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Convention Countdown, Week 7: Howard Droker

Howard Droker is a lawyer, a historian, an author, and a docent for the Washington State Jewish Historical Society. He will be leading a tour of Jewish Seattle for convention-goers on Wednesday, July 7.

Congregation Ohaveth Sholum

Howard, can you give us a little sneak peek into the kinds of things people will see on this tour?

Our tour's first stop will be in Pioneer Square, at the Gold Rush National Historic Park. We will briefly examine the role of Jewish merchants in outfitting the prospectors bound for Alaska and the Canadian Yukon. If participants are interested, we can take a 4 or 5-block walk to see the historic buildings that housed some of the Jewish merchants.

We'll then head east to Capitol Hill to visit Temple de Hirsch, the oldest Reform synagogue. The Schoenfeld Chapel houses some of the accoutrements of the 1907 building. And the Temple library is worth seeing. Then we'll drive around the neighborhood where the prosperous Central European founders and members of the Temple lived, south of Volunteer Park.

Driving south, we'll see how the other half lived, the Yesler/Cherry neighborhood where the Eastern Europeans and Sephardim mostly settled. We'll see several former synagogues and the Talmud Torah that have been converted to other uses.

Finally, we'll visit the Seward Park area where three Orthodox (two Sephardic, one Ashkenazic) synagogues relocated from the Central Area between 1954 and 1968. I hope to make arrangements to see the sanctuaries of two or three of the synagogues.

Please give us a brief overview of the history of Jews in the Pacific Northwest.

Being a historian, I can't give you a brief overview! But I'm attaching a pdf of a relatively brief article (about 3 pages) called A Sketch of Seattle's Jewish History.

What’s one Jewish thing about Seattle that most people would be surprised to learn?

I think the most surprising thing about Jewish Seattle is the prominence of the Sephardic community. Seattle has had historically, and continues to have, by far the largest percentage of Sephardim of any city in the country. As a result, Sephardic traditions and culture have survived to a surprising degree.

Can you tell us about any Jewish books set in Seattle, or books about Jews in the area?

I co-authored Family of Strangers: Building a Jewish Community in Washington State (University of Washington Press, 2004) with Molly Cone and Jacqueline Williams. The book draws on hundreds of newspaper accounts, articles, and oral histories to provide the first comprehensive account of Washington State's Jewish residents. You may recognize the name Molly Cone, as she is also a well-known and widely published author of books for Jewish children and teenagers.

What Seattle experience should visitors be sure not to miss?

Visitors should not miss the Pike Place Market on the western edge of downtown Seattle. Jews, especially the Sephardim, were prominent fish mongers and vegetable sellers in the market from almost the beginning in 1907. I think there is only one Jewish-owned business remaining, Pure Food Fish Market. The Market today is colorful and interesting, with farmers selling produce and flowers, craftsmen offering their wares, restaurants, and buskers. Plus the views of Elliott Bay from the Market are stunning.

Howard, thanks for the preview! We'll be seeing you on the tour!

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