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Intriguing volunteer work 0 Comment(s)

Have you ever wanted to be a fly on the wall where decisions about world affairs are being discussed or the history of our community is being shared? Transcribing oral history recordings at the Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington can give you a taste of those experiences.

Since early February 2012, I've had the opportunity to work on the transcription of an oral history recorded in January 2011 with Ambassador Richard Schifter as part of the Society's Soviet Jewry Project.  Schifter is Jewish American lawyer living in the Washington, D.C., area, who served as Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs from 1985 to 1992. He is currently heading the American Jewish International Relations Institute and the Center for Democracy and Reconciliation in Southeastern Europe. He takes the title of Ambassador from his tenure as the Deputy United States Representative in the United Nations Security Council with the rank of Ambassador during the 1980s.

Using earphones and the Jewish Historical Society's new software – Express Scribe – is trouble-free. The software includes easily accessed commands for advancing, reversing, adjusting the speed and volume of the speech of the interviewer and interviewee. Transcribing a three-hour interview took approximately four 6-hour volunteer days at the Society's offices at 4th and G Streets, NW.

Listening to Ambassador Schifter's recounting of his early life in Vienna, Austria, his immigration the United States at the age of 15 in 1938, his army service during World War II, his law school education and his subsequent extensive service within the U.S. Government dealing with human rights issues was the fascinating part of the assignment.

More oral histories recorded by the Society are available for transcription by willing volunteers. Please fill out the volunteer form if you're interested!

Elsie Heyrman Klumpner has volunteered in the JHSGW archives since 2009.

Launching our online catalog 0 Comment(s)

Today, more than 30 people came to our historic synagogue to learn about our new online archival catalog. Our archivist, Wendy, didn't just show everyone how to navigate the catalog, but also some of the treasures in our collections.

Among those who braved the heat were staff members from some of our sister organizations, including the National Building Museum, German-American Heritage Museum, Montgomery County Historical Society, and Library of Congress. The event was also a special tribute to Janice Goldblum, our volunteer Collections Committee Chair and an archivist for the National Academies of Science. We were proud to honor Janice's 20 years of service!

Miss the event? Never to fear -- I live-tweeted it, so you can catch up here.

Many hands make light work 0 Comment(s)

Our Collections Committee held a workday in the JHSGW archives on Monday. Volunteers worked for several hours sorting through dusty old boxes from the Rabbi Tzvi Porath collection, acquired by JHSGW in 2004.

Sam and Gail discovered a large series of papers including sermons, correspondence, and memoranda from the Jewish Welfare Board documenting Rabbi Porath’s chaplaincy during World War II. Brenda and Janice found dozens of Rabbi Porath’s sermons as well as event programs, invitations to the White House, and correspondence. Lenny uncovered dozens of photographs of Montgomery County Jewish Community and Ohr Kodesh, where Rabbi Porath served from 1952 to 1984 (see the photo below of Rabbi Porath with Speaker of the House Tip O'Neill!)

Meanwhile, Elsie continued her ongoing project with the Society’s institutional archives from the 1960s and 1970s.

It’s amazing how much a small group can get done in a few short hours! If you’d like to volunteer in the archives, fill out our volunteer application.

Challah delivery! 0 Comment(s)

Yesterday, I had the privilege of accompanying program committee members Donna Bassin and Frank Spigel to DC Central Kitchen to donate challah.

Last May we sold and distributed challah in our Penn Quarter neighborhood during Jewish American Heritage Month. We offered the option to purchase challah to donate to DC Central Kitchen. Nineteen people took that option, so yesterday Frank, Donna, and I dropped off 19 loaves. Kitchen Director Jerald Thomas was on hand to accept our donation.

Thanks to Donna for coordinating the challah pickup from Bethesda and drop-off at the DC Central Kitchen. We'll have challah available again in May this year, $5 for a single loaf or $20 for the month. If you want to donate challah this year, email us at info@jhsgw.org!

A Busy Fall of Programs 0 Comment(s)

As usual, we had a Fall full of programs! Luckily, the weather held out for most—although some brave souls endured the rain to learn about local Jewish history.

The past few weeks, we’ve had some large groups of students take walking tours of downtown Washington.

On the cold, rainy morning of October 18, our new volunteer Sheryl and I led a group of 52 kids, many of their parents, and Rabbi Joui Hessel from Washington Hebrew Congregation, and on a sunny—but no less cold—Wednesday morning last week, our Archivist/Curator Wendy, Administrator Joel, new volunteer Laura, and I led 80 tenth graders from the Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School.

If you haven’t been on one yet, we start our downtown tours at the Lillian and Albert Small Jewish Museum, originally the Adas Israel synagogue, and proceed to visit the second home of Adas Israel (today Sixth and I Historic Synagogue), former home of Ohev Sholom (today Chinese Community Church), and the former home of Washington Hebrew Congregation (today Greater New Hope Baptist Church). Along the way, we talk about what life was like for the Jews who lived, worked, and worshipped in this neighborhood in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

But our walking tours don’t just cover downtown Washington.

On October 25, I had the privilege of leading a tour through Old Town Alexandria on a beautiful fall day. This was only the second we’d led this program, but, judging by the 40 people who came out, we’ll be doing it again! This tour, which we developed to coincide with our Jewish Washington exhibition at the Lyceum in the spring, highlights the sites of formerly Jewish-owned businesses, homes, and two former synagogues.

The same day as the Alexandria walking tour, I also led a program called “Synagogue Story” for a group of second graders from Northern Virginia Hebrew Congregation. The 19 kids in this phenomenal group learned about our historic 1876 synagogue, then made their own models of it to use as tzedakah (charity) boxes!

And to top it all off, our new volunteers Matt and Laura gave a tour of our exhibition Jewish Washington: Scrapbook of an American Community to the new 30s-40s group at Adas Israel Congregation, and our longtime volunteer Mark gave a tour of our exhibition Jewish Life in Mr. Lincoln’s City to a group from Beth El Hebrew Congregation and Temple Rodef Shalom.

As you can see, we’ve had a busy—but enjoyable—fall at JHSGW. We hope to see you at an upcoming Programs!