I helped with educational programs that included curriculum-based education in the Lillian & Albert Small Jewish Museum for students, as well as walking tours and educational programming for the public at large.

Now, in the spring of 2016, I’m nearing the official end of my internship with JHSGW. During my 20-hour-per-week internship, from January 2016 through May 31, 2016, my responsibilities in educational and public programming have expanded and I have received substantive work experiences in other facets of JHSGW's work. All of these experiences have prepared me for a future career in the history and museum world, and the internship combined well with my program in Experiential Education and Jewish Cultural Arts (EE/JCA) at The George Washington University.

One important facet of an educational walking tour is to connect participants with the environment and topography that is under study. My internship allowed me to utilize what I was learning in the EE/JCA program, receive guidance and mentorship from the JHSGW staff, and enhance my role as a public-facing educator. Some settings where I facilitated learning experiences for participants included the downtown walking tour in 7th Street, NW, area of Washington, DC, as well as tours of H Street, NE, and Arlington National Cemetery. The mentorship and classwork allowed me to deliver the best walking tour possible, as well as learn how to situate Jewish history in the broader context of DC history and related historical events.

In addition to presenting history, my internship also allowed me to help preserve history. One snowy January afternoon, I traveled to Arlington, Virginia, to meet Dr. Sholom Friedman and his daughter, Karen. While sitting in Dr. Friedman’s Public Shoe Store, which has recently closed, his answers to my questions covered his family’s arrival in the United States from Tsarist Russia, the beginning of Etz Hayim Congregation, and how consumer trends in the latter half of the 20th century affected what was bought and sold at Public Shoe Store. This oral history is now saved in the JHSGW collection.

I also added Washington Jewish Week articles about DC’s Jewish community to the archivists’ reference files, and I like to think of these articles and the oral history I conducted like the stops on the walking tours -- many sites on the walking tours were forgotten by the community for a long time. Today, however, hundreds of Hebrew school students, as well as visitors from all over the world of all different faiths and affiliations, come to JHSGW to learn and to retrace the steps of D.C.’s Jewish history.

And like the walking tour locations, perhaps one day, the articles or Dr. Friedman’s oral history will be used in an exhibit in JHSGW’s upcoming museum or used as part of a mosaic of sources in a groundbreaking study of the Washington, DC, area. Only time will tell how these sources will be used, but one thing has been clear from the first day that I volunteered -- JHSGW is an integral part of a network of academic, cultural and historical institutions in Washington, DC, that provide sophisticated programming that allows our community to be more historically and culturally literate. I’m proud to have been a part of it.

As an added bonus, JHSGW underwrote a pizza party for my last day!

Michael A. Morris is a Master’s student in Experiential Education and Jewish Cultural Arts at The George Washington University.

A Peek Inside the Office 0 Comment(s)

When I was internship-shopping this past spring, I was mainly looking for two attributes: a place where I could get a good grasp of how a non-profit organization functions while also satisfying my interest in history.  At the Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington (JHSGW) I got both. The tasks I handled stretched across multiple aspects of the organization – from developing a new tour of the Jewish side of H Street, NE, to compiling a report of potential architect firms to build a new museum. 

My first project at the JHSGW was cataloging photographs into the database, a task much more exciting than what one might presume. Not only did I learn a great deal about Washingtonians’ roles in fighting for Soviet Jews’ rights, but I learned how to find background information and articulate the photographs’ context into the descriptions so that the photos could be more fully interpreted and understood.  And that was just day 1. 

By my third day, I was attending a conference with the executive director, Laura Apelbaum, who spoke on what it takes to build a museum in the 21st century; she even asked for my help on how to improve the lecture for the next occasion.

Perhaps my favorite project was developing the new walking tour on H Street, NE. The project consisted of heavily researching the history of the neighborhood, with a particular focus on the many Jewish-owned family businesses that were located there.  I was tasked with the responsibilities of organizing this information and creating a draft outline of the tour itself. I worked alongside the curator, taking a field trip out to the street to examine the area and conducting an oral history interview to learn more about the street’s Jewish history.

In most of the projects that I was assigned I was treated more as a coworker than as an intern. This allowed me to get a more personal experience out of internship and gave me a clearer idea of how the JHSGW functions. My boss, Wendy Turman, the Director of Collections, was constantly checking in with me to make sure that the work I was doing was in line with my interests, which made me take away more from the experience. Furthermore, Claire Uziel, Special Programs Manager and my neighbor in the office, was always there to point me in the right direction whenever I got stuck (side note – Claire knows everything there is to know about everything). But, most importantly, everyone in the office was constantly giving me feedback on my work. This helped me keep improving throughout my time here, thus making this experience educational, but it also allowed me to have a greater contribution and impact throughout my internship. 

Whether you are reading this because you are trying to decide if you want to intern here (or know someone who might), or you just want to get a little inside scoop of what goes on inside the office, the most important thing to realize is that there are always a lot of projects that need to get done. So, your contributions – whether it is in the form of an internship, volunteer work, or a donation – goes a long way and makes a real difference.  

Ilan Levine is a rising senior at Union College (Schenectady, NY), working on a B.A. in History.

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.

In Memory of Marion Barry 0 Comment(s)

Early yesterday morning, Marion Barry, D.C. City Councilmember and former mayor, passed away at the age of 78.

We remember him with these archival highlights:

Giant Food Chairman Izzy Cohen and Mayor Marion Barry, opening of Giant Food, Eighth and O Streets, NW, 1979

JHSGW Collection / Naomi and Nehemiah Cohen Foundation 

When JHSGW interviewed Barry in 2006 as part of an oral history project documenting the history of Giant Food, he spoke about the 1979 opening of the Giant store at Eighth & O Streets, NW, and its significance in rebuilding the city:

As you can imagine, the city had been devastated with the disorders of '68. Things were burned down, it was a shell of a city, people were depressed, and jobs had been lost from these establishments.  So we were anxious to get some consumer goods...and my recollection, I don't even know where the closest Safeway was, but it certainly wasn't around that area of D.C. And we were very ecstatic about that store [Giant at Eighth & O] being opened.

"Best wishes to a very dear friend
Jan Eichhorn
Marion Barry 7-7-81"

JHSGW Collections. Gift of Diane Liebert.

These two items are from the collection of Janice Eichhorn, an activist for Washington, D.C.'s political rights. Eichhorn worked on Barry's staff starting with his 1978 mayorial campaign until 1992, when she retired from her position as a senior policy analyst.

Bumper sticker from first mayorial campaign, 1978

JHSGW Collections. Gift of Diane Liebert.

Her papers were contributed to our archives by her sister in 2011.


Fred Kolker (wearing hat) and Mayor Marion Barry (right), renaming Florida Avenue Market to Capital City Market as part of planned market restoration, 1984

JHSGW Collections. Gift of Brenda Pascal.


In a 2010 oral history recorded by Glenn Richter, Ruth Newman, longtime leader of D.C.'s Soviet Jewry movement, recalled seeing Barry at the 1987 Freedom Sunday March for Soviet Jewry on the National Mall:

When we were...marching down Constitution Avenue, out of nowhere came the then Mayor of the City of Washington, Marion Barry. He said, "Washington," [upon seeing] our banner -- 'Washington Committee for Soviet Jewry.' He said, "That's where I belong," and all of a sudden he puts himself between those of us who were carrying the banner. He walked a couple of blocks with us and then he saw somebody else he knew and off he went.

Making history with Giant Food 0 Comment(s)

Laura Apelbaum, JHSGW Executive Director, holding the GIANT check with John Hicks and Charlton Clarke of Giant Food. In the background are D.C. City Councilmember Tommy Wells and Giant Food President Anthony Hucker.

Courtesy of Giant Food

Last week JHSGW staff attended the grand opening of Washington’s newest corner grocery store – the H Street NE Giant Food.  As you can see, we were thrilled to receive a generous $2,500 contribution from Giant in appreciation for our work preserving Giant Food’s historical archives and photographs. With support from the Naomi & Nehemiah Cohen Foundation, JHSGW archivists spent five years cataloging Giant Food’s historical documents and photographs and conducting oral histories to help preserve Giant’s remarkable legacy in our community.

For a sneak peek into the Giant Food archives, check out this slideshow of historic Giant photos and a short film featuring memories of Giant Food and its founders, Samuel Lehrman and Nehemiah Cohen, from interviews with community leaders, former employees of Giant Food, family, and friends.

Recognize the big G? Most of these iconic Giant  store signs have been replaced in recent years so we were especially delighted to receive this sign last month when the Queenstown Giant in Hyattsville, Maryland closed. Opened in 1954 on Queens Chapel Road, the store achieved a brief moment of fame in 1957 when Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Phillip stopped in for a brief tour of the store after visiting the University of Maryland.

We plan to make the GIANT sign a centerpiece of our new museum in the future - but in the meantime our costs to preserve and store the sign will come to $12,000 over the next five years. Won't you help us support the care and preservation of this GIANT piece of history? Donate to the Giant Food Sign Preservation Fund.