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In Memoriam: Elie Wiesel and Max Ticktin 0 Comment(s)

May Their Memories Be For A Blessing

Last week, Washington's Jewish community lost two pillars of life and culture in our region and beyond.

We remember Elie Wiesel and Max Ticktin's lasting legacies.  

Elie Wiesel (1928-2016)

Holocaust survivor, author, Nobel laureate, and human rights activist Elie Wiesel was perhaps the world's most well-known Holocaust survivor. He dedicated his life to combating hate and remembering the Holocaust. A frequent visitor to Washington, he made a lasting impact on our community.

Marion and Elie Wiesel (left and center) with Soviet liberator at reunion, 1981. 

JHSGW Collections. Photo by and gift of Ida Jervis.

In 1978, President Jimmy Carter appointed Wiesel chairman of the Presidential Commission on the Holocaust. Wiesel's efforts at the commission led to the establishment of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, where his words greet visitors at the entrance: "For the dead and the living, we must bear witness."

Wiesel and his wife traveled to Washington in 1981 as part of a three-day conference that he organized to record the horrors of the Holocaust for posterity. During the conference, the Wiesels participated in a reunion of Holocaust survivors and liberators at U.S. State Department.

Elie Wiesel speaking at Freedom Sunday, 1987.

JHSGW Collections. Gift of Susan Banes Harris.

Among Wiesel's many social justice causes was the movement to free Soviet Jewry. Twenty years after his book, The Jews of Silence, raised public awareness of the plight of Soviet Jews, Wiesel addressed the crowd at the 1987 Freedom Sunday rally on the National Mall. "If I had three days, I would read the name of every Jew refused permission to leave the Soviet Union," he said. "All these names must be known."

Learn about D.C.'s Soviet Jewry movement from our exhibition, Voices of the Vigil.

Max Ticktin (1922-2016)

At Rabbis for Human Rights-North America conference, Washington, D.C., 2008.

JHSGW Collections. Photo by and gift of Lloyd Wolf.

Max Ticktin, an ordained rabbi, was one of the most influential and beloved professionals at Hillel and a longtime professor of Yiddish and Hebrew Literature at The George Washington University. After transforming several Hillel Foundations in the Midwest, his talents brought him to Washington as associate national director of Hillel. He was also an active member at Washington's Fabrangen and Yiddish of Greater Washington.

Last fall, our staff had the opportunity to conduct an oral history of Max Ticktin in partnership with the Washington Jewish Week. This interview was funded by a grant from the Koster Foundation. Below are several excerpts.

About his professional calling

"So, it's the teacher in me, it's the piece of me that feels I was put on this Earth to somehow to try to make some contacts with things that will survive my life and will be part of a consensus. A consensus, at the moment we are talking about a Jewish consensus. But it's obviously a Jewish consensus of commitments within a larger world, a larger politics."

On his passion for the Hebrew language

"The development of the Hebrew language in my lifetime is a miracle. A miracle in the sense that one has to realize that one becomes a wandering Jew, here's a bad pun, a wondering Jew instead of a wandering Jew. It's a matter of wonder and miracle that this is the only place on Earth where a language and a big part of culture was born out of suffering and pain and disruption and survived."

Voices of the Vigil: Highlights and Accomplishments 0 Comment(s)

Thank you for supporting Voices of the Vigil, our award-winning exhibition telling the story of D.C.’s Soviet Jewry movement. We’re pleased to share these accomplishments and highlights from its regional tour:

  • Nine venues throughout Washington, D.C., Maryland, and Virginia
  • American Association for State and Local History’s Leadership in History Award of Merit
  • Companion website -- including oral histories and memoirs, education curriculum, activist profiles, and slides -- that attracted more than 8,000 visits in less than two years
  • Accompanying catalog featuring memoir by Natan Sharansky and recollections of Ambassador Richard Schifter
  • 60 related archival donations between 2008 and 2014
  • Commissioned new multimedia performance by Robyn Helzner, performed four times
  • Support from 85 personal contributions, family foundations, congregations, and other community organizations — including Humanities DC grants and a special gift underwriting the Northern Virginia tour and a performance by Robyn Helzner

Exhibition venues between December 2013 and February 2016:

  1. Washington Hebrew Congregation, Washington, D.C.
    * Premiere featured Natan Sharansky; 250 attendees including City Councilmember Jack Evans
    * Open house featured former Congressmember Connie Morella
    * Lecture by renowned civil-liberties attorney Nathan Lewin on his related activities
    * Special visit by former Congressmember Michael Barnes
    * Three curator-led tours including one followed by discussion with two former activists
  2. Jewish Community Center of Greater Washington, Rockville, MD
    * Maryland premiere featured remarks by Ambassador Richard Schifter and performance by Robyn Helzner; 200 attendees including Senator Ben Cardin, Congressmember Chris Van Hollen, and County Executive Ike Leggett
    “Designing a Movement” talk with graphic designer Avy Ashery
    * Education programs for 175 students from Charles E. Smith Day School and Washington Hebrew Congregation
    * Five docent-led tours including a Russian ESOL class
  3. Adas Israel Congregation, Washington, D.C.
    * Performance by Robyn Helzner
  4. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library, Washington, D.C.
    * Hosted in honor of Jewish American Heritage Month
    * Curator-led tour
  5. Gesher Jewish Day School, Fairfax, VA {aside_1}
    * Participated in panel discussion 
  6. Agudas Achim Congregation, Alexandria, VA
    * Performance by Robyn Helzner
  7. Beth El Hebrew Congregation, Alexandria, VA
    * Curator-led adult education class
    * Curator-led school group
  8. B'nai Israel Congregation, Rockville, MD
    * Congregation organized seniors program and religious-school program
    * Participated in panel discussion
  9. Temple Rodef Shalom, Falls Church, VA
    * Congregation organized four-part series including performance by Robyn Helzner

New archives donation coincides with 30th anniversary of Natan Sharansky’s release 0 Comment(s)

At a panel discussion in conjunction with our travelling exhibition Voices of the Vigil at B'nai Israel Congregation last month, JHSGW Executive Director Laura Apelbaum met Bobbie Berger, who offered her an exciting new artifact for our collection. It is a commemorative photograph of the prisoner exchange on February 11, 1986, which is best known for the release of the dissident Natan Sharansky. After nine years in a Soviet prison, he walked over Glienicke Bridge from East to West Germany, and was brought to the U.S. Consulate in Frankfurt, and from there to Israel. He later became an official in the Israeli government and now serves as Chairman of the Executive of The Jewish Agency for Israel.

Commemorative photograph of Natan Sharansky’s release on Glienicke Bridge, Berlin, Germany, 1986

JHSGW Collections. Gift of Bobbie Berger.

The U.S. diplomat William Bodde Jr. was Consul General in Frankfurt at the time of Sharansky’s release. Bodde was involved in the prisoner exchange and met Sharansky on his arrival in Frankfurt. Later, U.S. Ambassador Richard Berg gave him this framed commemorative picture of Glienicke Bridge and an inset photograph of Sharansky walking over the bridge as a thank-you gift for working on the exchange.

Bodde later gave the commemorative picture to his close friend, Bobbie Berger. Now, we are delighted to receive it for our collection and excited to learn more about the object and event.

On the set: Angela Merkel enjoying a chat with director Steven Spielberg and actor Tom Hanks on Glienicke Bridge

Berlin, Germany, November 28, 2014

Bundesregierung/Bergmann

Glienicke Bridge was the setting for other Cold War East-West prisoner exchanges including the one depicted in the much acclaimed movie, Bridge of Spies. It’s still in the theaters, so plan on a movie night to learn more about this topic. While shooting the movie, Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg had a prominent visitor: German chancellor Angela Merkel came to see them on the original set of Glienicke Bridge. 

In Memory of Rev. John Steinbruck 0 Comment(s)

Rev. Steinbruck in front of Luther Place Memorial Church

JHSGW Collections. Gift of Jewish Community Relations Council.

We mourn the loss of Reverend John Steinbruck who died yesterday at the age of 84.

Pastor at Luther Place Memorial Church in Washington DC from 1970 to 1997, Reverend Steinbruck was a staunch advocate for the Soviet Jewry movement. He regularly attended the daily vigil outside the Soviet Embassy (1970-1991)and recruited his parishioners and other Christian clergy to attend the vigil on Jewish holidays. He traveled to the Soviet Union to meet with refuseniks and was part of Jewish Community Council’s delegations to the World Conferences on Soviet Jewry.

We were honored to include Reverend Steinbruck’s recollections of his Soviet Jewry advocacy in our Voices of the Vigil exhibition and website

Reverend Steinbruck will be added to the Roll of Honor of the Archive of the American Soviet Jewry Movement at the American Jewish Historical Society.

In Memory of Marion Barry 0 Comment(s)

Early yesterday morning, Marion Barry, D.C. City Councilmember and former mayor, passed away at the age of 78.

We remember him with these archival highlights:

Giant Food Chairman Izzy Cohen and Mayor Marion Barry, opening of Giant Food, Eighth and O Streets, NW, 1979

JHSGW Collection / Naomi and Nehemiah Cohen Foundation 

When JHSGW interviewed Barry in 2006 as part of an oral history project documenting the history of Giant Food, he spoke about the 1979 opening of the Giant store at Eighth & O Streets, NW, and its significance in rebuilding the city:

As you can imagine, the city had been devastated with the disorders of '68. Things were burned down, it was a shell of a city, people were depressed, and jobs had been lost from these establishments.  So we were anxious to get some consumer goods...and my recollection, I don't even know where the closest Safeway was, but it certainly wasn't around that area of D.C. And we were very ecstatic about that store [Giant at Eighth & O] being opened.

"Best wishes to a very dear friend
Jan Eichhorn
Marion Barry 7-7-81"

JHSGW Collections. Gift of Diane Liebert.

These two items are from the collection of Janice Eichhorn, an activist for Washington, D.C.'s political rights. Eichhorn worked on Barry's staff starting with his 1978 mayorial campaign until 1992, when she retired from her position as a senior policy analyst.

Bumper sticker from first mayorial campaign, 1978

JHSGW Collections. Gift of Diane Liebert.

Her papers were contributed to our archives by her sister in 2011.


Fred Kolker (wearing hat) and Mayor Marion Barry (right), renaming Florida Avenue Market to Capital City Market as part of planned market restoration, 1984

JHSGW Collections. Gift of Brenda Pascal.


In a 2010 oral history recorded by Glenn Richter, Ruth Newman, longtime leader of D.C.'s Soviet Jewry movement, recalled seeing Barry at the 1987 Freedom Sunday March for Soviet Jewry on the National Mall:

When we were...marching down Constitution Avenue, out of nowhere came the then Mayor of the City of Washington, Marion Barry. He said, "Washington," [upon seeing] our banner -- 'Washington Committee for Soviet Jewry.' He said, "That's where I belong," and all of a sudden he puts himself between those of us who were carrying the banner. He walked a couple of blocks with us and then he saw somebody else he knew and off he went.