WASHINGTON (JTA) – Washington, D.C.’s new Jewish museum features at least two notorious women from history.
One is Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the first Jewish woman to serve as a Supreme Court justice, who was dubbed “Notorious RBG” late in her life by a cluster of fans. When the Capital Jewish Museum opens next week, it will launch with Ginsburg at its center when a traveling exhibit on her life has its final stop here.
The other is the 19th-century figure Eugenia Levy Phillips, whom the museum characterizes as “notorious” without irony.
“One of DC’s most notorious Confederate sympathizers, Eugenia Levy Phillips (1891-1902) came to town in 1853 with her congressman husband, Philip Phillips (1807-1884) of Alabama,” one of the exhibits says. “Eugenia, a spy, delivered Union military plans and maps to Confederate President Jefferson Davis.”
Another description of Levy Phillips in the museum is more straightforward: “SPIED for the CONFEDERACY,” it says below her photo.
The late justice and spy are two of an assemblage of notable Jews throughout history who grace the Capital Museum, which opens next Friday in northwest Washington’s Judiciary Square neighborhood, which was a local center of Jewish life more than a century ago. Showcasing the warts-and-all history of Jews in and around the nation’s capital — both prominent officials and ordinary denizens of the city — is the point of the museum, its directors say.
“Jews are a Talmudic people, we like to argue, we like to look at different sides of a story,” Ivy Barsky, the museum’s interim executive director, said Thursday at a tour for members of the media. Sarah Leavitt, the museum curator, involved the Jewish idea of “makhloket l’shem shamayim,” Hebrew for “an argument for the sake of heaven” — in other words, for sacred purposes.
“We’re telling the story in this museum in a Jewish way,” Leavitt said. “So that it’s not just that we might not agree, but actually the disagreement is important and preserving those disagreements is important.”
Barsky, who was previously the CEO of the National Museum of American Jewish History in Philadelphia, said that in relating the local history of Washington’s Jews, the new museum fills a gap. Unlike many of the country’s other longstanding Jewish communities, Washington attracted Jews not because it was a port but because it was the center of government. Like the district’s broader community, Jews in the area have been prone to transitioning in and out of the city.
“Lots of our stories start in other places, with folks who end up in D.C.,” Barsky said. “This is a unique community, especially because the local business is the federal government.”
Jews have been in Washington since it was established in 1790, and the area now includes some 300,000 Jews, according to a 2017 study. The museum chronicles that community’s expansion from the capital to the Maryland and the Virginia suburbs, driven at times by Jews joining “white flight” — when white residents left newly integrated neighborhoods — and other times by restrictions that barred Jews from certain areas.
Larger historical events have also at times played a role: The Jewish population in the city grew in the 1930s and 1940s because of the expansion of government during President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal and World War II.
An exhibition asks visitors “Who are you?” and features a diverse range of Washington Jews, past and present, as well as others with quirky biographies, including Tom King, a CIA spy who became a comic book writer.
The changing fortunes of American Jewry are embedded in the date the museum opens, June 9: On that date in 1876, Ulysses Grant was the first president to attend synagogue services, when he helped dedicate the new building of the Adas Israel congregation. Fourteen years earlier, as a Union general, he infamously expelled the Jews of Paducah, Kentucky, accusing them of being war speculators. President Abraham Lincoln rescinded the order, which has been described as “the most sweeping anti-Jewish regulation in all of American history,”
Esther Safran Foer, the museum’s president and the former executive director of the city’s historic Sixth & I synagogue, said Grant’s presence in 1876 in the Adas Israel building was emblematic of the upward trajectory of American Jewry. “He sat here for more than three hours in the heat, no air conditioning, and he even made a generous personal contribution,” she said.
The museum’s core is the 1876 building that Grant helped dedicate. It has since been physically moved in its entirety three times in order to preserve it, most recently in 2019 as part of the initiative to build the museum, which began in 2017. The museum’s upper floor reproduces the sanctuary, with the original pews. Its walls, however, are renovated: they display an audiovisual chronicle of the area’s Jews.
The museum’s permanent exhibition aims to traverse that history in other engaging ways as well. The same section that highlights Levy Phillips’ adventures (including her diary’s account of her arrest — “I am not in the least surprised Sir” she told the agent who had come to take her away) also mentions Rabbi Jacob Frankel, who was commissioned by Lincoln during the Civil War as the first Jewish military chaplain.
A photo of Jews and Blacks joined in a bid to desegregate a local amusement park in the early 1960s gets equal billing with one of Sam Eig, a Jewish developer who in 1942 advertised the new Maryland suburb he built as “ideally located and sensibly restricted,” a euphemism for not allowing Black people to buy property.
Interactive exhibits include a Seder table that encourages guests to debate immigration, Israel and civil rights. Parts of the museum’s exhibition recount Jewish debates over pivotal issues such as those and others, including abortion.
Ginsburg will be the museum’s first main attraction, and it makes clear she was a role model. The special exhibition on her life and career includes a glamorous photo of the two Jewish women who coined the “Notorious RBG” nickname, Shana Knizhnik and Irin Carmon. Visitors can go into a closet and don duplicates of Ginsburg’s judicial robes.
One of the first events is on July 12, when museum goers will join in fashioning the special “I Dissent” collars that Ginsburg would famously wear over her robes when she was ready to dissent from the bench.
Jonathan Edelman, the museum’s collections curator, described one prized collection — items he persuaded disability rights advocate Judy Heumann to donate before she died in March.
“Judy’s is a Washington story,” he said. “She came to this city first as an outsider as a protester protesting for disability rights. And then she came back to the city as an insider working within the government to make change both in D.C. government and in the federal government.”
Phyllis Pollock died at home Sunday September 3, 2023 in Winnipeg, after a courageous lifetime battle with cancer.
Phyllis was a mother of four: Gary (Laura), daughter Randi, Steven (deceased in 2010) (Karen), and Robert. Phyllis also had two grandchildren: Lauren and Quinn.
Born in Fort Frances, Ontario on February 7, 1939, Phyllis was an only child to Ruby and Alex Lerman. After graduating high school, Phyllis moved to Winnipeg where she married and later divorced Danny Pollock, the father of her children. She moved to Beverly Hills in 1971, where she raised her children.
Phyllis had a busy social life and lucrative real estate career that spanned over 50 years, including new home sales with CoastCo. Phyllis was the original sales agent for three buildings in Santa Monica, oceanfront: Sea Colony I, Sea Colony II, and Sea Colony. She was known as the Sea Colony Queen. She worked side by side with her daughter Randi for about 25 years – handling over 600 transactions, including sales and leases within the three phases of Sea Colony alone.
Phyllis had more energy than most people half her age. She loved entertaining, working in the real estate field, meeting new and interesting people everyday no matter where she went, and thrived on making new lifelong friends. Phyllis eventually moved to the Sea Colony in Santa Monica where she lived for many years before moving to Palm Desert, then Winnipeg.
After battling breast cancer four times in approximately 20 years, she developed metastatic Stage 4 lung cancer. Her long-time domestic partner of 27 years, Joseph Wilder, K.C., was the love of her life. They were never far apart. They traveled the world and went on many adventures during their relationship. During her treatment, Phyllis would say how much she missed work and seeing her clients. Joey demonstrated amazing strength, love, care, and compassion for Phyllis as her condition progressed. He was her rock and was by her side 24/7, making sure she had the best possible care. Joey’s son David was always there to support Phyllis and to make her smile. Joey’s other children, Sheri, Kenny, Joshua and wife Davina, were also a part of her life. His kids would Facetime Phyllis and include her during any of their important functions. Phyllis loved Joey’s children as if they were her own.
Thank you to all of her friends and family who were there to support her during these difficult times. Phyllis is now, finally, pain free and in a better place. She was loved dearly and will be greatly missed. Interment took place in Los Angeles.
Gwen Centre Creative Living Centre celebrates 35th anniversary
By BERNIE BELLAN Over 100 individuals gathered at the Gwen Secter Centre on Tuesday evening, July 18 – under the big top that serves as the venue for the summer series of outdoor concerts that is now in its third year at the centre.
The occasion was the celebration of the Gwen Secter Centre’s 35th anniversary. It was also an opportunity to honour the memory of Sophie Shinewald, who passed away at the age of 106 in 2019, but who, as recently as 2018, was still a regular attendee at the Gwen Secter Centre.
As Gwen Secter Executive Director Becky Chisick noted in her remarks to the audience, Sophie had been volunteering at the Gwen Secter Centre for years – answering the phone among other duties. Becky remarked that Sophie’s son, Ed Shinewald, had the phone number for the Gwen Secter Centre stored in his phone as “Mum’s work.”
Remarks were also delivered by Raquel Dancho, Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St. Paul, who was the only representative of any level of government in attendance. (How times have changed: I remember well the steadfast support the former Member of the Legislature for St. John’s, Gord Mackintosh, showed the Gwen Secter Centre when it was perilously close to being closed down. And, of course, for years, the area in which the Gwen Secter Centre is situated was represented by the late Saul Cherniack.)
Sophie Shinewald’s granddaughter, Alix (who flew in from Chicago), represented the Shinewald family at the event. (Her brother, Benjamin, who lives in Ottawa, wasn’t able to attend, but he sent a pre-recorded audio message that was played for the audience.)
Musical entertainment for the evening was provided by a group of talented singers, led by Julia Kroft. Following the concert, attendees headed inside to partake of a sumptuous assortment of pastries, all prepared by the Gwen Secter culinary staff. (And, despite my asking whether I could take a doggy bag home, I was turned down.)
Palestinian gunmen kill 4 Israelis in West Bank gas station
This is a developing story.
(JTA) — Palestinian gunmen killed four people and wounded four in a terror attack at a gas station near the West Bank settlement of Eli, the Israeli army reported.
An Israeli civilian returning fire at the scene of the attack on Tuesday killed one of the attackers, who emerged from a vehicle, and two others fled.
Kan, Israel’s public broadcaster, said one of those wounded was in serious condition. The gunmen, while in the vehicle, shot at a guard post at the entry to the settlement, and then continued to the gas station which is also the site of a snack bar. A nearby yeshiva went into lockdown.
Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant announced plans to convene a briefing with top security officials within hours of the attack. Kan reported that there were celebrations of the killing in major West Bank cities and in the Gaza Strip, initiated by terrorist groups Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Hamas said the shooting attack Tuesday was triggered by the Jenin raid.
The shooting comes as tensions intensify in the West Bank. A day earlier, Israeli troops raiding the city of Jenin to arrest accused terrorists killed five people.
The Biden administration spoke out over the weekend against Israel’s plans to build 4,000 new housing units for Jewish settlers in the West Bank. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also finalized plans to transfer West Bank building decisions to Bezalel Smotrich, the extremist who is the finance minister. Smotrich has said he wants to limit Palestinian building and expand settlement building.
Kan reported that the dead terrorist was a resident of a village, Urif, close to Huwara, the Palestinian town where terrorists killed two Israeli brothers driving through in February. Settlers retaliated by raiding the village and burning cars and buildings.
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