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Unification of Jewish Community in Nation’s Capital is Byproduct of Fund Campaigns

February 21, 1928
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

(News Letter from Washington)

The city of Washington, the national capital, has a Jewish community numbering about 16,000 comprising, as it is estimated, over four thousand families.

Since the beginning of the World War and the accompanying rise of the Zionist movement and the intensive relief activity for European Jewry, the Jewish activities in the community have noticeably increased. The outstanding evidence of this fact is contained in four accomplishments: the strong entrenchment of the United Palestine Appeal, which has been led by Isidore Hershfield, Levi David and Louis E. Spiegler; the erection of the Jewish Community Center under the leadership of Morris Cafritz at a cost of $475,000, of which over $230,000 has been raised; the erection of the Hebrew Home for the Aged under the leadership of Mrs. Charles Goldsmith at a cost of about $256,000, of which over $180,000 has been raised; and the several successful Jewish relief campaigns conducted here under the leadership of Simon Lyon and Rudolph B. Behrend.


The principal communal activities are now emerging from a period of transition, from the stage of creating new institutions, onto a permanent and systematized basis of operation. A movement was recently initiated in favor of a federation whereby the principal communal institutions-the Jewish Community Center, the Hebrew Home for the Aged, the Jewish Foster Home, and the United Hebrew Charities would establish a common “chest” With this objective in mind each of these institutions has appointed a committee to study the question, and it is expected that a general conference of the committees will take place in the near future.

Various campaigns for the institutions above named have served to bring all factions and sections of the Jewish community together and created a mutual understanding and good will which had not previously existed. This is a highly important factor in the proposed federation movement and in the general progress of Jewish endeavors in the community.

It is understood that the United Palestine Appeal will be approached with regard to entering this federation, but so far it has not disclosed its attitude toward the plan.

The outstanding weakness of the Jewish community at present, and its most pressing problem, is the lack of a satisfactory system of Hebrew education which would meet the needs of the entire Washington Jewry. In this respect developments have lagged far behind the progress in other directions. Modern Hebrew schools are conducted by the Adath Israel and Chevre Sholom Synagogues, of which Rabbi Louis J. Schwefel and Rabbi J. T. Loeb, respectively, are the spiritual guides, but they meet the needs of only a small portion of the community, while the vast majority of the Jewish children are growing up with practically no Hebrew education whatever. Even the existing schools do not receive sufficient financial support. A small minority of the children are acquiring a smattering of Jewish knowledge through attendance at the Sunday Schools conducted by the aforementioned synagogues, which are both Orthodox (the Adath Israel is considered Conservative), and the Washington Hebrew Congregation (Reform). A movement was started a few years ago to establish a Federation for Hebrew Education to meet the educational problem and to make a systematic educational survey, but it came to naught. The local rabbis, without exception, seem to be entirely absorbed with the problems of their own congregations, and have taken no direct action in the matter. Rabbi William Rosenblum, Assistant to Rabbi Simon of the Washington Hebrew Congregation, who recently came to Washington, has been giving some special study to the educational question. The Zionist organizations, which in other communities usually take a hand in Hebrew education, have here failed to interest themselves concretely in the problem. The neglect of youth education is illustrated, for instance, in the fact that there has been practically no Young Judaea activity in Washington. Thoughtful persons in the community are apprehensive of the future if energetic steps are not soon taken to remedy the situation.


The general situation with regard to cultural activities in the community is also far from satisfactory, although it is somewhat better than it was in previous years. Aside from the regular Zionist speakers brought here, little effort is made to bring able Jewish lecturers to the city. The Jewish Community Center has lately been seriously handicapped by lack of funds, and has scheduled only one prominent Jewish lecturer for the entire season. For the same reason, it is understood, it has been unable to give proper attention to the development of other cultural work. The Center, which is housed in a very finely equipped and beautiful building, has, however, performed a valuable service in providing a common place for meeting for the Jewish youth through its recreational and social facilities. Maurice Bisgyer, an experienced social service administrator, has acted as director of the Center since its establishment. As an off-set to the prevailing inactivity in the cultural field, the Washington Zionist District has this season, under the presidency of Charles J. Stein, initiated a very vigorous cultural activity, having scheduled a number of interesting gatherings, including a tableau and symposium led by prominent local Zionists. This activity has stimulated much interest. Leopold Freudberg, who preceded Mr. Stein as president of the Zionist District, initiated last year the ambitious policy now being continued.

The B’nai B’rith, under its president of last year, Morris Gewirz, and Edward Rosenblum, the present incumbent, has greatly increased its membership through the holding of large semi-social meetings, where plenty of entertainment is supplied.

Charitable work under the main leadership of Mrs. Charles Goldsmith and Morris Garfinkle, is well represented here. There are also a large number of synagogues.


One of the interesting aspects of the Jewish community is the presence in Washington of a large and considerably fluctuating population of Jewish employes of the Government in the various Departments located in the Capitol. Most of these are young men and women, a large proportion of whom attend the various local universities after regular working hours. They come from all over the United States. The Jewish Community Center is a very important factor in providing a Jewish gathering place for these strangers in the city. It was this national aspect of the Center which actuated the Jewish Welfare Board to pledge $50,000 to the cost of erecting the Center. Another interesting feature about Washington from the Jewish standpoint is the Semitic Division of the Library of Congress, which was originally endowed by Jacob Schiff and of which Dr. Israel Schapiro, distinguished Jewish scholar, is in charge. This Division has one of the largest collections of Jewish books in the world, and Jewish scholars from every part of the country visit it for research work and obtain material from it. Among those who recently have been greatly assisted by the Semitic Division is Jacob de Haas in the preparation of his biography on Theodore Herzl, which was recently published. No distinguished Jewish visitor to Washington fails to visit the Semitic Division. It is understood that a movement has been started by some of the outstanding leaders of American Jewry to contribute a large endowment to the Library for the Semitic Division.

The Washington Jewish community claims a number of local Jews who have gained national distinction. Among these are Rabbi Abram Simon, of the Washington Hebrew Congregation, who has held the presidency of the Central Conference of Reform Rabbis; Emile Berliner, noted inventor of the telephone transmitter (microphone) and disc record; Maurice D. Rosenberg, who succeeded the late Simon Wolf as the representative in Washington of the B’nai B’rith and Board of Delegates of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations; Max Rhoade, national president of the Avukah, intercollegiate Zionist Federation; Joseph A. Wilner, who is president of the regional B’nai B’rith District and prominent in national B’nai B’rith affairs; Major Julius I. Peyser and former Judge Milton Strasbairger, who have been prominently identified with the national administrations of the American Jewish Congress and B’nai B’rith; Rev. Louis Novick, associate president of the Cantors Association and national leader of Mizrachi; Mrs. Abram Simon, Founder and First National President of the Federation of Temple Sisterhoods; Mrs. Alexander Wolf, National Vice-President of the Council of Jewish Women; Frederic William Wile and David Lawrence, noted journalists, and Isidore Hirshfield, Washington representative of the Hias.


The leading Jews in the service of the U. S. Government residing in Washington are Justice Louis D. Brandeis of the U. S. Supreme Court and Eugene Meyer, Jr., chairman of the Federal Farm Loan Board and for a long time chairman of the War Finance Corporation. There are a number of other Jewish officials in the various departments of the Government here. But practically none of them, nor the Jewish members of Congress, of whom the oldest in point of service is probably Representative Adolph J. Sabath of Chicago, and include a woman, Mrs. Kahn of California, and a Socialist, Victor Berger of Milwaukee, take an active interest in the local Jewish community. At present the only Jew holding a local public position of any special prominence is Judge Nathan Cayton, of the Municipal Court, who was appointed by President Coolidge. Isaac Gans is one of the most prominent leaders or the Washington Chamber of Commerce, and Rabbi Abram Simon was once chairman of the School Board of the District of Columbia, of which Major Julius I. Peyser was also a member. Jews have not sought public office to any great extent here, however.

Many Jews are prominent in commercial life of the city, some leading business establishments being owned or operated by Jews. These include S. Kahn Sons, Hecht and Company, Goldenberg’s Department Store, Lansburgh’s Department Store, Max Fischer, Treasurer of Woodward and Lothrops, one of the largest department stores in Washington; Isaac Gans, manager of Saks and Company, a leading clothing establishment; Morton J. Luchs of the prominent real estate firm of Shannon and Luchs, Fred Gichner of Gichner Iron Works and Nathan Musher of the Pompeian Olive Oil Company; Paul Himmelfarth, president of the Penn Oil Company; Morris Cafritz and J. B. Shapiro, heads of real and construction firms bearing their names. Julius J. Peyser is president of the security and commercial bank, M. D. Rosenberg is President of the Bank of Commerce and Savings, and George Hyman of George Hyman Construction Co.

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