16 January 2019
Last Wednesday, the building that will house the new Lillian and Albert Small Capital Jewish Museum was wheeled down the block to its new home on 3rd and F Street, NW.
The building has already known many lives. It was built in 1876 to house Adas Israel Congregation, making it the oldest synagogue in Washington, DC. Since that time, the building has moved twice and served as an African American church, Greek Orthodox church, deli, barbershop, barbeque restaurant, bicycle store, dentist’s office, and coffee shop. It returned to its roots and became the Lillian and Albert Small Jewish Museum in 1975.
Thanks to the tremendous efforts of the Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington, the museum is now preparing to embark on a new chapter. Set to reopen in 2021, the museum will tell the story of Jewish Washington’s past while encouraging audiences to consider their role in shaping the future of Jewish life here in the nation’s capital.
The expanded museum complex will feature multipurpose spaces for communal programs and “have an unconventional, experimental spirit—engaging visitors through immersive storytelling, compelling artifacts and hands-on interactive experiences that explore the city’s story through a Jewish lens,” say the organizers. Indeed, the museum plans to draw on the past as a way to deepen our understanding of who we are and who we want to be in the years and generations to come.
The Lillian and Albert Small Capital Jewish Museum is not the only local institution looking towards the future. Across the area, emerging and established organizations are helping Jews of all ages to breathe new life and relevancy into Jewish identity and tradition.
This week alone, Sixth & I will host their annual MLK Shabbat service in partnership with the Turner Memorial AME Church. The Edlavitch DC JCC, the Bender JCC, and the JCC of Northern Virginia will welcome people in for community service events, learning opportunities, film screenings, and much more. And through café nights, potlucks, book clubs, shabbat dinners, and other offerings, young Jews will turn to organizations like Gather DC and local Moishe Houses to join their peers in exploring Jewish teachings.
We should feel proud of our community’s historical significance (I will note that President Ulysses S. Grant attended the dedication of Adas Israel Congregation). I also hope that we take a moment to relish in the growing sense of vibrancy and possibility that is quickly coming to define our community.
Jewish Greater Washington, already one of the largest Jewish communities in the country, is one of the most attractive for Jewish young adults and movers and shakers across industries. Whether we came here decades ago or just moved in, all of us are drawn to this place for the potential it holds. We see a chance to build a better life for our families and to effect change on multiple levels.
As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Almost always, the creative dedicated minority has made the world better.” Moving forward, may we take inspiration from Dr. King and the small but mighty museum building, and keep reinventing ourselves, looking ahead, and working towards a brighter future for our community, our city, and our nation.