The core exhibition in our new museum will invite visitors to consider how we make meaningful change in our community, our city, and our country. We will share stories of how Jewish Washingtonians have taken on the role of civic actors and hope our visitors will connect to the personal stories and objects we show, reflect about the meaning and purpose of change, and be inspired to act on behalf of their communities and values.
The recent death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has elicited extensive commentary from legal scholars and historians on the impact and meaning of her legal legacy for our nation, while countless others have testified to the inspiration she has provided on a more personal level. We were thrilled two years ago when Justice Ginsburg donated to us one of her lace collars, and we will be honored to show that collar as the focal point in the story we tell of her as a Jewish Washingtonian.
But we are also excited to share with our visitors the stories of lesser known figures, everyday stories of women and men whose commitment to making change has led them to find their own ways to make an impact in their community.
Searching through our collections while conducting exhibition research last month, I found this simple ballpoint pen titled “Judge of the Orphans Court”, which led me to the story of Margaret Hais Blacher and her life of service.
Blacher grew up in northeast Washington, daughter of Joseph and Ida Flax Hais. She graduated from Eastern High School, briefly attended the University of Maryland, and married her husband Fred Blacher, who ran a shoe store on H Street NE, in 1943. The family moved to Hyattsville in the early 1950s, where she raised her three children and embarked on a near fulltime career of volunteer service.
Always outgoing, Blacher had been involved in Jewish teen sororities in high school. As an adult, she turned that social energy into community action, leaving home each day for her work with one of many organizations. Her natural leadership abilities led her to work with the March of Dimes and the American Cancer Society alongside Jewish organizations including B’nai B’rith Women, National Council of Jewish Women, and the sisterhood of Beth Torah synagogue. Blacher’s work for the Democratic Party of Prince George’s County led to this congratulatory telegram in which she was thanked for turning out the vote for John F. Kennedy in 1960.
This political involvement ultimately led her to a more formal role when she was elected to a judgeship on the county’s Orphans Court, working on probate matters. She served in that position until her death in 1964.
Blacher’s obituary included this quote from a 1962 interview: I have always been interested in service work and doing things for others . . . and my interest in politics stems from this. I feel that if perhaps in some small way I might do something to improve our government, it is not only going to benefit me and my family, but also my neighbors and friends.
Where do you find inspiration? What motivates you to act, and how do you think about your own role in making change in this world? Let us know if you have stories or objects to share with us.
All photos from CJM Collections, Gift of Steve Blacher.