Jewish History

Photograph of the Soviet Embassy (Source: Library of Congress, Historic American Buildings Survey)

A Thwarted Protest at the Soviet Embassy

On Aug. 24, 1973, about 20 D.C. Jewish school children gathered around the Soviet Embassy holding onto basketballs. It was around noon, and they were getting ready to bounce the balls just loud enough for Soviet officials to hear. But they weren't there to play; they were there to stage a political protest.

January 14, 1915 Washington Times ad about Leo Frank.

The Leo Frank Case

Have you ever heard of Leo Frank? His case, a lesser known piece of American history, had tremendous long-lasting impact on the nation -- leading to the creation of the Anti-Defamation League and reviving the Ku Klux Klan. There’s also a Washington, D.C. connection.

In 1913, Leo Frank, a young Jewish man originally from New York, was accused of murdering Mary Phagan, a 13-year-old girl who worked in the Atlanta pencil factory he managed. After a month-long trial, with prejudice heavy in the air, Frank was convicted and sentenced to death. Due to the judge’s fear of mob violence, Frank and his family were not in the courtroom when the verdict was announced.

New Rescue Project Underway to Save Washington's Only Known Synagogue Mural

In the early 1990s, homeowner Stephanie Slewka made a fascinating discovery on the second floor of her 19th century townhouse at 415 M Street, NW: a mural concealed beneath layers of paint and wallpaper.  As if peeling back layers of time, she found one of the only remaining traces of Shomrei Shabbos, a small orthodox community in downtown Washington that worshiped in the townhouse. The nearly 90-year-old mural was the upper portion of a larger piece that had surrounded the synagogue’s ark on the floor below. 

Decades later, that same mural is in danger. Plans to convert the building into condominiums threaten the survival of this unique piece of Washington Jewish history.

Thanks to Samantha Bass and Zachary Paul Levine of the Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington for the guest post!

Adas Israel Synagogue building on moving truck, December 18, 1969. (Photo source: Wikipedia)

A Synagogue on Wheels

As many realtors will tell you, the first three rules of real estate are, “location, location, location.” Well, in the late 1960s, location presented a very serious problem for transit planners and the congregation of the Adas Israel synagogue. Construction of Metro’s Red Line was getting underway and WMATA had acquired the block bounded by 5th,  6th,  F and G Streets, NW to serve as a staging area and, eventually, the home of Metro’s headquarters.

There was only one problem. The block was also the home of Washington’s first synagogue building, which had been standing on the site since 1876.

We Will Never Die Pageant, 1943

In an age before e-news, social media, and cellphones, one pageant helped bring the truth about the tragedy unfolding in Hitler’s Europe to the nation’s attention.

Seventy years after First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, hundreds of members of Congress, and several Supreme Court Justices convened in Constitution Hall to learn of the atrocities being committed in Europe, the Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington marked the anniversary of that pageant, entitled We Will Never Die – a Mass Memorial to the Two Million Dead of Europe.