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Virtual Jewish World: Washington, United States

Washington is a Pacific Northwest state of the United States, with a Jewish population – including Seattle – of approximately 72,185 Jews (2017). A Latvian adventurer, Adolph Friedman, who came to Washington in the late 1840s, is considered the first Jew to have settled in the new territory. Others soon followed – German-speaking Jews in the 1850s; Yiddish-speaking Jews in the 1880s; and Judeo-Spanish (Ladino) speaking Jews in 1902. By 1889, when Washington became the 42nd state, Jews had been contributing to the state's economy and growth for four decades. One of them, Edward S. Salomon, became territorial governor in 1870, others joined state legislators and/or became city mayors. Successful entrepreneurs, such as the Schwabacher family, had businesses throughout the state.

By 1920 just over 10,000 Jews called Washington State home. They would be joined by immigrants fleeing Hitler's Germany before World War II, survivors from Hitler's death camps, and people who moved west to take advantage of Washington's mild climate, beautiful lakes and mountains, welcoming businesses, excellent medical facilities, and, in Seattle, opportunities and amenities of the University of Washington. Unlike the first three groups who were mainly businessmen and women, the latter group were or became physicians, professors, teachers, rabbis, cantors, musicians, artists, and business and health workers of all kinds. They would invigorate Jewish life and add to the state's culture and economy.

The first Jewish organizations in Washington were benevolent societies rather than temples or synagogues. The desire for a Jewish cemetery led Jews in Olympia and small towns around Puget Sound to establish the Hebrew Benevolent Society of Puget Sound in 1873. They also made clear that the society would "aid and assist poor and distressed co-religionists." The Hebrew Benevolent Association of Tacoma also followed that example. Soon other Jewish communities throughout the state set up a myriad of voluntary organizations to help the unfortunate as well as to enhance the lives of Jews in the state.

Tacoma, Spokane, and Seattle all had religious congregations before 1900. All were Reform, sometimes modified to contain elements of an Orthodox service. Others, like Bellingham and Everett, chose Orthodox. The small community of Aberdeen followed Reform, but services included Orthodox rituals. All the cities except Spokane were in the western part of the state, the largest population area.

After World War II, Jewish religious life in Washington expanded. Newcomers and the maturing new generations of Americanized Jewish children either established new congregations in cities such as Richland, Wenatchee, and Vancouver, or changed the status of existing ones. For example, in Tacoma and Spokane the Reform and Orthodox combined to form one place of worship.

Another great expansion of Jewish religious life started in the 1970s and accelerated into the 1990s. In many congregations, half the couples had only one partner who was Jewish, a reflection of the growing trend of interfaith marriages throughout the United States. The founding of a temple or synagogue for a special group of people, say gays or lesbians, or becoming Reconstructionist became unremarkable and Reform and Conservative congregations welcomed women rabbis and cantors. In 2003 there were 41 religious congregations offering services.

As of 2017, Washington's Jewish population was approximately 72,185 people.

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved. M. Cone, H. Droker, J. Williams, Family of Strangers: Building a Jewish Community in Washington State (2003).