by Howard Droker
The women represented in Weaving Women’s Words: Seattle Stories came of age during the 1920s through the 1940s. Most were born and raised in Seattle during times of hardship, war, and unprecedented threats to Jews worldwide. The children or grandchildren of immigrants from Europe, Turkey and the Island of Rhodes in Greece, these women grew up in a Pacific Northwest isolated from the main currents of world Jewry and in a Jewish community unusually divided by ethnic backgrounds. Their generation sought integration into the American mainstream while at the same time striving to preserve its precious, unique religious and cultural heritage.
The Seattle these women grew up in had a well-established but small Jewish community for a city of its size, never more than 2.6 percent of the total population. The Jews were initially comprised of three distinct groups. Those from the German-speaking lands of Central Europe had been in the region since the middle of the 19th century, from the beginning of white settlement in the Northwest. They were generally prosperous, lived on Capitol Hill, and founded Temple De Hirsch, a Reform congregation. The Eastern Europeans made up the largest group, part of the millions who came to America between 1880 and 1924. They lived in the Yesler Way-Cherry Street neighborhood, were mostly poor, and established traditional Orthodox synagogues. A large number of Sephardic Jews from Turkey and the Island of Rhodes also lived near Yesler Way where they created Orthodox congregations. Though the ethnic lines blurred over the years, the strong Sephardic presence, from early in the twentieth century through today, gives Seattle Jewry its unique flavor.
When hard times ended at the start of World War II, and with the break-up of the old Jewish neighborhoods after World War II, Jews were integrated into the life of the growing city as never before. While their immigrant mothers were largely insulated from Jews of other groups as well as from Seattle’s wider community, the women who grew up here were educated and socialized in the public schools and on the playgrounds. They were ready to play bigger roles in the Jewish and secular life of the city. Like their mothers, these women made careers of volunteerism. Unlike their mothers, many also had professional or other working careers as well.
The stories told in here reveal the inner workings of a small but dynamic and influential group of Seattleites. These words add an important dimension to our city’s history.
Howard Droker earned his doctorate in History at the University of Washington, and is an historian of Jewish Seattle. He practices law in Seattle.
by Lisa Narodick Colton
Sharp, witty, educated, articulate, liberal, strong, independent and loving. While my grandmother, Blanche Gordon Narodick has always been a model of a strong and devoted woman, mother, grandmother and community leader, perhaps the greatest gifts she has given me are the most subtle.
My Nana and Papa had a passionate, loving and respectful marriage, which is a great inspiration to me. In their relationship, as a young child, as a teenager, and now as an adult through stories and photos, I have witnessed a dynamic couple who were each invested in their own lives, yet completely united as a team, and whose gaze into each other’s eyes sent sparks flying far into their 70s and 80s-on the dance floor, on Puget Sound fishing, making latkes [potato pancakes] in the plug-in fryer at the dining room table. I pray I will be as fortunate.
Over the past several years, Nana has written an ambitious family history, titled Continuity, which is so valuable to me. Her work not only informed me of my past, but also of myself. It inspired a dual-family project on the occasion of my wedding, where both of our families compiled family trees, photos of ancestors, stories, recipes and more, in order to document and preserve our past. She has a tremendous sense of the importance of family-a value she certainly has passed on to me.
More than a grandmother, she is also one of my closest friends. I feel so fortunate to have such an incredible relationship with my grandmother, and to have learned so much from her-not the least of which is what a difference a parsnip makes in your chicken soup!
Lisa Narodick Colton is Blanche’s oldest grandchild. She lives in Burlington, Vermont with her husband and is founder of Darim Online, providing website development and Internet strategy services to Jewish organizations.
by Barbara Mackoff, on behalf of the Community Advisory Board
We are so grateful to these remarkable Jewish women for opening their lives and their hearts to us. Listening to their words, we imagine the lives of their foremothers in Russia, Turkey, Romania, Dublin, Germany and Rhodes. Their stories and words bear witness to the honor and the horror of the past century. They give us a front row seat to view historic Seattle-from the horse buggies in front of tailor shops in Pioneer Square to the rides on the very first ferry and metro bus. Their rich communal memories help us understand the bridges and the tensions in building a vibrant and diverse Seattle Jewish community.
Not only do they show us a panorama of public life, they also confide in us. Each woman offers us a glimpse of her accomplishments and disappointments. We see her in the workplace and in the career of volunteer. We dance at her wedding, sit at her Shabbos table, kvell [share pride] about her children, laugh at her jokes, and grieve at her loss of loved ones.
In these exquisite women, we see wise kindness, bravery and a passion for social justice. How much we owe each narrator for opening a window on her life. For us, every window becomes a mirror-reflecting deeper truths about our lives. When we learn from their stories, we are moved to study our own.
Barbara Mackoff is a Consulting Psychologist and author of Growing a Girl. She writes representing the Community Advisory Board for the Weaving Women’s Words: Seattle Stories oral history project.
by Rivy Poupko Kletenik
It is from within our own experiences that we are able to connect to other worlds. Other worlds, in time, place, and thought. Jewish women's experiences traverse great distances of settings and vast moments in time. How can we bring our students close to the women of the Torah, of the Diaspora and of the past if not through the lenses of the women in our very own community?
Glimpsing at the richly significant lives of women whom the students can know in the here and now provides the context for understanding other worlds of women. The leap of inference to the courage and steadfastness of women in eras gone by is abbreviated and made smoother by the first-hand experience of knowing these women. Suddenly the past is believable and approachable, valor is discernible and maybe even right at hand. Know these women and know that the scale of their accomplishments may be the echo of the greatness of times past. As they fascinate, they instruct and teach us that astonishing grandness is believable, that heroism happened, and that women's influences were and are instrumental to the world we inhabit.
Rivy Poupko Kletenik is Director of Jewish Education Services for the Jewish Education Council of the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle and delights in teaching people of all ages.
by Stephen Sadis
Pioneer, business leader, writer, historian, storeowner, civil rights advocate, political activist, community leader-historically, these are words we don't immediately associate with women. Greater then is the irony that the women profiled in this exhibit attained these titles early in the twentieth century. What has been amassed in this exhibit is not merely a collection of biographies, but rather the collected spirit of a generation of women.
It is well worth noting that when some of these women were born, the city of Seattle was only 60 years old. Many of the organizations and associations that add to the quality of life in more established cities had not yet been founded, and yet this is exactly what makes this group of women so unique. While their husbands were busy making a living, these women worked tirelessly to establish or strengthen such organizations as Jewish Family Services, B’nai B’rith Women, the Federation’s Women’s Division, numerous educational institutions, countless welfare agencies, Ladies Auxiliaries, Sisterhoods and more’all of this, in addition to raising their children and maintaining a household.
Raised in the shadow of the Great Depression, these women accepted whatever fate befell them and persisted. In my own family, my grandmother, Tessie Sadis, offered her small home to two other families: six adults, three children, one bathroom (the logistics would make an air traffic controller break out in a sweat). My other grandmother, Tillie De Leon (profiled in this exhibit), lost two husbands early in their lives. She worked nearly all her life, and yet her longest stint of employment, 12 years, came after she “retired” at age 68.
With history books so filled with the accomplishments of men, this exhibit offers a wonderful and rare opportunity to celebrate a generation of women whose spirit elevated and enriched the quality of our lives.
Stephen Sadis is the fourth generation of his Sephardic family to live in Seattle. He is an award-winning documentary filmmaker whose work resonates with the many stories passed down to him by his family.
© 2004 Jewish Women’s Archive