The Greater Seattle Chapter of the American Jewish Committee (now the American Jewish Committee (AJC) Seattle Regional Office) was formed in January 1946. The organization was an affiliate of the national organization established in New York in 1906 following a wave of Russian pogroms. In 1946, just after World War II and the disastrous holocaust in which millions of Jews were killed, waves of Jewish immigrants were pouring into America. The national organization took on the mission of safeguarding the rights and freedoms of Jews worldwide.
The Greater Seattle Chapter of the American Jewish Committee formed on January 31, 1946, after the holocaust that occurred in Europe during World War II. Max Block served as the first chair. Other officers were Edward Dobrin and Al Shyman, Vice Chairmen, Sam Holcenberg, Secretary, and Henry L. Kotkins, Treasurer. Initial membership was by invitation only. In 1950 there were 63 members; in 1951, 120 members, and in 1954, 165 members.
During the second decade (1955-65), the Seattle chapter fought discrimination on many fronts -- housing, employment, and exclusionary club membership based on race or religion. Members sat on civic boards such as the Greater Seattle Housing Council working to fight against the discrimination Jews and other minorities faced. The organization helped to draft state legislation to ban discrimination. The Greater Seattle chapter of the American Jewish Committee provided strong local leadership in the decade's efforts to increase civil rights for all citizens.
A New Era
In 1971, membership changed from "by invitation only" to an open policy. The committee continued to coordinate with other minority and ecumenical groups and sponsored dialogues on issues of mutual concern. The organization worked with the school board to develop a multi-ethnic curriculum that included the study of Jewish people. In schools where separation of church and state was breached, the American Jewish Committee took action.
The American Jewish Committee supported Israel, and the chapter coordinated local volunteer efforts for the October 1973 (Yom Kippur) War in the Middle East. In the early years of the chapter, before Israel became a state, not all members supported Zionist objectives. But once Israel was established, the national American Jewish Committee was the first American Jewish organization to establish an office in the new state. The local Seattle chapter followed suit in their unconditional support for the new state.
First Women Presidents
In 1980 and 1984, the Greater Seattle Chapter of the American Jewish Committee elected their first and second women presidents, Bobbe Bridge and Hilda Asia. Continued work against racial and religious bias now included taking on the bigotry in the form of the anti-Jewish and anti-Zionist response to the Israeli-Arab conflict. When the United Nations Resolution equating Zionism and Racism passed on November 10, 1975, the Seattle American Jewish Committee secured a resolution from the local United Nations Association and from the Teamsters condemning the UN's action and asserting support for Israel.
Fifty Years of Civic Contributions
In the 1990s, membership grew to 700. In 1995, on the 50th anniversary of the Greater Seattle Chapter, the state of Washington proclaimed: "the AJC has worked tirelessly toward their goals by advancing human rights and democratic principles, combating bigotry and discrimination, promoting pluralism and strengthening Jewish identity through understanding and cultural awareness." The City of Seattle, too, issued a proclamation honoring the American Jewish Committee for 50 years of civic contributions. On May 22, 1995, the 50th anniversary of the founding, American Jewish Committee Day was proclaimed in the city of Seattle and in Washington State.
The organization continues its mission of securing human rights for Jews in the nation and the world, combating prejudice, and strengthening understanding among diverse religious and racial groups. Local programming includes a Jewish Film Festival, an Interfaith Response to the Holocaust Commemoration, and the implementation of the Hands Across Campus prejudice-reduction curriculum in schools.
Annually, the American Jewish Committee Seattle Regional Office presents the Student Human Relations Awards, the AJC Human Relations Award, and the Seattle Jewish Film Festival.