A Visit from the Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington

Posted on June 13th, 2011 by

Last week, our colleagues from the Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington visited the JMM to learn more about what we do and how we do it, and to talk about potential collaborations between our two institutions. Laura Cohen Apelbaum, the JHSGW’s director, brought a group of trustees, staff members, and interns to meet with Duke Zimmerman, JMM vice-president and chair of our collections committee, Deborah Cardin, and me.

After a morning spent touring the Lloyd Street and B’nai Israel Synaogogues and our “Synagogue Speaks” exhibition, the group settled down to chat with us over lunch. We talked about plans, challenges, and common interests.

The JHSGW and the JMM have a lot in common. Like the JMM, their museum chronicles the story of a Jewish community (in their case, Jews living in the greater Washington, DC area) through collections, publications, programs, and exhibitions. Like the JMM, they are stewards of an historic synagogue—though our Lloyd Street Synagogue (1845) has their Adas Israel Synagogue (1876) beat by 31 years! And like us, they were founded by volunteers in 1960. We’ve grown in similar directions since, with a shared commitment to preserving and interpreting Jewish history and culture in a meaningful way for both Jewish and general audiences.

Visit the JHSGW’s website (http:///www.jhsgw.org/) for a look at their many exciting programs and initiatives, and plan to pay them a visit next time you’re in Washington.

Here we are with our visitors from the JHSGW (Duke Zimmerman, never without a camera, snapped the picture). The group including several trustees and most staff members—like our staff, many JHSGW staffers wear multiple hats and produce an impressive number of high quality programs considering their size.

Here we are in the B'nai Israel Synagogue. One thing the JHSGW did with their synagogue that we didn’t: they moved it! In 1969, volunteers arranged to have Adas Israel relocated about three blocks from its original site in order to save it from demolition.


A photo from the move. You can check out more by clicking the picture!

Laura Apelbaum and I stand in front of our computer animation of the Lloyd Street Synagogue sanctuary, showing how it changed over time. This was a big hit with our visitors.


A blog post by Associate Director Anita Kassof.

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From the Ground Up

Posted on April 6th, 2011 by

On a bright Sunday in early April the JMM unveiled its newest publication and first book for children at a family program dedicated to the publication. The Synagogue Speaks, a full color picture book written by JMM Associate Director Anita Kassof with watercolor illustrations by well-known local artist Jonathon Scott Fuqua, tells the story of the historic building and the three congregations (two synagogues and one church) that worshipped there. With a story told from the building’s point of view, the book’s  vivid colors and simple, elegant language will surely entrance young readers.

Sunday’s program, called From the Ground Up, celebrated the publication through a variety of activities including painting, building, digging and otherwise exploring the Lloyd Street Synagogue and its gallery. Most poignant was Anita’s reading of the book which took place in the Synagogue itself. A large group of children of various ages listened and looked intently, as Anita read the story and showed the pictures. Young visitors had a rare opportunity to the meet author and illustrator after the reading. A great time was had by all! The Synagogue Speaks is for sale in the JMM Shop and online at jewishmuseummd.org. It sells for $18 and is geared toward children ages 4 to 10.

Anita reads to the group. Photo by Harriett Lynn.


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The Lloyd Street Synagogue

Posted on December 17th, 2010 by

A blog post by associate director Anita Kassof.

Three congregations—two Jewish and one Catholic—worshipped at the Lloyd Street Synagogue, and each altered the building to suit its spiritual and communal needs. Among their alterations: Baltimore Hebrew Congregation (1845-1889) added a 30 foot addition to the east end of the synagogue; St. John the Baptist Roman Catholic Church (1889-1905) rearranged the balcony pews, added interior stairs, and reconfigured the lower level; and Shomrei Mishmeres (1905-1960) reconfigured the mikvehs (ritual baths) and added decorative paint.

We learned about many of these alterations through intensive paint and architectural analyses, and several archaeological excavations in the mikveh area. They’re exciting finds, and we wanted to convey that sense of discovery to our visitors. So when we developed The Synagogue Speaks, our exhibition in and about the building, we incorporated “history windows” so visitors could take a look behind the scenes to see some of those alterations. The windows enable the building to speak for itself about how it’s changed over time.

Here are some of my favorites:

cut through wall

Cut through wall. Photo by Will Kirk.

This wall, now part of an interior hallway, was the outside wall of the Lloyd Street Synagogue until 1860, when Baltimore Hebrew Congregation expanded the building. For many years, there was no doorway in this wall. The only access to the new portion of the lower level was from an exterior door, which is just to the left of this view.

The doorway in this wall (on the right in the photo) was cut sometime between 1880 and 1910. It looks as if a stone mason had to hack through the substantial stone foundation to make the doorway, shoring things up with crude timbers.


Column, photo by Will Kirk.

The plaster residue on this column reveals that a wall once abutted its east and west sides. The wall was constructed when the synagogue was built in 1845. According to a newspaper article from the time, the lower level had “two good school¬rooms, and a large hall filled up as a temporary Synagogue, to be used as occasion may require.”

The column also has plaster scars on its north and south faces. These are from a later wall, which St. John’s (a Lithuanian Catholic congregation) constructed during its 1895 renovation. St. John’s used the lower level for parish and community events.

Not visible in this photograph: a name, possibly Lithuanian, penciled on the column. Perhaps a workman signed his name during the St. John’s period.

stencil wall

Stencil wall, photo by Will Kirk.

This image shows a “window” in a layer of 1960s era drywall. When we stripped away the drywall, we discovered stencils and paint from earlier eras. Photomicrography—the process of photographing a tiny sample of paint under a microscope—helped us figure out just what used to be here.

archaeological paint layers

Archaeological paint layers.

This sample shows that after the wall was built and plastered, it was covered with a light gray lime coating that later was painted yellow ochre (layers 1-6). The bright blue band (layer 7) indicates that a mural might once have been painted on the wall. This is still visible on some areas of the wall. The top layer (14) shows the stencil that was concealed by the 1960s drywall.

It’s no surprise that Shomrei Mishmeres, the last congregation to occupy the Lloyd Street Synagogue, applied decorative stencils to the walls of the lower level. Daily worship services were often held here, and one former congregant recalls that the area was beautiful.

The synagogue has a lot more to reveal, so come visit soon and see what the building has to say to you.

Posted in jewish museum of maryland

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