Born in places as far-flung as Greece and Alaska, our narrators witnessed the upheaval of the Great Depression, World War II, the civil rights movement, and the feminist revolution. Their stories of their lives as homemakers and educators, activists and musicians reflect the changing expectations, opportunities, and challenges this remarkable generation of Jewish women faced.
Born into a rabbinic Sephardic family in Bursa, Turkey, Louise Maimon followed her parents and siblings to Seattle in 1927 after her father was called to serve as a rabbi for Sehpardic Bikur Holim congregation. Married in 1929 to Jack Azose, they raised four sons and one daughter. Long active in Seattle’s Sephardic community, Louise was a living treasure of the traditions, history, recipes, faith, and folksongs of the Sephardic people she loved. Louise’s conversation and memories were filled with Ladino [Judeo-Spanish] words and phrases spoken within Spanish-Sephardic Jewish cultures.
A renowned community leader and philanthropist, Becky Benaroya and her family extend the love and generosity she learned as a child. Born and raised in Seattle’s Sephardic Jewish community, Becky is devoted to Seattle’s elderly populations, the city’s Symphony and arts programs, and the preservation of her Sephardic heritage. She and her husband Jack raised three children. Active in the Jewish and larger Seattle community, her life continues to grace the civic, cultural, Jewish, and family life in the city she loves.
One of Washington State’s first female pharmacists, Shirley was born in Seattle’s Swedish Hospital in 1922. She practiced pharmacology until she retired at age 66, and with her husband, Herb, raised two children. A pioneer on many fronts, Shirley was one of the first Jewish women to become a member of the Women’s University Club. A passionate and indefatigable supporter of women’s and health issues, Shirley survived five primary cancers and was a no-nonsense pragmatist venerated for getting things done.
Born in Fairbanks, Alaska in 1913 to Irish émigré parents, Meta grew up among “living libraries,” men who told stories of their lives on Alaska’s frontier. Educated in Dublin and Paris, she moved to Seattle in 1939 with her husband, Harry, where they raised three children. Meta became active in Seattle’s Orthodox community, and soon, she began compiling the oral and written histories of Seattle’s Jewish people and institutions. The Jewish Archives at the University of Washington-thanks in large measure to Meta-now houses many of these histories, including Meta’s own wonderful story among them.
A prolific and well-loved author, Molly Cone has penned numerous children’s and young adults’ books, travel articles, educational materials, and a history of the Jews in Washington State. Born in Tacoma to Latvian emigrants, Molly grew up in a close-knit family steeped in Jewish traditions. Married in 1939 to Gerald Cone, they moved to Seattle where they raised three children and became founding members of Temple Beth Am, a reform synagogue in Northeast Seattle. They are enthusiastic travelers. As a writer, Molly’s narrative often focuses on human communication-how both talking and silence organize the ways we think about the world and each other.
A Seattle native of Ashkenazic-German descent, Carolyn Danz grew up in the Capitol Hill neighborhood. She was a lifelong member of Temple De Hirsch Sinai, the oldest Reform Congregation in the Pacific Northwest. Carolyn graduated in 1939 from the University of Washington with a BA in Fine Arts, married Jerry Taylor in 1940, and had two children. Jerry, diagnosed with MS early in their marriage, died in 1959. Carolyn supported her family by opening and running a dressmaking business. A skilled seamstress, she and her talented African American assistant, Maude, made beautiful clothing.
An independent, intelligent, and industrious woman, Tillie De Leon is the matriarch of the original Peha family in Seattle, Sephardic immigrants from the Greek Island of Rhodes. One of the first Sephardic children born in Seattle, Tillie’s ground-breaking life continued when she left her close-knit community and moved to Los Angeles to take an accounting job. Married and widowed in Los Angeles, Tillie married Albert De Leon and returned with him to Seattle. Ever hardworking and optimistic, Tillie continued her paid work until age 80, and remains active in volunteer activities.
An outspoken female voice within Orthodox Judaism and a committed civil rights advocate, Sara Nelson Efron attributes her activism to a lineage of outspoken women and Jewish values instilled through a rigorous Seattle Jewish education. Born in 1909 to Yiddish-speaking Russian émigrés living in New York City tenements, her family soon moved to Seattle where Sara helped in her father’s “junk business“ and her mother’s work resettling Jewish immigrants. Married in 1930 to Max Efron, Sara spent her adulthood forging an Orthodox Jewish life for her husband and children in Baltimore, Los Angeles, and again in Seattle, where she has worked tirelessly for Jewish and social justice causes.
Widowed at age 36, Esther Eggleston managed single motherhood and work as the first female executive administrator of Temple de Hirsch Sinai, serving three rabbis and a growing membership of almost 1,000 families during her 23 years of service. Born in St. Louis in 1905, Esther’s family moved to Seattle in 1912. In her working life she felt useful and accomplished, underappreciated and unacknowledged-the tangle of rewards and disappointments experienced by working women in mid-century. Devoted to her daughter and her volunteer causes, Esther received the first Esther Eggleston Outstanding Service Award from Women’s American ORT in 1993, now awarded annually in her honor.
Cecillia Pollock Etkin’s faith in Judaism delivered her from seven concentration camps during the Holocaust and in 1950 to the Seattle Orthodox Jewish community where she lovingly served as the “mikveh lady” for 27 years, from 1970-1997. Born in Sighet, Romania in 1922, Cecillia was deported to Auschwitz in 1944 where her parents and many siblings were murdered. In 1945 Cecillia emigrated to New York City, married Seattle native Nathan Etkin, and moved to Seattle with him where she ran her own dressmaking business and raised four children. As Seattle’s first volunteer “mikveh lady” she prepared the ritual bath according to Orthodox Jewish law, and counseled brides and married women, converts, the sick and the elderly, who sought her quiet spiritual guidance.
Hebrew school teacher Ruth Frankel dedicated her life to Jewish education and the welfare of the Jewish people. Born in Frankfurt, Germany in 1916, she grew up in a close modern Orthodox home, attending Hebrew school from kindergarten until high school. Together with her sister, Lisbeth, Ruth emigrated to the U.S. in June 1938. Despite all their endeavors, Ruth and Lisbeth were unsuccessful in rescuing their parents, who had remained behind and eventually perished in Auschwitz. Ruth's future husband, Joseph Frankel, apprehended during Kristallnacht, spent four months in Buchenwald before reaching England and then immigrating to the U.S. in 1940. After the war, the Frankels and their daughter moved to Seattle where Joseph was instrumental in starting a Religious School at Herzl Ner Tamid, a Conservative synagogue, serving as its principal and cantor. Ruth became active in the synagogue Sisterhood, voluntarily kept all school records, and taught second and third grade for 30 years in Seattle public schools.
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.
A native of Seattle, Ventura Israel was
born in 1915, two years after her parents immigrated from Turkey. Forged as a strong woman by the deaths of men in her family-her father’s in 1928, her first husband’s in 1970, and her second husband’s in 1989-she helped support her family during the Depression, and as a twenty-five year employee of Union Federal Savings and Loan. Both her first husband, Maurice Franco, and her second husband, Morris Israel, were born in Rhodes, Greece, and Ventura spent her religious life in Seattle’s Sephardic community. The mother of two, and a vibrant community member, Ventura currently volunteers at the Caroline Kline Galland home and at her synagogue, Congregation Ezra Bessaroth.
Ann Meyers Kaplan’s family moved to Seattle from New York City in 1910 when Ann was three. Her father opened a tailoring business in Pioneer Square. For Ann’s parents and many Russian émigrés like them, the Settlement House and the socialist-leaning Workmen’s Circle were centers of Jewish community life. A graduate of Garfield High School, Ann worked as a bookkeeper in Seattle, later moving to San Francisco. She returned to Seattle after eloping with Ben Kaplan in 1935, who wooed her long-distance for three years. For the next 50 years, Ann served as bookkeeper in his company. After their daughter lost her hearing at age three, Ann devoted much of her time to seeking experimental treatments, advocating for the hearing impaired, and raising a second child, a son.
Veteran Seattle teacher and civil rights activist, Sara Dalkowitz Kaplan grew up in Pearsall, TX. Sara graduated from high school as the newspaper editor, champion debater, class president and valedictorian. She later earned a B.A. in political science at the University of Texas, an M.A. in economics from Columbia University, and her teaching certificate. Active in Democratic Party politics since high school, Sara spent her life fighting for social justice: she served as president of B'Nai B'rith Women, Vice President of Brandeis University National Women's Committee, a board member of the Anti-Defamation League, and an active member of the NAACP and Seattle Urban League.
A gifted student, teacher, and comedienne, Leni LaMarche has shared her love of Sephardic culture with Seattle’s Sephardic community for over sixty years. Born in Seattle to immigrants from the island of Rhodes, Greece, Leni has lived most of her life in Seattle. She has one daughter from a first marriage, and after several challenging years as a single mother during the early 1940s, Leni remarried and had three sons. While raising her family, Leni engaged in a variety of paid and volunteer work. Leni also writes a column entitled Bavajadas de Benadam [people’s foolish little words] for her synagogue’s newsletter. Leni is a fountain of knowledge when it comes to Sephardic history, language, and customs, and laces her wisdom and stories with delightful humor.
A vibrant social organizer, Dorothy Franco Muscatel was born in Seattle in 1917 to parents who, in 1910, were among the first Sephardic Jews to immigrate to Seattle from Rhodes, Greece. Her parents and grandmother were instrumental in creating important Seattle Jewish institutions, including the Sephardic cemetery. Dorothy learned from their example. Her achievements include helping form Seattle chapters for The City of Hope and Guide Dogs for the Blind; and service as president of the Seattle Sephardic Sisterhood and Sephardic Bikur Holim Ladies' Auxiliary. Married to Jack Muscatel and mother of three, Dorothy continued to shine the light of her family and herself on Seattle’s Jewish and secular communities until her death on December 26, 2003.
Journalist and international Red Cross volunteer, Blanche Gordon Narodick graduated magna cum laude from the University of Washington and earned a masters degree from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, launching her career as a journalist, ghost writer, and public relations consultant. Raised in part by her aunt and uncle, she met her husband, Dr. Phillip Narodick, in graduate school and refers to their partnership as a “true love story.” During World War II Blanche worked with the American Red Cross and has continued that affiliation, initiating an international chapter in Seattle, promoting “Holocaust tracing” helping Jewish families locate relatives, and founding a sister chapter in Shanghai, China. For her work, the ARC awarded Blanche the Harriman Award for Distinguished Volunteer Service in 1989.
An energetic social reformer, Ann Lustig Nieder worked for both Jewish and secular organizations throughout her life. Born to Ashkenazic parents, Ann grew up on Capitol Hill in Seattle. In 1945, she received a Bachelor’s Degree from the University of Washington in Nursing. She married Lawrence Nieder, a businessman, in 1946. They had four children. Once her children were school age, Ann devoted a large part of her life to volunteer activities in the Seattle community, serving as President of Temple De Hirsch Sinai Sisterhood, Brandeis Women’s Committee, National Council of Jewish Women, and the Washington State Jewish Historical Society. Volunteer work helps define Ann’s life, and currently she provides guidance on committees for the University of Washington.
Ruth Peizer’s love affair with Yiddish began when her parents, Riva and Abraham Immerman, sent their only child to Chicago’s Arbeiter Ring [Workmen’s Circle] school at age nine, and then to the Sholem Aleichem Institute where she graduated valedictorian at age 18. Since moving to (West) Seattle in 1949, Ruth has become Seattle’s preeminent Yiddish instructor, teaching at the University of Washington in the 1980s and through the Jewish Federation today. Ruth’s knowledge of Yiddish has impacted her entire life through Yiddish culture including her adoration of Yiddish theatre, literature and music. Yiddish has also opened many doors all over the world for Ruth and her husband, Dr. Samuel Peizer, from her sponsorship of Russian refusniks seeking asylum in Seattle to her sending humanitarian aid to the Baltics since 1992.
Born in Tishmay near the Isle of Rhodes, Greece where she was raised, Missode Piha spent her childhood in a tight-knit Sephardic family of which her father was Hazzan [cantor]. In 1928, she met and married her husband, Sam, an American visiting his family in Rhodes, and leaving her family behind, moved to the United States with him. First settling in Atlanta, Georgia, they moved to Seattle in 1932 where they raised four children and Missode became a beloved volunteer and member of Seattle’s Sephardic community and Congregation Ezra Bessaroth. Missode Piha died on October 17, 2003.
A child virtuoso on harp and long-standing champion of the Seattle Symphony, Bernice Rind’s musical career began at age seven. At age 11 she debuted professionally and retired from touring at age 23 when her mother grew ill and Bernice longed for a more "normal" life. A Seattle native whose parents emigrated from the Isle of Rhodes, she attended both Ezra Bessaroth Congregation (Sephardic) cofounded by her father, and the Ashkenazic Reform synagogue, Temple de Hirsch Sinai, (co-founded by the Rind family).
A social worker, teacher, and political activist, Mildred Rosenbaum worked for many Jewish and secular organizations to improve the quality of life for those less fortunate. Mildred was born and raised in Greenwood, Mississippi. After receiving her Bachelor of Arts Degree in Psychology in 1942 from the University of Minnesota, Mildred moved to New York where she worked for several Jewish organizations. She married Harold Rosenbaum in 1945 and they worked with various Zionist groups to support the creation of the State of Israel. They moved to Seattle in 1953. Over the years Mildred and Harold have raised one child of their own, and provided housing to forty-two foreign exchange students. Mildred works to ensure all people can live in peace, safety, and dignity.
Holocaust survivor Magda Altman Schaloum speaks out on behalf of all Holocaust survivors and their families. Born and raised in Hungary, she endured acts of antisemitism throughout her childhood, and in 1944 and 1945 Magda was sent to several concentration camps. She lost both her parents and her brother. Magda met her husband, Isaac Schaloum, in a Displaced Persons Camp in Germany. Isaac was from Salonika, Greece. They emigrated to Seattle in 1950, where Isaac became a tailor and businessman, and they raised three children. Although of Hungarian descent, Magda became an active and beloved member of Seattle’s Sephardic community. She volunteers for many Jewish organizations, including the Washington State Holocaust Education Resource Center, and continues to bear witness to the horrors of hatred and antisemitism.
A social reformer and political activist, Alice Siegal is a tireless advocate for families and disadvantaged youth and a fierce opponent of discrimination wherever she encounters it. Born and raised in Seattle, Alice grew up within the Orthodox, Ashkenazic community. After her two children were born, Alice attended the University of Washington and received a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Sociology, a teaching certificate, and a Master’s Degree in Counseling. Upon graduation, Alice worked for the Washington State Employment Service War on Poverty Office, the Youth Opportunity Center in the 1960s, and the Seattle Public Schools Disadvantaged Youth Program in the 1960s and 1970s. In the 1970s Alice began counseling students for the Bellevue Public Schools. More recently, Alice has worked as a counselor for Jewish Family Service. Volunteer work plays an important role in Alice’s life as well.
A designer of haute couture, Frieda Sondland used her creative skills to survive the Holocaust. Born in Berlin, Germany in 1921, she married Gunther Sondland when she was sixteen and a half years old. When she was seventeen, and pregnant with her first child, Frieda and her parents were forced to leave Germany for South America. Frieda supported herself and her daughter by working as a clothing designer in Montevideo, Uruguay. Eight years later, Gunther joined them. Frieda and Gunther moved to Seattle in 1953 to reunite with Gunther’s family who had emigrated there after the war. In Seattle, Frieda worked in the alterations department for both John Doyle Bishop, and Frederick and Nelson until she and Gunther opened their dry cleaning and alterations business in West Seattle. In 1957, their son, Gordon, was born. Since arriving in the United States, Frieda has become a beloved and active member of Seattle’s Jewish community.
A native Seattleite born in 1916, Bernice Stern was the youngest National Council of Jewish Women officer elected at the national level, and first woman elected to the King County Council. She attended the University of Washington from 1932–1935, leaving to marry Edward Stern. Mother to two young boys, Bernice began volunteering at home, working on behalf of the blind, and on John F. Kennedy’s Women’s Conference on Civil Rights in 1961, and served on the Washington State Women’s Civil Rights Committee in 1963. She was named Outstanding Public Official in 1979 by the Municipal League of King County. Bernice Stern died on June 29, 2007.
Born in 1922 in New York City, Althea
moved to Seattle with her family at age 14 in 1936. Married for 58 years to Samuel N. Stroum, they had two children, and together dedicated their lives to philanthropy and community service. Althea received the Israel Bond Woman of the Year award in 1980. In 1991, the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle honored her by creating the Althea Stroum Woman of Distinction Award. In 2000 she received an honorary doctorate from Brandeis University. She is a member of many community and national boards, serving both the Jewish and larger communities with her energetic devotion.
A medical social worker and community service volunteer, Reva Twersky works for both Jewish and secular organizations to serve those in need. Born and raised in Seattle, Reva’s grandparents and parents, leaders within the Ashkenazic Orthodox community, instilled a love of family and community in her. Reva received a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Sociology in 1945 and a Masters of Social Work Degree in 1968. For many years Reva worked at the University of Washington’s Medical Center as a Social Worker, Clinical Faculty Member, and Assistant Professor. With her boundless energy, Reva also volunteered for numerous Jewish and civic organizations. She and Meyer Twersky married in 1946 and had three children. Although she is officially “retired,” Reva continues to be a very committed and active volunteer.
A tireless and loyal volunteer for Jewish causes and Sisterhood, Dorothy Wittenberg initiated and planned, prepared and served the Ida Weinstein Luncheon at Council House for over 25 years. Born in Denver, Colorado, Dorothy grew up in one of the only Jewish families in Tacoma, Washington. After her father’s death in 1933, when she was 17, she and her mother moved to Richmond, California where they sold retail clothes and cosmetics in an uncle’s department store and Dorothy attended UC Berkeley.
How to cite this page
Jewish Women's Archive. "Narrators." (Viewed on September 20, 2017) <https://jwa.org/communitystories/seattle/narrators>.