Meta R. Kaplan Buttnick
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.
Meta describes being one of the first one hundred white children born in Fairbanks, Alaska, in 1913. Her father outfitted gold prospectors, fur trappers, and loggers. She talks about her family background, childhood, and parents, who were emigres from Ireland. Despite the lack of kosher food, a kosher butcher, Jewish neighbors, formal Jewish education, and a synagogue for worship, the Jewish values Meta now champions as an Orthodox woman was imparted by her father. She explains that she received an education in Dublin, Ireland, and spent summers at the Sorbonne in Paris. Meta says she returned to Fairbanks to teach high school before marrying Harry Buttnick of Seattle in 1939. Working in her father's hardware store, Meta heard frontiersmen tell tales of their lives. As faculty director to the high school newspaper, she encouraged students to record the accounts of men she calls "living libraries." Meta recalls that it wasn't until 1939 that she first forayed into conducting oral histories herself when she volunteered to write the 50th anniversary and first history of Seattle's oldest Orthodox congregation, Bikur Cholim, that her new in-laws helped found in 1889. Since then, her commitment to the Seattle Jewish community has been steadfast and unwavering, reestablishing Bikur Cholim's Sunday School, facilitating its transformation into the Seattle Hebrew Day School, and serving on its Board of Education. She is a founding member of the Avivah Chapter of Mizrachi Women's Organization of America, the Washington State Jewish Historical Society, and the Jewish Archives Project, which houses some 350+ oral histories and archival documents at the University of Washington - in large part due to Meta's dogged efforts since 1968. Meta reflects on her community activism and involvement in many organizations. Her encyclopedic knowledge of Pacific Northwest and Seattle Jewish history is recorded in numerous presentations and publications, including Historic Jewish Seattle: A Tour.