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Intern Report: Rachel Ripps 0 Comment(s)

I have greatly enjoyed my eight-month internship experience at the JHSGW. During my four years at American University, I have worked at a variety of internships, but this internship ranks highest in quality among all my previous experiences. The opportunity has been truly educational, inspiring, and rewarding.

JHSGW provides its interns with a variety of important tasks, ranging from programming, archiving, social media, historic tour guiding, and development. In this way, I have been able to participate in many interesting events and meet some amazing people. I have worked on countless memorable projects, including a silent auction at the 2012 Annual Meeting, which I created and managed.  I implemented marketing initiatives for public programs and contributed to youth education programming for local children. I even contributed weekly to JHSGW’s Pinterest account. Most importantly, I always felt that my time, work, and opinions were greatly appreciated by the staff.

Undoubtedly, the skills I have learned from my time at JHSGW will assist me in furthering both my personal and career goals in the museum management field. I am grateful to the staff for mentoring and providing me with this invaluable experience.

Rachel Ripps is a senior at American University, working on a B.A. in History and a B.S. in Business Administration.

Commemorating the 70th Anniversary of “We Will Never Die” 0 Comment(s)

Cover of original pageant program, 1943.

JHSGW Collections.

In April 1943, official Washington was alerted to the Nazi massacre of Europe's Jews when the pageant We Will Never Die was presented at Constitution Hall. Controversial activist Peter Bergson collaborated with Hollywood's leading screenwriter Ben Hecht to create the pageant. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt was among the dignitaries who attended the Washington performance.

On April 25, 2013, the Society hosted two academics, Drs. Rafael Medoff and Allan Lichtman, who discussed the history and politics of the pageant in 1943. The event included readings from the pageant's original script by Adas Israel Cantor Arianne Brown, Ford's Theatre Director Paul R. Tetreault, Washington Jewish Week’s Meredith Jacobs, and  D.C. Councilmember Jack Evans.Holocaust survivor Dr. Alfred Munzer also shared his experiences hidden as an infant in the Netherlands. Listen to the entire program or check out the links below to hear individual segments.

Remarks
Welcome: Laura Cohen Apelbaum, JHSGW Executive Director
Introduction: Wilma Probst Levy, JHSGW Program Committee Co-Chair
The Politics of a Pageant: Dr. Rafael Medoff, Director, The David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies
Local Connections: Laura Cohen Apelbaum, JHSGW Executive Director

Recreation of Portions of the Pageant
"Prayer": Cantor Arianne Brown, Adas Israel Congregation
"Corregidor": Paul R. Tetreault, Director, Ford's Theatre
"Remember Us": Meredith Jacobs, Managing Editor, Washington Jewish Week
"Words for Washington": The Hon. Jack Evans, D.C. Councilmember

Speakers
Introduction of Final Speakers: Howard Morse, JHSGW Program Committee Co-Chair
American Jewry in 1943: Dr. Allan Lichtman, Professor, American University Department of History
A Survivor’s Perspective: Dr. Alfred Munzer
Conclusion: Wilma Probst Levy, JHSGW Program Committee Co-Chair

Introducing the JHSGW Book Club! 0 Comment(s)

Polio? Sex? Greek gods? At JHSGW? Last night, the Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington launched its first ever book club with Philip Roth’s Nemesis. Twenty of us, from a wide range of ages, religions, and genders, gathered in the historic 1876 synagogue on what turned on to be the perfect reading day…nice and rainy. Our fearless leader for the evening was Robin B. Jacobson, Director of Library Services at Adas Israel Congregation.

Nemesis follows the experiences of a young man, Bucky, as his predominantly Jewish neighborhood in Newark, New Jersey is plagued by a polio outbreak during the summer of 1944. Bucky is of military age, but has been rejected by the army because of his poor eyesight while his friends are all off fighting in the Second World War. He is hired as the gym teacher at a local playground for the summer, where he quickly takes it upon himself to shield the boys in his care from contracting polio. As polio ravages the town, Bucky finally decides to transfer to a summer camp in the country to be with his fiancée, Marcia. Once polio breaks out at the camp, Bucky becomes convinced that he is to blame. Throughout the book, Bucky combats all sorts of obstacles and challenges to protect those around him. Yet he cannot overcome his greatest nemesis, himself.

In the process of trying to figure out more about the characters, and Roth’s intentions, we learned more about each other by sharing stories. For that hour, it made no difference where we had just come from, be it work, home, or running errands. Of course, we didn’t always agree. Let’s face it-what a boring book club it would be if we did! Hearing those stories, though, was the highlight of my evening.  As a Generation Y-er, I grew up in a world where I only had to fear nurse’s syringe as she injected my polio vaccine.  The idea that a single illness could inspire fear in an entire country, and place whole camps under quarantine, was foreign. Post book club, I find myself wondering two things: 1) What will we discuss during our next book club on August 23 when we explore Geraldine Brooks’ People of the Book, and 2) Do any of you out there have memories about polio or other public health scares?

Kaddish for America’s First Jewish Aviator 0 Comment(s)

Last week, a crowd recited the Kaddish in memory of an unlikely aviation pioneer—a Jewish immigrant from Russia named Arthur L. Welsh. The occasion was the centennial of his tragic death at the College Park Airfield. Among those gathered were great grand-nieces and nephews of the little-known pioneering aviator. On June 11, 1912, Welsh was killed while testing a Wright-designed plane for military use.

The notion of a Jewish immigrant penetrating the Wright brothers’ inner circle seems improbable. Yet Welsh distinguished himself as one of the earliest and most respected pilots in our country. Unlike the Wright brothers, whose ancestors arrived in Massachusetts just 20 years after the Pilgrims, Al Welsh’s story began as one typical of a working class Jewish immigrant.

America’s first Jewish airman was born Laibel Willcher in Russia, where he lived until he came to this country with his parents as a boy. The family settled in Philadelphia. Shortly after Laibel's father died, his mother remarried.

In 1898, the family moved to Washington’s 4 ½ Street, Southwest, neighborhood—home to a small enclave of Jewish immigrants at the turn of the last century. This was the same neighborhood where another young Jewish immigrant was growing up—Asa Yoelson, a cantor's son who later changed his name to Al Jolson.

Like so many other Jewish families, Laibel and his family lived above the grocery store that his mother ran. His stepfather worked as a cutter in a tailor shop.

When Laibel joined the Navy in 1901, he gave his name as Arthur L. Welsh—perhaps to escape anti-Semitism. After his honorable discharge, Welsh returned to Washington and worked as a bookkeeper. He attended meetings of the Young Zionist Union, where he met his future bride, Anna Harmel. Their 1907 wedding was the first held at the then-Orthodox Adas Israel’s second synagogue at 6th and I Streets.

When the Wright brothers came to Fort Myer in 1908 and 1909, Al Welsh was among the throng who watched in fascination as the famous brothers tested their military flier.

Welsh chased and realized his dream of flying with the Wright brothers. Though he did not have the mechanical knowledge required, he embarked on a letter-writing campaign to gain the attention of the Wrights. After initial rejection, Welsh traveled to Dayton, Ohio, to appeal to the Wrights in person.

Arthur Welsh at the controls of a Wright C Flyer at College Park, MD, 1912.

Photo courtesy of College Park Aviation Museum, Jesse Ayer Collection

His persistence eventually overcame his lack of qualifications. Welsh trained directly under Orville Wright and became a trusted and skilled pilot—a notable achievement given the difficulties of flying a Wright plane. This young Jewish immigrant also gave lessons to the first military pilots, including the famed Henry "Hap" Arnold, later a five-star general and U.S. Army Air Chief of Staff during World War II.

In 1912, the Wrights sent Welsh home to test a new military plane at College Park Airport. He lived with his in-laws in his Southwest neighborhood, commuting on the streetcar from the family home on H Street.

During a test flight on June 11, 1912, Welsh and Lieutenant Leighton Hazlehurst crashed into a field of daisies. Both died instantly.

The funeral service, held at the Harmel family home, was delayed so Orville Wright and his sister Katherine would have time to arrive from Dayton. Orville served as a pallbearer, along with Hap Arnold and several of Welsh’s Jewish friends from the neighborhood. His coffin was draped in a silken tallis. The Yiddish newspaper The Forward reported, “All present were in tears including Mr. Orville Wright and his sister who were doing all they could to console the wife and mother of the deceased.”

Welsh was buried in the Adas Israel Cemetery in Anacostia. Welsh's wife Anna died in 1925 “of a broken heart,” as the family remembered. Their daughter, just two years old at the time of her father’s death, grew up in Southwest and later moved to London.

In the early 1930s, Welsh’s sister, Clara Wiseman, campaigned to gain public recognition for her brother. She urged the military to name an airfield in his honor, as they had done for Welsh’s copilot. But since Welsh had flown as a civilian, no such honor was forthcoming.

Today, perhaps her efforts have been vindicated. Last week the College Park Aviation Museum unveiled a new interpretive sign telling Welsh's story at the edge of the airfield where this young Jewish immigrant turned pioneer pilot lost his life a century ago.

Touring Historic Jewish Washington with Jewish Professionals 0 Comment(s)

One of the Historical Society’s most popular events is tours of downtown Jewish Washington. Open to the public in the fall and spring, staff members are also on hand for private events. This morning, Interpretive Programs Manager David McKenzie and I met with a group of 17 Jewish communal professionals for a tour organized by The Jewish Federations of North America.

Standing in front of Greater New Hope Baptist Church, David displays a picture of the building when it housed Washington Hebrew Congregation

We started at the Lillian and Albert Small Jewish Museum, formerly the home of Adas Israel Congregation and the first synagogue in the Washington area, to discuss the migration of Jewish groups into the capital and the literal migration of this building from 6th and G to 3rd and G streets in 1969. Outside, we braved the humidity to walk around 7th Street, once a neighborhood with a sizeable Jewish minority in the 19th and early 20th centuries. We also saw the sites of former synagogues-turned-churches as well as the revitalized Sixth & I Historic Synagogue. Perhaps the most quirky, if not momentous historical artifact was when David showed us an iron rung for tying up horses on the side of the road, one of the few still left standing in the city.

David also talked about plans in the works to move the historic 1876 Adas Israel synagogue yet again, this time to 3rd and F streets, and answered a few questions for a Ha’aretz reporter. For more information on setting up walking tours with the Society in Washington, Old Town Alexandria, or Arlington National Cemetery, click here.

Intern Rachel Mauro is a Master of Library Science candidate at the University of Maryland.