Long-time Seattle resident Meta Buttnick was honored in her home state of Alaska in November. The occasion was a fund-raising dinner to benefit the nascent Alaska Jewish Historical Society Museum and Community Center, a project of Rabbi Joseph Greenberg of Chabad in Anchorage.
Ninety-three-year-old Buttnick has the distinction of being one of the few Jews born in Fairbanks in the early part of the 20th century, and one of the first 100 non-Native American children born in that town.
Buttnick’s father, whose family originally emigrated from Lithuania to Ireland, followed the gold rush to the United States in 1897.
“The whole world came here for the gold rush,” says Meta. “My dad took a stock of goods and went into Dawson City. After those creeks were mined out there was a stampede to Fairbanks.”
Robert Bloom ran a hardware store in Fairbanks from 1906 to 1941. After bringing his wife Jessie to Alaska in 1912, the couple went on to have four daughters.
“I had the experience of going to school when it was 60-below,” laughs Buttnick, who says there were several Jewish families in the town and relations with their non-Jewish neighbors were good.
Buttnick returned to Ireland for college and to get what her father called “Jewish awareness.
“When I was the right age he whisked us out of Fairbanks and back to Dublin,” where, along with her sisters, “we all stayed until we finished college.”
Buttnick graduated from Trinity College in 1935 and then returned to Fairbanks.
“I went back…in the depths of the Depression — there were no jobs — but I went because it was my home.”
When an opportunity to teach arose, Buttnick traveled to Seattle to get her education credits at the University of Washington. She met her late husband, Harry, settled down, and although she has returned to Fairbanks for many visits, she never lived in Alaska again.
Meta is very active in the Washington State Jewish Historical Society and continues to be active in the Zionist organization, Amit Women, in the chapter she helped organize when she first got married. She and her husband also helped found the Seattle Hebrew Academy in 1947.
“All three of my kids went there,” she says. “We worked very hard, and I am very happy with the results.”
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Local Jewish dentists are helping to celebrate the centennial of the Alpha Omega International Dental Fraternity, which kicked off its “special birthday” with a convention in Las Vegas during the last week of 2006.
Many other events are planned for this coming year, which will culminate with the society’s next annual convention in Tel Aviv in December 2007. At that time a permanent historical exhibit will be dedicated at Hebrew University’s Hadassah School of Dental Medicine in Jerusalem. The school was founded by the fraternity.
Alpha Omega was founded to combat anti-Semitism in dental education. Members have fought against intolerance all over the world during its 100-year history. Starting as a group of dental students in Baltimore and Philadelphia, it now has members in over 40 cities on six continents.
The Seattle Alpha Omega chapter has about 40 active members and the group reports that fundraising was at an “all-time high” last year. The local chapter gave grants to many organizations including Jewish Family Service, Dental Volunteers for Israel and the maxillo-facial surgery department at Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem.
Local chapter officers are: Stacy Gilmore (president), Donna Massoth (secretary), Ed Epstein (treasurer), Bob Gelb (programs), Rachel Hecht-Cohen (fundraising events). Two international officers are among our local members, Wendy Spektor, member-at-large, and Michael Spektor, foundation board member.
’Sno news: As I write this, the Seattle area is bracing for another winter storm and the second substantial snowfall in less than two months. Along with more snow comes an e-mail from Steve Sarkowsky, co-owner of Highway 99 Blues Club on Seattle’s waterfront. He wants y’all to know that the promised “extra shmaltz in the gumbo” Klezmer jam and open mike with the Kosher Red Hots back in November was canceled, yes, due to snow. It’s now rescheduled for Feb. 8. For more information call the club at 206-382-2171 or visit www.highwayninetynine.com.