Breaking News
More () »

Washington's Jewish community predates statehood

Seattle had a Jewish mayor in 1875. #k5evening

SEATTLE — In the telling of the Northwest story, one group of people is often overlooked.

"I just love hearing that history and making it come alive," said Lisa Kranseler, executive director of the Washington State Jewish Historical Society.

Kranseler is dedicated to shining a spotlight on our region's Jewish community with publications, programs, and exhibits.

The society's archivist, Ryan Donaldson, also helps find, preserve and share the stories of this vibrant community.

"We're giving a name," Donaldson said. "We're giving a face, we're bringing the voice back."

The WSJHS oversees a vast collection of images and sounds that paint a colorful picture going back more than 150 years, to the time the first Jewish settler arrived in Tacoma in 1845.

Waves of migration brought artisans, tradesmen, and merchants, including Bailey Gatzert.

"He was the first and only Jewish mayor in Seattle," Kranseler said.

Thriving communities sprung up in small towns.

"A number of people came for the prospect of gold," Donaldson said.

RELATED: What you need to know about Rosh Hashana

Much of Seattle's history is a history of its Jewish residents, including some of the founders of Pike Place Market.

In the early 1900's, a Jewish neighborhood nicknamed Kosher Canyon took root in Seattle's Central District.

"You can still see inscriptions on some of the buildings," Kranseler explained.

Many relics live on to tell this rich history in the Washington State Jewish Archives housed at the University of Washington.

"Almost 500 oral histories," Kranseler said.

Nearly forgotten chapters spring to life, from the birth of the now-iconic Ben Bridge Jeweler, which actually had its roots in small-town Pennsylvania, to the life story of renowned artist Maria Frank Abrams.

"In some ways (Abram's oral history) is really a who's who of mid-century artists here in Seattle," Donaldson said.

Many artifacts capture everyday life, like the scrapbook of one of Washington's first female pharmacology students, Bella Kracower Secord.

"I like so many things about it," Donaldson said. "But I think one thing, in particular, were the decisions she made in creating it. Where she put everything, how she put it together and arranged it.  And we have it now, decades later, to enjoy."

There's the account of the world's largest bagel, a creation of Brenner Brothers of Bellevue, and the humble origins of some of our region's biggest businesses.

"Like Masins Furniture, that started with a few broken pieces of furniture, and started with a repair shop, and became a furniture store," Kranseler said.

Washington State's Jewish history is in good hands.

"History of the past, history of the present," Kranseler said. "And making sure that it's here for our future legacies."


KING 5's Evening celebrates the Northwest. Contact us: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Email.

Before You Leave, Check This Out