Our Story

About Us

For nearly 60 years, as the Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington, we have collected and preserved regional Jewish stories, documenting the unique nature of life in and around Washington, D.C. – a history that is at once local, national, and international.

Our collections trace the Jewish community here from the 1850s to the present day, and include historic artifacts, personal and family papers, business and synagogue archives, and oral histories from remarkable personalities — collections ranging from an immigrant’s steamer trunk to a handknit lace collar worn by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

RBG Collar
Handknit lace collar worn by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Today, as the Capital Jewish Museum, we bring history to life through walking tours of historic Jewish neighborhoods, lectures, book talks, concerts, school programs, and other activities throughout the region for children, families, and adults.

The Historic 1876 Synagogue

Dedicated on June 9, 1876 in the presence of President Ulysses S. Grant, the historic Adas Israel synagogue is the oldest purpose-built synagogue in the Washington region. The congregation – the second established in Washington, D.C. – was comprised of several families of predominantly German descent who had migrated to Washington before, during, and after the Civil War as the formerly sleepy city and its population expanded.

Their story, like the stories of the generations to follow, involved making a home within the nation’s capital.

When the growing congregation built a larger sanctuary at Sixth and I Streets, NW in 1908, the historic synagogue building’s story continued, following the changing nature of the surrounding multi-ethnic neighborhood. Over the years the building hosted several houses of worship, including St. Sophia’s Greek Orthodox Church, and retailers. By the 1940s, the former Orthodox synagogue had even become a BBQ joint!

In 1966, when Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (Metro) plans called for razing the building, the Jewish Historical Society sprang into action. With help from the District of Columbia, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and an Act of Congress, the Jewish Historical Society moved the building to the northeast corner of Third and G Streets, NW on a cold December day in 1969. JHSGW has since maintained the synagogue, listed on the National Register for Historic Places, as an educational and programming space.

As part of a major development project, the historic synagogue was moved 50 feet in 2016 AGAIN, and will move again in 2019, to the corner of Third & F Streets, NW, where it will become part of our new museum, a witness and active participant in its ever-changing neighborhood!