According to a 2015 study by the Public Religion Research Institute, Seattle (along with San Francisco, Portland, and Denver) topped a list of America’s least religious cities. Thirty-three percent of Seattleites identify as unaffiliated, followed by smaller percentages of Catholics, white evangelical Protestants, and black Protestants. Needless to say, Judaism didn’t make it onto the chart.
Yet sometimes it seems like everyone in Seattle is Jewish. On a recent rain-spattered afternoon, I circumnavigated Pioneer Square in search of the original Schwabacher buildings. After half a dozen trips up and down Occidental, sure that one of the early Jewish-owned business existed there, I decided to seek out an expert. So I ducked into Bill Spiegel’s Underground Tour. There I found a local history buff who lit up with enthusiasm at my inquiry. After discussing the Schwabacher buildings for a few minutes, the conversation turned to my purpose: developing content for Jewish in Seattle magazine. My Seattle history “Virgil” revealed that he, too, is Jewish. But even he had no idea how much Jewish history Seattle contained.
In spite of Seattle’s reputation as almost anything but Jewish, Jewish history runs deep here. “Ten Ways Seattle Became a Jewish City” may sound a little cheeky — and it is. But it’s also true. This is a very Jewish city, built on the dreams of early pioneers, Eastern European immigrants, and Greek and Turkish families seeking a new seaside home. Our victories have been the city’s victories, our tragedies have been the city’s tragedies, our institutions are the city’s institutions. Without our Jewish community, we might not have our beloved Seahawks, our critical social service agencies, and world-class arts and music facilities. We might not have the “Dreidel Song.” Now where would Seattle be without that?
Emily K. Alhadeff
P.S. I’m excited to share that Jewish in Seattle magazine is a finalist for the Western Publishing Association’s Maggie Awards in two categories: Best New Publication and Lifestyles & Alternative Lifestyles. Wish us luck!