If you lived in the Washington area in the twentieth century, your Shavuot meal may have been catered by Posin’s. For 80 years, Posin’s was the place for kosher baked goods like smaller, dense “old-style” bagels (today you might call them Montreal-style), dairy and meat dishes. You would see their platters at synagogue events, brises, bar and bat mitzvahs and shivas, as well as at official events. Posin’s catered for Israeli dignitaries including Golda Meir and Menachem Begin, too. In a 1987 interview with The Washington Post, Randy Posin, grandson of Posin’s founder Abraham Posin, recalled, “Our driver almost got arrested because of confusion over his security clearance” while delivering 2,000 Christmas cookies to the White House in 1986.
In 1918, Abraham Posin opened a kosher bakery in the Center Market at Pennsylvania Avenue and 7th Street, NW, at the southern end of Washington’s downtown Jewish neighborhood. Abe had immigrated to the United States from Russia in 1907. His grocery brought the smells and flavors of food from the alte Heim (old home) to downtown DC’s immigrant Jewish community.
In 1931, the Center Market was razed to make way for the National Archives, prompting Abraham Posin to move his store to a new location in the Arcade Market (present day DC USA complex) at 14th Street and Park Road, NW. From there he served the growing Jewish population in the Columbia Heights and Petworth neighborhoods. In 1947, with the demolition of the Arcade Market, Posin’s moved once again, this time to 5756 Georgia Avenue, NW. From this location near the DC-Silver Spring, MD border, Posin’s served Jewish communities in suburban Maryland. Many suburban synagogues came to rely on Posin’s to cater their Sabbath Kiddush celebrations even as other, closer markets opened.
In 1957, hoping to compete with mainstream grocery stores, Posin’s opened a large modern supermarket in Langley Park, MD. On the eve of its opening, The Washington Post wrote that the new branch was “said to be the world’s largest retail kosher food enterprise.” Tragically, Abraham Posin collapsed during the ribbon cutting on June 17, 1957 and passed away a few weeks later. Financial difficulties forced the store to close a few years later, but the Georgia Avenue location endured for four more decades.
From the time Posin’s opened its Georgia Avenue location, it was a place where Jews mixed with African Americans, defying the racial polarization that characterized DC for decades. Even through the riots in 1968 following Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination and the subsequent decades-long decline in the city’s retail life, Posin’s maintained its location in a neighborhood that had become primarily African American.
In 1998, Post writer Eugene L. Meyer recalled one cashier at Posin’s: “Miss Jackie, a warm, sweet African-American woman who would send me off with a ‘have a good shabbes, hear?’” In an interview with the Washington Jewish Week shortly after the store closed for good in 1998, Randy noted, “In a sense, we were kind of [Jewish] ambassadors of a sort…And there were no other distinctly Jewish stores—there were other Jewish merchants, liquor stores, gasoline stations—but not to the extent we were.”
Surprise and sadness greeted news that Posin’s would close its doors for good in 1998. Dale Gold, then co-chairman of the Sisterhood Catering Committee at Congregation Beth El in Bethesda, told the Washington Jewish Week, “We were shocked. And we will certainly miss their [Posin’s] presence in the community.” Posin’s was not just a bakery and a deli—it was part of the soul of Washington’s Jewish community.