November 2017: Photograph of Chaim Bialik at Union Station | Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington | Lillian and Albert Small Jewish MuseumOctober 2017: Bracelet made in Cuban prison | Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington | Lillian and Albert Small Jewish MuseumSeptember 2017: A Promotional Passport Wallet | Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington | Lillian and Albert Small Jewish MuseumAugust 2017: Historic Passport from Germany | Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington | Lillian and Albert Small Jewish MuseumJuly 2017: Honeymoon in Atlantic City Photograph | Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington | Lillian and Albert Small Jewish MuseumJune 2017: Glass bottle from Sirota's Pharmacy | Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington | Lillian and Albert Small Jewish MuseumMay 2017: Photograph of the Supreme Court Justices | Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington | Lillian and Albert Small Jewish MuseumApril 2017: Letter to President Woodrow Wilson | Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington | Lillian and Albert Small Jewish MuseumMarch 2017: Store Sign | Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington | Lillian and Albert Small Jewish Museum
For eight nights in a row, Jewish families around the world light candles in celebration of Hanukkah. The menorahs used for this ritual can be elaborate works of art, fun objects expressing the owner’s hobbies, or modest examples like the one you see here.
Our lamp is made from a sheet of tin and features eight candleholders in front of a plain back plate, with a shamash on the upper right to kindle the lights. The menorah could not be more simple in its design. And yet, as unassuming as this Hanukkah lamp may look, it helps us tell the story of the invention of modern Hanukkah.
The lamp belonged to Ray Wallerstein (1897-1996), whose parents – immigrants from Russia – used it for their Hanukkah celebrations. At the time of her parents’ arrival in the U.S. in the 1880s, Hanukkah was for most Jewish regions in the world just a minor holiday. Simultaneously, reforming rabbis and community members in America were in the midst of revitalizing and searching for meaningful ways to honor the Jewish holiday that competed with the more lavish Christmas celebrations. They reinvented rituals that put children and the family at the center, and revolved around the home: The traditional lighting of the candles was paired with singing songs, treating children to sweets, and handing them little gifts – a way of celebrating that was more similar to their Christian peers. Over the decades to come, Hebrew schools and Jewish organizations began to hand out tin lamps like this one, along with a set of candles. Their goal was to give children their own ritual objects, build devotion to Judaism, and boost the Hanukkah spirit.
This led us to the assumption that Ray might have brought this lamp home from kindergarten or school. The signs of wear and tear testify to its regular use and it seems that Ray’s parents never upgraded to a new or more glamorous lamp. We can only wonder of how much the family immersed itself in the new American rituals around Hanukkah. Still, our modest tin lamp serves as a springboard to talk about negotiating Jewish identity on a personal and communal level in America – a theme that we will explore in detail in our new museum.
What kind of Hanukkah lamp do you use? Does it hold a special story about your family? Share your photos and stories with us via firstname.lastname@example.org
November 2017: Photograph of Chaim Bialik at Union Station
Donor: Geraldine Pilzer
black & white photograph, 1926
Left to right: Katherine Hertzberg; Yetta Bricker Pilzer; Isadore Hirshfield; Willis Rosendorf; Rabbi Louis Schwefel; Bernard Danzansky; Mania Bialik; Cantor William Tash; Chaim Nachman Bialik; unknown gentleman; Cantor Louis Novick; Zalman Henkin; Rabbi Julius Loeb
A prestigious guest arrived at Union Station on May 10, 1926! The acclaimed poet Chaim Nachman Bialik paid the capital a visit and representatives of the Jewish community in Washington came to welcome him at the train station. In an effort to bring his visit to life, we consulted historic newspapers to reconstruct many details from his days in the capital.
Earlier that year, Bialik and his wife Mania had set off from Tel Aviv for a six month trip through the U.S. Their goal was to visit with government officials and Jewish communities, raise funds for the Zionist movement, and foster support for a national Jewish home in the land of Israel.
In Washington, they made a stop at the White House, where Adas Israel’s Rabbi Louis Schwefel served as the translator between Bialik and President Calvin Coolidge. Bialik addressed his appreciation for the American approval of the Balfour Declaration, which had set the foundation for a Jewish state in 1917. The President in return made a statement regarding the endeavors in Palestine: “I am delighted to note the success and progress of the work. I certainly trust that the undertaking of upbuilding the Jewish National Home will continue to be successful.”
Apart from the official character of the visit, Chaim Bialik also had a chance to learn more about Jewish life in America through his encounters with community leaders. As he often remarked in his speeches, American Jewry was the closest ally for the establishment of an independent Jewish state, thanks to its strong communal organization and the resources it possessed to put the ambitious plans into action.
When Bialik returned to Tel Aviv, he gave a speech at the cultural center and expressed his hopes for a closer relationship between the Jewish communities in then-Palestine and America: “I pray for the day in which a strong bond will be set between us and them through people who go there not only for propaganda [to create a Jewish state] but also for instruction and education.”
In hindsight, Bialik’s visions came true and our photograph shows the beginning of the ties binding the two Jewish communities closer together. It also enables us to explore the developing of Jewish American support for Israel and the communities’ complex relationships with each other – stories that will be part of our new core exhibition in a section titled "Taking a Stand."
October 2017: Bracelet made in Cuban prison
Donor: Bruce Pascal
bracelet made from plastic bottle caps, 2010
A bracelet made of plastic bottle caps is not exactly the kind of object you expect to reveal a story so stirring and unusual as the one about Alan Gross’s imprisonment and release in Cuba. Yet, it tells us about a recent case of civic activism within the Washington Jewish community.
The story starts with Alan Gross, a government contractor working for the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), who was arrested in Cuba in 2009 while delivering technical supplies to the Jewish community of Havana. He was sentenced to 15 years in prison for this “crime against the state.” After five years of imprisonment, Alan Gross was released. In a recent interview with the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, he linked his release in part to the grassroots efforts in the Jewish community and concluded: “My redemption from Cuba is a story of activism.”
The bottle cap bracelet is part of this story. In prison, Alan Gross made bracelets like this one by manipulating bottle caps and tying them together. He gave them to visitors who had permission to see him.
Among these few people was Bruce Pascal, a businessman from Washington and member of B’nai B’rith International. Pascal had been a frequent visitor to Cuba through his B’nai B’rith activities and established relationships with the Jewish community in Havana. Hearing about Gross’ imprisonment prompted him to see whether he could help in any way. “I realized pretty quickly that there probably weren't too many people in the Washington area that had the ability to fly on a moment's notice to Cuba because B'nai B'rith International had a special license. … I naively said to myself, maybe I could help. … I knew the players in Cuba,” he reported in an interview with JHSGW in 2015. Arranged by the Jewish community in Havana, Bruce Pascal met with Cuban officials to advocate on behalf of Gross. His prison visits, though, held importance on a very personal level, since he became friends with Alan Gross and served as a messenger between him and his family and friends in the U.S.
Another important story of communal activism occurred in D.C.: The Jewish Community Relations Council and the Interfaith Conference of Metropolitan Washington organized a weekly vigil in front of the Cuban Interests Section building (today’s Cuban Embassy). For three consecutive years, protesters gathered there under the leadership of Rabbi Arnold Saltzman, showing their support and concern for Alan Gross. The motto of the vigil was “Hineni,” which means “I am here” in Hebrew. This simple, but powerful statement is reflected in the silent message of the bracelet: By giving it to his visitors, Alan Gross made them a keepsake that can be read as “I was here,” caring for somebody.
September 2017: A Promotional Passport Wallet
Donor: Sayde Flint
Printed linen with leather edging, 1912
Our collection holds a range of objects that tell us stories about transit and transition. This passport wallet with an image of an impressive steamboat on its front is a perfect example. It held a Russian passport and was carried by Jacob Flint on his transatlantic journey to the U.S.
In 1912, Jacob, the oldest of four children, left his hometown of Warsaw (then Russia) and traveled to America. His passport reveals that he was a young man in his early 20s at the time and called by his Yiddish name Yankel - which he Americanized soon after his arrival in New York. A year later, his mother and two of his siblings followed him to the U.S. and Jacob eternalized these two milestone dates for his family on the inlay of the passport wallet.
We do not have a personal report about Jacob’s exact trip, but looking closer at the writing and imagery on the linen wallet and conducting more background research, his journey yet unravels. Friedrich Missler was a prominent travel agency based in Bremen (northern Germany) that specialized in passages for Eastern European emigrants to the U.S. and catered to their specific needs. Jacob Flint likely received this passport wallet as a promotional item when he purchased his ticket with them. Following a typical emigration route from Warsaw, he took a 600-mile train ride to Bremen where he would await his departure in the Missler Halls - an interim accommodation reserved for Eastern European customers of the Friedrich Missler travel agency. He then embarked on a steamboat in Bremerhaven, the harbor of Bremen, and after several days at sea and immigration procedures at Ellis Island, he would finally arrive in New York.
Jacob’s family later on came to the nation’s capital and his wife Sayde donated these travel documents to our collection, commemorating Jacob’s journey from Warsaw to the U.S. that marked one of the most important events in their family’s chronicle.
In our new museum, this passport wallet will be on display alongside other “remnants” from their homes that immigrants brought to America. We pair them with more recent immigration stories and explore what these valued personal objects tell us about their owners’ hopes and dreams for their lives in America. If you have artifacts that help us tell your family’s immigration story, please contact us at email@example.com
August 2017: Historic Passport from Germany
Donor: Amy Goldstein
ink on paper, 1845
This historic passport shines in a new light thanks to its complete makeover and newly uncovered stories behind it. Learn more about the recent conservation of this artifact on our blog.
We always knew that the passport allowed the merchant Bernhard Behrend (1793-1865) from Rodenberg, Germany to travel to the city of Frankfurt in February and March of 1845. Originally we thought that this passport documented the discrimination that Jews faced in Europe by not being able to travel freely.
Yet, looking closer at the circumstances of traveling during the 1840s, we can paint a different picture. Germany had not come into existence yet as a unified country. Instead there were many independent states, principalities, and cities that formed a German Confederation. When Behrend traveled from his hometown, Rodenberg near Hanover, to the city of Frankfurt, he had to cross several borders and pass through a variety of independent German territories. Like every other traveler taking this 240 miles trip, he had to carry a passport.
Even though he officially stated that the purpose for his trip was “family affairs,” he had other important business to attend to. Consulting historic resources from the 1840s, we know that he went to see Baron de Rothschild, a prominent Jewish financier and philanthropist, in February 1845 in order to convince him to support his idea of founding a Jewish colony in America.
Behrend had been writing to Rothschild since 1832 in an effort to get him excited and involved in his Zionist plan, but his letters had not resulted in the desired outcome. Eventually, he decided to pay him a visit to make a stronger argument.
He proposed that Rothschild purchased land in North America to establish a Jewish state. As a deeply spiritual person, Behrend referred to biblical heroes like Moses, Nehemia, and Ezra, who had freed the Jewish people from slavery and oppression – alluding that the new colony would offer a safe homeland for millions of German, Polish, and Italian Jews facing increased anti-Semitism in their countries. He envisioned a society of Jewish farmers and craftsmen who could work and pray in peace and freedom. At the same time, he hoped that mass emigration to America would weaken anti-Semitism and ease the living conditions for the remaining Jews in Europe.
Having already rejected Behrend’s plea for financial support in his letters, Baron de Rothschild met him at his house anyway – and dismissed his plan for a Jewish colony in America as “shtuss” (Yiddish nonsense). Rothschild did not see a realistic chance for it to be successfully implemented and declined Behrend’s proposal to spearhead this endeavor.
While this and other of Behrend’s attempts to gather monetary and intellectual support for his Jewish colony in America were in vain, his passport still tells a story of empowerment, strong will, and innovation. Behrend’s adventurous proposition was rooted in his Zionist thinking that he had started to develop as a young man and for decades he tried to find a way to improve living conditions for European Jewry.
In fact, Bernhard Behrend did not give up on his idea of America as the land of freedom for Jews. In 1849 -- four years after his visit in Frankfurt -- he and his wife, together with their children, immigrated from Rodenberg to America. He was 56 years old at the time and an established merchant. Following his dream of owning land and raising his children as farmers, he bought a farm in Narrowsburg, NY. After years of rather unsuccessful farming and the loss of his savings, he opened a small store in Narrowsburg to provide for his family. In 1863/64, he and his wife moved to Washington, D.C., where they lived with one of their daughters.
Among a few other historic documents Bernhard Behrend brought with him to the nation’s capital was the passport he had used on his trip to Frankfurt – maybe as a keepsake for his utopic Zionist idea or maybe as a symbol of making his dream come true, on a personal level.
July 2017: Honeymoon in Atlantic City Photograph
Donor: Grace Dody
black and white photograph, 1933
Even in sepia this photograph conveys the pleasure of strolling along a sunny boardwalk. Maybe it is the happy faces of the newlyweds that convinces us of the cheerful atmosphere on Atlantic City's famous boardwalk. It was 1933; William and Stella Robinowitz had just been married in Washington, D.C. and were spending their honeymoon in the popular seaside destination.
Long before the casinos came and made Atlantic City known for gambling, the town had a reputation as a prime vacation spot. Only a train ride away from New York, Baltimore, Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia, vacationers from the bustling cities on the East Coast came to Atlantic City to find relaxation and sun -- and a surprisingly well-established Jewish infrastructure. At the time of William and Stella Robinowitz's visit they could choose from dozens of rooming houses, hotels, and restaurants that catered specifically to a Jewish clientele. Jewish-owned shops lined the boardwalk and it was never far to enjoy a kosher snack.
Years after their honeymoon stroll on the boardwalk, William and Stella Robinowitz remained true to Atlantic City and took their two children on family vacations there. The heydays of Jewish tourism in Atlantic City were over by the 1970s, when more exciting destinations started to become accessible by plane and many of the city's Jewish-oriented businesses had either moved or closed.
Do you have vacation stories or photos you would like to share? We love to expand our knowledge on where and how Jewish families from the greater Washington area have spent their vacations. Share them, or any other memories, with us here.
June 2017: Glass bottle from Sirota's Pharmacy
Donor: Helene Edwards
Four-sided glass bottle with stopper, 1921-1940s
On June 9, 1876, our historic synagogue was dedicated as the first home of Adas Israel Congregation in the presence of President Ulysses S. Grant -- who stayed for the entire three hour service. On that day it would have been impossible to foretell the long and vibrant life that this little synagogue -- the region's oldest -- would sustain along with its surrounding neighborhood.This month's Curator's Catch intersects with our synagogue's later history, when the building was moved from its location at 6th and G Streets, NW to 3rd and G Streets, NW. The artifact reminds us of what once existed at 3rd & G before our synagogue's arrival in 1969. Learn more about the 1876 synagogue's past and future on our website.
This little bottle transports us back to a time when pharmacies sold drugs in simple but elegant glass containers and offered mostly natural medicines to their customers. Our bottle held Potassium Sulfate, a white crystalline salt that dissolves in water and provided ease from skin diseases like neurodermitis. Since the bottle is inscribed with a hallmark, we can trace it back to the company Whitall, Tatum & Co., a leading supplier of apothecary bottles for pharmacies around the country for many decades.
Our bottle originates from Sirota's Pharmacy, a family-owned business on Third and G Streets, NW, in downtown Washington, D.C. Irving Sirota, an immigrant from Eastern Europe, opened it in 1921. He chose the bustling area near 7th Street, which was one of the city's main shopping centers. Along with a variety of other shops, Sirota's catered to a lively and diverse neighborhood of Jewish, German, Italian, and Greek immigrants. For more than three decades, Irving and his wife Esther advised patients on health issues and medical treatments, and served sodas and ice creams from the soda fountain. In 1957, the couple retired to Miami Beach and sold the store.
The neighborhood around Third and G Streets changed after the construction of Interstate 395 in the 1960s, and the building that had housed the pharmacy was demolished. A few years later, when the historic 1876 synagogue was facing the same fate, the Jewish Historical Society moved the building to the site where Sirota's once stood.
The children of Irving and Esther Sirota kept this little bottle as a keepsake and eventually donated it along with photographs and documents to the Society. It is a remnant of the neighborhood's vibrant immigrant and business community and illustrates how our synagogue's history is interwoven on so many levels with the experiences of the surrounding communities.
May 2017: Photograph of the Supreme Court Justices
Donor: Andrew Ammerman
Black and white photograph in frame, 1925
In this picture, the nine Supreme Court Justices are posing for an official photograph, while sitting in front of a painted backdrop in their traditional gowns. Their demeanor emanates the dignity of their office and the importance of their position within American democracy. This photograph holds the signatures of all of the Justices as well as a handwritten note on the top left corner: Property of Arthur G. Brode.
Arthur Brode, a lawyer from Memphis, TN, received his law degree from Catholic University in 1920. He married Clara Friedman, a lawyer herself, and both received admission to practice before the U.S. Supreme Court. Arthur Brode worked on many cases with his brother-in-law Max Ammerman, a Georgetown University law graduate. We don't know how this photograph got into Arthur's possession, but when he died in 1941 his wife Clara gave it to Max Ammerman - presumably, in memory of the many times they had partnered on cases and as an inspirational gift for Max's ongoing law career.
Among the Justices in the picture is Louis D. Brandeis (front row, far right). As the first Jewish Justice and through his progressive legal work, Louis Brandeis has inspired generations of legal practitioners.
Max Ammerman passed the photograph on to his son Andrew Ammerman, an Honorary Director of the Society and a long-time supporter. He donated it to our collection in 2016. This photograph, together with other materials from the Ammerman Family Collection, help us tell the complex story of Jewish participation in the judicial branch of government.
April 2017: Letter to President Woodrow Wilson
Donor: Amy Nordlinger Behrend Goldstein
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.
You can learn more about the Behrend family in Washington Jewish history in JHSGW's online exhibits Jewish Washington: A Scrapbook of an American Community (search "Behrend" in the upper right corner) and Jewish Life in Mr. Lincoln's City.
March 2017: Store Sign
Donor: Andrea Choobineh
40"x40" neon-tube store sign, ca. 1966
This flashy neon sign from a Jewish book store in Wheaton, MD dates back to the 1960s. Abe's Jewish Book and Gift Store was founded by Abe Jacovsky (1914-1972) and carried books as well as Judaica and Jewish memorabilia. It moved to Wheaton in 1968 from its original location on Kennedy Street, NW. With its catchy motto, the only Jewish bookstore in the area catered to individual customers, the local Hebrew schools, and in 1970 even received an order from the White House for two leather Torah reproductions.
Abe Jacovsky's granddaughter Andrea Choobineh donated this sign, the first addition to our collection this year. The first "curator's catch" of 2017 could not illuminate our message better: "If it's Jewish, we have it!" describes perfectly what the Jewish Historical Society and our future museum are about.