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Seafair: Seattle’s Gathering of the Tribe

We Jews know about tribes and tribal gatherings. But what happens when you live among a tribe but don't feel yourself a full fledged member? Then tribal gatherings can be alternately strange and fascinating. Take Seattle's Seafair. Fifty years ago, … Read More

By / August 3, 2007

We Jews know about tribes and tribal gatherings. But what happens when you live among a tribe but don't feel yourself a full fledged member? Then tribal gatherings can be alternately strange and fascinating. Take Seattle's Seafair. Fifty years ago, Seattle was a real burg. Once known for its lumber and fishing industries, it did have Boeing and several large military bases as mainstays of the local economy, but little else. This was before Microsoft; before Amazon; before Starbucks; before biotechnology.

Remember when Richard Nixon killed the huge Supersonic Transport (SST) project in 1972, which Boeing had counted on as its production mainstay? The company responded by laying off thousands of workers. And there were no other major industries to take up the slack. The joke going the rounds was: "Will the last person to leave Seattle turn off the lights." That was then. Though Seafair predated the death of the SST, it was created in a similar context.

The city fathers felt they needed to dream up a way to put Seattle on the map. Why not take advantage of one of Seattle's prime attractions: the water. Thus began Seafair, Seattle's summertime festival.

Here's how the Seafair website describes it:

In the half century since Seafair was launched, the city that Seafair helped put on the map has matured from adolescence to adulthood. When Seafair debuted, the Seattle area was without major league sports teams, a symphony or the Seattle Center. Seattle was hungry for national recognition and attention and Seafair filled the bill with Thunderboats racing on Lake Washington and parades which featured the likes of Bob Hope and Bing Crosby.

Over the years, Seafair built pride among the community which still resonates today. The Puget Sound of today is a robust, economically and ethnically diverse community and Seafair has become more important than ever. As major cities melt and become the same, Seafair is the fabric of our community that represents the Northwest lifestyle and keeps us unique.

Seafair has become a home town jewel that reaches nearly 2 million Puget Sound residents each summer. In fact, if you live in the Northwest, you look forward to Seafair and all the simple joys that it brings.

You can hear the breathless boosterism in the copy. It's as if Seattleites still need to prove they are an interesting town, worthy enough for people to go out of their way to visit. It's sort of embarrassing to the cosmopolitan Jew in me who's been all over the world and lived in many places. It makes you feel you are in Seattle but not of it. Does a modern metropolis on the cutting edge of technology and Pacific Rim trade really need a Milk Carton Derby, pirates landing at Alki beach, gas-guzzling hydroplane races, and Blue Angels flyovers? And speaking of Blue Angels, you don't know dread or terror till you've heard an F-16 screaming a mere 200 feet or so over your head. Imagine the sound of a locomotive roaring through your bedroom while you're in the midst of a deep sleep. Or as a friend said to me: "Is this how I want my tax dollars spent??" Does Seattle really need this to create a unique urban identity?

But who can argue with the hoopla and excitement? Many thousands of tourists actually fly long distances to witness the spectacle. What they see in it I couldn't precisely tell you. I view it something like Christmas. The goyim love this thing. It's loud, annoying, in your face, and the music makes you want to tear your hair out; but they seem to be having fun and part of you doesn't want to deprive them of their pleasure. But another part wants to scratch your head in wonderment at all the foolishness.

I guess Seattle is a number of major ways remains a small town. You can feel it in the crazy fan allegiance to every hometown sports team from Huskies football to the Mariners. And that is the charm of the place and the bane of it as well. I've lived in Los Angeles, the Bay Area, New York, Dublin and Jerusalem. I truly love living in this city. But despite it's cultural offerings, it simply lacks the sizzle of a few of the above cities. There is no Koreatown, no Symphony Space, no Knitting Factory, no Carnegie Hall, no MOMA, not even LACMA. On the other hand, none of these places have the Cascades, a 20 minute commute from a home in the woods to downtown, or one of the best places in the world to bring up young children.

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