Acts of Lovingkindness
She gives generously to the poor
Her hands are stretched out to the needy.
- Proverbs 31:20
In Judaism, the concept of "charity" is carried by two words: tzedakah [giving with love] and chesed [acts of lovingkindness]. Judaism teaches that charity comes from the heart, and comes in many forms. Among the most heartfelt Seattle Stories are those told about "giving back."
The sacred duty of sharing-in its many forms-shaped the generations of all the women in this exhibition. As recounted by Rebecca Benaroya, the simplest acts of her grandfather's lovingkindness-in his words and actions as well as his charitable deeds-defined for her forever the true meaning of charity. The energetic history of her family's participation in Seattle's Sephardic Jewish community, and the holiness of even the smallest acts of kindness and giving are tenderly recounted by Dorothy Muscatel. Dorothy Wittenberg represents each of the women in Weaving Women's Words in their universal devotion to volunteering their time and spirit to help others. "You bring a little happiness, a little comfort, a little joy," she explains, "because maybe you share the same things." Indeed, these women's lives tell us, acts of lovingkindness raise up each person involved.
She oversees the activities of her household
And never eats the bread of idleness.
- Proverbs 31:27
"Do not separate yourself from the community," Jewish teaching tells. The Jewish women of Seattle not only remain devoted members of their community, but throughout their lifetimes, courageously extended the boundaries and definitions of what "community" could be.
Tillie DeLeon prizes the Sephardic community in which she was raised, and in her lifetime has preserved and shared its language, traditions, stories, and faith. Ruth Peizer's definition of community is likewise based around a Jewish language tradition. For her, Yiddish creates a world-wide community of Jewish people and commitments to one another. As a child, away from her own family, Mildred Rosenbaum was for a time adopted by strangers, who as Jews, proved family. In her own adulthood she extended those lessons, identifying Jews around the world as "family," and taking into her own home foreign students of all faiths and backgrounds. Alice Siegal, forged by a relentless Jewish sense of justice, called the entire world her community and worked tirelessly on its behalf. And Reva Twersky's memory reconstructs a time when the Jewish community in Seattle was just outside her front door on Jackson Street: the little department stores, the groceries, the bakery.
In twentieth-century Seattle, the worlds of these Jewish women changed. In their Seattle Stories they show us that faith and family and a strong sense of self and selflessness can preserve one's community even as it joins the others around it.
She is clothed with strength and splendor
She looks to the future cheerfully.
- Proverbs 31:25
Seattle's Jewish population encompasses three broad sectors. Ashkenazic Jews (those originally from the Rhineland in Central Europe) arrived in Seattle in the mid-nineteenth century, primarily from Germany and surrounding nations. These immigrants spoke German and some Yiddish, and by century's end created Reform congregations that modernized and Americanized Jewish worship while retaining a strong Jewish identity. A second wave of emigrations of Ashkenazic Jews from Eastern Europe at the end of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries brought larger numbers of Yiddish-speaking, traditional Orthodox Jews into the Seattle community. In the early twentieth century, a significant emigration of Sephardic Jews (descendants of Spanish and Portuguese Jews expelled from the Iberian Peninsula in the fifteenth century) arrived in Seattle, primarily from the Isle of Rhodes and Turkey. Seattle's Sephardic Jewish community retains distinctive cultural traditions, forms of worship, and language, and gives the Seattle Jewish community its unique profile within America.
Within these categories, Seattle Stories describe many forms of Jewish faith. Cecillia Etkin and Ruth Frankel celebrate the joys of traditional Orthodox observance. With equal passion, Sara Efron-as do many women in this exhibition-describes Judaism as the basis for her ferocious commitment to social justice. Arva Gray recounts her journey of voluntarily embracing Judaism, and the sense of belonging and community that comes with it. Magda Schaloum tells how her Judaism sustained her during World War II, and how she and others were able to use that faith in small and large acts of resistance to the Nazis.
Virtually every woman in Weaving Women's Words asserts her Jewish faith as the foundation for their beliefs, activities, building of families, and sense of belonging. These are just a few of those loving accounts.
She is like a merchant fleet
Bringing her food from afar
- Proverbs 31:14
Jewish pioneers joined America's westward rush in the mid-nineteenth century, bringing them to Seattle from its earliest days of settlement. But Seattle history gives us many types of pioneers: tales shared here through Jewish women's Seattle Stories.
Meta Buttnick's family ventured to Fairbanks, Alaska before she moved to Seattle via Dublin and Paris, honoring her Judaism in even the most remote environments, and becoming a pioneer historian of Seattle Jewry. Missode Piha left her family in Rhodes, Greece to follow her husband to Seattle, "a place very far away." Seattle's Jewish women conquered other frontiers as well. Bernice Stern opened up new places for women across Seattle's political landscape. The first female King County Councilwoman, her list of "firsts" in politics and Jewish community service worked to empower others to follow in her pioneering footsteps.
Other Seattle Jewish women were pioneers in more personal arenas. Shirley Bridge befriended people across high-school ethnic and religious boundaries, and as an adult, became one of Washington's first female pharmacists in a strongly male-dominated profession. Bernice Rind's childhood as a musical prodigy set her on a path apart from any others she knew. And Ann Kaplan's frightened and courageous journey with her daughter through her daughter's deafness exemplifies the strength of spirit and optimism of nearly all the women's Seattle Stories. Each of the Jewish women in Weaving Women's Words is a pioneer in her century.
Her mouth is full of wisdom
Her tongue with kindly teaching
- Proverbs 31:26
Seattle Stories are told from the enriched perspectives of long lives, and lives well lived. We are here because these women have something to say to us, and because we listen. We listen to Louise Azose's songs of Sephardic faith and culture, of knowing that a lifetime can be passed from father to daughter to grandchildren in an ancient tune. We learn from Molly Cone's life journey about love and feelings of belonging. Sara Kaplan's passion for justice and tolerance guides her entire life, and through her words and actions, now guides us. Lenora LaMarche shows us how humor can energize and enhance even the simplest of life's experiences. Blanche Narodick's learning and teaching are clear and direct: spend your lifetime learning, loving, and living for one another and the future. Althea Stroum weaves loving and loyalty and giving into a life dedicated to others.
There is wisdom in each of these women-in all of the women's stories. It is our privilege to listen, and to learn, and to bring their teaching forward.
She plants a vineyard by her own labors
She sees that her business thrives.
- Proverbs 31: 16b, 18a
"I never looked upon work as something horrible or undesirable," Frieda Sondland explains. "All my life I felt I was lucky to have a healthy body and a job." Like Frieda Sondland, many of the women in Weaving Women's Words speak of the dignity and privilege of work. Seattle's Jewish women-heirs to strong traditions of women participating in family businesses and the business of family-entered the workforce both for pay and as volunteers.
Carolyn Danz and Esther Eggleston were thrilled to find jobs during the Depression and the 1940s. Entering fields initially new to them, they built their jobs and responsibilities in ways that helped further their Jewish values. Ventura Israel to this day recounts with pride her tenacious pursuit of hourly work that helped support her family after her father died. Some women also speak of the periodic strain of the workplace, and the frequent undervaluation of women and the jobs for which they are paid.
To Seattle's Jewish women, "work" also means their volunteer activities-"work" that brings joy to them as well as those they are helping-"women's work" that helped found and build institutions in the Jewish and larger Seattle communities. Most women inherited the tradition of volunteerism from their own mothers and grandmothers. Ann Nieder's modest account of her extraordinary achievements through her volunteer activities exemplifies the lives and stories of most of these women. Pride in all their work unifies the Seattle Stories: knowing they have made a difference to individuals and community.
How to cite this page
Jewish Women's Archive. "Themes." (Viewed on August 7, 2020) <https://jwa.org/communitystories/seattle/themes>.