A Look Back at Presidential Visits to WHC

In honor of Jewish American Heritage month, President Obama is speaking today at Adas Israel Congregation. His speaking engagement is a rare one for a sitting president, but at Washington Hebrew, we’ve had several notable presidential visits since our founding.

Our first visit came on September 16, 1897, when President William McKinley laid the cornerstone of our second building at 8th and I Street NW. Over 3,000 people lined the streets to witness this historic event.

When we moved to our current location on Macomb Street, President Harry S. Truman joined us to lay the cornerstone of our building. In his speech to our Congregation on November 16, 1952, Truman called for an end to hate, stating:

“The leaders of our different creeds should stand together against the outbreaks of bigotry that arise from time to time in this country, as they arise throughout the world. Here we can prevent bigotry, if we will be true to our national ideals. Mutual respect and tolerance for the beliefs of others is the secret of the strength of this blessed land.”

He added that taking part in the ceremony allowed him to “…express to some small degree, the profound respect I have for the countless members of the Jewish faith who have served our American community, and helped to keep the Nation true to its ideals.”

At the completion of the building, President Dwight D. Eisenhower dedicated our new space on May 6, 1955. Several Congregants approached him and expressed surprise that the President would attend another faith’s religious service. He addressed their disbelief in his speech:

“…the President of the United States, the official head of the country, is after all the official head of a great nation that is religious in its background and which has a spiritual foundation on which to stand. Therefore, it is entirely fitting and in keeping with his office that he should come to such a great and significant event in the lives of one part of the great faiths that have made this country what it is, to pay his respects to that faith and to the event and to the people who have made it possible.”

Learn more about the history of presidential visits to WHC and other area synagogues in these recent articles from Washington Jewish Week and The Washington Post.