Dustin Lee Hoffman (b. 1937) was born in Los Angeles to a family with Ukrainian-, Polish-, and Romanian-Jewish ancestry. His father was a set decorator who worked for Columbia Pictures, which likely influenced Hoffman to dream of becoming an actor. His family didn’t share this dream, and Hoffman went to college with plans to become a doctor. He dropped out after one year and joined the Pasadena Playhouse. There, he met fellow actor Gene Hackman, and the two soon moved to New York and shared an apartment (together with Robert Duvall). Hoffman had small roles in film and television over the next decade. His first lead role was in 1967’s The Graduate (the famous “Mrs. Robinson” movie), which was wildly popular and earned him an Oscar nomination. The film was hailed as a breakthrough, with Hoffman said to represent “a new breed of actor” – more human, more complex, and not the perfectly-looking stud that Hollywood employed in those days. It was said that “Hoffman’s character made conventional good looks no longer necessary on screen.” Despite the success, Hoffman turned down film in favour of the stage, starring on Broadway where he won an award for outstanding performance. It wasn’t long before Hoffman returned to film, in 1969’s Midnight Cowboy, and incredibly, was nominated for an Oscar once again. (The Library of Congress later included this iconic film in its registry for preservation.) All in all, Hoffman appeared in 6 plays, 16 TV shows, and some 60 films. He was nominated for Best Actor at the Oscars seven times, winning twice (for Kramer vs. Kramer and Rain Man); and won 6 Golden Globes as well. In recent years, he has reconnected with his Jewish roots, taken on more Torah observance, made sure that his children and grandchildren have bar and bat mitzvahs, and aims to learn Hebrew. Hoffman was recently hailed as one of the greatest performers of all time, and “one of the most versatile and iconoclastic actors of this or any other generation”. Last week he celebrated his 80th birthday.
Words of the Week
People ask me today: “What are you?” I say: “I’m a Jew.” – Dustin Hoffman
Jeffrey Hart Brotman (1942-2017) was born in Tacoma, Washington to parents of Jewish-Romanian ancestry. His father and uncles ran a successful retail store that eventually expanded to 18 locations. After earning a political science degree and law doctorate, Brotman followed his father’s footsteps and went into retail with his brother. They first opened a jeans store for women, and then a men’s clothing store. In 1982, Brotman teamed up with Jim Sinegal, who had previously worked for (recent Jew of the Week) Sol Price and learned the wholesale business from him. Brotman and Sinegal co-founded Costco. By 1993, Costco merged with Sol Price’s original wholesale company. Today, Costco has over 700 locations around the world, with 85 million members, 174,000 employees, and $120 billion in revenue, making it the 18th richest company in the world, and second largest retailer (behind Wal-Mart). Thanks largely to Brotman’s personal motto of “Do the right thing”, Costco is famous for being one of the top-rated employers in the world, giving its workers large salaries and extensive benefits. Brotman was Costco’s chairman since its founding until last week, when he sadly and unexpectedly passed away. He had served on the boards of 12 other organizations, including Starbucks (of which he was one of the first investors) and the United Way. Brotman was a philanthropist, too, donating large sums to educational and health institutions like the University of Washington and Seattle Children’s Hospital, as well as the arts and many Jewish causes. He recently gave a million dollars to his synagogue in Tacoma to build a Jewish daycare and preschool. He had stated that it was the synagogue that “launched me into being a responsible adult.” Starbucks’ founder Howard Schultz eulogized him: “He was one of the earliest believers and investors in Starbucks and in me… he has been a shining light… We have lost a titan of our community.”
Words of the Week
Helping the disadvantaged, encouraging diversity, fostering a community that treats its people well – these were values I learned from my parents… my rabbi at Temple Beth El, and my grandfather, who helped with the movement to plant trees in Israel. When I see some of the fundamental unfairness built into the system for people who are less fortunate, and couple that with my family’s tradition of helping others, I am compelled to act, compelled to give what I can to help. – Jeff Brotman