Seattle’s history changed on June 28, 2006, when Naveed Haq wrested his way into the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle and shot six women, killing Pamela Waechter. Shouting that he was angry at Israel before shooting and holding the office hostage, Haq surrendered to police 15 minutes later and is now serving a life sentence. Eight years later, after a rigorous campaign with the Federation, synagogues, Jewish community institutions, and survivor Cheryl Stumbo at the forefront, Washington State passed Initiative 594 requiring background checks on all gun sales.
Jewish community organizations have been integral in leading social change, most notably in the fights for civil rights, labor rights, Soviet Jewish emancipation, and marriage equality. When Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. visited Seattle in November of 1961 — his first and only time here — Temple De Hirsch was one of the venues that opened its doors to him when First Presbyterian rescinded its invitation. King spoke at the Capitol Hill congregation on November 9 at the behest of Frances Rogers, the adult education chairperson at the time. “What I know is that I had never heard anyone talk like that, in that Baptist minister style that we’re very familiar with now,” says Laurie Warshal Cohen, who was 16 when she attended the talk with a friend. This was before the March on Washington, before King had become a pivotal figure for the civil rights movement. At the end of the speech, Cohen went up to King and shook his hand. “I know that my friend and I knew who he was, and this was a spectacular thing,” she says. “I know we were excited.”
Spurred by the collective memory of oppression and exclusion, it’s hard to look at political progress in Seattle without seeing the Jewish community in the picture holding signs, registering voters, giving sermons and testimonies, and advocating in Olympia for the betterment of society.