Being from Houston, Texas, I didn’t grow up with much concern about history. After all, when a building was about 30 years old, it’d be torn down for a “better” one. It was 1995 before Houston had its first historic preservation ordinance, so while my lack of curiosity about history is not defensible, it is perhaps understandable.
When I came to Washington, DC, in the 1970s to work for my hometown Congressman, I quickly noticed some old buildings (!), cobblestoned streets, abandoned trolley tracks. I’ve lived in Georgetown, Logan Circle, Woodley Park, and Foggy Bottom. Tons and tons of history. I had much to learn.
This is a prelude to saying how excited I was to be asked to join the governing board of the soon-to-be-built Capital Jewish Museum. It will be a new museum telling the stories of the vibrant Jewish history of our region, which dates back to 1795. A beautiful blend of old and new.
As I learned about the collection of photographs, artifacts, and oral histories that will fill this building, I was so sad that I had nothing to contribute. There’s obviously no record of my family’s early presence here, so no photo of my grandfather in front of his butcher shop in the late 19th century. I’m not famous, so there’d be no reason for me to be asked to donate anything, like a lace collar worn by a Supreme Court Justice, or a mezuzah from the inner office of a United States Congressman.
But then I learned this Museum will present more than stories of the multi-generational history of local Jewish families and famous Jewish people who’ve lived here. It will speak to all aspects of life in the metropolitan area, and indeed, in the nation, in which DC’s Jewish residents have participated. At a recent Board of Directors meeting, staff mentioned that while we have plenty of objects from Democratic Party life, they’re looking to have some things from people who’ve been involved in Republican Party politics. My ears perked up. I was a staff person at the 1972 Republican National Convention in Miami, and I’d just found my name tag while cleaning out countless boxes during lockdown.
I was a Congressional staffer when I attended that Convention, and one of my tasks was to help set up the balloons that would drop when President Nixon was renominated. That was fun, but what I remember most were the protesters against the war in Viet Nam, hundreds, and hundreds of them. They clogged the streets around the Convention Center and nearby hotels, making the streets impassable to cars. Even walking around was hard. More than 200 protesters were arrested. This name tag represents a moment in time, in both my personal story and the nation’s history, and it is now in the Museum’s collection.
Maybe you’re like I was and thought the Museum would only be interested in the stories of people originally from here. The truth is, if you’re Jewish and you’ve lived in the Washington metropolitan region, your experience has meaning to our Jewish community. What stories can you share? What objects or photographs do you have that the Museum needs? Help us tell what Jewish Washington has been about, and what we should be conveying in the future. To discuss donations, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. To be a supporter, please consider making a contribution online, or simply subscribing to the e-newsletter for museum updates.
Author: Ricki Gerger, Board Member