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Jewish Archives Collection

Mendel Baronsky greeting brother Rabbi Joseph Baronsky, Seattle, 1940
Mendel Baronsky and Rabbi Joseph Baronsky, 1940

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.

The Washington State Jewish Archives

The Washington State Jewish Archives tell the fascinating stories of early Jewish families who settled this region and the unique Jewish experience in Washington State in subsequent years. The invaluable holdings include personal papers, correspondence, organizational and business records, diaries, oral histories, photographs and films. The archives serve as a major resource for scholars, students and the public at large.

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

The Jewish archives grew out of the Seattle Jewish History Project, a collaborative effort begun in 1968, between the Women's Division of the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle and the Manuscripts and University Archives Division (now Special Collections) of the UW Libraries to collect and preserve primary source materials on local Jewish history.

In 1980 the scope was broadened with establishment of the Washington State Jewish Historical Society (WSJHS) as an independent non-profit statewide organization; its mission is to promote interest in and knowledge of the life, history, and culture of the Jewish people and communities of the State of Washington. WSJHS preserves and makes known this unique history through an array of programs that include special events and exhibits, publications including a prize-winning history, Family of Strangers, ongoing interviews with members of the Jewish community to obtain oral histories; tours of historic Jewish Seattle; development of a curriculum and a growing collection of artifacts in anticipation of a Jewish museum. The Jewish Archives are at the core of its activities.

For further details on WSJHS please visit the website at

The Washington State Jewish Archives (WSJA) has over 350 photograph collections containing over 4000 photographs dating from the mid 1800s to present day, that relate to Jewish life and history in the Pacific Northwest, as well as nationally and internationally. Subjects represented in the WSJA photograph collections include Jewish families and life-cycle events, Jewish community, religious, and business leaders, Jewish congregations and organizations, Sephardic culture, World War II and the Holocaust, Jewish activism, education, businesses, immigration and emigration and related themes in Pacific Northwest history.

This database searches WSJA photograph collections held by Special Collections and provides textual descriptions of individual images. Presented here in digital format are only a selection images in the Washington State Jewish Archives Photograph Collection.

About the Database

Men in front of Northern Pacific Ticket office and Cooper and Levy Pioneer Outfitters store at 104-106 First Avenue S., Seattle, 1897
Men in front of Cooper & Levy store, Seattle, 1897

The Jewish Archives Collection database was produced partially by funding by contributions from the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle, the Rachel and Nissim Altabet Memorial Fund, and the 4Culture organization. The information for the collection was researched and prepared by the UW Libraries Special Collections and Cataloging staff in 2005-9. Only selected photographs were included in this database. The images were scanned in grayscale using Microtek scanners and saved in .jpg format. Some manipulation of the images was done to present the clearest possible digital image. The scanned images were then linked with descriptive data using the UW Contentdm program. The original collection resides in the UW Libraries Special Collections Division as the Washington State Jewish Archives Photograph Collection PH Coll 650.

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