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Shooting victim "wanted people to get along"
Seattle Times staff reporter
All around Seattle on Saturday, people were grieving for Pamela Waechter, a woman they said was a mediator, a major contributor to the Jewish community, a force for bringing so many cultures together.
But to Chuck Hall, miles away in Minneapolis, she was something different. She was his sister. The girl he played baseball with in the streets all those years ago. The one who tried to get everyone to be fair.
"She always wanted people to get along," said Hall. "That was her big thing."
Ms. Waechter was working at the Jewish Federation downtown Friday afternoon when a man walked into the building with a gun, announced that he was Muslim, said he was angry at Israel and shot six women, one after another. Ms. Waechter, annual-campaign director for the federation, died there. She was 58.
Ms. Waechter believed in the basic goodness of people. So if the scene on Friday had unfolded elsewhere, her brother said, she would have called him right away to say: Can you imagine somebody would do that?
She would not have mentioned first the fact that the shooter was Muslim, Hall said. She was not that kind of woman.
Several people said words could not do justice to the kind of woman Ms. Waechter was.
"They do not come any better," said David Serkin-Poole, cantor at Temple B'nai Torah in Bellevue, where Ms. Waechter was a member.
Born in Minneapolis, Ms. Waechter was raised Lutheran, the daughter of a businessman. She met Bill Waechter on a blind date. He saw that she was beautiful. He did not expect her to be intelligent as well.
Bill Waechter did not ask his wife to convert to Judaism. She did anyway, a few years into their marriage. They moved to Seattle in 1979. After raising their two children, Ms. Waechter graduated from the University of Washington with a degree in nutrition.
Jewish Federation shooting
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She never did use it. Instead, she got involved with Jewish community life, volunteering with the temple, serving on national boards and organizations. She became a poised public speaker, at one point talking in front of 6,000 people.
It was not always so easy, Ms. Waechter told her husband. Back in the sixth-grade talent show, she stood on stage with her accordion, so frozen with stage fright that the vice principal had to usher her off the stage.
She started at Temple B'nai Torah in the post of secretary, later serving as president from 1988 to 1990. It all came as something of a surprise to her husband, who described himself as a temple-twice-a-year kind of Jew.
In the Jewish community, he said, Ms. Waechter came into her own. He recalled loud, raucous meetings of the temple's board that took place in their home, while he was in the other room, watching television.
"I'd hear her give her opinion, and everybody would shut up and listen," said Bill Waechter, who remained friends with his wife after their 2001 divorce. "It was amazing, how she would command the attention of all these old guys."
As president of B'nai Torah, Ms. Waechter led the congregation through challenging times, temple officials said. The membership was growing so fast the building could not support it. Ms. Waechter suggested a move, from Mercer Island to Bellevue, where the temple now stands.
She also made her mark nationally, colleagues said, serving on the board of the Union for Reform Judaism. As chairwoman of the outreach commission, Ms. Waechter encouraged synagogues to better support people who convert to Judaism, and those who marry Jews but choose not to convert.
Esther Herst, executive director of the temple, watched her work with admiration. As the wife of a man who chose to convert, Herst knew firsthand how tight-knit the Jewish community can be.
"To step into that can be daunting," she said.
It was not just that Ms. Waechter tolerated people from all walks of life, her friends said. It was that she welcomed them with such warmth.
Serkin-Poole will never forget what she did when he came out to the community as a gay man. At the time, in the 1980s, synagogues were struggling with how, or if, to bring gay congregants into their fold.
To Ms. Waechter, the choice was clear.
"She stood up firmly and strongly, when there were no role models," said Serkin-Poole. "She just said, 'Here's the right thing to do.' "
We love our cantor, she told the congregation. And we're going to stand together.
The congregation has grown even more over the years, from a few hundred families to 850 now. Many will gather Monday for Ms. Waechter's funeral.
Rabbi James Mirel said he has already received calls of sympathy from Muslim and Christian leaders. Two Muslim women stopped by Saturday after the morning service. It was encouraging, he said, to see support from so many corners of the community.
"We have to work harder for understanding, and not allow hatred to be our legacy," Mirel said.
Inspired by her volunteer work, Ms. Waechter turned helping the Jewish community into her career. She started at Jewish Family Service, where she ran the food bank and served as a caseworker. For the past eight years, she worked at the Jewish Federation, in a range of roles from outreach coordinator to fundraiser.
Ms. Waechter stood out, colleagues said, for the friendly way she worked.
"Sometimes people in the nonprofit world tend to be territorial and concerned about their own organization," said Rick Harkavy, executive director of the Pacific Northwest office of the American Jewish Congress, an organization focused on community relations. "Pam was not that way at all."
Her brother said there was one word Ms. Waechter wouldn't say. That word was "no." She had friends of all ages.
He was among the closest. People thought it was unusual, Hall said, that a brother and sister could be that close. Just a few years ago, they took a trip to Las Vegas together, spent the whole time at the bar, playing video poker and quarter slots.
There was nothing the two did not share. They talked about dating after divorce. They talked about what would happen to their children when they died. Just last week, Hall brought up the conflict in the Middle East, asking the question: When is it ever going to end?
His sister had no answer. She only sighed.
In addition to her brother, Ms. Waechter is survived by a daughter, Nicole, of Seattle, and a son, Mark, of Phoenix.
Cara Solomon: 206-464-2024 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company