A Mormon convert to Judaism, Arva Davis Gray was a leader in the Seattle Jewish community and a self-described “kitchen Jew” who served as president of the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle, as a member of the Boards of many local and national Jewish organizations, and was a founder of Bellevue’s Temple B‘Nai Torah. Trained as a nurse, she married Dr. Bernard Gray, with whom she raised two children from his previous marriage and two of their own. Arva spiced her life with Sephardic and Askenazic cooking learned from friends and neighbors, and with wisdom grounded in Judaism and a broad, humane outlook. Arva also devoted her energies to her four children and to her grandchildren. Arva Gray died on June 14, 2010.
“Not too long after my daughter Janet was born, I went to Rabbi Singer. And a friend of mine went too, and we talked to him about conversion. He said it would take about a year. So around 1956 we went every week for a couple of hours. I got to know him very well. We had books to read. I came in with a lot of questions.
“By that time, I was already involved with the Jewish community. I’d been on the Board of the Council of Jewish Women. I’d been secretary there. I’d been involved with a Jewish Day School that was established at Temple De Hirsch Sinai for children that had originally come from Holland through China and then settled in Seattle. I’d moved into a neighborhood of mostly Jewish people. I got to know the mothers. And naturally, we became very good friends. We called ourselves ‘The Girls.’ My kids wondered when I would stop calling them ‘girls.’ Oh, we played Canasta, we played Mah-jongg, we played Pan, we played Bridge. Anything. And mostly, it was a conversation club. Because we never gossiped.
“I learned Sephardic cooking. I think I was a ‘kitchen Jew’ before I converted. And I certainly knew how to make a quajado before I did anything else. It’s a spinach soufflé with feta cheese. It’s wonderful with fish. I’d always liked to cook, so it was fun.
“So I was converted to Judaism before I was president of the Jewish Family and Child Service. But I was accepted by most of the community as being Jewish. I guess I didn’t consider myself an outsider. I came into the community and was accepted by a certain group, and then eventually became accepted by the community. I was involved in the community. I felt fine. I’m home. This is where I belong.”
© 2004 Jewish Women’s Archive. Photographs by Joan Roth.