Spies and boats in Trump’s capital

“Many people think that Washington is a boring place. People have this vision it is the president, the congress,” DC Deputy Mayor for Economic Planning and Development Brian T. Kenner said.

June 30, 2019 15:59
THE POTOMAC River flows past Georgetown on its way to Chesapeake Bay.

THE POTOMAC River flows past Georgetown on its way to Chesapeake Bay.. (photo credit: TOVAH LAZAROFF)

Ever wondered what it would be like to hunt for the notorious terrorist Osama Bin Laden or to stand in front of the Berlin Wall?

Want to learn about African-American history, see portraits of famous people or view the American flag that inspired Francis Scott Key to write the national anthem the “Star Spangled Banner”?

Perhaps you would like to meet the authors of some of hottest books or choose between Asian, Middle Eastern and Latin American foods all within a one block radius.
Whether it is jazz, outdoor dancing, ferry rides or bicycling that strikes your fancy, the least likely imaginable destination point for all these things in one vacation spot, is Washington.

With its domed Capitol Hill and its Romanesque pillars, DC is where weighty matters of war and peace are often decided.

Donald Trump, as the president of the United States, is the capital’s face. It is hard to think of Trump or any American president for that matter, as synonymous with fun, entertainment, culture or culinary diversity.

Indeed those dreaming of a White House visit are unlikely to be successful. Plans must be made at least three months in advance. Foreign visitors must sign up for the tour through the US Embassy in their home country, and US visitors must schedule a visit through their congressperson’s office.

For most Americans, the US capital is where matters of state and issues that divide the nation – such as abortion – are debated. It is the place most Americans historically go to when they want to be heard.

DC is where the famous civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. led a massive 1963 march to demand equality for African-Americans. It is where women marched in 2017 to protest Trump’s election.

But the DC municipality wants to separate the city’s image from the capital. “Many people think that Washington is a boring place. People have this vision it is the president, the congress,” DC Deputy Mayor for Economic Planning and Development Brian T. Kenner told a visiting group of Israeli journalists.

“People voicing their opinions is a big part of Washington. We are used to hosting events with millions of people that organize themselves and want an international platform,” Kenner said.
However his office, Kenner said, wants to talk about local DC and inspire people to see the city, as a place apart from the federal government.

“How cool is it for people to be here and discover the real DC,” with is interesting neighborhoods, clubs and restaurants, he said. The city has the second largest concentration of museums outside of New York and the third largest concentration of theater space in the country, he continued.

To emphasize the disconnect between the White House and the rest of the city, in June, many of its businesses, churches, restaurants and stores draped themselves in rainbow flags to honor the LGBTQA pride month in the US.

“Local Washington is a city that is open and accessible,” he said.

MUSEUMS ARE a large part of any DC trip. For travelers seeking Jewish sites of interest there is the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and the National Museum of American Jewish Military History. The Lillian & Albert Small Jewish Museum – housed in the historic 1876 synagogue Adas Israel Congregation – is closed for renovation. The first presidential visit to a US synagogue was to that red-brick building by US president Ulysses Grant to mark the congregation’s opening.

For museum lovers who spent their last dollar getting to DC, the good news is that there are some 17 Smithsonian museums that are free, including the ever popular National Air and Space Museum and the National Zoo.

The newest of the Smithsonian museums is the National Museum of African-American History and Culture (NMAAHC) that opened in 2016, during the last year of the Obama presidency. Like many of the Smithsonian museums, it sits on the edge of the Washington’s National Mall, which is a large free grassy park that stretches from the US Capitol building to the Lincoln Memorial.

Demand for the NMAAHC is so high, that it is best to sign up for a free ticket through the museum’s website to guarantee admittance. Same day tickets are available there as early as 6:30 a.m. or weeks in advance. It is possible to wing it and show up after 1 p.m. on weekdays and hope to be allowed in, but the line can often be long. The museum boasts of some 36,000 artifacts in its collection of which only a fraction of which are on display. Among the newer items is a rarely seen photograph of Harriet Tubman, famous for leading many southern slaves to freedom in the northern states.

The museum itself is filled with dynamics interactive exhibits, small movies and screens with multiple changing photographs. Visitors enter through a time elevator that marks the years as it descends until it reached the 15th century.

The stark numbers in the displays of the millions forcibly transported out of Africa in the bowels of ships, emphasizes the scale and impact of the enterprise. Visitors then walk up through time, with displays on southern slavery, the Civil War and its aftermath. One can visit a slave’s home and see the whip used to torture them.

One can learn about 19th century advocacy journalist Ida B. Wells, who led a campaign against lynching in the South. Or see the chair used in a civil rights sit-in to desegregate lunch counters in the south. Finally, one reaches ground level, with the presidency of Barack Obama (2009-2016).

On the upper levels of the museum culture and sports displays that include a library of African-American music, Chuck Berry’s bright red Cadillac Eldorado, P-Funk’s Mothership and the stage from Oprah Winfrey’s popular talk show. History lovers should plan at least two to three hours for their visit.

HOWEVER, NOT all DC museums are free. Among the more popular of the paid museums, is the spy museum, which this year moved to a new location with redesigned and new exhibits. The ticket price is $22.95 for adults and children ages 13 and over. The exhibits are so interesting and interactive, that one could easily spend half a day at the museum. There is something there for almost every age, including children as young as seven and eight.

Children can test their stealth skills by walking without being heard or working on a coded alphabet.

Each visitor is given a secret identity and a mission, that focuses on concentration and perception, skills needed by a spy. In one computer task, that underscores the danger of over focusing while on a mission, a visitor is asked to keep their eyes on the $20 hidden in a wallet shell, as it is moved around the table. Then the visitor is asked whether they noticed the large costumed rabbit that walked up and down the stairs next to the table or the changing signs in the room.

Exhibits talk about the history of spying and deception, going back in time to include the Trojan Horse and the American Revolution. There are female spies and Mossad agents on display, including an entire exhibit on the relationship between Shin Bet agent Gonen ben Yitzhak and Palestinian Mosab Hassan Yousef.

Among the most prominent of the exhibits is the hunt for Osama Bin Laden, in which visitors are can follow a series of computer clues and information, as if they are part of the mission searching for the famed terrorist behind the September 11th, 2001 attack on the twin towers in New York and Pentagon attack in Arlington, Virginia.

Those wishing to see the Newseum, with a ticket price of $24.99, must do so before it shuts down at the end of this year for cost-cutting reasons. The interactive museum tells the history of news, from the start of the printing press to today. It includes coverage of the September 11 attack, and a display of sections of the Berlin Wall. It also has an honorary section devoted to slain journalists.

A SECTION of the Berlin Wall is displayed at the Newseum in Washington (Tovah Lazaroff)

Those seeking the sunshine in DC, can also walk along its wharf area or take a cruise along the Potomac. Bicycles and scooters are easy to rent.
Among the hotels looking to make its mark on the tourist scene is the 1922 Hamilton Hotel, which is offering tourists a room not just with a view, but a story. This includes a suite with artifacts from the popular HBO comedy series The VEEP, which the hotel rents out under the slogan, sleep with the VEEP.

Literary lovers should stop at Karmerbooks & Afterwards Cafe, which offers free readings several nights a week and jazz on the weekends. A schedule of the readings can be on its website.

In May, United Airlines added a direct route from Tel Aviv to DC, a move that makes it easier for Israelis to choose DC as a destination point. United already flies direct to New York, Newark and San Francisco. United is now offering four different classes of ticket, including a business class with a chair that turns into a bed, that allows the travel the luxury of sleeping on the flight. Drinks and dessert are plentiful. There is a large screen, a small workspace and electricity, for those who want entertainment or to work on the flight.

The writer was a guest of United Airlines.

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