In 1967, DC’s Jewish community rallied together to relocate and save the historic 1876 Adas Israel synagogue. Over the next few years, a local fundraising and publicity campaign was undertaken to restore the first purpose-built synagogue in our nation’s capital. As part of the campaign, a scale model of the building was created to show people how it would look if the funds could be raised to restore the synagogue.
The campaign was ultimately successful, and after a careful relocation of the building from 6th Street to 3rd and G Streets, NW, the synagogue was restored to house the Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington. In it, the model sat on display as a reminder of the work that went into preserving this historic part of the Jewish built environment.
Soon, another restoration will take place, this time to the model itself. After fifty-three years, the delicate diorama is in great need of some tender loving care. We recently invited a conservation specialist to examine the model and determine what could be done to stabilize it for display in the new museum. She was particularly surprised by the level of detail put into a model like this—specifically the individually set bricks around the upper windows. Can you spot them in the photograph below?
The main entrance was found on the west side of the historic synagogue. On the model, bricks measuring one tenth of an inch were glued on around the windows and door frames. Some have been lost over time. Attention to detail carries throughout the model, including the individual wood panels along the walls of the sanctuary and women’s balcony.
Restoration work on the model will also focus on the warped wood of the sanctuary floor, an unknown residue that formed along the roof, and other cosmetic details. Restoring the model will allow us to continue using this artifact to teach the history of this building and the region’s Jewish community. Keep an eye out for this model among the dozens of artifacts that will be on display in the new museum!
Author: Jonathan Edelman, Curatorial Assistant