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Remembering Pam Waechter

SEATTLE, Aug. 3, (JTA) — By all accounts, Pam Waechter loved deeply and unconditionally throughout her life, and all who knew her were better for it, particularly the Jewish community, who benefited from her boundless energy and shining spirit. That irrepressible energy that seemed to burst out of her crystal blue eyes and her radiant smile was, say family and friends, genuine and boundless. Waechter died on last Friday, from injuries she sustained when a man reported to be mentally ill and brandishing two handguns allegedly forced his way into the downtown Seattle offices of the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle. He claimed to be a Muslim American angry at Israel over the ongoing Middle East crisis. He shot her dead and wounded five others before surrendering to police. Waechter was 58. “Our relationship was very rare,” said Nicole Waechter Guzman, 36, of Seattle.Guzman said that she would usually speak to her mother four or five times a day and that they spent three or four nights a week together, just having fun. “We were together all the time,” she said. “We loved going to the dog park together and watching the dogs swim, and having traditional Sunday night dinners together. She taught me to be kind, be charitable, love unconditionally, have fun and laugh — which she did.” Her son, Mark Waechter, 33, who also survives her, lives in Phoenix. Waechter was the annual campaign director at the federation, where she worked for last eight years, first as their outreach coordinator and then campaign director. Amy Wasser-Simpson, the federation’s vice president for Planning and Community Services, “stole” Waechter from Jewish Family Service of Greater Seattle in 1998. “She did the most amazing job,” Wasser-Simpson said. “She almost single-handedly, with volunteers and other staff, was responsible in putting forward the 2001 Jewish Festival, where over 25,000 people came to Seattle Center to experience being Jewish and Judaism in a non-threatening and open environment.” Over the years, the two developed a strong relationship, both personally and professionally.“We were able to bounce ideas off of one another, we were able to provide professional and personal support to one another through all kinds of things,” Wasser-Simpson said. “She cared deeply about everybody, about everyone with whom she worked, about the work itself.” According to friends and family, Waechter loved all things Jewish and devoted her life to Jewish causes. Raised in Minneapolis as a Lutheran, Waechter chose the Jewish religion when she married her husband, Bill Waechter. The couple moved to Seattle in 1979 and later divorced. “She started here as a volunteer… in our food bank and our emergency services program,” said Ken Weinberg, executive director of JFS. “She was unbelievably energetic and unbelievably committed. She just revolutionized our program.” Weinberg recalled how Waechter was always “bursting with life,” working tirelessly and relentlessly to incorporate marginalized Jews into the community. After she left the JFS for the newly created position of outreach coordinator at the Jewish federation, Weinberg said he never forgot how she stayed involved and connected with the agency. “She never missed a JFS fundraising event,” he said. “The more money we raised, the happier she was. It was really about the community. I just found that to be an exceptional quality. She was the kind of person that most of us aspire to be and fall short of, but she made it. A great person is gone.” Waechter was remembered at a Temple B’nai Torah in Bellevue, where she was a 30-year member and a past president. At least 700 mourners crowded into the temple’s main sanctuary. Bill Waechter joked with the crowd, saying that he was confident she was recruiting members for a congregation in heaven, even now. “I know she’s up there watching us and probably organizing a group of newcomers for a new temple,” he said. “Good luck, Pam.” Rabbi James Mirel gave the eulogy, saying she was a martyr for the Jewish cause. “Innocent and good people, loving people, are senselessly and tragically taken off this earth in an act of irrational hatred,” he said. The next day, Mirel told JTNews that her memory would live far beyond her years on this earth. “It’s an event and a death that reverberates throughout the world and will continue to over many, many generations,” Mirel said. “She was very clear and she was always the same person to everyone, whether they knew her vicariously or personally. It’s beyond my comprehension that she’s dead.” Waechter’s friends from her Minneapolis congregation, Temple Israel, held a simultaneous service in her honor.