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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.

Youth Summit for “Parade” 0 Comment(s)

Cynthia Peterman, guest instructor, leads a discussion about American Jewish history in the 1900s

This past Sunday, eighth and ninth graders from Beth El Hebrew Congregation (Alexandria) and Shaare Torah (Gaithersburg) participated in a workshop with Lisa Hershey, our Education Consultant, to prepare them to see the musical Parade at Ford’s Theatre.  The workshop took place at Ford’s Theatre’s brand new education space: The Center for Education and Leadership. Students spent time reviewing the Leo Frank case, learning about stereotypes, and discussing the role of media today and back in the 1900s.  Students even had a chance to use their cell phones to create a pretend text message, as part of a larger conversation about using social media to stand up to injustice.  Students’ theater tickets and lunch were underwritten by supporters of JHSGW.

The Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington is partnering with Ford's Theatre on its upcoming production of Parade, a drama with music based on the true story of the trial and lynching of Leo Frank. Parade runs September 23 - October 30, 2011 and is the first production of Ford's Lincoln Legacy Project, a five-year effort to create a dialogue around the issues of tolerance, equality, and acceptance.

A Successful Jewish American Heritage Month! 0 Comment(s)

Our Jewish American Heritage Month programs culminated at City Hall last month, where we celebrated with D.C. Council Chairman Kwame Brown, the D.C. Council, and even the mayor.  This special event, co-organized with the Jewish Community Relations Council, included a kosher deli lunch and our exhibition, Jewish Life in Mr. Lincoln’s City, which was on view in the Wilson Building atrium.

Debbie Linick of JCRC, D.C. Attorney General Irvin Nathan,
JHSGW Executive Director Laura Apelbaum, and D.C. Mayor Vincent Grey
Photograph by Betty Adler
Chairman Brown addresses the crowd
Photograph by Betty Adler


During May, our programs served 625 people.  Countless others viewed our exhibitions.

Joan Nathan and Spike Mendelsohn
speaking at the National Archives
Photograph by Pat Fisher

An Evening for Educators 0 Comment(s)

On January 13, more 30 educators converged on the Lillian & Albert Small Jewish Museum to learn about the plethora of places where their students can learn about the Civil War. Our guests mingled and talked with representatives from each site, then sat in the pews to hear what each site has to offer. Pictured here is Braden Paynter from the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site in Southeast Washington.

We were pleased to host ten other historic sites and museums from the area -- President Lincoln's Cottage, Tudor Place, the Newseum, White House Historical Association, U.S. Capitol Historical Society, the African American Civil War Memorial and Museum, and four National Park Service sites: Ford's Theater, the Civil War Defenses of Washington, Frederick Douglass National Historic Site, and the National Mall and Memorial Parks. Our organizations are collaborating on joint programming to commemorate the upcoming 150th anniversary of the Civil War.

You might ask, what does a synagogue built 11 years after the Civil War ended have to do with that conflict? President Ulysses S. Grant attended its dedication, perhaps to atone for General Order No. 11, which he issued while commanding the Department of the Tennessee (western Kentucky, western Tennessee, northern Mississippi) in 1862. That order--quickly rescinded by President Lincoln--expelled Jews from the area under his control.

This story is among the many told in our exhibition Jewish Life in Mr. Lincoln's City. You can see a traveling version of that exhibition at the Jewish Community Center of Northern Virginia through February 22! And don't miss one of our upcoming talks about Jewish life in Civil War Washington.