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
Rabbi Isaac Aboab da Fonseca, the first rabbi to set foot in America
Isaac Aboab da Fonseca (1605-1693) was born in Portugal to a family of Conversos, or “Marranos” – Jews who had been forced to convert to Christianity during the Inquisition. Despite the conversion, their persecution persisted, and Conversos often continued to practice Judaism in secret. In 1581, the Dutch Republic separated from the Spanish Empire, triggering a large migration of Sephardic Jews to the area. By 1603, Dutch law officially made it legal for Judaism to be practiced openly. In 1612, da Fonseca’s family moved to Amsterdam, where they could finally practice Judaism once again. Da Fonseca went to study under the tutelage of the great doctor, poet, mathematician, and rabbi Isaac Uziel, who had opened a new Talmudic academy a few years earlier. Da Fonseca showed his genius early on, and was made a rabbi by the age of eighteen. Some twenty years later, he was invited to serve as the chief rabbi of the Dutch colony of Pernambuco in Brazil. This colony had a population of about 600 Sephardic Jews that fled the Spanish and Portuguese Inquisition. Da Fonseca’s arrival in 1642 likely made him the first rabbi to set foot in the Americas. During his thirteen years there, the colony established a proper synagogue, mikveh, and yeshiva – perhaps the very first in the New World – and the Jewish population grew to as many as 5000. During this time, he also wrote what is thought to be the first Hebrew text produced in America. Unfortunately, a Jesuit priest convinced the Portuguese to reconquer the colony and destroy its Jews who “have their open synagogues there, to the scandal of Christianity”. The Jews took up arms alongside the small Dutch army, and resisted the Portuguese forces for nine years. The Portuguese ultimately prevailed, but the Dutch would not surrender until the Portuguese agreed to let the Jews go. The majority sailed back to Amsterdam with da Fonseca. (One of these ships was attacked by pirates, lost its way, and ended up in the nascent colony of New Amsterdam. These first Jews in North America helped establish what would later become New York City.) Back in Amsterdam, da Fonseca soon became the city’s chief rabbi. He was on the panel that excommunicated the famous philosopher Benedict (Baruch) Spinoza. In his old age, Rabbi da Fonseca became known as a great mystic and Kabbalist. He passed away at 88 years of age. In 2007, the Jerusalem Institute published a book of his writings and teachings.
Words of the Week
If you want to change the world, change yourself. – Jack Ma