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Jewish Women and the Civil Rights Movement 0 Comment(s)

As part of my internship at JHSGW, I helped with research for the creation of the core exhibition for the Society’s future museum with our curator, Christiane. With Christiane’s guidance, I conducted research that both helps the society and interests me -- on women in Washington, D.C. who contributed to the civil rights movement. The American civil rights movement received support from diverse communities and individuals across the country. Washington, D.C. played an important role in the movement as a border between North and South and as the nation’s capital. Jewish women participated in this movement in various ways. Here, I highlight three of the women I have come across in my research to provide a glimpse at the different population of Jewish women in the civil rights movement.

The Activist

Marione Ingram, 1963

Courtesy of Marione Ingram

Marione Ingram (b. 1935) is a Holocaust survivor from Hamburg who immigrated to New York City in 1952. In 1960, she moved to D.C., where she observed the racist policies in place in the American South. She identified with these struggles, particularly the education system’s poor treatment of African Americans, which she compared to the discrimination she faced as a Jewish survivor in German schools after the war.[1] Ingram became involved in Washington’s civil rights movement through the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE). This led her to volunteer at the March on Washington and eventually join the Freedom Summer project in Mississippi in 1964.[2] By establishing a Freedom School for black students, teaching classes focused on passing literacy tests, and providing transportation for voters, she fought voter discrimination. She eventually faced legal trouble when she was falsely charged with a variety of minor offenses in a police attempt to quell her activism.[3] Following this, Marione Ingram returned to the capital where her activism for local and national issues has never stopped. She has been fighting for D.C. Home Rule, campaigning for Barack Obama, and protesting against gun violence. Her devotion to civil rights is strongly tied to her experiences of exclusion, discrimination, and persecution in Nazi and post-war Germany. Marione Ingram once stated, “My first journey to Mississippi began in Hamburg, where my father…instilled in me the idea that because I survived the Nazi era, it was my sacred duty to oppose racism wherever I encountered it.”[4]

The Politician

Bella Abzug, 1972

Library of Congress

Bella Abzug (1920-1998) was a congresswoman from New York from 1971 to 1977, fighting for many causes, including civil rights, women’s rights, and gay rights.[5] Bella Abzug was known as a defender of civil rights before her tenure in the United States Congress due to her legal defense of Willie McGee in the 1940s and 1950s. McGee was a black man falsely accused of raping a white woman in Mississippi, and the case exposed Abzug to the role of racism in the Deep South. She received death threats and observed the degree of violence and discrimination to which African Americans were subjected.[6] These experiences strengthened her commitment to civil rights, a cause she took with her to Washington two decades later. She was one of few women in the U.S. House of Representatives, and “established a standard of integrity and chutzpah…that challenges us all to tell the truth and to fight back.”[7] Bella Abzug’s dedication to civil rights was accompanied by a belief in the rights of all oppressed groups, and as a lawyer she struggled, “for the rights of all people…who [had] been attacked by reason of their religion, their beliefs, their sex, their sexual preference, [or] their race.”[8]

The Artist

An Orthodox Jewish woman born in Philadelphia to Russian immigrant parents, Eve Arnold (1912-2012) rose to prominence as a photographer with the global photographic cooperative Magnum Photos. Throughout her career her goal remained steady: “to get to the core of things.”[9] During her long and varied career, she spent time in Washington and Virginia capturing photos of the civil rights movement and the integration process. In 1958, she documented the integration crisis in the area with images of prominent political figures like Thurgood Marshall as well as photos of more casual situations like black and white children at a party to introduce students of different races to one another. This collection reveals Eve Arnold’s awareness of the movement in the Washington area at both a political and social level and indicates her desire to display these elements to the American people through her art. You can view Eve Arnold’s photos of the 1958 Integration Crisis and the Non-Violence movement in Virginia on the official Magnum Photos website.
 

These women represent only a small segment of the Jewish women who interacted with the civil rights movement in Washington, D.C. Jewish women came to the movement from all walks of life and contributed to the cause in a wide variety of ways.
 

We are creating the core exhibition for our new museum in which we would like to give women’s stories like these a prominent place. Do you have any objects in your personal collection from the civil rights movement or do you know any Jewish women who were involved in it? Please contact us at CBauer@jhsgw.org or (202) 789-0900.

Rebecca Friedman is a rising senior at Johns Hopkins University, working on a B.A. in History with minors in Jewish Studies and The Program in Museums and Society.

 

[1] Marione Ingram, The Hands of Peace (New York: Skyhouse Publishing, 2015), 27.
[2] Ibid., 81.
[3] Ibid., 128.
[4] Ibid., 9.
[5] Patricia Bosworth, “Bella Abzug,” Nation 277, no. 3 (July 21, 2003): 20.
[6] Leandra Zarnow, “Braving Jim Crow to Save Willie McGee: Bella Abzug, the Legal Left, and Civil Rights Innovation, 1948-1951,” Law & Social Inquiry 33, no. 4 (Fall 2008): 1003.
[7] Debra L. Schultz, Going South: Jewish Women in the Civil Rights Movement (New York: New York University Press, 2001), xiii.
[8] Jewish Women's Archive, "Bella Abzug Explains her View of Feminism," (Viewed on July 27, 2016) <http://jwa.org/media/abzug-explains-her-view-of-feminism-as-vision-of-what-we-love>.
[9] Bret Senft, “Eve Arnold: In Retrospect,” Photo District News 15, no. 10 (September 1995): 30.

Reflections on a Summer with JHSGW 0 Comment(s)

Rebecca researching at DC Library's Washingtonian Collection

During my interview for this internship, our program and outreach manager, Sam Abramson, mentioned that the Society’s historic synagogue – the Lillian & Albert Small Jewish Museum – would be closing its doors at the beginning of the summer in preparation for it to be moved a few blocks away as part of a new building project. When I began my internship a few months later, I was excited to see how this change would impact my summer with the Society. The museum’s upcoming move ultimately provided me with an exciting and unique experience that I can’t imagine getting anywhere else. Over the course of my internship, I have worked with every member of the Society’s small and dedicated staff on a wide range of projects, many (but not all) somehow relating to the synagogue’s move and the planning of the new museum.

I worked with Sam to create a brand new volunteer manual, reach out to schools about educational programs, and set up for the final events hosted in the historic synagogue before its closing. Earlier this summer, I helped Wendy Turman, our director of collections, update entries in our collections database to ensure that all of our holdings were accounted for as the archives were packed up. I later photographed professional movers as they wrapped up some of these items to move them to a storage facility. I spent time with our curator Christiane Bauer, conducting research for the new museum’s core exhibition. We went to the DC Library to research primary sources about an organization called Neighbors, Inc. We went through boxes of documents ranging from fliers for book fairs to invitations for luncheons with diplomats, looking for connections to D.C.’s Jewish community. Under Christiane’s supervision, I also undertook a major research project on the involvement of Jewish women in D.C. during the Civil Rights Movement. I eventually used some of this research to write a blog article (stay tuned!) discussing a few of the amazing women I’d learned about and asked readers for artifacts and interviews relating to their own experiences with the movement. With these projects and the other tasks I performed during my internship, I was able both to learn and to feel like I was making a meaningful contribution to the development of the new museum and its exhibitions.

Previously, most of my knowledge of the museum field came from classes and lectures. This summer, I’ve gained a deeper understanding of museum work with the help of a kind and supportive staff. As our collections were moved into storage, I was able to participate in and understand collections management at a new level as I tagged items with their accession numbers and watched as shelves of archival boxes were carefully marked and put into a truck. Sifting through piles of documents in the library and sitting in on meetings about plans for the new museum’s exhibitions allowed me to see the huge amount of work and planning that goes into content creation for museums. As I leave my internship I am excited to apply everything I’ve learned here to my studies and future work, and I am looking forward to staying in contact with the Society and one day walking through their new museum.

Rebecca Friedman is a rising senior at Johns Hopkins University, working on a B.A. in History with minors in Jewish Studies and The Program in Museums and Society. 

Relections on a Summer Spent as an Intern 0 Comment(s)

Prior to my internship at the Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington, I had little experience in behind-the-scenes museum work.  What experience I did have came largely from volunteering, which in my experience meant working with visitor services. As a graduate student in Museum Studies at The George Washington University, I have taken many classes designed to prepare me to work in a museum environment. When I started at GWU, I thought I knew exactly what kind of work I wanted to do in museums and where I wanted to go. 

But while working at the JHSGW, I saw the variety of opportunities open to me in museum work.  I have seen the possibilities of what I can do with my degree and it validates my decision to pursue an M.A. I am reconfirmed in my love of museums and the important role they play in society and culture. The most beneficial aspect of this experience has been in the small size of the organization. I have become familiar with six people, gotten to know each of their jobs and responsibilities, and have had the privilege of helping each of them with varying tasks. 

I have called other museums for research, helped edit a program video, written program fliers, invitations, program summaries, been on a walking tour of downtown Jewish DC, organized and communicated with program partners, looked online for possible acquisitions, set up for special events, given tours of the historic 1876 synagogue, attended a talk at the Library of Congress, written the Executive Director’s opening remarks for an event, performed audience evaluations, researched Yiddish history in DC, handled archived materials, attended the 139th dedication anniversary of the synagogue, and went on a staff field trip to the Anacostia Community Museum and The Frederick Douglass House.  And this is all without mentioning the letter-folding, envelope-stuffing, and challah-delivering.

As a non-Jew who has always been interested in Judaism and Jewish culture, I have become used to the often puzzled looks I receive when explaining what kind of museums I want to work in.  But I have always felt strongly that cultural history should be available to everyone, regardless of whether or not you identify with that group.  This is what the JHSGW is doing for their community, and I appreciated being welcomed by the staff.  I cannot say enough positive things about my time here.  Not once have I felt like “the intern”: the staff gives me meaningful projects, welcomes my opinions, and values my work.  The most validating thing of all is being able to immediately apply things I have learned in a classroom in a real world setting.  I see tangible evidence that what I am learning will be helpful in any future museum I work in.  And isn’t that the ideal of what can be gained by having students complete internships as part of their degrees?

Jaclyn Kimball is a second-year Master’s student in Museum Studies at The George Washington University, where she studies collections management, museum administration, and history.

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.

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.