Textbooks describing the history of Washington State tell an old, familiar story ' a tale that goes from Native American inhabitants, to pioneer settlers, to loggers and fishermen, to Boeing, Microsoft, etc. However, my own recent research reveals there is an entire chapter of our state's history that has, until now, been completely absent from all of these texts.
My own philological investigations provide incontrovertible evidence that, from the very dawn of civilized human habitation within Washington, we Jews have played a leading role in our state's social, political and cultural life.
The study, as I said, was philological. My research team and I studied lists of Washington State place-names, and we have found that many of them are actually Jewish in origin ' so many, in fact, that any astute observer would have to conclude that we Jews have been here in great numbers ever since the discovery of lox, and probably long before.
Some of the names, we discovered, are explicitly Hebrew in origin. The southwestern Washington city of Pe Ell, for example, has a name that means, 'Mouth of God' in Hebrew. Jews everywhere sing about it often in their worship services each week.
Mistaking a song with Washington origins as one from medieval Spain, they sing, 'Mi Pe Ell ' from the mouth of God; from right here in the great state of Washington.'
Similarly, Tacoma, the name of one of our state's largest cities, is Hebrew for, 'the ability to stand one's ground.' In fact, Tacoma appears in the Torah. Leviticus 26:37 warns that if you don't follow God's laws, 'you will not have 'tacomah' ' the ability to stand firm ' before your enemies' (okay, the work is actually t'kumah, but the vowels tended to blur a bit in the process of western migration.)
Lest you object that Tacoma was originally called Tahoma, this, too is a Hebrew word. It means, 'to the abyss.' The reason they gave it that name will need to be the subject of further research.
There are other Hebrew place-names in our state, too. To what am I referring? Well, Elma, a town about 50 miles west of Olympia, means just that: 'to what?' in Hebrew, and Kalamah, along the Columbia River near Longview, was originally, kol amah, 'The Voice of Her People.'
And, of course, the name of Shilshole Bay is derived from shilshul, a modern Hebrew word referring to a digestive ailment that many travelers to Israel now call Golda's Revenge.
Unfortunately, there were no Yiddish scholars on our research team, so we had to practice a form of inquiry that we called 'intuitive research.' In the process, we found that many places in Washington State bear names that, although we cannot be certain, have simply gottta be of Yiddish origin.
This list includes, but is not limited to, places with names such as Snoqualmie, Nisqually and Tukwila; Sequim, Cowlitz, Pilchuck and Skookumchuk. Klickitat was evidently a word coined by Sephardic Jews ' the Ashkenazim dropped the l, switched a couple of the other letters, and called it Kittitas.
There is even a small town out on the Olympic Peninsula called Pysht. The schools of that town, we discovered, are filled with hundreds of little'.
Stehekin, Nooksack, and Issaquah are also surely of Yiddish derivation.
And not to be left out, of course, all the Yiddish-derived 'ish' places: Snohomish, Sammamish, Suquamish, Duwamish, and Skykomish. Some members of our team suggested that Toppenish comes from Yiddish, too, but later research revealed that it's actually Dutch.
And then, of course, we mustn't forget about the central-Washington town of Naches, where all of the inhabitants just ooze with pride over their children's many accomplishments.
We are still investigating the possibility of Jewish origins to the names of Friday Harbor, Odessa, Washtucna, and the Ballard Locks.
A Concluding Thought
One often hears Jews who move to this area complain about the fact that there seem to be so few of us here. Listening to them carp over the relative absence of Jews in our state, one might conclude that our people's presence in Washington has been inconsequential. The truth, however, is that our role in the developing history of our state has been quite significant, indeed. How else would we have gotten all of these non-Jewish Washingtonians to speak so much Hebrew and Yiddish in describing the places where they live?