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On the Occasion of Yitzhak Rabin’s 20th Yahrzeit 0 Comment(s)

Just before Yitzhak Rabin left Washington, Adas Israel Congregation honored him with the Shem Tov Award. The Congregation has presented the award annually since 1964 to members whose actions reflect the cardinal virtues of Judaism: justice, mercy, humility, and charity. Yitzhak Rabin and his wife, Leah, posed with Rabbi Stanley Rabinowitz in front of the Shem Tov Award in January 1973. 

Courtesy of Adas Israel Congregation. Photograph by Mel Chamowitz.

In Memory of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin
By Rabbi Stanley Rabinowitz

Editor's Note: The fallowing eulogy, previously published in the 1995 issue of The Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington’s journal, The Record, was delivered by Rabbi Stanley Rabinowitz during the memorial service held at Adas Israel Congregation the evening after Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin's funeral, November 6, 1995. More than 3,000 Washingtonians, Jews and non-Jews alike, attended the service. When the 1,500 seat sanctuary was filled, the crowd poured into adjoining social halls and out onto the steps of the synagogue. At the conclusion of the service, yahrzeit (memorial) candles were distributed. As the crowd stood and sang songs on the steps outside, hundreds of flames from the candles could be seen flickering in remembrance of Yitzhak Rabin. The service was organized by the United Jewish Appeal Federation of Greater Washington (now The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington).

This has been an incredible, emotionally draining day of mourning and tribute. The television screen has linked much of the world together in a single network as though we were one family, all tuned to the same channel in hope of finding solace, only to find the horizon dimmed by the grey tint of despondency. Even though the electronic media gave us the opportunity to enter into the hearts of a bereaved family and nation, we have come here tonight because we require a more personal form of comfort. In reciting the mourning prayers together, there is a measure of comfort.

That so many of this morning's eulogists stressed the multifaceted personality of Prime Minister Rabin only serves to illustrate the aptness of the rabbinic insight that every person has three names: one bestowed by his parents, a second name that he acquires by his own achievements in his lifetime, and a third name ascribed to him by his friends after his death. Many biographies have already delineated the noble name bestowed by his parents; his achievements have been glowingly described in the press and do not require my additions.

It would seem appropriate, however, to ponder the name history will give him; it is a persona that describes Yitzhak Rabin as a soldier, a diplomat, and a statesman. These three attributes do not do justice to his name.

As a soldier, he was a reluctant warrior; as a diplomat, he shunned pomposity and ceremony; as a statesman, he demanded not words but deeds. More accurate was the portrait depicted this morning by his granddaughter, Noa Ben Artzi, who portrayed him so movingly as a loving and sensitive grandfather, father, and husband, whose caressing hand and warm smile she will miss.

Those who knew him from his life in Washington will recall t hose attributes and mourn him as one would a friend.

Yitzhak Rabin came to Washington as his country's ambassador in 1968 after his miraculous victory in the Six Day War. We were honored that he and Leah made the Adas Israel Congregation their synagogue, though of course they were welcomed in every synagogue and church in the land.

Leah and Yitzhak's son, Yuval, this tall, handsome, and sturdy young man who recited the kaddish so movingly this morning, marked his becoming a bar mitzvah on this pulpit.

The recollection of that bar mitzvah impelled me to seek out the particular haftorah that he had chanted. It was from the prophet Zechariah and contained that marvelously prophetic line, "Blockade shall no longer exist, and Jerusalem will dwell in safety."

The year was 1968.

In September 1969, Ambassador Rabin accompanied Prime Minister Golda Meir to Adas Israel Congregation for the Bar Mitzvah of Gideon Argov, son of Shlomo Argov, an official from the Israeli Embassy and later Israel’s Ambassador to England.

Front from left: Rabbi Stanley Rabinowitz, Ambassador Rabin, Prime Minister Meir, and Simcha Dinitz, later Israel's Ambassador to the United States.

Courtesy of Adas Israel Congregation. Photograph by Mel Chamowitz.

Rabin was not a stranger to the synagogue, though he would complain that one reason he didn't attend more frequently was that every time he attended, he had to accept an aliyah to the Torah. The problem with that was that he insisted on reading his own Torah portion. And one day, pausing for a moment, he exclaimed, "There is a mistake here!" We had never noticed it. (We had to interrupt the service in order to bring a replacement scroll, for it is forbidden to use a defective scroll in religious worship.)

Newspapers today and yesterday wrote that Yitzhak Rabin projected a stern image: grim, unsmiling, and sometimes dour.

But as Noa testified and as his friends know, nothing could be further from the truth. He was a compassionate and sensitive person, delightfully relaxed in social settings, and given to hearty humor. What is true is that he was a serious person who did not readily reveal his feelings. What is equally true is he was an extremely humble person.

And what is also true is that he was weighed down with his concerns. As Defense Minister, he was concerned for the welfare of those in his charge, and as Prime Minister, he was concerned for the welfare of those missing in action, who were uppermost in his mind and who colored his interviews and public statements.

Further, not victories, but peace with his neighbors was on his mind. Recall the words of this reluctant warrior delivered on Mount Scopus after the Six-Day War:

Our victory celebrations are marred by sorrow and shock. The men in the front lines were witness not only to the glory of victory but to the price of victory: their comrades who fell beside them. The terrible price that our enemies paid touched the hearts of many of our men.

The year was 1967.

His quest for peace was not of recent vintage. In 1973 he spoke these words at a convocation at the Jewish Theological Seminary:

For 25 years we have been conducting a monologue on peace, trying very hard to transform it into a dialogue. That dialogue will yet come, of that I am convinced.

Responding to a letter challenging Israel to try harder to find a formula for peace, he responded 20 years ago:

We have sought to grasp what appeared to be a possible opening for peace, but we were quickly and brutally rebuffed. Our neighbors simply will not sit down with us. The best we hear is that peace with Israel will have to be left to the next generation. We don't accept this. We want peace now and we are ready to compromise very substantially in order to achieve it.

The date of that letter: 1975.

Leah Rabin, his wife, understood her husband best. Her heroic courage has been and continues to be an inspiration. Just a few months ago, after one of the brutal terrorist at tacks that befouled the year, she wrote a letter describing the agony and ecstasy which characterized their daily life:

Yitzhak is like the rock of Gibraltar. He doesn't lose his perspective, neither with the ecstasy nor with the agony. He just carries on, determined to reach his goal of a peace agreement.

After signing the Declaration of Intentions on September 13, 1993, Yitzhak Rabin shook the hand of PLO leader Yasser Arafat for the first time.

Courtesy of the White House. Photograph by Vince Musi.

This rock of Gibraltar bade farewell to Adas Israel when he completed his tour of duty as Ambassador. He said movingly:

I have been tendered many farewells by many groups, but none is more significant than the one that takes place in the synagogue, for I have learned that the synagogue is the heart and soul of Judaism and essential to its survival. My Jewish identity began with my first breath in Jerusalem. The encounter with the synagogue has given me a different way of living a Jewish life. It has been a rewarding experience.

This reluctant warrior captured the hearts of his listeners when he fairly pleaded at the signing ceremony at the White House:

No more war. Let there be an end to bloodshed, an end to weeping mothers, and an end to wives weeping for their husbands. Let us make true peace.

Yitzhak Rabin had both a close working relationship and a strong personal friendship with President Bill Clinton. This photograph was taken in the Oval Office, July 25, 1994.

Courtesy of the White House. Photograph by Callie Shell.

Rabin disproves a Hebrew adage comparing a person to a tree: "A giant tree is best measured only after it is cut down."

It really wasn't necessary to cut down the tree. We measured his greatness in the name he acquired in his lifetime.

Yehi Zichro Baruch.

His memory will remain an inspiration.

Rabbi Rabinowitz was Rabbi Emeritus of the Adas Israel Congregation, having served as Senior Rabbi from 1960-1986. He had served on Board of Directors of the Jewish Historical Society and authored The Assembly: A Century in the Life of the Adas Israel Hebrew Congregation of Washington. D.C., the definitive history of Adas Israel.

Object of the Month: April 2015 0 Comment(s)

Accession No.: 2013.40
Donor: Ohev Sholom: The National Synagogue
Description: This symbol was posted prominently in businesses selling kosher food throughout the D.C. area. Below the “KOSHER” in Latin characters is a stylized Hebrew “kosher,” reminiscent of a menorah. If something is kosher, it is ritually fit for consumption by Jews according to Jewish dietary laws called kashrut. The supervision of kashrut is calledhashgacha in Hebrew.

Though packaged kosher food is ubiquitous in supermarkets today, fresh kosher meat and dairy usually fall under the supervision of a local organization composed of rabbis and food-production experts. A system for community-wide certification of kosher food – in particular meat – grew as the Jewish community grew.

For decades in the Washington, D.C. area, the preeminent rabbinical authority overseeing kashrut has been the Rabbinical Council of Greater Washington. The Council oversees bakeries, butchers, caterers, hotels, restaurants, and other establishments. In the 1960s, the still-young Rabbinical Council created this symbol to be visible in establishments under its supervision. Yet, the story of kashrut in D.C. started much earlier. The evolution of the Rabbinical Council’s kosher supervision reflects the growth of the area’s Jewish community.

Beginnings

Washington was home to as many as six kosher restaurants during the Civil War, but only a few shochets (ritual slaughterers) attended to Washington’s Jewish community by the turn of the 20th century. Most served a particular congregation. Simon Mundheim, who arrived in Washington with his wife and daughter in 1863, oversaw kosher meat production for Washington Hebrew Congregation and later Adas Israel Congregation. In 1897, Congregation Ohev Sholom, with mostly Russian and Eastern European Jewish immigrants, subsidized its religious school by charging an extra half cent per pound of kosher meat.

In 1901, there were two shochets on Seventh Street, NW, and one in the 4½ Street, SW, neighborhood. Also, in Center Market, where the National Archives stands today, a butcher sold kosher and non-kosher meat from the same table. In 1907, in the midst of an influx of east European Jews, the Agudas Hakehilot (Combined Congregations) was founded to oversee all aspects of Orthodox life in Washington, D.C., including production of kosher meat.

Within a few years, though, the Agudas Hakehilot’s authority came to be contested by the shochets whose work it oversaw. The organization mandated from which companies butchers could buy their meat, which inflated meat prices. The Agudas Hakehilot declared any meat from outside of the area – notably cheaper meat from Baltimore – as “alien meat” and non-kosher. Additionally, insufficient supervision of shochets led to a series of financial and health department scandals in the 1920s and 1930s.

In the face of high prices for their supplies, several kosher butchers in D.C. created the Boser Kosher (Kosher Meat) Association to collectively negotiate prices with the Agudas Hakehilot. In his memoir, Forty Years in Washington, Moshe Alex describes how the possibility of the Boser Kosher shochets turning to religious authorities in Baltimore to oversee kosher meat in D.C. convinced the Agudas Hakehilot to negotiate with the Kosher Boser Association to cap meat prices and expand the number of suppliers.

Kosher supervision poster from Agudas Hakehilot of Washington, D.C., 1962

JHSGW Collections

The Growth of the Rabbinical Council’s Kosher Supervision

Rapid expansion of Washington’s Jewish population from the late 1920s through 1940s led to the establishment of new kosher butcheries, delicatessens, and restaurants throughout the city. One of the better known examples was Hofberg’s, a kosher delicatessen that opened in 1928 on Kennedy Street, NW, and became a popular hangout for Jewish teens.

In the early 1940s, to improve its oversight of the expanding kosher meat production sector, the Agudas Hakehilot began employing kosher butchers directly or subsidized their salaries. Usually these butchers worked in small butcher shops located near Orthodox communities in Northwest D.C. Many of these shops were located on upper Georgia Avenue, NW, as this kosher supervision poster illustrates.

Advertisement for Rabbinical Council indicating the three butchers that it supervised, 1966

JHSGW Collections

The Agudas Hakehilotexpanded its purview as the Washington area’s Jewish population spread to suburban Maryland and northern Virginia in the 1950s and later. In the early-1960s, the organization changed its name to the Rabbinical Council and Combined Congregations of Greater Washington. The Rabbinical Council supervised only a few stores during this period, most of which were in D.C., according to this advertisement from 1966.

As the D.C. area’s Jewish community expanded, so too did the kosher supervision of the Rabbinical Council of Greater Washington. Today, it is the largest organization overseeing kashrut in the area.

Notice of Kosher certification revocation for Falkland Meat Market, 1960s

JHSGW Collections

Since the 1960s, observance of kosher dietary laws has expanded in the Washington area. A 2003 demographic survey of the Washington-area Jewish community found that 12% of the area’s Jewish population kept kosher homes, a substantial increase from 20 years earlier. Kosher markets and restaurants developed throughout suburban Maryland and northern Virginia. Most kosher institutions within D.C. closed as Jewish communities grew outside of the city after the 1950s. The handful of kosher ventures that have appeared in D.C. in recent years often have struggled to find a regular clientele.

Like most Jewish communities, a variety of independent kashrutorganizations and Mashgiachs (Kosher overseers) offer kosher supervisory services. For example, in February 2015, a council of local Orthodox pulpit clergy from suburban Maryland and northwest D.C. formed the Beltway Vaad, in part to provide kosher certification to area restaurants. The organization’s website recognizes that the Rabbinical Council of Greater Washington “serves as a primary kashrut organization” for the D.C. region.  

Alongside the Rabbinical Council, the Beltway Vaad and similar organizations are part of an evolving story of the Jewish community and Jewish life in the Washington, D.C. region. Whenever you see a kashrut symbol, keep in mind its part in the Jewish community’s much longer history.

 

Further Reading: Learn more about the 1902 kosher meat boycott in New York, which set the stage for Boser Kosher Association.

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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 unique story about Washington’s history of kashrut? Tell us about it at info@jhsgw.org.

A New Acquisition and the Vigil for Alan Gross 0 Comment(s)

Rabbi Arnold Saltzman gives "Free Alan Gross" sign to Executive Director Laura Cohen Apelbaum. The sign shows Gross and his wife, Judy, at the Western Wall in Jerusalem.

Alan Gross's recent release from captivity in Cuba marks a moment of celebration and reflection for the Washington-area Jewish community. Among the many activists celebrating is Rabbi Arnold Saltzman, a leader of a weekly vigil for three years in front of the Cuban embassy.

In the days following Alan Gross's release, Rabbi Saltzman donated a "Free Alan Gross" sign to the Society's archival collections. We took this special opportunity to record his first-hand experience of the weekly vigil as well as his perspective on the Jewish community's responsibility to defend those who cannot defend themselves.

JHSGW (Q): What was your reaction when you first heard about Alan Gross's arrest and imprisonment, and at what point did you decide to act?

Rabbi Saltzman (A): I heard about Alan Gross's imprisonment over four years ago. My friend and neighbor, Gwen Zuares, is Judy Gross's sister. Early on, she asked if I knew about Alan, and then she kept me informed. She was distraught and greatly concerned for his well-being and for his family's well-being. Gwen let me know when the demonstrations were beginning, and I got involved as I thought this type of demonstration could have positive results.

Q: With so many worthy advocacy causes swirling around us, how were you able to attract people to this issue and get them involved in the vigil? 

A: The Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC), its executive director Ron Halber, and staff (especially Adina Remz) deserve credit as does the Interfaith Council of Metropolitan Washington for helping get people to the vigil in the beginning. 

We do not know why some people chose to participate nor could we make it their priority. I shared some of my previous activism experience in order to interest people. From the beginning, I wrote statements to be read at the vigil. These gave focus, reminding people over and over what we were there for, what we were trying to accomplish, and how it fulfilled both a religious and civic responsibility. 

Q: What is the story behind the sign that you recently donated to the Society? 

A: These signs were carried every week at the vigil and were in synagogue lobbies around the Washington area. We brought one to the State Department so they would see Alan's photo – a reminder. 

Originally, The Jewish Federation provided a grant to print the posters. We began to run short, though, so I spoke to one of my congregants, Ed Apple, who owns Prince Frederick Graphics. I asked him for a price for reprinting, but he said he knew Alan Gross and gave us a gift. In addition, Gwen said she would find the money to print it, but I don't think it was needed. 

I donated this "Free Alan Gross" sign to the archives of the Jewish Historical Society to remind our community, now and in the future, of what we can accomplish together. Engagement with the government as well as asserting our rights to demonstrate as citizens are essential to finding a responsible resolution to a difficulty which otherwise might have been ignored or lost on someone's desk.

Q: Your leadership in this kind of advocacy work began long before the vigil in front of the Cuban embassy. How did your involvement with the vigils on behalf of Soviet Jewry, both in New York and in Washington, shape your tactics in Alan Gross's case? 

A: We learned from earlier demonstrations, including those for desegregating the New York City School system, and demonstrating for Soviet Jewry both in NYC and in Washington, D.C., that there were many good results. 

As a high school student, I marched in Harlem, and people applauded at the doors of their brownstone buildings. They were looking for a positive change. That was accomplished. When we demonstrated in Washington, D.C. opposite the Soviet Embassy, we demonstrated in silence. It was just the presence of demonstrators of every age group, from all walks of life, sent a message to those at the embassy. People who cared could be found at these vigils. Those who returned more than once, and those from our congregations and from the interfaith community. 

Once, in front of the Soviet Embassy, we sang the "Hush of Midnight," a contemporary S'lichot service prior to Rosh Hashanah, including the prayer Ashre -- "Happy are they who dwell in Thy house, they will ever praise Thy name." We sang Sh'ma Koleinu -- "Hear our Voice, accept our prayer in mercy, have mercy upon us." We sang Mi She'anah Avraham Avinu, Hu Ya'aneinu -- "May the One who answered Abraham, May that One answer us." After that day, we were asked not to sing anymore. Perhaps they were listening at the Embassy?  

We learned that there would always be individuals who said what we were doing was a waste of time and energy. We read such opinions in the press. Yet, I never believed that, as I saw us a community strengthened by these demonstrations. Everyone sought a way to express their concern. I made sure that my children, Josh and Michael, participated in the Soviet Jewry vigil, so that they could have that experience, continuing my experience and their grandparents' experience.

Read Rabbi Saltzman's memories of his involvement with the local Soviet Jewry movement.

In this recent situation, it was more difficult in that there was misinformation coming from some media originating from the Cuban government. That created some reluctance and doubt among some in the community who did not show up or discontinued their participation. From previous experience, I knew this could be a long process requiring persistence and belief that Alan Gross and his family had a spotless record of work and commitment to the Jewish community and humanitarian work. 

Q: The vigil that you lead was a critical part of a much larger effort. Where did it fit within the broader context of organizations and government institutions fighting for Alan Gross's release? 

A: Most importantly, this vigil gave Alan Gross himself the hope that people cared and were not going to let up. How does one keep sane for five years in a high security prison, while you're ill, losing weight, knowing of the emotional and physical deterioration of many loved ones at home, and unable to do anything about it? 

Our vigil let the Cubans know we were serious in our concern, and you know they recorded and taped us every time we were there, and their employees and diplomats exited the building as the sound of voices magnified by the bullhorn penetrated the walls of the building. Our vigil was seen by Cubans and people going to Cuba as they applied for visas across the street. This vigil let our government know that this was urgent – a priority that needed attention. We are citizens who spoke up for a fellow citizen who was not politically connected. 

The JCRC and Jewish Federation used their advocacy and connections to make this a priority in the halls of Congress. We coordinated with the JCRC and the Gross family's wishes and the requests of their legal representatives, and we tried to do what was helpful and supportive while their legal team worked other channels. A group of us from the vigil went to meet with a Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for South America and Cuba, Deputy Secretary of State Alex Lee, to express our concern, and inquire what else they were doing for Alan Gross and what else they thought we might do. 

At that meeting, I communicated that the message Alan Gross had done nothing wrong was getting lost in media coverage and that they had to find a way to correct that. Without that assurance that he was innocent, people were reluctant to act on his behalf. Shortly afterwards, there were news stories and statements steering the conversation back to where it needed to be - Alan Gross is in prison and needed to be freed. He had been sentenced unjustly. 

Q: Alan Gross's release came alongside a monumental breakthrough in U.S.-Cuban relations. How do you perceive your role and the role of the Washington-area Jewish community in contributing to this change? 

A: Our vigil to free Alan Gross was part of a much broader strategy to gain his release. For some it may be insignificant, but for those who participated, it has left an indelible impression. We used our right to demonstrate and assemble to good effect. We spoke out. We continued a time-honored American and Jewish tradition of not accepting the stern outcome as final, and we were determined to overcome this cruel and unjust imprisonment. 

Along the way, we discovered something we already knew from previous vigils like the one for Soviet Jewry: there is a community in more than name and it does not care which denomination you belong to. We had Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist, Renewal, and Humanistic Jews, Catholics and all participate in these vigils.

We found a caring community for Alan Gross and his family. We found people with Cuban roots, such as Carlos Lumpuy who translated my words into Spanish at the demonstrations. Students from the Hebrew Academy, BBYO, and public high schools joined us and brought our concerns back to their fellow classmates. Educational Directors brought the issue to their students. 

We established that even though it was difficult to park near the Cuban embassy, we could find parking, we could show up, and we could learn from each other. Some brought prayers recited by rabbis, some brought songs, sung by their cantors, some brought presence. Our message was Hineni! -- "I am here!" -- and willing to do whatever is necessary to resolve this matter, and to give thanks when it happens. We learned that it can be a lonely occupation to do this when you return every week.  

Q: Now that Alan has returned to the U.S., how do you suggest we preserve this story for future generations? What are the core lessons we need to ensure future generations learn from this story? 

A: The first lesson is one of religious and philosophical responsibility. As Pirkei Avot (Sayings of the Fathers) teaches, while we are not required to finish our efforts, we are not free from trying. Phyllis Margolius, Dr. Richard Morgenstein, and Daniel Mann joined us and believed in this, yet they did not live to see this wonderful day of Alan Gross's freedom.  

We learn that Pidyon Shvuyim, rescuing the hostage or captive, is the responsibility of the community and a great mitzvah. We learn that "to Save a Life, is to Save a World." We know that Alan Gross will not be the only person to be treated in this manner. Alan Gross can enjoy his life in freedom and rescuing one American gives us confidence that our government values its citizens and will do whatever is necessary to protect and defend them.  

Our government listened and responded to our concern and the concerns of the family of Alan Gross as articulated so eloquently by Judy Gross. Ultimately, President Barack Obama had to make the decision to do this, removing a stumbling block for a new day in Cuban-American relations. Alan Gross originally went to Cuba to help Cubans, and ironically, his unjust imprisonment and his being freed will result in helping Cubans by changing American policy.

Saving a good man who strongly identifies as both American and Jewish, whose first words to the public were "Chag Sam'e'ach" should give us something to ponder. The lesson of history is that we cannot be silent. Saving one man and participating in that cause gives us a reason to rejoice. There are times when good people need to know what is right and how to act on those beliefs. There are those who will minimize the relationship of our presence, and I do not want to exaggerate its importance either.

A Day in the Life: Reflection on My Internship 0 Comment(s)

Director of Collections Wendy Turman quips that she never knows what to expect when she answers the phone at Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington. The Society has many functions: answers about life-cycle events of Jewish Washingtonian ancestors, organizes programming events and walking tours, or recently the State Department called to confirm details about a Jewish veteran of Normandy for the anniversary of D-Day. Similarly, a day in the life of a JHSGW intern is full of adventures and surprises.

I love being an intern because I feel like Mystique, the shape-shifter in X-Men who can mimic any role. Beyond mimicking though, the intern has the opportunity to become each role. During my time at JHSGW, I have been an archivist, editor, and a writer, deliverer of challah, paper-folder, paper-cutter (cutting paper and getting cut by paper), historian, researcher, tour guide, and deliverer of brochures. I have spent most of my time learning archival arrangement, description, and organization, but like any life experience, small details become highlights: caramel coffee, quickly mastering the postage machine, slowly mastering the photocopier, delivering challah for Jewish American Heritage Month in May, and select pieces that caught my attention in the archives.

I assisted with the papers of Rabbi Tzvi Porath, Rabbi Marvin Bash, Martin Miller, and the National Jewish Democratic Council. I appreciated the opportunity to learn archival techniques by engaging with these charismatic figures. I blogged about a few of my findings, including a Hebrew note from Golda Meir to Rabbi Porath, as well as the story of the bar mitzvah of 70-year-old Harry Koenick in 1976. Yesterday in the archival material of Rabbi Porath, I read Jewish Digest, a digest of general Jewish publications, from 1959, which included a piece about Otto Frank, as well as a series of essays on what qualifies a Jew.

Do you notice brochures in hotels?  Do you know how brochures arrive at hotels?  Interns. Last Monday, I thoroughly enjoyed delivering "Downtown Jewish Washington" walking tour brochures to most of the hotels in downtown D.C. It was truly my privilege to discover each beautiful hotel and share a bundle of our walking tour brochures with them.

Although I have learned archival description, I can barely describe the fantastic work environment at JHSGW. In the white office building across from Adas Israel historic synagogue, Claire, Laura, Mary Ann, Wendy, Sam, and Zachary are a terrific team. They each contribute their background and expertise, and it is amazing how much six people do. I have been beyond fortunate to work with them. Before this summer, I had professional experience in Philosophy and Politics but only academic experience in History. As an undergraduate History and Philosophy double major hoping to enter a History PhD program directly after college, my objective for this summer has been to gain professional experience in History, specifically archival work. I applied to JHSGW because I am passionately interested in Judaism, History, and Washington, D.C. This experience has exceeded my high expectations.

Rebecca Brenner is a senior at Mount Holyoke College, working on a B.A. in History and Philosophy.

Harry Koenick: Bar Mitzvah at 70 0 Comment(s)

Last week, I was sorting the bar and bat mitzvah records of Rabbi Tavi Porath from Congregation Ohr Kodesh. Even after an informative, inspiring experience at the Soviet Jewry exhibit by the Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington at the D.C. Public Library, I could not imagine this particular story.

Harry Koenick was born in Russia in 1906. He escaped the Bolshevik Revolution by fleeing with his family to the United States in 1920. Although Koenick longed to perform his bar mitzvah at age 13 in 1919, famine, epidemics, and preparation for immigration kept him from this milestone. According to an article from The Washington Star, Koenick survived the typhoid epidemic that killed his mother in 1919, but it left him in poor health for a while. What is more, he was always hungry because of the famine.

Koenick settled into the United States and deeply appreciated his life with his wife and children. Throughout his life, he was very involved at Ohr Kodesh with Rabbi Porath. According to The Washington Star, “He has blown the shofar – a ram’s horn used in major Jewish holidays – at Ohr Kodesh for 27 years. He has recited the Bar Mitzvah service – but not as a formal Bar Mitzvah – at least two dozen times. But never, never was Harry Koenick the traditional Bar Mitzvah boy.”

In 1970, Koenick visited his hometown in Russia. He discovered the fate of all the Jews who grew up with him, according to the article mentioned above, “The German army had rounded up what was left of Shatsk’s Jewish population in the 1940s, stood them atop a hill three miles outside of town, and shot them, their bodies falling into a pit filled with lime.” During his visit, Koenick decided that he wanted to have a formal bar mitzvah at Ohr Kodesh when he turned 70. Specifically, he wanted a tune that he remembered from his childhood to ring from his new home congregation in the D.C. area.

On December 11, 1976, Harry Koenick was the traditional bar mitzvah boy at Congregation Ohr Kodesh with Rabbi Porath. He heard the tune from his childhood in his new home congregation. This event exemplified the warm American reception of Soviet Jewry, especially under the leadership of Rabbi Porath. The archives of Rabbi Porath contain extensive material from this event, including articles, correspondence, invitations, photographs, programs.

Rebecca Brenner is a senior at Mount Holyoke College, working on a B.A. in History and Philosophy.