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.
Last week, the Jewish Community Center of Greater Washington held its annual meeting and celebrated its 100th anniversary. JHSGW Executive Director Laura Apelbaum spoke at the meeting and recounted a few highlights from the last 100 years of JCC history. Here are some excerpts from her talk:
Among the most treasured objects in our archival collections are 34 scrapbooks documenting the JCC from the 1920s into the 1980s. Each scrapbook is filled with invitations, programs, flyers, and newsclippings, creating a wonderfully colorful and rich compendium of the Center’s activities and our community's history.
Opening the first scrapbook page, we find a photograph of a 3-story brick townhouse at 415 M Street, NW. One hundred years ago, young Jewish men and women wanted to create a place for social interaction, cultural activities, and athletics. They formed the Young Men's and Young Women's Hebrew Associations - predecessors to today's JCC. In 1913, the YMHA purchased this home as their headquarters. They fielded baseball, tennis, and bowling teams, went on picnics and beach trips, held debates and dances, and raised funds for Jewish overseas relief during World War I. In 1914, they sold the building to the newly formed Hebrew Home and moved into other rented facilities.
The next scrapbook opens to a panoramic photograph of President Calvin Coolidge speaking to a crowd assembled at the corner of 16th and Q for the cornerstone laying ceremony of the JCC's new building. The national Jewish Welfare Board provided an initial $50,000, while developer Morris Cafritz and Jewish leader Joseph Wilner led the $500,000 building campaign. In his speech, Coolidge remarked "Hebraic mortar cemented the foundations of American democracy."
Another scrapbook reveals a photograph of young men in uniform dancing cheek to cheek with young women in the JCC's gym during World War II. The Center’s policy "Your uniform is your admission" made the JCC the central place to meet and socialize for Jewish servicemen and women stationed in Washington. Young women called "government girls" were flocking to DC to work in war agencies, and a JCC room registry helped them find housing in Jewish homes that provided kosher meals.
As the Jewish community grew in postwar years and began moving north and west into the suburbs, many Jewish communal organizations and synagogues followed. Turning the page, we find a smiling Charles E. Smith holding a ceremonial shovel alongside the youngest student at the JCC's nursery school and the oldest resident of the Hebrew Home at the 1967 groundbreaking for the new Rockville facility on Montrose Road.
The JCC's history showcases our community's unique relationship as the nation’s capital where presidents attend holiday events and groundbreakings. At the same time, the JCC holds many personal connections and has played a central part in the lives of many families for the past century.