The words “Jewish” and “homeschooling” are not frequently seen together, especially outside of the Orthodox community, but the idea appealed to North Seattle resident Deb Harrick the moment it was planted in her head.
“It was such an unusual thing…I was always explaining [it],” says Deb, adding there is no one way to homeschool. Homeschoolers are like Jews, she jokes, with three opinions for two people.
Deb and Tod Harrick’s kids, Jasmine, 9, and Eliana, 7, have never attended a conventional school. When Jasmine was a baby, they joined a cooperative preschool at North Seattle Community College. Deb was getting a teaching certificate (which is not the case for all homeschooling parents).
“I loved being a mom [and] being with the kids so much” that Tod suggested it, she says. “I never even thought about it or knew about it.” But it made sense. “We had always done things a little bit different anyway.”
She discovered Seattle Homeschool Group (SHG) with a couple hundred families, an active listserve, regular meetings, and classes for kids at a community center. She has been actively involved for eight years. “It’s the only secular game in town,” explains the North Seattle native, an alumna of Hale High School and the University of Washington. Most homeschoolers belong to faith-based communities.
A different issue arose around the kids’ formal Jewish education. “It felt really hard to make the homeschooling choice,” especially with the Seattle Jewish Community School in the neighborhood.
“I’m leaving community behind,” Deb remembers feeling. “It was sort of bittersweet.”
Having worked for Jewish federations, United Jewish Appeal and active in Judaism since her teen years in BBYO, Deb yearned for a Jewish component to education. She also currently teaches music at Kadima’s Sunday school.
By chance, the family went to a Congregation Beth Shalom event where she learned of another liberal Jewish homeschooling family.
Deb says she was “in heaven,” and she quickly started the Seattle Jewish Homeschoolers group, which includes a number of SHG families, several of whom had not been actively Jewish before.
The Harricks have hosted a number of holiday-related events, including a homeschool seder and a Hanukkah party. Deb estimates there are 35 to 40 families involved. Twenty came to the last event. “It’s still a small group,” but it is outgrowing their house.
The whole family enjoys acting, and their flexible schedule allows for weekday afternoon rehearsals. Jasmine appeared recently in “The Music Man” at the 5th Avenue Theater (see the MOT column “We love our music and we love our food,” Feb. 8, 2013), and you can see the whole family this summer in Kitsap Forest Theater’s spring-summer musical, “Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe.”
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Joseph Abolafia, left, with his dad, Jack. (Photo courtesy Joseph Abolafia)
“What should we talk about, business or charity?” Joseph Abolafia asked me when I called him last week at Salon Joseph, his hair salon. Since the Seattle native had just finished running the annual City of Hope (COH) fundraising Mah Jongg tournament, we started there.
The tournament, held at Bellevue’s Temple B’nai Torah, raised $8,000 for diabetes research at the California charitable hospital.
COH has been an Abolafia family affair. “My mother [Betty] was involved in City of Hope,” before her death from cancer, says Joseph, and he and his two sisters, Marilyn Shulman and Vicki Lynn Babani were inspired by her. Even Joseph’s dad, Jack, is a member.
The tournament “is my big project every year,” Joseph adds.
The Franklin High graduate grew up at Sephardic Bikur Holim and has been a member there in his own right since the age of 20.
“I feel a real connection to my community,” he says. “My family all grew up there.”
Going directly to beauty school from high school, Joseph says, “I knew I wanted to be a hairdresser.” He opened his first salon at age 23 in downtown Seattle and his current salon in 1985.
Still at the same location, Salon Joseph will be doubling in size in its first-ever expansion and will be ready to open in about two weeks. They were able to take over the space next door and “the timing with the economy is good,” Joseph says, explaining that, “truthfully, the hair business is fairly stable in bad times.
“People need their hair done,” whether they’re working or job hunting. Plus, the salon’s clientele is “a little more established,” better able to weather the vagaries of the economy.
You can read more about Joseph and his employees at www.salonjoseph.com, and more about City of Hope at