Today, 15 percent of Seattle’s Jewish community makes its home in Bellevue and on Mercer Island, just across the lake from its ancestral homeland of the Central District and the other two established community centers of Seward Park and the North End. Bellevue and Redmond also host a burgeoning Israeli community, sometimes referred to as “the kibbutz,” drawn to the area by the Northwest tech scene.
Most of Mercer Island’s culinary activity is located in the business district just off I-90 and includes kosher standbys like Island Crust Cafe and Menchie’s Frozen Yogurt. It’s hard to enter Bennett’s without running into someone you know from the Jewish community, and over in the old Stopsky’s space is a branch of the Jewish-owned Homegrown gourmet sandwich shop. Date night? Check out Barrels, the island’s new convivial wine bar. Try the smoked fish.
For almost two decades Rabbi Jay Rosenbaum has championed social issues at Herzl-Ner Tamid Conservative Congregation, like the refugee crisis, homelessness, and Muslim-Jewish relations. For a more traditional experience, check out Island Synagogue, which follows Modern Orthodoxy under the leadership of Rabbi Yehezkel Kornfeld and offers Shabbat hospitality and classes. The new Chabad of Mercer Island hosts Shabbat dinners and is the only place for a Jewish BLT — bagels, lox, and tefillin. Mercer Island hosts one of Greater Seattle’s three eruvs.
The Island is also home to the region’s only co-ed Jewish high school, Northwest Yeshiva High School, which attracts students from around Greater Seattle and sends them off to prestigious colleges.
In addition to a fitness center and pool, the Stroum Jewish Community Center hosts an early childhood school, summer and school break camps, a community garden, and a never-ending run of events. The J’s Arts+Ideas program is bumping with shows, celebrity guests, and its signature event, the annual Seattle Jewish Film Festival. Near the main business center, but away from the hustle and bustle, is Luther Burbank Park, a 77-acre site with trails, a playground, an off-leash dog park, tennis courts, and a fishing pier. Need a hostess gift? Look no further than Nancy Meade’s darling shop, Terra Bella.
Bellevue + Beyond
With Goldberg’s now closed, debate will rage on about where to find the best New York-style sandwich. While they’re arguing, we’re sitting down for a Reuben sandwich and matzo ball soup at Gilbert’s on Main. Gilbert’s sets the bar high for its soups and omelets (try the Nova Scotia lox with tomatoes). For a different vibe, try Araya’s Place, an airy vegan Thai joint. (The lunch buffet is a winner.) Over on NE 24th Street in Redmond is the Teapot, with a kosher, vegan pan-Asian menu that attracts a cross-section of Jews and Asians. The area’s growing Israeli community has introduced a “makolet”: Stop & Shop (not to be confused with the grocery chain) is a market for favorites like Kariot cereal and Pesek Zman chocolate bars.
Temple B’nai Torah, a Reform congregation begun in 1969 on Mercer Island, burned to the ground in 1977 — but not before Rabbi Jacob Singer swooped into the burning building to rescue the Torahs. The congregation moved to Bellevue a few years later. Congregation Kol Ami, led by Rabbi Yohanna Kinberg, is moving to Kirkland’s Moss Bay in summer 2019 after three decades in Woodinville. This progressive Reform congregation of 110 families values social justice and action. Among the evergreens in the Eastgate neighborhood is Temple De Hirsch Sinai’s Bellevue campus. Built in 2002, this contemporary structure stands in contrast to its over 100-year-old sister campus in Seattle. The congregation as a whole constitutes the oldest and largest Reform congregation in the Seattle area with more than 1,600 families. For a different experience, check out Panim Hadashot (based at WeWork Bellevue Square), which brings the service to you. Rabbi Dov Gartenberg and his Shabbat ensemble blend the sounds of traditional Sabbath songs, new Jewish music, and a little bit of Leonard Cohen. You make the kugel and cholent as he and his “Shabbat animators” bring the vocal chords. Among Chabad’s many chapters, the Eastside Torah Center holds services, classes, and events in Bellevue, and Chabad also holds court at Microsoft’s headquarters in Redmond, where more than 2,000 Jews work. Pack your sandwich: Torah classes are available during lunch break. Go 20 more minutes east on I-90 and you’ll find Chabad of the Central Cascades for Sammamish and Issaquah dwellers.
The Jewish Day School of Metropolitan Seattle, a pluralistic K–8 school with an early childhood center, has a renowned inquiry-
based approach that strives to develop students’ critical thinking and research abilities.
Soar 80 feet above the Douglas firs and maples that make up much of Bellevue’s Eastgate Park at Bellevue Zip Tour. Families with kids in the younger set will enjoy KidsQuest Museum. From a two-story climbing structure to a beloved semi-truck cab, a water play area, reading nooks, and even an ice cream parlor, it’s hard to get bored. When the sky turns blue, hightail it to Lake Sammamish for a refreshing swim at Idylwood Beach Park or canoe around Mercer Slough, Bellevue’s sublime nature park.