Let’s take a look back at a headline in The Olympian, dated April 1938: “Jewish folk in church ceremony.” The “church” in question was the newly completed Temple Beth Hatfiloh, which has been celebrating its 75th anniversary this year. The use of the term “church” appears again in the text of the article, suggesting this was not simply a one-time mistake.
Jews have always been a part of the history of the Olympia area, and we felt this anniversary year was a good time for the congregation to think about what Temple Beth Hatfiloh has meant to this area — and what this area has meant to us.
First, a little history: The original synagogue building, at the corner of 8th and Jefferson, was built in 1937-38, and the founders turned it into a community event. They celebrated with a fried chicken dinner once the speechifying and praying was done.
Shortly after that event, on August 14, 1938, Temple Beth Hatfiloh held its first wedding, of Anna Zlotnik to Percy Bean. The Bean family has been prominent throughout TBH’s history. Jacob Bean, Percy’s grandfather, emigrated from Russia with a set of Torah scrolls that he finally found a home for, according to the book “Family of Strangers: Building a Jewish Community in Washington State” by Jacqueline Williams, Molly Cone and Howard Droker.
While TBH started as an Orthodox shul, after World War II it became a mix of Conservative and Reform liturgy before affiliating with the Reconstructionist movement in 2000. The membership of Temple Beth Hatfiloh has grown from some 25 families in the early 1970s to more than 150 families today.
Our rabbi, Seth Goldstein, and the temple board have planned several milestones for the anniversary that have included a gala dinner last fall, to which we invited representatives from some of the original community institutions and churches who attended the synagogue’s dedication. The temple’s annual community-wide food-based event, Blintzapalooza, also celebrated an anniversary, its 25th, earlier this year.
While the temple’s founders created a durable institution, they did a little more than that, too. Embedded in Jewish tradition is the notion of tzedakah, justice, and tikkun olam, repair of the world. Blintzapalooza represents both of those ideals. Temple members always select community charities as beneficiaries of funds raised at Blintzapalooza — this year it was the urban gardening organization GRuB and the homeless assistance program Sidewalk — but in honor of our anniversary we asked the greater community to help. Over 2,000 people voted online to select the Thurston County Food Bank. These three major recipients each received $2,500 from the revenues of this event, as well as the traditional donation of $1,500 to Interfaith Works, the organization behind much of faith communities’ social justice work in the South Sound. As it does each year, the temple wanted to show its support for the work of the many nonprofits that make the Olympia area such a good place to live.
Speaking of life here, the entire community — meaning the Olympia-area community as well as the Jewish community — is invited to Temple Beth Hatfiloh’s community street fair at the current synagogue on June 2 to celebrate this milestone anniversary. Tour the temple. Eat. Dance to klezmer tunes. We look forward to 75 more years of celebrating in our hometown of Olympia.
Temple Beth Hatfiloh’s current building. Photo by Jim Stevenson.