Ida Jervis, 97

Ida Jervis. Photo by Joe Hokstein
Ida Jervis. Photo by Joe Hokstein

Ida Goodstein Jervis, well-known in the Washington region as a photographer, writer, puppeteer and activist, died Jan. 18. The Falls Church resident was 97. Her news photos, many of which ran in The Jewish Week (predecessor to Washington Jewish Week), capture important moments in the community’s Jewish, civil rights, cultural and social history.

Going back to the 1960s, the diminutive Jervis could be found with a camera in hand, photographing civil rights marches, Soviet Jewry rallies, Israel Independence Day celebrations, Holocaust commemorations, exhibition openings, folk concerts, artists at work and other political and cultural events taking place in and around the nation’s capital – not to mention extended family gatherings.

“I was a witness as the American Jewish community found its voice,” she was quoted as saying in a 1989 Washington Post interview.

Sometimes poignant, at other times powerful, her photos captured protesters during a victory celebration at Lafayette Park at the end of the 1967 Six Day War; her close friend, American Expressionist painter Alma Thomas; two young sons of a local rabbi blowing a shofar; and her cousin, Itka Zuggmuntowicz, at the 1983 American Gathering of Holocaust Survivors.

Her photos of the Jewish community at work, at play and in prayer appeared in the pages of The Jewish Week from the early 1960s to the mid-1980s, as did her illustrated stories based on oral histories and known as “Remembrance and Rebbe Miracles.”

Joseph M. Hochstein, editor and publisher at the time, recognized her many talents and valued those contributions.

The 1971 Soviet Jews rally. Photo by Ida Jervis
The 1971 Soviet Jews rally. Photo by Ida Jervis

Jervis’s photos are in the collections of the Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington’s Lillian & Albert Small Museum, the American Jewish Archives of Hebrew Union College, the Smithsonian Archives of American Art, and the Smithsonian Anacostia Museum and Center for African American History and Culture.

In 1989, the Lillian and Albert Small Jewish Museum honored Jervis with an exhibition, History Through the Camera’s Eye: An Exhibition of News Photographs by Photojournalist Ida Jervis. In an artist’s statement published in the accompanying brochure, she wrote:  “…many important Jewish events, even those of international significance, received little or no coverage from the press. This one fact underscores the great value of an independent Jewish press.”

On at least one occasion, the camera was turned. Jervis, her daughter and grandson appeared on the cover of the book, Jewish Mothers: Strength, Wisdom, Compassion, by Paula Wolfson in a photograph taken by their friend Lloyd Wolf.

In addition to her photography, Jervis was active in the local folk arts community. A member of the Song Swappers organization, she loved to sing and played several instruments. Jervis also was instrumental in introducing puppetry to the Washington area, and was a founding member of the National Capital Puppetry Guild along with Jim Henson, creator of The Muppets. She performed puppet shows in schools, at camps, Hadassah fundraisers and at the Israeli embassy, among other places.

Yiddish Theater on the Mall, 1976. Photo by Ida Jervis
Yiddish Theater on the Mall, 1976. Photo by Ida Jervis

Born in Sokhoczin, Poland in 1917, Jervis came from an intellectual family active in Yiddish theater and music. The story of their 1921 move from Poland to the U.S. is captured in a children’s book, Escaping to America, written by Jervis’s niece, Roslyn Schanzer.  After stopping with her family at Ellis Island, Jervis grew up in Knoxville, Tennessee, where her parents owned and managed a grocery store. A graduate of the University of Tennessee, she also sang on local radio. She met her husband Sidney Jervis, who was from New York City, at a dance at the Knoxville Jewish Community Center.  They moved to Northern Virginia in 1944.

Jervis was devoted to capturing her family’s rich history through stories, drawings and even recipes. This passion continued until the last days of her life. She felt strongly that photographers be given proper credit when their images appeared in publications such as newspapers and books, and that museums and other institutions provide fire-proof storage for artists’ work.

Last year, her daughter Margie Jervis organized a campaign in her honor for funds to improve the Archives of the Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington/Lillian & Albert Small Jewish Museum, including the Ida Jervis Collection, the largest collection of her photographs of the Jewish community.

Her husband of 53 years, Sidney Jervis, died in 1995. She is survived by three children, Nelson Jervis, Alice Jervis Bailes and Margie Jervis; her sister Miriam Katzman;  grandchildren Jennifir Bailes Hart, Benjamin Bailes and Noah Jervis Taylor; and great-grandchildren Arlie, Sam, Bennett, Julian, Louise and Isidor.

Memorial contributions may be made to the Ida Jervis Archive Fund at the Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington.

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