Building MoCo eruvim: Architecture and material culture (updated)

This is the second post in the series, Courtyards of Convenience: Montgomery County’s Eruvim


The Capital Beltway carries I-495 through Washington, D.C.’s Maryland and Virginia suburbs. The iconic 64-mile highway completed in 1964 is a symbolic barrier between Washington and the rest of the nation. The dichotomy, inside versus outside the Beltway, has permeated popular culture.

National Capital Beltway showing portions adjacent to Montgomery County eruvim. Adapted from Bing Maps. Click on the image to see a full-size version.

A four-mile segment of the Beltway in Montgomery County, Maryland, acts as another symbolic boundary. Areas within this segment have been incorporated into the perimeters of two Orthodox Jewish eruvim that wrap around parts of Silver Spring and Wheaton creating symbolically enclosed spaces that allow Jews to move within them on the Sabbath. Continue reading

Goodbye Elmer

Elmer Blue died in July and we never knew.

We lived just a few houses away from Elmer in Silver Spring’s Northwood Park subdivision. We first met Elmer shortly after we moved into our house in late 2002. Elmer used to walk his aging pudgy terrier past our house and he would always stop by and talk to our basset hounds. My wife soon learned that Elmer liked our hounds because he once had a basset. Continue reading

Were MoCo and MD State government officials and the press duped in 2006 about the real “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”?

International media attention — from CNN, NPR, the New York Times, the Times of London, and others — was focused on Montgomery County, Maryland, in the winter of 2005-2006 as the county bought what it thought was “the real Uncle Tom’s Cabin.” Five years and nearly $2 million later, the Montgomery County Planning Board is holding a public hearing Thursday October 28 at 7:00 PM to take testimony on proposed Parks Department plans to develop the property formerly known as “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” and to formally change the park’s name by removing the “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” label.

Continue reading

MoCo eruvim just before Sabbath

This week I am documenting Montgomery County’s eruvim. While out shooting video and photos along the Capital Beltway I encountered one of the eruv inspectors who makes weekly checks to ensure that the eruv is intact for the week’s Sabbath. This video captures some of the chance encounter. Continue reading

Mapping MoCo’s Jewish Courtyards: The Eruvim (updated)

This is the first post in a series: Courtyards of Convenience: Montgomery County’s Eruvim

Blues guitarist Buddy Guy frequently tells interviewers that when you stretch a string, you are stretching a life. When Orthodox Jews stretch a string to build an eruv, they are creating a community. Eruv is a Hebrew word and in English it means “to mingle.” An eruv is symbolic space created by Orthodox Jews to enable them to carry and push things on the Sabbath as they move around their neighborhoods and travel to and from synagogue. Rabbinic law, Halakhah, prohibits Jews from working on the Sabbath. This includes carrying such items as house keys; pushing baby carriages and strollers; driving; playing ball; walking dogs on leashes; and, using medical devices like canes and walkers. and, carrying rain gear. Continue reading

Will MoCo get another Frankenpine?

AT&T Wireless and the International Monetary Fund want to build a Frankenpine in Germantown. The Montgomery County Planning Board earlier this month (Oct. 14) heard testimony in the case involving a proposal to construct a telecommunications facility dressed up like a fake tree on IMF property: The Bretton Woods Recreation Club. After reviewing the evidence and hearing from its attorney, the Planning Board unanimously voted that the AT&T application was incomplete. Continue reading

MoCo Bridge to a Speculative Past?

Washington Grove "Humpback Bridge"

At yesterday’s Montgomery County Planning Board hearing to designate the Kensington Park Cabin, the Planning Board — before voting unanimously to recommend designating the cabin — raised some interesting questions about a stone arch bridge near the park. The Kensington residents advocating for the cabin’s designation think the bridge was built at the same time as the cabin (early 1930s). Owned and maintained by the Town of Kensington, the bridge carries Kensington Parkway over a tributary to Rock Creek Park. The discussion reminded me of another Montgomery County bridge. In 2005 the Montgomery County Historic Preservation Commission recommended designating a bridge — Washington Grove’s “Humpback Bridge” — built in 1988 as historic. The bridge carries East Deer Park Drive over the CSX Railroad tracks. Continue reading

MoCo Bar for historic preservation must be set higher

Op-ed from today’s Montgomery Gazette
Wednesday, Oct. 6, 2010

In 2009, County Councilmember Mike Knapp proposed legislation to amend the county’s historic preservation ordinance. At the time, I was chairman of the Montgomery County Historic Preservation Commission and I provided vigorous testimony opposing the amendment and I wrote an opinion piece published in The Gazette [“Historic preservation: Who’s to decide?” March 11, 2009].

One of the designated properties I frequently pointed to at the time as a Montgomery County historic preservation success story was the property then known as “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.” I now know that some of what I wrote and said was wrong. For much of the 20th century, oral tradition in Montgomery County suggested that a small log building on the Old Georgetown Road property was used by Josiah Henson, the former slave whose autobiography inspired Harriet Beecher Stowe to write Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Continue reading

Historian for Hire Interviewed on The Takeaway

6:40 AM is awful darned early to be doing phoners with public radio stations. This morning I was interviewed about Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Celeste Headlee, host of WNYC’s The Takeaway.

Yesterday’s Washington Post article on the site formerly known as “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” spread globally at Twitter speed. Montgomery County’s 2006 purchase of the property is being painted by bloggers and reporters as incompetent at best and corrupt at worst. It is disappointing to see Montgomery County and historic preservation portrayed this way. Continue reading