The long-awaited museum resides in Washington’s first purpose-built synagogue.
From the moment you first catch sight of the new Capital Jewish Museum, you know honoring and remembering the past and present is a theme. The museum opened June 9 in Penn Quarter, a date that has historical significance in D.C. Jewish life. On that same date in 1876, the first purpose-built synagogue in the area was dedicated, with President Ulysses S. Grant in attendance. Over the past 150 years, that same synagogue narrowly escaped demolition in the 1960s, was saved and established on the National Register of Historic Places and found its way to becoming a museum, where it sits cradled by a sleek and impressively designed modern building, juxtaposing old and new.
The 32,500 square foot, four-floor, LEED silver-certified space designed by SmithGroup (the architecture, engineering and planning firm behind the National Museum of African American History and Culture and the White House Visitor Center) welcomes guests, ushering them into interactive, technology-driven exhibits. With a rooftop terrace, three floors of galleries and a flexible education space, the museum will provide a continuously evolving experience for guests.
Ivy L. Barsky, executive director of the museum, says, “We recognize that everyone, including the museum, have multiple communities — whether that’s Jewish, history enthusiasts, museum lovers, etc., we strive to create programs that provide visitors with diverse opportunities to connect.”
Through exhibits, programming and public events, the Capital Jewish Museum sets out to inspire visitors to connect, reflect and act, tying together Jewish history, social justice and its impact on local communities. The museum opens with the fanfare of the “Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg” exhibit, based on the New York Times bestseller of the same name. In six sections from “Notorious” to “I Got a Story to Tell” to “My Team Supreme,” the exhibit uses artifacts, documents, art, photographs and more to chronicle RBG’s personal life, commitment to her career, her judicial prowess and, of course, her rise to cultural icon.
Within the permanent collections, there are more than 24,000 digital and print photographs, as well as objects, archival materials, oral histories, papers and records that paint a picture of Jewish life within Washington, dating back to the 19th century. Included are photographs from the Nice Jewish Boys, a group for gay, bisexual and queer Jewish men in D.C.; a matchbox signed by Jimmy Carter from when he lit the first National Menorah in the 1970s; and a notebook with notes from Justice Louis Brandeis, the first Jewish Supreme Court Justice.
And, in a popular culture moment that might be too soon for some D.C. residents, the museum even has the “Bagelman” sign from the Bethesda Bagels in Dupont Circle, which caused neighborhood-wide consternation when it closed recently.
The Capital Jewish Museum is open Wednesdays from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m, and Thursday through Sunday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Admission is free to ongoing exhibitions. You can reserve tickets for the “Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg” exhibition here. And, if you’re into events, you won’t want to miss Making Dissent Collars on July 12 or the RBG Workout on September 28.
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