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Jewish History in Washington State

Markow Family at opening of Hillman City, Seattle, ca. 1903
Markow Family, 1903

Washington State has a large and active Jewish community that has been part of its history for over 150 years. It is notable for its large Sephardic component (Jews who trace their ancestry back to Spain and Portugal) that enjoys a culture distinct from that of Ashkenazic Jews (those from Central and Eastern Europe).

German-speaking Jews from Central Europe arrived with the first wave of settlers to the Northwest in the early to mid part of the Nineteenth century. They included such adventurers as Isaac Pincus who landed in Steilacoom in 1855, Marcus Oppenheimer who homesteaded on the banks of the Columbia River and in 1862 named the town of Marcus, and Bailey Gatzert who opened a wholesale grocery and hardware store in Seattle and by 1875 was this city's sixth mayor. In the 1880s Jews from Eastern Europe formed the second wave of immigrants and by the first half of the twentieth century; strong Ashkenazic Orthodox and Reform communities had taken root in Seattle. In 1902, the third wave, Sephardic Jews from Turkey, Greece and the Island of Rhodes, started to immigrate to the Northwest (mainly Seattle). Since World War I, Seattle has had the largest percentage of Sephardim compared to the total Jewish population of any U.S. city.

By 1889, when Washington Territory became the forty-second state in the Union, Jewish citizens and their businesses had been contributing to the development of this state for four decades. Washington's early Jewish history includes a Territorial Governor, state legislators, and several Jewish mayors. In the greater Seattle area, Jews comprise about 2 to 4 percent of the total population and have played an important role in the city's political, business, civic and cultural life to the present day.


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