Looking at a map of the United States, one notices a clustering of Jewish populations at the corners. The well-known nucleus is New York City. But Jewish settlement extends throughout the Northeast, even creeping north of the border, to Toronto and Montreal. In South Florida, Miami and the beaches and cities that surround it host a number of Jewish residents. And west of Mississippi, Los Angeles has absorbed its fair share of Jews. Amid these bustling metropolises, the corner in which I reside- the forgotten corner- gets pushed to the periphery.
Enter the Pacific Northwest, known affectionately as the PNW. I have spent most of my life here; I grew up just outside of Seattle, and now go to college just outside of Vancouver, B.C. Like me, Judaism in the PNW has tended to stick to the major coastal cities which run along the Interstate 5 corridor (Portland-Seattle-Vancouver). And yet the PNW Jew does not fit neatly in to the sophisticated urbanite stereotype. Some of the first Jewish merchants in Seattle, described by journalist Eli Sanders as “wearing Stetsons and dirty work boots,” sold equipment to prospectors en route to the Klondike gold rush. Out of this rugged, outdoor existence, the character of the PNW Jew was born.
Today, many Jews here have adopted a laid-back, socks-and-sandals attitude characteristic of the entire PNW. Even still, our sarcastic, aggressive style of humor can seem crass when compared with the exceeding politeness of the non-Jews among whom we live. Within the Jewish world we are also somewhat of an enigma. Our natural environment has placed us in stark contrast with much of Jewish history. We battle pouring rain instead of the scorching sun. We wander (or rather, hike), through wooded forests, not the desert.
But despite these differences, the hallmarks of Jewish communities can easily be found. We have anxious mothers, nagging yentas, and naked old men strutting through the JCC locker room. Yes, Judaism is alive and well here, albeit in smaller numbers.
When I begin blogging for New Voices in an official capacity on Monday, my aim is twofold. As a product of the unique PNW, I want to share my insights and analysis about Judaism and college life. I also hope to give you a glimpse of this often forgotten, but no less vibrant, corner of the Jewish world.