MS. REBECCA SHEIR
Welcome to "Metro Connection." I'm Rebecca Sheir and today we're returning to square one, with a show we're calling "Origins." We'll seek the roots of local landmarks.
MR. DAVID POLLACK
I can't believe that this church has existed since 1706.
And we'll go back in time in local Bardolotry.
MR. STEPHEN H. GRANT
He was always afraid that if it got out that he was looking for Shakespeare treasures the prices would just go sky high.
Plus, we'll explore the building blocks of reading, and learn how DCPS is trying to strengthen that skill.
Students definitely understand that each time we're going to read we may look at a different craft or look at a different piece of it.
But we're going to begin today's show in a place whose origins extend back in time, 138 years, and space, three city blocks.
MS. WENDY TURMAN
We have an engraved invitation in our collection, inviting people to come watch the synagogue building move. I've got it right over here.
Wendy Turman is the archivist at the Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington.
So what does it say?
So it says, "The officers and directors of the Jewish Historical Society and the Adas Israel Congregation cordially invite you and your family to witness the moving of Washington's oldest synagogue, from 6th to 3rd on G Street Northwest, Thursday, Dec. 18, 1969, 10:30 a.m."
And that new 3rd and G location is where Wendy and I are standing now, in the sanctuary of the Adas Israel synagogue. It was built at 6th and G in 1876, but in 1969, it was threatened by demolition. So the Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington, which, by the way, formed in 1960 to chronicle the story of the local Jewish community, they arranged to have the building hoisted onto dollies and relocated.
Because it was so heavy, the tractors actually broke a gas line and so they had to stop the move and the gas company had to come and turn off the gas, and then they had to burn off the excess gas. But they were very proud they didn't lose any bricks in the course of the three-hour move down the street.
So a three-hour move for three blocks. That's about an average of an hour a block.
For a building.
After a ton of renovation and restoration, the synagogue was rededicated and opened to the public, as the Lillian and Albert Small Jewish Museum. But get this, in a few years, the synagogue/museum will be moving again. Here's the Society's executive director, Laura Apelbaum.
MS. LAURA APELBAUM
So we're on the edge of a big new development downtown that will deck over the 395 Center Leg Freeway, as they call it, between where our building is and Georgetown Law School, and create three new city blocks. And so as part of the development, our building will be moved one block south.
And adjacent to it, the Society will build a brand new, much bigger museum.
Right now it's a small building, it's a historic site, it's the only Jewish building in the city on the National Register, and we have no gallery space. So we tell the story here of the early congregants, and the early neighborhood -- early Jewish roots.
To tell a fuller, richer story of Jewish life in D.C., though, the Society has always had to take its shows on the road.
We've been at the National Building Museum, we've had an exhibit at White Flint Mall, Washington Hebrew, at each of the JCCs.
But the new Lillian and Albert Small Jewish Museum will include galleries for permanent and traveling exhibitions, as well as classrooms, archives, offices, even a roof garden. And all of it will help the Society paint a fuller picture of Washington's Jewish community, which, by the way, is thought to date back to 1795, with the arrival of a builder named Isaac Polock.
Other Jews followed, first Ashkenazi Jews from central and eastern Europe and Russia and then, in the 1920s, Sephardic Jews, that is Jews of Spanish, Portuguese or North African descent. But as Laura Apelbaum will tell you, this timeline was kind of late compared with other east-coast cities.
This city is not a port city. A lot of other cities -- New York, Boston, Philly, Charleston, Baltimore, that are all ports -- they had an early Sephardic community. We didn't have an early Sephardic community. People went into other ports, other places, and then they kind of found their way here for all kinds of opportunities around the economy fueled by the government.
Indeed, many Jews wound up working for the federal government, while others wound up working for themselves. 7th Street Northwest, for instance, used to be bustling with Jewish-owned shops and stores. And in the 1920s, you could find more than 300 Jewish grocers all around town.
One of the things we're particularly interested and wanting to focus on is that larger story of Washington as the nation's capital. A place where local business owners, Jewish shopkeepers, interact with the federal government in unusual ways.
And those unusual ways have led to some terrific stories, says archivist Wendy Turman. Like the one about the party-supplies-shop owner who got a phone call requesting 750 miniature, satin, heart-shaped wedding-cake boxes.
And she said, "Okay. Can I know who's going to pay the bill?" And she was told, "Oh, the bride's father will take care of it. It's President Lyndon Johnson."
And some of those satin boxes are now in the Society's collection, along with loads of letters, flyers, photographs, business records, invitations, diaries, scrapbooks, family trees, immigration documents, even ceremonial and ritual objects from Jewish homes and synagogues.
Where are you storing all of these things?
So we have some materials stored here, some materials stored off-site.
And once you have your new facility, will you be able to bring everything in the same place?
I would love to be able to do that.
Only time will tell whether her wishes come true. As of now, the earliest the new Lillian and Albert Small Jewish Museum will open is the year 2020. But in the meantime, The Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington will continue its mission to explore, share and preserve the distinctive Jewish heritage of Washington, D.C., as both the hometown of a community, and the capital of a nation.
The Society's exhibit, "Through the Lens: Jeremy Goldberg's Washington," is now on display at Ohev Shalom, the National Synagogue in Northwest D.C. For more on this collection of photos of original and current sites of synagogues and other Jewish buildings, visit our website, metroconnection.org. And if you're curious as to what a 270-ton synagogue-on-wheels looks like, we have photos from that three-block move back in 1969 on our website, too. Just head to metroconnection.org.
Transcripts of WAMU programs are available for personal use. Transcripts are provided "As Is" without warranties of any kind, either express or implied. WAMU does not warrant that the transcript is error-free. For all WAMU programs, the broadcast audio should be considered the authoritative version. Transcripts are owned by WAMU 88.5 FM American University Radio and are protected by laws in both the United States and international law. You may not sell or modify transcripts or reproduce, display, distribute, or otherwise use the transcript, in whole or in part, in any way for any public or commercial purpose without the express written permission of WAMU. All requests for uses beyond personal and noncommercial use should be referred to (202) 885-1200.