Reform in Seattle

At the opposite end of the Jewish spectrum from Orthodoxy is the Reform movement. The Reform movement originated in the 19th century with an urge to integrate Judaism with modern society. Today 60% of the Jewish community in the US identifies as Reform.

Reform Judaism abandons the traditional commitment to Sabbath observance and kosher eating, so there is no need for a sequestered community like there is in Orthodoxy. Indeed that was one of the original points of the Reform movement, to eliminate Jewish enclaves and integrate fully into society. This rings true as well in Seattle as it does elsewhere in the world. Reform Jews can be found everywhere in Seattle and Puget Sound.

When Reform Jews do gather, there are three synagogues in Seattle as well as in Aberdeen, Bainbridge Island, Bellevue, Bremerton, Everett, Federal Way, Port Angeles, Tacoma, and Woodinville. Those are just the communities officially affiliated with the Union for Reform Judaism, with more unaffiliated groups holding to Reform or liberal ideology spotted around the Sound.

The biggest and oldest synagogue in Seattle is Temple de Hirsch Sinai, which I attended for about a year (and where I converted as well). Located in Capitol Hill at 17th & Union, de Hirsch has a beautiful old campus (when people aren’t getting stuck in the chimney). Shabbat services here are intimate, running about 20 people each for Friday night and Saturday morning. High Holiday services are predictably huge, charging a steep fee for entrance. (This will likely come as a shock to non-Jewish readers–yes, most synagogues actually charge for admission to services on the two holiest days of the year!) It’s well-known for its wide array of Friday night services, including “Classic Shabbat” (classical music) and “Rock Shabbat” (predictably, rock music–I mean, Jewish rock music, not like Fleet Foxes or whatev). The attendance is mostly married people in their 40s and 50s, with the occasional teenager showing up.

North Seattle is a hotbed of Jewish activity in all movements, and so it’s no surprise that it plays host to Temple Beth Am. It’s known as the synagogue of choice for many Huskies as well as attendees of next-door neighbor University Prep (aka “Jew Prep”). As such it is mainly made up of families.

The newest and smallest synagogue is West Seattle’s Kol HaNeshamah. This is the synagogue most strongly associated with the GLBT community. They only have services twice a month, but Friday nights are followed by a dairy/fish potluck unique in the area. It has the strongest young adult contingent of the three synagogues, especially young families.

The curious thing about Reform synagogues is that de Hirsch (and possibly Beth Am as well) has a membership of thousands, but only 20 or so at Shabbat services. Where is everyone? Most members only send their children to religious/Hebrew school, preparing for bar/bat mitzvot. It’s a pity though, because the synagogues could be so vibrant if each family showed up even just a few times a year for a regular Shabbat services.

1 Comment so far

  1. tonyb on June 23rd, 2008 @ 2:39 pm

    Cool post! I used to live in Ravenna, which seemed like it had a good sized Jewish community (the only place I had lived so far that had a kosher bakery and deli). I always kind of wondered what the Judaism scene was like in Seattle. Thanks again for the neat post, you’ve spurred me to do some more reading into the subject of Judaism in Seattle.



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