Ohev Sholom is Washington D.C.'s National Synagogue. My mother and I went hunting this place down on Monday and stopped to take photos. No, we're not Jewish, we were just knew that Al Jolson's father, Chazan Moshe Yoelson, led the services of Talmud Torah from the 1890s through the 1920s and the family lived on the premises of the synagogue. (I'm mildly obsessed with Al Jolson. Perhaps "mildly" is putting it mildly. He was arguably the first great American superstar and if you can find a good recording of him that far back, his voice makes me melt. These days he gets a lot of flack and controversy about the blackface bit, but if you know anything about his life, he was actually one of the more progressive people of his time and the last thing anyone could ever call him was a racist. It's unfortunate that the times were such that something like that was not only accepted, but popular and singers in Vaudeville felt it was necessary to perform that way.)

So anyway, here we are standing directly in front of the synagogue, wondering where it was that Al ran around and played as a kid. Did he sing with his father in that room there? Perhaps they lived in the basement? Was there another building back then? The construction looks rather new, was it built onto later and we can no longer see the original structure? Maybe he climbed that tree behind the building.

In preparation for posting these photos, I decided to look up some information on the synagogue's history and found this:

In 1886, during the administration of Grover Cleveland, a group of devout Russian immigrant Jews who had fled the tyrannical rule of Czar Alexander III founded Ohev Sholom Congregation. Among the founders of Ohev Sholom were Moses Sterman, Nathan Rudderman and Herman Sachs. The first services were held on the second floor over Myer Fisher's clothing store on 7th Street N.W. As Ohev Sholom grew and required more space it moved - eventually to I Street N.W. in 1906, where it remained for the next fifty years.

The nucleus of Talmud Torah was a group of twenty-eight families in Southwest Washington who conducted daily minyans together. They first met in Isaac Levy's clothing store, Levy's Busy Corner, on 4 1/2 Street S.W. They used a sefer torah that Morris Garfinkle had contributed to the minyan. The group later met in various members' homes on 4 1/2 Street, M Street, F Street and School Street. Their last meeting place was in Samuel Kessler's home before they moved to a permanent synagogue on E Street S.W.

Congregation Talmud Torah stayed on E Street S.W. for almost fifty years until a government redevelopment program forced them to leave Southwest in the early 1950's. On April 27, 1952 they moved into B'nai Israel's former synagogue at 14th and Emerson and in 1957 the moved once again to The Hebrew Academy at 16th Street and Fort Stevens Drive.

On July 7, 1958 Ohev Sholom and Talmud Torah merged, creating a congregation of six hundred families. The newly built synagogue of the merged congregation was dedicated on November 27, 1960, and opened its doors as the Ohev Sholom Talmud Torah Congregation.

So sorry, mother, it looks like Al not only did not live there but he was never anywhere near that place. Maybe next time I'll do my research before we go stand in someone's yard to take pictures.

It was a cool building though, right?