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Celebrating 60 Years



The Founding of Temple Beth Am
by late founding member Molly Cone

"The first new congregation to be formed in Seattle in more than a generation" (The Transcript, January, 1956) started among a handful of View Ridge neighborhood young families, some of whom were post-war newcomers. They sought a Jewish connection closer to their North end homes and a stronger and more personal voice in the growth and direction of the religious education of their families.

Talk about the possibilities of starting a North End congregation had begun with several of the founders long before the initial service held on Friday, January 6, 1956, at the University of Washington Hillel House. The 25 chairs that had been set up could not accommodate the more than 100 interested participants who attended. Becoming a North End branch of Temple De Hirsch was considered but in the end, for various reasons, the group went it alone. This approach had its challenges. Some of those who were initially interested did not continue. One participant argued strongly for simply renting an old house in which to hold services, and to forget about hiring a rabbi. All talked of eventually limiting the total membership to no more than 200 families to maintain friendliness. Later, figures were even presented "proving" that building a temple of our own was clearly not feasible.

Despite all this, the old house idea was thrown out, a Reform affiliation was adopted, a permanent rabbi was hired, the unfeasible building was built, and the limited membership number ignored--all with great satisfaction and success.

That men and women would share equally in all aspects of our congregation was one of the first principles of Beth Am’s congregational personality. Taking part in services, conducting the affairs of the congregation, and standing in as acting rabbi when necessary would all be equally shared by men and women.

The first rule of the sanctuary was that the wearing or not wearing of yarmulkes was a matter of individual choice. The first Religious School included a nursery school for 3 and 4 year olds and an adult education class. All in all, Beth Am members saw themselves as a like-minded group of Jews who encouraged equal participation by all, and held social action programs high on the priority list.

In March of 1958 when Temple Beth Am affiliated with the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, there were about 70 member families, including about 138 children. The first Reform temple to be chartered in Seattle in 50 years was thriving.

1956-1959: A New Congregation Forms


Jan. 4, 1956 announcement in the Seattle Times:
“The first new Jewish congregation in Seattle in more than a generation will be launched with a service Friday evening...”

December 1955 Committee for the new Congregation drafts and distributes letters to potential members and steering committee
January 6, 1956 First Friday night service attended by more than 170 people majority of whom want to affiliate with Reform movement
January 1956 Charter memberships set at $25
Spring 1956 Number of charter members reaches 50, the number set for calling an organizational meeting and electing officers
May 1956 First board installed with Ludwig Lobe as President
1956 Rabbi Joseph Messing, an Army chaplain, serves as part-time rabbi
January - May 1956 Services held at UW Hillel House
June 1 1956 Beginning relationship with University Unitarian Congregation where services held until synagogue is built
First baby naming: Ellen Nancy Cone
July 1956 First congregational social event: a picnic
Temple Beth Am admitted as member of UAHC
70 member families, 138 children
September 1956 First Religious School classes held at NW Branch YMCA including nursery school for 3 and 4 year-olds
First High Holy Day services
October 1956 Problems of Integration & Desegregation in Seattle is topic of one of new adult education program offerings
December 1956 Bar Mitzvah of Howard Lowen is first at Temple Beth Am, with Rabbi Messing officiating
June 1957 Newly ordained Rabbi Robert L. Zimmerman named as first full-time rabbi
November 1957 Senator Henry Jackson guest speaker at Adult Education session
June 1958 Rabbi M. Arthur Oles becomes new rabbi
March 1958 First Bat Mitzvah: Susan Schrieber
September 1958 With anticipated school enrollment of 200, Religious School classes move to View Ridge School
January 1959 130 member families
Dues are $120 per family including school
May 1959 First brochure prepared for membership drive

1960s & 1970s: A Home Of Our Own & A Community Making a Difference

Statement of Principles, May 12, 1966 “...let our congregation be religious, democratic, creative, relevant and learned...”

July 1960 A lot is purchased (current site) from Remy Picard, a local farmer, and plans are developed for Temple Beth Am’s first synagogue
June 1962 Rabbi Norman Hirsh named new rabbi
1965 Temple Beth Am building, including sanctuary, classrooms for Religious School and social hall, is dedicated
First High Holy Day services held in new building
160 member families
1969 Social Action Subcommittees: Israel, Vietnam War, Civil Rights
Czech Torah (holocaust survivor) dedicated
1972 Program at Temple Beth Am: A Gourmet’s Tour of Israel
Temple Beth Am responsible for Saturday morning Shabbat service at UAHC PNW Regional Biennial in Vancouver, BC, including moderating discussion on "changing modes of worship"
1975 Traditional right-to-left-reading Gates of Prayer prayerbook adopted, which included prayers written by Temple Beth Am members and Rabbi Hirsh

1980s & 1990s: Moving toward the future
“It is the first great task of the synagogue to be a moral force in our community and in our personal lives.”
Rabbi Alexander Schindler, guest speaker and President of UAHC, in 1982 on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the founding of Temple Beth Am

1984 Building Committee convenes to assess need for accommodating increased membership
October 1984 Sukkot Shalom Peace Festival co-sponsored with Temple DeHirsch-Sinai and Congregation Beth Shalom
April 1986 Sanctuary seder in Hebrew/English/Spanish: Temple Beth Am is part of the sanctuary movement providing support to political refugees from Central America
1987 - 1988 Project Machar helps congregation look to the future to decide what and if changes need to be made
1992 - 1993 First building remodel commences
High Holy Day services are held at University Christian Church
August 1993 Remodeled building is rededicated: procession from temporary Temple location at the Jewish Community Center (then located at 35th Ave NE and NE 86th St) has 10 past presidents carrying our 3 Sifrei Torah
460 member families
August 8, 1993 The Bosnian family sponsored by Temple Beth Am arrives in Seattle
July 1995 Rabbi Norman Hirsh retires after 33 years as Temple Beth Am’s 4th rabbi
Rabbi Jonathan Singer installed as 5th rabbi
Spring 1996 First Mitzvah Day
April 1997 Social Action Committee sponsors interfaith Passover seder with guests from several Seattle churches
October 1997 Rabbi Beth Singer becomes part-time Associate Rabbi at Temple Beth Am
November 1998 First KlezFest
October 1999 Gan Shalom Cemetery consecrated in Brier

2000s & 2010s: A New Millennium
Recommitment to our values at home and in the world

March 2000 First congregational trip to Israel, led by Rabbi Jonathan
April 2000 Rabbi Jonathan Singer and Pastor John Hunter co-officiate at annual Freedom Seder at First AME Church
May 2000 KlezKidz debut at the Seattle Folklife Festival
June 2000 684 member families; 500 estimate for fall Religious School enrollment; 26 families, about 150 individuals, represent three generations of members at Temple Beth Am.
September 2002 Am Yisrael High, a new Jewish education program for 11th and 12th graders, begins (as it grows in popularity, it expands to include 8th-10th graders as well)
February 2004 Temple Beth Am Board approves the Homeless to Renter (H2R) program, with establishment of an H2R Committee to oversee it
March 2005 Temple Beth Am economic justice projects, including Homeless to Renter (H2R), receive a 2005 Fain Award from the URJ Commission on Social Action
2005-2008 $4.5 million is raised to go towards the building of the K'hilah Center
September 2007 The K'hilah Center opens with 16 rooms for education and programming; Temple Beth Am launches a 10 year lease with the Stroum Jewish Community Center's Early Childhood Services program
March 2013 Rabbi Jonathan Singer and Rabbi Beth Singer announce their departure for Congregation Emanu-el in San Francisco, and leave June 2013
April 2013 Temple Beth Am was awarded the URJ's Fain Award for our congregation's work on marriage equality in our state
August 2013 Rabbi Ilene Bogosian becomes Temple Beth Am Interim Senior Rabbi for one year, and Rabbi Jason Levine becomes Temple Beth Am Assistant Rabbi
August 2014 Rabbi Ruth Zlotnick becomes Temple Beth Am Senior Rabbi
850 member families; 530 students enrolled in Religious School