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PHOTOS: The Capital Jewish Museum Opens on June 9. Take a Peek Inside.

It's the first-ever museum dedicated to the DC area's Jewish history, and admission is free.

The Lillian and Albert Small Capital Jewish Museum opens on June 9. All photographs by Jessica Ruf.

The first-ever museum dedicated to DC’s local Jewish history—The Lillian and Albert Small Capital Jewish Museum—is getting ready to open its doors to the public on Friday, June 9. Admission to the museum and its core exhibits is free, though special exhibitions cost extra.

The 32,000 square foot museum (575 Third St., NW), located a block east of Judiciary Square, fuses a modern, light-filled building with a historic structure: DC’s oldest purpose-built synagogue, which has finally (hopefully) found its permanent home. The two-story brick synagogue has undergone three moves and multiple transformations throughout its 147 years, including stints as a barbershop, barbecue restaurant, and bicycle store.

Now, its first floor houses an introductory exhibit that outlines the history of Jewish life in the Capital region, from the 18th century to the present. The synagogue’s second level, which is accessible by wheelchair for the first time in its history, serves as a functional sanctuary that can be rented out for weddings and other special occasions. Additionally, during museum hours, a 360-degree video projection tells the story of Jewish Washington—one that has largely gone untold, according to the museum’s executive director Ivy Barsky.

“There is a kind of master narrative of immigration and how Jews came to New York and lived there, but that is just one story,” Barsky says. “[DC] is quite a different story.”

After spending time in the synagogue—which Barsky describes as a place of “humble grandeur”—visitors can cross an indoor atrium to the modern side of the museum, which houses its core exhibit entitled “Connect, Reflect, Act,” along with rotating special exhibitions (including the museum’s first one, “Notorious RBG”), a community action lab for special programming and workshops, and, eventually, the Nosh Pit cafe. Altogether, the museum has 24,000 digital and print photographs, 1,050 objects, and 800 linear feet of archival materials dating from the 1850s to today.

“We like to think about [the museum] as the connection from history to the present,” Barsky says. Here’s a peek inside the museum:

The first floor of the synagogue serves as an introduction to the museum by outlining the region’s Jewish history from the late 18th century to today.
Images, artifacts, and stories seek to answer the question, “What is Jewish Washington?”
The second level of the historic synagogue serves as a functional sanctuary that can be used for weddings and other special occasions.
During museum hours, a narrated filmscape projects images and video of 19th-century Jewish Washington onto the walls.
A tricolor art installation by sculptor Zachary Oxman hangs over the main atrium and connects the historic synagogue to the modern side of the museum.
The nostalgic “If it’s Jewish, We Have It!” sign from Abe’s Jewish Books and Gifts in Wheaton welcomes visitors to the museum’s main exhibit entitled, “Connect, Reflect, Act.”
A gallery wall and stackable cubes showcase 100 influential faces of Jewish Washington.
By “connecting” to the stories of Jewish Washingtonians, the museum hopes the exhibit will inspire visitors to “reflect” on the ways they can “act” and make a mark on history too.
An interactive map lets visitors explore the history of Jewish-owned businesses throughout the District.
A gallery wall prompts visitors with a series of reflective questions.
An interactive Seder table explores the history of the ritual feast.
The “community action lab” will serve as a flexible arts and crafts space dedicated to programming and workshops.
An additional 3,100-square-foot gallery will host rotating exhibits, the first of which is “Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg.”
The museum’s Gewirz Gift Shop offers books and items related to the collections.
A view of the museum’s main atrium.

Jessica Ruf
Assistant Editor