Ground breaking of the Seattle Talmud Torah 1929

The history of Jewish education in Seattle dates back to 1894 when Congregation Bikur Cholim, the oldest continuous synagogue in Seattle founded in 1891, sponsored the establishment of the first Jewish educational program in the city, the Hebrew Free School, as an after-school center for Jewish learning. It later became the Seattle Talmud Torah formed as an institution for all Seattle Jews. The Seattle Hebrew Day School was formed in 1947 to provide an integrated program of Jewish and secular studies during regular school hours. By 1948, the Seattle Talmud Torah and Seattle Hebrew Day School had consolidated. In 1969, with the initiation of an early childhood center, the name of the school changed to the Seattle Hebrew Academy. Sixty-nine years later SHA is a thriving, ground breaking, nationally recognized Jewish Day School.

Bikur Holim Free School to the Seattle Hebrew Academy: 1899 – 2019

 Bikur Holim Free School

Modern Hebrew Academy

Seattle Talmud Torah

Seattle Day School

Seattle Hebrew Academy

In 1894, the Bikur Holim Free School was established as a European-style cheder to instruct children in Torah, Talmud, etc..

There were two locations: the Seattle Central Building in downtown Seattle, at Fifth Ave. and Washington St. and the Squire Latimer Building at 214 First Avenue South, now Grand Central on the Park.

After Congregation Bikur Holim was established officially in 1898, they changed the name of the school to Bikur Cholim Talmud Torah.


The First Building — 1890

In 1890, the Bikur Holim Talmud Torah moved into the building adjoining the synagogue on the corner of Washington Street and 14th Avenue South. Zalman Grodzinsky, one of the congregation’s founders, served as the head of school.


The Second Building – 1913

In 1913, Congregation Bikur Holim was in the process of selling their building to Sephardic Bikur Holim.  Thus, the Talmud Torah had to relocate.

All the Jews of Seattle (from various origins and denominations) met to create a new school that would support the entire Jewish community.  They called it the Modern Hebrew School.  Instruction was entirely in Hebrew – Ivrit B’Ivrit. The second building was located at 18th Avenue and East Fir Street.

By 1914, the Modern Hebrew School had 125 students.

1915 brought financial hardship and the Modern Hebrew School was in danger of closing.

With the help of the Hebrew Ladies Free Loan Society and the Ladies Montefiore Aid Society, they were able to pay their mortgage.

In early 1917, the Modern Hebrew School closed due to disagreements between leaders of different denominations over the teaching methods practiced at the school.

Some members, in particular, Herman Kessler and Solomon Prottas, tried to organize the people to build a new city-wide Hebrew school.  They were not successful.

In the interim, classes were held at the Settlement House on 18th Avenue and Main Street.

Other classes were held in a partitioned-off portion of the Congregation Bikur Holim synagogue.

In late 1917, the Modern Hebrew School sold its building to Congregation Bikur Cholim, who officially took over school management duties.


The Third Building – 1919

In 1919, under the auspices of Congregation Bikur Holim, the plans to build a new Talmud Torah building were underway, with $3,300 budgeted.

In 1920, Rabbi Simon Glazer, the rabbi of Congregation Bikur Holim, met with representatives from every Jewish organization in Seattle and established the Seattle Talmud Torah for all of the city’s Jews.

Land was purchased on the northwest corner of 17th Avenue and East Alder.

Tuition at the Seattle Talmud Torah was $200 per year.


The Fourth Building – 1929-1930

In 1929, land was purchased at 25th Avenue and East Columbia for $1,000.

The Seattle Talmud Torah raised $47,000 toward the building fund; it borrowed $35,000.

Marcus Priteca, the architect who designed Bikur Holim’ssynagogue, designed the school, as well.

Construction began in 1930 and, later that same year, it opened for the students.  The building had eight classrooms and an auditorium.

The community held a parade from the old building at 17th and Alder to the new building at 25thand East Columbia.

In 1946, payment was completed on the building’s mortgage.

The Seattle Hebrew Day School – 1947

In 1947, the Sephardi and Ashkenazi branches of Congregation Bikur Holim established the Seattle Hebrew Day School.  Classes were held in two rooms of the Seattle Talmud Torah building.

Judaic studies were taught as part of the regular public school curriculum.

Seattle Hebrew Day School was opened with 10 students in the first grade.

In 1948, a kindergarten was added.

Later in 1948, the Seattle Talmud Torah and the Seattle Hebrew Day School were consolidated.

By 1955, there were 10 grades, including kindergarten

In 1962, Seattle Talmud Torah classes were discontinued due to low enrollment, since most youths were enrolled in the Seattle Hebrew Day School.

In 1964-65, a nursery school was added to the existing grades.

In 1968, the day school was renamed the Seattle Hebrew Academy.

In 1969, the Early Childhood Education Class – a class that provided Hebrew instruction for preschoolers – was accredited by the National Association for the Education of Young Children.


The Fifth Building – 1968

In 1968, the Seattle Hebrew Academy moved to 5237 Rainier Avenue South.  This move occurred due to neighborhood changes.

While the building was being readied for its students, classes were held in three locations:  the Ezra Bessaroth Synagogue, the Yavneh building of Congregation Bikur Holim-Machzikay Hadath and teacher Rachel Rachovitsky’s house at 3730 32nd Avenue South.


The Sixth Building – 1972

In 1972, the Seattle Hebrew Academy leased a former convent (Forest Ridge) at 1617 Interlaken Drive East before buying it in 1975.

In 1978, the high school (grades 10-12) separated from the lower grades and became known as Yeshiva Or Hazafon.  In 1992, its name was changed to Northwest Yeshiva High School and they moved to their current location in Mercer Island at 5017 90th Avenue S.E

In 1999, the Seattle Hebrew Academy had 201 students who excelled in both Judaic and secular studies.

Today, the Seattle Hebrew Academy is made up of three parts: the Early Childhood Program for children aged 1-4, the Lower School for Kindergarten through Fifth grades and the Middle School for Sixth through Eighth grades.

For more information see Western States Jewish History:

  • A History Of The Seattle Hebrew Academy: 1894-1999, Kaplan, Meta R. Buttnick.  Vol. 32 Issue #1.


Details: Building

Seattle Landmarks: Seattle Hebrew Academy (Old Forest Ridge Convent) (1909)

Address: 1617 Interlaken Drive E, Seattle. The Roman Catholic Sisters of the Sacred Heart built a convent and day school in Interlaken Park in 1909. The sisters picked the site for its remoteness from the “wickedness” (Kreisman) of Seattle. At first, developer John E. Boyer (1866-1961) would not sell the land as a school and the sisters engaged in a bit of subterfuge by having a Mr. Guidicelli make a straw purchase. When Boyer learned of the high quality planned for the school, he consented to the sale.

The nuns had opened a convent at 1013 15th Avenue in 1907. The new school was named Forest Ridge because of the location. The building featured “a columned entrance portal, Neoclassical balustrades, ornate curved stepped false front gables, and oriel windows” (Kreisman). Interlaken Park was part of the design for Seattle parks and boulevards prepared by the Olmsted Brothers in 1903.

The Sisters of the Sacred Heart operated the school until 1971, when they moved to larger quarters in Bellevue. The Seattle Country Day School took up residence at Forest Ridge until 1973, when it was purchased by the Seattle Hebrew Academy.

On September 17, 1979, the Seattle City Council designated the building a Seattle Landmark because of its significance in the heritage of the city, its relationship to Interlaken Park, and its distinctive location.

Earthquake 2001 & Retrofit

After sustaining extensive damage during the Nisqually Quake of February 28, 2001, the Seattle Hebrew Academy board decided to launch a capital campaign to raise the funds necessary to retrofit and renovate the old building. Three years and almost $8 million later, the building is open again. Students returned to the beautifully restored building in the fall of 2004. Samis and Foushee did the retrofit and renovation.