Jewish Washingtonians are an integral part of the vivid makeup of the diversity in the nation’s capital. A location where immigrants were able to find employment, D.C. quickly became a central location for Jewish Europeans. It became their home, and their pathway into approval and recognition into society.
The new Lillian and Albert Small Capital Jewish Museum recounts the District’s Jewish history. Opening on June 9, the Museum — located at the corner of 3rd and F Streets NW — has free general admission for visitors seeking to study and connect with the stories and culture created by Jewish Washingtonians. As the first museum in Washington, D.C. committed to storytelling the Jewish community’s influence, it houses notable photos, film, relics, interactive spaces and more.
“We really concentrate on how ideas and people and communities come together … and how our perspectives change over time … and really that’s what history museums are about,” said Executive Director Ivy L. Barsky.
Three floors are available to the public, and offer a wide array of exhibitions. The first floor houses the museum’s shop and orientation gallery, welcoming you to the literature and education that is to come. Located on this floor is a part of the historical synagogue, as well as the chronological history of the Jewish community’s arrival to the District. The 1876 Synagogue is the museum’s leading artifact.
“The idea of connecting the past and the present was really an overarching design goal for us,” said lead designer Bettina Neudert-Brown. “The simple materials of the synagogue … are mirrored with their modern counterparts.”
After a thorough look at the chronological history, visitors access the second floor, which carries the museum’s action lab, sanctuary and Core Gallery. A place for prayer, the sanctuary doubles as a space of education, showing a film that transports guests to the beginnings of community establishments in the late-19th century. The sanctuary portrays dramatic sounds and eloquent images which thoughtfully explain the vivid history.
The Community Action Lab is a place where inspiration becomes action. Meant for visitors of all ages, the action lab makes guests aware of how they can contribute to ideas which inspire them. Hands-on activities, such as button-making, and workshops are examples of ways visitors become engaged in this space.
The Core Gallery takes up the largest portion of the second floor. Divided into four sections, the gallery showcases Jews from different time periods, tells stories of Jewish liberation, explains forms of Jewish community, and illustrates Jew-supported social justice movements. The gallery allows individuals to connect with past and present Jewish leaders and customs through interactive displays. The Core Gallery is where a visitor may go to unearth differing perspectives and reflect on personal values.
“Here we seek to share these stories, the expected and the unexpected,” said Visiting Curator and University of Richmond History Professor Erick Yellin. “…Our hope is that you will find many such surprises in the stories here.”
The remaining third floor holds a unique exhibition: the traveling exhibition of Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsberg. Based on the book of the same name by Irin Cannon and Shana Knizhnik, the display gives an overview of the late Supreme Court justice’s life, with each section showcasing a court case she worked on. It explains her childhood, background, passion projects and gives a glimpse into the mind of the late Justice. The Capital Jewish Museum is the exhibition’s last stop and will be displayed until Nov. 30, 2023.
The Capital Jewish Museum is a facilitator for storytelling. It tells the story through the lens of hundreds of past and present Jews. A community whose stories must be shared, Jewish Washingtonians finally have a location in the nation’s capital for their rich history.
“We want to make sure that everyone understands that they are part of this story, whoever you are when you walk in here… regardless of where you come from, you have something to say and to contribute to the story,” said Barksy.