New Capital Jewish Museum ‘connects the past to the present’ in downtown DC

by | Jun 2, 2023 | Religion

WASHINGTON (RNS) — The oldest synagogue building in the nation’s capital has become the anchor of a new museum highlighting the history of Jewish people in the region.The Capital Jewish Museum is set to open its doors to the public on June 9.
“We’re standing next to the simple, original Adas Israel Synagogue, which has been merged into this striking, magnificent building,” said Esther Safran Foer, board president of the museum and a longtime member of the synagogue now located about 4 miles away from its former downtown D.C. location.
Speaking at a media preview event on Thursday (June 1), she pointed to the glass bridge connecting the almost 150-year-old red brick building to a new four-floor structure that reveals the Jewish history of the Washington area, home to nearly 300,000 Jews today, according to official estimates.
“That bridge, literally and figuratively, connects the past to the present and into the future,” she said.
An exhibition of the Capital Jewish Museum in Washington, D.C., on June 1, 2023. RNS photo by Adelle M. Banks
Ivy L. Barsky, the museum’s executive director, said the 32,500-square-foot museum, which cost $31 million, also can serve as a bridge to both the secular and religious aspects of Judaism for the devout and the nondevout alike.
“We know that a lot of people and a lot of Jews and a lot of young Jewish folks in Washington and elsewhere really connect to their history and heritage in places like ours,” she said. “We’re not about prayer, but I think people get really curious and get answers about Jewishness, to a certain extent Judaism, and museums tend to be really unthreatening, safe places to get that information.”

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The museum will house a collection — rooted in the archive of the former Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington — of more than 24,000 photographs and more than 1,000 objects.
Among the artifacts on display are a matchbox signed by President Carter that was used at the first lighting of the National Menorah in 1977; a notebook with handwritten words of Louis Brandeis, the first Jewish Supreme Court justice; and the Seder plate used by President Obama’s family while at the White House.
A special exhibition about Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is featured in its last stop on a national tour at the Capital Jewish Museum in Washington, D.C., on June 1, 2023. RNS photo by Adelle M. Banks
Traditional items like mezuzahs, decorative containers on doorposts of Jewish homes that contain a small scroll with a prayer, are featured. One was on the door of the office of Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Maryland, on Jan. 6. Another, …

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