Growing up in the Southwest – D.C., that is

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Washington Jewish Week

October 14, 2010 | Rosen, Larry

After concluding Sabbath services at the Ohev Sholom-the National Synagogue, 16th and Jonquil streets in Northwest D.C, Harry Goldberg, a wellknown D.C-area attorney, and I would often share memories of growing up in old Southwest D.C, at the weekly shul kiddush.

Before Harry, who was in his early 90s, passed away on Sept. 4, we would both recall attending Ohev Sholom when it began as Congregation Talmud Torah, located at 467 E. St., S.W.

During the ’50s, the synagogue was demolished, when the Southwest neighborhood underwent redevelopment.

Harry’s parents had emigrated from Latvia in 1904, and operated a small grocery at 413 4 1/2St., S.W.

My family moved from Palestine, then under Turkish rule (before it became Israel), to Cheyenne, Wyo., in 1922, where I was born, a Jewish cowboy. In 1927, my family moved to Washington, D.C., into a home at 713 4 1/2 St., S.W., vacated by Moses Yoelson, father of the famous entertainer, Al Jolson.

My dad, in addition to being a shochet and mohel, also operated a cheder, Hebrew school, in our house. Harry recalled that he received lessons from my father, reading Hebrew and preparing for his bar mitzvah. Tuition was approximately $1 a week.

We both remembered that square-type yarmulkes, now out of style, were worn by most congregants. On the bima table, there was always a container of snuff, available for sniffing by all adults, and a leathery type paddle that the shamas (sexton) would strike on the bima table to call attention to special holiday prayers. On bar mitzvah celebrations, the new young men would exit the synagogue, and ascend steps to the upper ladies’ section to kiss their mothers.

Small groceries were located on nearly every corner, operated mostly by Jewish merchants who either slept in the back of the business or above the store. Additional entrepreneurs also operated small tailor, variety and dry goods stores (selling pants, dresses, shirts, suits, etc.), with their residences in the back or over the store.

Both Harry and I recalled that the schools, movies, and buses were segregated. The Ashley movie house at 505 7th St., S.W., admitted only white residents, and the Jewell movie location, on 4 1/2 St., was open to the African American public.

An additional synagogue, Voliner Anshe Sfard, at 607 4 1/2 St., S.W., founded in 1908, now a townhouse, years later became the Beth Sholom shul, now in Potomac.

St. Dominic’s Church, still located at 6th and E streets, S.W., was left standing during the Southwest redevelopment, and is still open to the public.

As time progressed, 4 1/2 St., S.W., was officially changed to 4th Street, S.W.

Rabbi Moshe Horwitz, who lived at 484 Maryland Ave., S.W., served the Congregation Talmud Torah from 1912 to 1935. His son, Alec, became a wellknown and outstanding surgeon in the D.C. area.

After Rabbi Horwitz, Joshua Klavan became the rabbi in 1936, until 1953, delivering his sermons in Yiddish. Rabbi Joshua Klavan’s son, Rabbi HiDeI Klavan, followed his father’s footsteps, from 1954 to 2002.

A Southwest neighborhood mall that became deserted has been replaced with new office towers; a new Safeway supermarket has risen, featuring a food court and underground parking.

The Arena Stage theater has had a complete $125 million makeover, and a complete redevelopment is scheduled for the waterfront.

In April, I had an unusual experience: After 67 years, I spent a night in Southwest again, this time in the luxury Mandarin Oriental hotel located in the 1300 block of Maryland Avenue, where I attended an army reunion.

[Author Affiliation]

Larry Rosen lives in Rockville.

Rosen, Larry

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