Congregation Beth Hatikvah was founded in 1947 for post-war Jewish residents and immigrants as the Jewish Community Center with a new building constructed and dedicated in 1949.
Over the years, our community evolved from a gathering place and social club into a full-fledged synagogue, the first Jewish synagogue in Kitsap County. CBH affiliated with the Union for Reform Judaism(URJ) in 1999, and still resides in the original historical building.
CBH has enjoyed talented, inspiring leadership since its founding with the visiting student Rabbi Program of Hebrew Union College, visiting rabbis and song leaders, and finally, formally ordained experienced Rabbis.
Jewish History in Early Washington “State”:
Washington State has an 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).
In the 1850’s, German-speaking Jews from Central Europe began arriving with the first wave of settlers to the Northwest in what was then known as the Washington Territory. They were predominantly merchants, peddling clothing, groceries and dry goods to farmers and miners, and their success depended largely on familial connections to Jewish suppliers in more established cities, such as San Francisco or Portland, Oregon. Together they created a network of Jewish businesses that supplied essential goods to people in remote places. 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.
The first Jewish organizations in Washington were benevolent societies rather than temples or synagogues. The desire for a Jewish cemetery led Jews in Olympia and small towns around Puget Sound to establish the Hebrew Benevolent Society of Puget Sound in 1873. They also made clear that the society would “aid and assist poor and distressed co-religionists.” Soon other Jewish communities throughout the state set up a myriad of voluntary organizations to help the unfortunate as well as to enhance the lives of Jews in the state.
The second wave of immigrants began in the 1880s with Jews from Eastern Europe. By the first half of the twentieth century; strong Ashkenazic Orthodox and Reform communities had taken root in Seattle. Tacoma, Spokane, and Seattle had Reform religious congregations before 1900 modified to contain elements of an Orthodox service. Others, like Bellingham and Everett, chose Orthodox. The small community of Aberdeen followed Reform, but services included Orthodox rituals. All the cities except Spokane were in the western part of the state. The third wave began in 1902 when Sephardic Jews from Turkey, Greece and the Island of Rhodes started to immigrate to the Northwest. Since World War I, Seattle has had the largest percentage of Sephardim compared to the total Jewish population of any U.S. city. The first Sephardic Jews to arrive in Seattle were Solomon Calvo and Jacob Polica from Marmara, Turkey, and in 1904, Nissim Alhadeff arrived from the Isle of Rhodes. Immigration increased as economic and political conditions in the Ottoman Empire deteriorated and as Jews became newly subject to the draft there. By 1914, Sephardic Jews had founded three synagogues in Seattle.
By 1920 just over 10,000 Jews called Washington State home. They would be joined by immigrants fleeing Hitler’s Germany before World War II, survivors from Hitler’s death camps, and people who moved west to take advantage of Washington’s mild climate, beautiful lakes and mountains, vibrant businesses and medical facilities, and for the University of Washington. Unlike the first three groups who were mainly businessmen and women, the latter group were or became physicians, professors, teachers, rabbis, cantors, musicians, artists, and business and health workers of all kinds. The depression hit the Jewish community both socially and economically, and the responses and effects were far-reaching.
After World War II, Jewish religious life in Washington expanded. Newcomers and the maturing new generations of Americanized Jewish children either established new congregations in cities such as Richland, Wenatchee, and Vancouver, or changed the status of existing ones. For example, in Tacoma and Spokane the Reform and Orthodox combined to form one place of worship.
The Story of Kitsap County’s First Synagogue:
Born on the Isle of Rhodes in 1900, Morris Soriano came to Bremerton from Seattle at the age of 19. With a start as a laborer in the fruit market, Morris and his brother Isaac became successful businessmen, generous philanthropists, and were part of a close knit Jewish community in Kitsap County comprised of business owners, professionals and their families. In the heart of downtown Bremerton today, a historic landmark building is identified as the Soriano Professional Building.
In 1947, this Jewish group of families in Bremerton founded the Community Jewish Center in Kitsap County, and at the first formal meeting held on March 9 of that year, Mildred Cohen announced her intention of deeding land in Bremerton for a permanent home. “This presentation is given in the memory of my son, Lt. Maurice Herman Cohen, who first saw light in 1918 and who gave his life for his country in the Philippines in 1944.” Following the building was dedication on January 9, 1949, the 60 member families began making it a welcoming home for worship and social functions. Dedication plaques are visible along the base on the 11th Avenue side of the building.
Following the 1950s post-war prosperity and flourishing of the community, the 1960’s and 1970’s saw many of the children from the original families leaving for college and job opportunities elsewhere, settling permanently outside of the county or the state. In the 1980’s, Bremerton businesses were closing and the shopping hub of the county was shifting to the Silverdale area; by 1989, a declining membership at the Community Center threatened to close the doors forever.
Rabbi Bud Frankel, the most senior Jewish chaplain in the Navy, was on his last tour on the Carl Vinson when he requested use of the building to provide services for his men. His inspiration and leadership helped spur a new energy in the community, and in 1992 with the influx of a group of young Jewish families the Community Center was re-organized as a synagogue and affiliated with the URJ. (The original sign from that time can be seen above the front door.) Services were held for the High Holy Days, and for one Friday night and one Shabbat morning per month. In addition to hosting many holiday celebrations, a religious school was begun so families could pass on traditions, history and wisdom of our heritage to the children. Morris Soriano’s son, Louis Soriano, remarked, “It’s wonderful to see the children and women up on the Bimah. This greater participation in services is a marked difference from our early years.” But alas, after a time, the cycle began again with the children from these young families leaving for college and job opportunities afar; membership started to dwindle, and much of the maintenance and improvements to the aging historic building were deferred.
Congregation Beth Hatikvah in the 21st Century:
CBH is once again a vibrant community, welcoming Jews by birth, Jews by choice, and Jews at heart for worship, social functions, and much more! While still in the same historic building at the corner of Veneta and 11th in Bremerton, we are actively re-invigorating our facilities and programming for our diverse and growing community. In addition to offering High Holy Day services, Shabbat services three times most months, adult and youth education, a variety of social activities and programs, charitable activity opportunities, year-round holiday celebrations and observances, life-cycle events with our rabbi,and outreach and support to the Naval and greater Kitsap communities, we host guest speakers, dramatic presentations, Havdallah Movie Nights, Shared Shabbat dinners, and outside opportunities to worship out-of-doors. Come be a part of our community and bring your vision and energy Congregation Beth Hatikvah!