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'Jewish Washington: Scrapbook of an American Community' at the National Building Museum highlights the evolving Washington Jewish community
A flag-raising ceremony takes place in 1917 at the Washington Hebrew Congregation at Eighth and I streets, N.W. The image is on view at the National Building Museum.
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Date published: 8/18/2005
Part history lesson, part celebration, "Jewish Washington: Scrapbook of an American Community" is both informative and inspirational.
Created by the Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington, this community-based exhibit has found a perfect venue at the the National Building Museum in Washington. The collection chronicles the lives and deeds of the thousands of Jews who came to the nation's capital, beginning in 1795. It will remain on view through Jan. 8.
In its 25-year history, the NBM has focused primarily on the ways in which we build our world through architecture, construction and engineering, but we also build that world by how we live and what we do for a living.
The highly personal approach of the "Jewish Washington" exhibit allows for greater flexibility in the presentation of people and events, as captured in a scrapbook of remembrances.
There is lots of nostalgia for the great old delis and department stores, as well as acknowledgments of political and financial leaders.
Five broad historical divisions serve as the framework for discussion of the relationship between the Jewish community and the national and international worlds in which it flourished.
Jews have lived in America for 350 years. Not long after the new federal district was created in 1795, Isaac Polock, a land developer from Savannah, Ga., became the first recorded Jew to come to Washington.
Shortly before the Civil War, Jewish immigrants, many from Germany, came to the nation's capital to escape the harsh restrictions of the 1850s in Europe.
Numbering more than a thousand, and with two synagogues, these first-generation Jewish Americans were joined by immigrants from Eastern Europe between 1880 and 1920.
This wave of new arrivals would swell the Washington Jewish population to 10,000. Many would become merchants, opening mom-and-pop grocery stores and department stores throughout the city.
Those stores would grow over the next century, and while some no longer exist, many have become major chains. Examples include Hahn's Shoes, Hechinger's Hardware, Rosenthal Chevrolet and Giant Foods.
And although it wasn't a Jewish-owned business, Hot Shoppes became a famously favorite hangout for Jewish (as well as other) teens.