Accession Number: 1994.11.02
Donor: Amy Nordlinger Behrend Goldstein
Description: machine-typed copy of original letter, April 27, 1917
One hundred years ago, on April 27, 1917, Rudolph Behrend, a prominent member of the Jewish community in Washington, D.C., sent this letter to the White House offering farmland owned by his mother for the use by the U.S. Army. Only three weeks earlier, President Woodrow Wilson had declared war on Germany and the whole country was preparing to send troops to Europe.
Jewish Washingtonians joined forces and supported the war effort in many ways. Rudolph Behrend himself offered his volunteer services to the United States "in any capacity". His mother Sarah, at the time 64-years-old, did so in giving her son permission to offer her parcel of land, marked P186/1 on the map, to the government with "... no condition annexed to this donation, excepting that the tract of land be used in the interest of the United Government during the War period."
Just a day later, Behrend received a response from the White House. Our research is still ongoing whether the government in fact used the parcel for farming, accommodation, or the like. Yet the offer itself and the prompt presidential thank-you is a wonderful way to commemorate Jewish Washingtonians' engagement during World War I.
These letters are part of a bigger collection of one of the founding families of the Jewish community in Washington, D.C. The Behrend family arrived in the mid-19th century from Germany and settled as merchants on 7th Street. Some of their members were influential in the founding of the Adas Israel Congregation and our historic synagogue building.
Here are the answers to the quiz we published earlier this week. Over 100 people participated in the quiz, with only a handful answering all eight questions correctly! Thank you so much for your responses, and enjoy learning about the relationships and experiences between U.S. presidents and Washington's Jewish community.
1. This U.S. president promised religious freedom and intolerance in a now famous letter to the Jews of Newport.
President George Washington issued a short but immensely important letter to the Hebrew Congregations of Newport, Rhode Island promising that this new government will give "to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance."
(Other answer options: Franklin D. Roosevelt and Thomas Jefferson)
2. Why was President Ulysses S. Grant's attendance at the dedication service for our historic synagogue (Original Adas Israel) in 1876 so significant?
President Ulysses S. Grant attended the dedication of the Adas Israel synagogue (now the Lillian & Albert Small Jewish Museum) on June 9, 1876. Grant remained for the entire three-hour service and gave a $10 donation to the synagogue building fund. During the Civil War, then General Grant had issued General Order 11, which expelled Jews "as a class" from the Department of Tennessee. Grant's attendance at Adas Israel may have served as an act of contrition.
(All of the above)
3. Which president spoke at the groundbreaking ceremony for the Jewish Community Center on 16th Street, NW?
President Calvin Coolidge addressed the crowd in 1925 and closed his remarks by saying, "As those who come and go shall gaze upon this civic landmark, may it be a constant reminder of the inspiring service that has been rendered to civilization by men and women of the Jewish faith."
(Other answer options: Woodrow Wilson and Warren G. Harding)
4. Who was the first Jewish candidate on a major-party presidential ticket?
Senator Joseph Lieberman, an Orthodox Jew who did not campaign on the Sabbath, was Senator Al Gore’s running mate in 2000.
(Other answer options: Jacob K. Javits and Abraham Ribicoff)
5. What enterprising Washington businessman provided lumber to build the inaugural stands for Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman, and Dwight D. Eisenhower?
Sidney Hechinger first donated lumber to build the inaugural platform in front of the Capitol in 1933. After the ceremonies, he dismantled the stand and sold pieces cut from the wood as inaugural souvenirs.
6. Which congregation is named in an Act signed into law by President Franklin Pierce that entitles Jewish congregations in Washington, D.C. to the same rights and privileges as churches?
President Franklin Pierce signed “An Act for the Benefit of the Hebrew Congregation in the city of Washington” on June 2, 1856. Washington Hebrew had petitioned Congress for legislation to ensure its right to own property in the city.
7. Which President sent his Jewish chiropodist (foot doctor) on a secret wartime peace mission?
Isachar Zacharie tended the feet of President Abraham Lincoln and several other Cabinet officials during the Civil War. In 1863 Lincoln sent him to Richmond to meet with Confederate Secretary of State Judah P. Benjamin to propose peace negotiations. The errand was unsuccessful.
(Other answer options: Theodore Roosevelt and James Monroe)
8. This prominent Jewish Washingtonian formed close relationships with every U.S. president from Abraham Lincoln to Woodrow Wilson, and was appointed Consul General to Egypt.
Simon Wolf's 1918 autobiography was aptly named Presidents I Have Known. For Wolf's 70th birthday, his daughter, Florence Gotthold, compiled three books filled with over 400 personal messages from leaders of the day -- including several presidents, politicians, authors, and supreme court justices!
(Other answer options: Alfred Mordechai and Bendiza Behrend)
Today is the 46th anniversary of the move of the historic Adas Israel synagogue. Dedicated by the congregation in 1876, the building stood for more than 90 years at Sixth & G Streets, NW, before being slated for demolition to make space for Metro's headquarters.
Three members of the Jewish Historical Society -- Evelyn Greenberg z"l, Henry Brylawski z''l, and Bernard Glassman -- worked tirelessly with D.C. and federal governments to save the building from the wrecking ball. To move a building in the federal city, President Richard Nixon had to sign a bill into law!
On December 18, 1969, the building was moved three blocks to its present location at Third & G Streets, NW. The first floor was too weak to survive a move, so the structure was severed horizontally and only the second and third floors (sanctuary and balcony levels) made the journey by flatbed truck. Read an interview with "Wild Bill" Patram, who engineered the move.
As part of a major new development project, the historic synagogue will soon move again -- this time one block south to the corner of Third & F Streets, NW. The new location will allow the synagogue to regain its original orientation facing east toward Jerusalem and will provide land on which to build an adjacent new museum. Follow our progress on this project through our Making a Museum e-newsletter.
Support these and other exciting activities with a year-end contribution to the Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington!
Earlier this week, our friends at The Forward published a list of 10 facts about Jewish Washington, D.C. called "Of Goldie Hawn, Theater J and 8 Other Things About (Jewish) Washington D.C." We’re adding our hometown voice with ten things you might not know about Washington’s Jewish history.
1. Home to the Only Congressionally-Chartered Shul
1856: Washington Hebrew—the city’s first Jewish congregation—successfully petitioned Congress (then constitutionally responsible for D.C. law) for legislation ensuring its right to purchase property.
2. The Civil War Couldn’t Keep the Jewish Community Apart
1862: Because Civil War travel restrictions prevented Washingtonian Henry Baum from traveling to his bride, Virginian Bettie Dreifus’s home in Alexandria, the marriage took place in D.C.
20th Century: From hundreds of Jewish immigrant-owned "mom and pop" liquor stores to producer-distributor-powerbroker Milton Kronheim, Jewish Washingtonians have helped quench the thirsts of Washington’s denizens for over a century.
6. First Israeli Flag-Raising on Embassy Row
1948: President Harry Truman’s recognition of Israel’s independence on May 14, 1948, spurred hundreds to stream to Embassy Row to cheer and dance as the new state’s flag was first raised.
7. Ferris Bueller Actor Bar-Mitzvahed in Maryland Suburbs
1957: Years before Ben Stein became a speechwriter for President Nixon, an actor, and game show host, his family sent this invitation to celebrate his bar mitzvah at the Montgomery County Jewish Community Center (today’s Ohr Kodesh Congregation) in Chevy Chase, Maryland.
8. The Beatles’ First U.S. Concert
1964: Washington Coliseum owner Harry Lynn hosted the "Fab Four" for their first U.S. concert on February 11, 1964, the day after the band's roaring introduction on the Ed Sullivan Show.
9. Eruv Encloses All Three Branches of the Federal Government
Today: Built in 1876, the historic Adas Israel synagogue was saved from demolition in 1969 by moving it three city blocks, where it now stands as the Lillian & Albert Small Jewish Museum. The synagogue will move again: once to a temporary location, and finally to the corner of 3rd and F Streets, NW, where it will be the focal point for the Society’s new Jewish museum;
This morning, President Barack Obama spoke at Adas Israel Congregation in Washington, D.C. in celebration of Jewish American Heritage Month. Watch the speech in its entirety.
U.S. presidents have participated in the affairs of the Washington Jewish community since the founding of Washington’s first congregation. Indeed, President Obama is the second president to visit Adas Israel’s synagogue; the first was President Ulysses S. Grant in 1876! The following timeline features some of those presidential connections with Washington’s Jewish community.
Have a story of a national leader’s visit to your synagogue? Tell us about it at firstname.lastname@example.org.
1856: President Franklin Pierce signed “An Act for the Benefit of the Hebrew Congregation in the city of Washington”, which ensured the right for Jews to purchase land for a synagogue in the District of Columbia. With this act, Washington Hebrew Congregation became the only congregation in the country with a Congressional charter.
1876: President Ulysses S. Grant became the first U.S. president to attend synagogue services when he attended the dedication of Adas Israel Synagogue at 6th & G Streets, NW. Grant stayed for the entire three-hour service and made a subsequent gift of $10 to the building fund. Learn more about President Grant’s visit to the synagogue and Ulysses S. Grant’s notorious General Orders No. 11 issued during the Civil War.
1898: President William McKinley attended the cornerstone laying of Washington Hebrew Congregation at 8th & I Streets, NW, attended by over 3,000 people. Learn more about Washington’s earliest synagogues.
1925: President Calvin Coolidge spoke during the cornerstone-laying ceremony of the Jewish Community Center at 16th & Q Streets, NW.
1926: Orthodox Zionists met with President Calvin Coolidge at the White House.
1930: The first issue of the National Jewish Ledger (now called Washington Jewish Week), featured a Rosh Hashanah message to Washington Jews from President Herbert Hoover. Explore Jewish Washington in the 1930s.
1952: President Harry Truman attended the cornerstone-laying ceremony for Washington Hebrew Congregation’s new building at Massachusetts & Macomb Streets, NW.
1955: President Dwight D. Eisenhower spoke at the dedication of Washington Hebrew’s new synagogue. During his speech, President Eisenhower mused that it is incumbent upon his office that he should attend “such a great and significant event in the lives of one part of the great faiths that have made this country what it is, to pay his respects to that faith and to this event and to the people who have made it possible.” Read President Eisenhower’s entire dedication speech.
1983: President Ronald Reagan visited a Hanukkah celebration and met with Soviet Jewish emigres at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Washington in Rockville, Maryland. During the visit, President Reagan remarked, “To every religious dissident trapped in this cold and cruel land, let us pray that the warm lights of Hanukkah will spread out the spirit of freedom and comfort and sustain every person who is suffering tonight.” Read President Reagan’s complete speech. Learn more about the Washington area's movement to free Soviet Jewry.
2005: President George W. Bush visited the Sixth & I Historic Synagogue just prior to a major event celebrating 350 years of Jewish life in North America. Read President Bush’s remarks.
2011: Former President Bill Clinton visited the Sixth & I Historic Synagogue for a wedding. Read about the visit in The Washington Post.