Rabbi Wilfred and Phyllis Solomon: Beth Israel Synagogue in the 1960s
Date:Tuesday, May 6, 1997
ID:Digital audio recording #: 19.97-02
Interviewer: Marvin Weintraub & Cyril E. Leonoff
MW: Yes, well I remember very vividly your first visit to Congregation Beth Israel, Rabbi, when you came up from Spokane for the interview, for the position, I didn’t know that you were interested in [working in] Seattle also at the time. I’m glad we didn’t know, otherwise you would have gotten a much better deal with us! Can you recollect, now you didn’t come until the fall, I think August ?
PS: In August, yes.
MW: Of that year, and by the time you both came I had the honour of being the first to welcome you, I was president of the Congregation at that time.
WS: Yes that’s right. To us you were the image of the Congregation.
MW: Oh yes.
PS: You succeeded Albert Koch right?
MW: Albert Koch was the president prior to me.
PS: When we were hired.
WS: That image hasn’t suffered at all.
MW: Thank you. Can you recollect any of your impressions of our Congregation and of our Jewish community at that time when you first joined us?
WS: Well not only I recollect my own impressions but all of the echoes in the community of what Beth Israel was to various people. And one of the things that at first shocked me was to know that there were many, many people who referred to our, to Beth Israel as the Reform Congregation.
MW: Really? I hadn’t heard that.
WS: I assumed that this was out of a lack of knowledge as to the difference between reform and conservative, but I think it was not entirely that, I think there was the impression that by contrast to Schara Tzedeck…
PS: Which by the way, apart from Beth Hamidrash which was very small, were the only synagogues in town. Beth Israel, Schara Tzedeck and the small Beth Hamidrash.
WS: The two synagogues, that’s right, people found it easy to sort of make things black and white. There’s so many grey areas in both congregations…
MW: This upset you, did it?
WS: At first. Not to the point where I felt crestfallen or anything like that but I felt that we’d have to do some image building here, and it wasn’t only for the purpose of giving the impression of being just as frum or Orthodox as you, but I intended to make the impression and the reality that conservative Judaism was not only just as authentic but just as intensive in many ways, not in only one direction, and could be more meaningful if it reached out to the community. So my…
MW: So this became your [deliberate] program as a result of that.
WS: My task was to see if we could approximate that goal.