On Tuesday, we had the pleasure of hosting the inaugural class of the Experiential Education and Jewish Cultural Arts (EE/JCA) program from The George Washington University for an afternoon of artistic, cultural, and historical exploration. Professors Jenna Weissman Joselit and Carol B. Stapp led their students and colleagues into JHSGW’s historic 1876 synagogue (the Lillian & Albert Small Jewish Museum) for the program on the Society today and in the future as it develops into a regional museum. Director of Collections Wendy Turman started by providing the students with basic information about JHSGW, including the history behind the synagogue and the current activities of the Society.
The students appreciated the period-specific layout of the synagogue, from the structure to the life-size Ulysses S. Grant cut-out in the corner to commemorate the president’s visit to the opening in 1876. While life-size Grant never ceases to capture my attention, the EE/JCA students offered valuable insight about the architecture and fine details of the synagogue. Then, everyone had the opportunity to explore the outside grounds and the interior of the building, including the balcony on the second floor where Orthodox Jewish women once prayed, which is usually off-limits to visitors.
Despite the oven-like weather, we all ventured to the future location of the synagogue, which will move down the road in a few years (the second time since 1969). Upon our return, Curator Zachary Paul Levine led a discussion about how the space appears to visitors and how it might appear as part of the Society’s future museum. Students engaged with issues regarding how to arrange information in a museum: chronologically or thematically. Finally, Wendy expanded on current activities of the Society, such as arranging the archives of Rabbi Tzvi Porath and analyzing artifacts, including a bracelet from Camp Louise. For me, the major highlight was Zachary’s presentation of a signed Beatles photograph from the Washingtonian Jew who hosted the first Beatles concert in the United States. This photograph caught my eye online when I was applying to summer internships, so it was amazing to see it up close in person (and I got to carry it back to the office).
I am thoroughly enjoying my internship at JHSGW, and I loved learning more about the Society through the eyes of the EE/JCA students. We were only one stop on their busy schedule, but it was a fantastic afternoon.
Rebecca Brenner is a senior at Mount Holyoke College, working on a B.A. in History and Philosophy.
Yesterday, we had the honor of hosting representatives of three Polish Jewish cultural institutions who are on a tour of Jewish cultural centers and museums in the U.S. The trip is part of a State Department program and its purpose is to show best practices of management, fundraising, outreach, educational programs, and community involvement.
After viewing our short film about our 1876 historic synagogue (which we had outfitted with Polish subtitles for this visit!), our staff explained the many facets of our work. We gave them a peek into the archives and samples of our PR materials. They seemed to especially enjoy the coffee we offered, which was needed to help with jetlag!
After Washington, they’ll travel to Baltimore, Philadelphia, and New York. We’re envious of all the places they’ll see on their trip and know they’ll return home with plenty of new ideas for their institutions.
Archivist Wendy Turman (wearing the white gloves) gave Jarrod a taste of the archives focusing on some of our items related to the presidency (including a panoramic photo of President Coolidge dedicating the Washington DCJCC in 1925).
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.