Yesterday, Linda Silvern came to our office with a simple request: to see the photographs of the Jewish Foster Home that her uncle had taken. It turned into a visit that touched on many elements of local Jewish history.
Mrs. Silvern's parents met while living at the Jewish Foster Home. Her father, Bucky Rosenthal, was one of five brothers; Bucky's future wife, Ann Gnatt, was also one of five. Bucky's older brother, Joe, who also lived in the Foster Home and possibly took the two photographs of the Home that are in our archival collection, became a professional photographer. In fact, one of his photographs became internationally famous: Linda Silvern's uncle Joe Rosenthal took the famous photograph of the flag-raising at Iwo Jima.
Accompanying Mrs. Silvern yesterday was Sol Gnatt, an uncle from the other side of her family. We'd known Mr. Gnatt to be the donor of the Jewish Foster Home photograph that was in our Jewish Washington exhibition. Like photographer Joe Rosenthal, Mr. Gnatt spent his childhood in the Jewish Foster Home. He wrote an article about this experience for our journal, The Record, in 1989. We were excited to have the opportunity to talk to him again and hear about his time at the Foster Home, eating ice cream with Aunt Minnie, going to religious school at Washington Hebrew, being a member of the Jewish Lions Club and one of the four men in his class at Wilson Teachers College (predecessor to the University of the District of Columbia).
When I give a tour of our historic 1876 synagogue, I always discuss the entirety of the building's history -- its use as a synagogue, a Greek Orthodox church, the three Protestant churches, and the retail stores that have called this red brick building home.
So you could imagine my excitement last week when a member of the archives committee of St. Sophia's Greek Orthodox Cathedral called me and asked if their group could come visit the building. St. Sophia's used the sanctuary between 1910 and 1919, after Adas Israel had moved out. So, of course I said yes, we'd love to have the group come down!
Six members of the archives committee visited Monday morning. Sadly, all of the early records of St. Sophia's were lost to fire, so the committee is trying to fill in holes in their congregation's history. So, I showed them the pictures we have and told them the stories we know. They also told me some of their congregation's history, giving me new information that I can now use in tours.
My colleague Lisa took the below photo of the group standing on the bimah at the front (pardon the tarp on the chair -- we're replacing our windows). When the sanctuary housed St. Sophia's, the same space served as the altar. The only picture we have from the time of St. Sophia's shows a priest -- whom our visitors identified as Right Reverend Ioakim Alexopoulos -- standing in the same spot!
All in all, it was quite the jovial gathering -- a homecoming of sorts.