Congregation Moses Montefiore was loosely organized around 1913 in Everett by a group of Jewish immigrants. After meeting in a store for a couple of years, the families formally organized. A copy of the congregations’s bylaws, dated December 5, 1915, hangs in our stairwell, next to a 1926 photo of the Everett B’nai B’rith Lodge. The building at 3215 Lombard was purchased by the congregation on March 15, 1918 and has been in continuous use as a synagogue ever since, the oldest such building in Washington. A social hall was added around 1930 and was rented out for community dances.
Our Temple library is fortunate to have copies of interviews conducted in 1985 by the University of Washington Jewish Archives, from several Montefiore congregants: Mary Kosher Brown, William ‘Billy’ Sturman, Rachel Silverstone, Helen Poplack Ellenbogen, and Moe Michelson. These oral histories provide a fascinating window into early Jewish life in Everett. In 2017, during Jewish-American Heritage Month, the Everett Public Library constructed a display, honoring the Congregation Montefiore Michelson and Glassberg families. Also, in 2019 the Washington Jewish Museum published an online history of Billy Sturman.
By the 1920s, the congregation had grown to about 30 families. These first-generation immigrants were employed as clothiers, jewelers, shoe salesmen, lenders, dyers, scrap metal merchants, tailors, watchmakers, violin teachers and news editors. There was even a retired vaudeville star! The stories of of successive generations typify the American immigrant experience, with better education and expanding career options. Moe Michelson became a long-time Everett City Councilman who, along with Mary Kosher Brown, described their families’ friendship and support of Senator Henry ‘Scoop’ Jackson.
The women in the Montefiore congregation had a long history of volunteerism, starting with the Jewish Consumptive Relief Society and, in later years, Hadassah and congregational fundraising.
Although the congregation periodically employed a rabbi and other religious leaders and teachers, Moe Silverstone led services and prepared young men for bar mitzvah for over 50 years. And, while various members became the congregation President, Abe Kosher held the position for 30 years!
Interestingly, the oral histories reveal a high level of acceptance and respect for Jewish families from their Christian neighbors. There was only one period of budding anti-Semitism during the years preceding World War II, with the organization of a Nazi group called the, “Silver Shirts”. Billy Sturman shared his method of ‘breaking up’ these meetings with a couple of other young Jewish, ‘strong arms’!
In the 1960’s, the Montefiore members voted to become a Conservative synagogue.
When the Reform Temple Beth Or organized in 1985, we were invited to participate with the Montefiore congregation. We eventually overcame our initial hesitations over differences in religious practices and financial viability, conducting several joint services and borrowing Torahs. The aging Montefiore members were not overly concerned over these differences and were more interested in seeing children in their synagogue once again and a thriving Jewish community in Everett. Finally on April 12, 1988, Temple Beth Or merged with the Montefiore congregation, purchasing the building for $1.00, including two Torahs and a donation of $15,000 toward a complete renovation.