Jewish community in Walla Walla should not be overlooked

Letter to the Editor


As everyone who has read Tzvetan Todorov’s book “The Conquest of America”  knows, if you go looking for an answer that you want, you’re not likely to find a different answer to your question.

In the same way, if you go looking for a Jewish community in Walla Walla that you think should look like one in a major metropolitan urban area, you’re not likely to find very much.

In your recent article, “Students celebrate Rosh Hashanah,” one person was quoted as saying, “there is no true Jewish community in Walla Walla.”  That comment is more than a little disconnected from reality.

Sure, Walla Walla doesn’t have standard features of urban Jewish life.  Should it?

In fact, there has been an incorporated Jewish community in Walla Walla since 1940; there is an active synagogue which has a weekly Hebrew School, social action programs, worship services, educational events and which participates in several local interfaith justice efforts; and there have been Jewish residents of Walla Walla for over 100 years, as described in a full-length book detailing the history of the Jewish community in Walla Walla – the research materials of which can be found in the Penrose Library archives. There is a Jewish section in the city’s cemetery.  Heck, Walla Walla’s local history museum even features the story of a Jewish merchant who began his career in Walla Walla then went on to become a business and civic leader in the early days of Seattle.  What else do you need to qualify as a true community?

If you don’t look, then you won’t find. But –– as Whitman faculty members teach again and again –– when you look around a little bit, there are amazing –– and unexpected – worlds to discover.

This year, for the first time, the Congregation hosted an open house for new Whitman students and their families to learn about the local Jewish community. The comments in your article were a powerful reminder that similar events should probably be added to the synagogue’s permanent calendar from now on.

– Noah Leavitt,  Adjunct Assistant Professor of Sociology and General Studies