She was warm and welcoming. Kind and gracious. And she had a brilliant, sparkling smile that punctuated her vivacious, two-syllable “Hi!” greeting that lit up every room she entered and embraced everyone she met.
Those who were fortunate to know and work with Pamela Waechter, of blessed memory, always smile when they remember how she touched lives and how she set a gold standard of service for the Puget Sound Jewish community, to which she was dedicated with a fierce passion.
“She was so warm and open, very accepting of differences in people and their ideas. She embraced the fact that we have a healthy Jewish community and wanted to keep it that way for future generations,” her longtime friend Iantha Sidell, past and present Board Chair of the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle, remembers. “She had a sparkle in her eye.”
Pam is the namesake for the annual award conferred on Jewish communal professionals who embody the qualities of leadership and service that she brought to Jewish Puget Sound. The award, given at the Federation’s annual meeting (taking place June 18 this year), was established after the horrific July 28, 2006 hate crime at the Federation that cost Pam her life and grievously injured five other women.
The award is a reminder of Pam’s legacy, for those who knew her, and for the many who have become part of the Puget Sound Jewish community over the past 14 years. The standards she set and the impact she made are timeless underpinnings of a strong community.
“She really embraced the Jewish community as a volunteer and ultimately as a Jewish communal professional. It was her calling,” says Rabbi James Mirel, who was Pam’s rabbi at Temple B’nai Torah and a personal friend. “Time was her main gift to the Jewish community. She was the consummate Jewish professional.”
A Jew by choice, “Pam was someone who chose Judaism and chose it with all her heart and soul,” recalls Laurie Warshal Cohen of the Holocaust Center for Humanity’s Legacy Speakers Project.
“Her work was her passion,” says Lisa Kranseler, Executive Director of the Washington State Jewish Historical Society and a co-recipient of the Waechter award in 2015.
Pam’s record of professional and volunteer service shows the depth of her commitment to community. She worked at the Federation for eight years in a variety of positions, including Annual Campaign Director and Special Events Director. Before coming to the Federation, Pam was a caseworker, food bank manager, and volunteer coordinator at Jewish Family Service.
As a volunteer, Pam’s energy was boundless. Three years as president of Temple B’nai Torah. Recipient of the 1993 Jesse Danz Outstanding Volunteer Award from Jewish Family Service. National board member of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (now the Union for Reform Judaism) for eight years. Member of the Central Conference of American Rabbis Commission on Reform Jewish Outreach for nine years. Family support volunteer at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center for nine years.
In every task she undertook, Pam dove in with seriousness to get the job done and to make an impact. As Sidell puts it, “she was hands-on.” As Federation’s Special Events Director, Pam was deeply involved in organizing and shaping Connections, which is still going strong as the largest philanthropic gathering of Jewish women in the Pacific Northwest, an annual event where women get connected, get inspired, and strengthen relationships that are the heart of community.
“She was a very thoughtful person,” Rabbi Mirel says. “She wanted to do the right thing and was concerned about doing the right thing.”
Pam wasn’t all work. She made time for friends. Sidell recalls accompanying Pam often to the symphony and ballet, for which she had season tickets. In addition to community, Pam spread her love and cheer to her children, her dogs, and her garden.
As busy as she was, Pam made time to meet with community members, hear their ideas, learn from them, and offer encouraging words. Ilana Cone Kennedy, now the Holocaust Center’s Director of Education and a 2011 co-recipient of the Waechter award, remembers Pam’s generosity with her time when Kennedy was in the early years of her career.
“She was positive. Optimistic. I have a recollection of her being very encouraging for young communal professionals like me who were getting started in their careers,” Kennedy remembers.
Amee Sherer, Greenstein Family Executive Director at Hillel UW and co-recipient with Kennedy of the 2011 Waechter award, observes Pam “had a way of making everyone feel comfortable. She was an equal opportunity human.”
Pam’s ideals of community service have been foremost in mind for leaders who have followed in her footsteps and are inspiration for emerging community leaders — including those who might be future recipients of the award named after her.
How to follow Pam’s example?
“Get involved. Love what you do. Meet as many people as you can,” Kranseler says.
“Be open with your time. Help people get started. Encourage them on their way,” Kennedy adds.
“We’re all in this together. Everybody matters. Each person has unique qualities. The tapestry of having people with all these qualities and backgrounds is better when we come together,” says Sherer.
Those ideals were grounded in deep empathy that left an indelible impact — among those who knew her and across the community to this day.
“Whenever I think of her, a smile comes to my face,” says Sidell. Says Rabbi Mirel, “I cherish all the time we had together.”