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Jewish immigrants among our city’s builders | Worship


Last updated 2/3/2016 at Noon

Temple Beth Or celebrates 30 years as a congregation this year, yet this milestone pales in comparison to the number of years the Jewish community has existed in the Puget Sound region.

The first Jewish immigrants began arriving in the Pacific Northwest in the 1850s.

From the beginning, the new immigrants integrated themselves into the larger community, both in Everett and in Seattle.

As part of its 30th anniversary celebration, Temple Beth Or has invited historian Dr. Howard Droker to speak about Jewish immigrants to the Pacific Northwest and how they contributed to their communities.

Droker’s presentation will be part of Shabbat services 7:30 p.m. Friday, Feb. 26, at Temple Beth Or, 3215 Lombard Ave. in Everett. All are welcome to attend.

He will talk about the three waves of Jewish immigrants to Washington that occurred from the 1850s to the start of World War II.

Droker has lived in Seattle almost his entire life. All his grandparents came to Washington state before the start of World War I, riding a wave of Jewish immigration.

He earned a Ph.D. in history and a law degree from the University of Washington. He is a co-author of “Family of Strangers: Building a Jewish Community in Washington State,” published by UW Press in 2004.

The first wave of Jewish immigrants, mainly German-speaking Jews from Central Europe, started arriving in the 1850s.

A second larger wave, arriving 1890-1910, was comprised of Yiddish-speaking immigrants from Eastern Europe escaping the Russian Tsar’s tyranny.

The third wave started in 1903 with Ladino-speaking Jews fleeing Turkey and the Island of Rhodes, which were under Ottoman Empire rule. (Ladino is a blended Judeo-Spanish language that mixes Hebrew, Aramaic and Arabic with medieval Spanish.)

Together, these three waves of Jews make up the “family of strangers” Droker describes in his book.

Droker commented that the first Jewish communities were “fairly low key and under the radar and wanted to be that way.” That all changed with the start of World War II.

However, that didn’t mean Jews didn’t participate in the larger community. The first wave of German-speaking Jewish immigrants were wealthier, better educated, and more westernized than those in the second and third waves.

Immigrant members of Everett’s Montefiore Orthodox Congregation were well-known merchants and civic leaders. Moe Michelson, who served on the Everett City Council from 1968-1985, was the son of one of the Montefiore original members.

Bailey Gatzert, who arrived in Seattle in 1869, was elected mayor in 1876. He was Seattle’s first, and so far only, Jewish mayor.

Droker said Gatzert was a city builder and part of the elite of Seattle. He invested in banks and infrastructure. Gatzert was a charter member of the Seattle Chamber of Commerce and Community Chest (now called United Way).

Despite the fact they were part of a small minority and their communities preferred to stay tightly knit, Seattle and Everett Jews in the late 1800s and early 1900s played large roles in the society that surrounded them.

“They adapted their Judaism to their circumstances,” Droker said.

They were isolated, largely unable to keep kosher, and had to fight to maintain their Jewish identity.

Rather than keeping completely to themselves, they chose to become part of the larger community by being investors, buying real estate, and participating in local politics and social causes.

They were among our city’s builders.


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