Archive for the ‘Curacao’ Category

Book Review: ‘Once Jews, Stories of Caribbean Sephardim’

January 23, 2010 3 comments

By Charlene Neely

LA MESA, California — Looking for Jews in strange places, try the Caribbean islands for the last 400 years. Although little historical research has been done on the Sephardim of the Caribbean islands and the surrounding area in the past, there is a new growth of information thanks in part to the work of Josette Capriles Goldish, in her book Once Jews, Stories of Caribbean Sephardim

The author is a descendent of one of these families, born in Curaçao, Netherlands Antilles and to a great extent her book is the story of several centuries of cousins. However, only a handful of these families are Jewish today, most are strong Catholics who acknowledge that their ancestors were Dutch Jews who settled on the small island Curaçao in the 1700s and over generations spread across the area. These families were descendents of Sephardim from Spain and Portugal who had fled to Amsterdam and established new lives.

Unlike their counterparts who fled to the colonies of Spain and Portugal and tried to remain hidden, these families  willingly settled for adventure and future economic growth in the Caribbean islands controlled by the Dutch, Danish Virgin Island, French and British. They were never forced to hide their identities and established active Jewish communities.

The first part of the book gives the reader a rare personal glimpse of Jewish life at this time. The synagogue in Curaçao, Mikveh Israel, which remains a tourist attraction today, was established in 1732. The building seats 400 men downstairs and 200 women upstairs. By the end of the century there “were over 1500 Jews on this one island which represented some 38% of the white population.” This is when it seems that the community hit a critical mass. The rate of intermarriage among families (mostly uncles to nieces and cousins to cousins) meant that younger men went off the island to find brides, both Jewish and non-Jewish and established family trade centers on other islands.

Another factor was friction in the congregation over the Cantor from Amsterdam, Joshua Piza, who arrived in 1815. The Rabbi before had served the congregation for over 50 years. The Cantor “question” resulted in a historical division of the community which remained even after Cantor Piza went to St. Thomas. Cantor Piza had three wives in one year, the first two died and then he married 17 year old Hannah Sasso, born of a religious family in Curaçao.  After the move of the family the stories of Hannah’s dedication to faith and running a trading business are astounding. The family grew in number and wealth. The Sephardim began to spread among the islands and little by little they married non Jews. They lost touch with their faith as Jews but never with their family ties with Curaçao. Over the generations both Jewish and non-Jewish members of these families would do business and have family reunions in Curaçao.

The book offers a personal glimpse of how difficult it was to be Jewish in Spanish controlled areas of the New World, when several families moved to Caro, Venezuela, and anti-semitic pogroms broke out. The families appealed to officials but in the end retreated back to the islands, and were later supporters and friends of Simon Bolivar who fought for Venezuelan independence.
Once Jews is, as its title says, stories of families which are carefully retold and recorded. Goldish’s work has opened new primary resources for historians of this community, which had remained mostly in the hands of these families.

However, the author never deals with the question of how these families were able to amass wealth so quickly.  Slave trade was rampant at this time in the Caribbean, did this affect these families? The author stresses that the majority of these families were large, economically well off, well educated (mostly men) and accepted among the elite of the Caribbean and later Colombian and Venezuelan society although by this time they were Catholic.  The author discusses this assimilation, fast even for Jews in relatively free societies, was it due to a lack of Jewish education, a desire for economic wealth and social/business contacts? Why did so few remain Jews and so many convert to Catholicism? Why do they use the phrase “I am Catholic, but I am Jewish” even to this day? What part of being Jewish is relevant to their lives?

Family histories in strange places around the world are fascinating and they can enlighten us about our own communities and our own future Jewish generations. As Josette Capriles Goldish remarks on the effect of intermarriage as it lessens the size of the American Jewish population, “Eventually, if this trend continues, the vicious circle of size and religious assimilation becomes undeniable and many once viable communities will, over time, disappear”. This is of course a question for all Jewish communities to ponder today.

Other books of this topic.

The Jewish Nation of the Caribbean: The Spanish-Portuguese Jewish Settlements in the Caribbean and the Guianas, Mordechai Arbell (Author)
Jewish Pirates of the Caribbean: How a Generation of Swashbuckling Jews Carved Out an Empire in the New World in Their Quest for Treasure, Religious Freedom–and Revenge, by Edward Kritzler (Author)

Internet site: Mikvé Israel-Emanuel Curaçao, N.A.
 Commemorating 350 years of existence

Neely is a longtime Jewish community educator in San Diego County

San Diego Jewish Profile: Bilingualism jumpstarted Loretta H. Adams’ career

January 11, 2010 10 comments

Loretta Adams at home

By Donald H. Harrison

LA JOLLA, California—The life and business success of Loretta Hirschfeld Adams illustrate how advantageous a bilingual education can be, especially for those of us who live in the southwestern United States.

Adams, who established and later sold a company of nearly 300 employees  specializing in Spanish-language market research, grew up in Colon on the Atlantic side of the Panama Canal.  Her Jewish parents sent her to English-language schools in the Canal Zone where she could meet and mingle with the children of American military personnel and Canal Zone employees.

As a child, she spoke Spanish at home and English at school, adding to her appreciation of the larger world into which she had gained more-than-usual exposure from her parents.   Her mother was a member of a Sephardic Jewish family that had lived for generations in Curacao after Adams’ triple-great-grandfather, Aron Mendes Chumaceiro, had been sent from the Portuguese Synagogue in Amsterdam to serve as a rabbi at the yellow-painted Mikve Israel-Emanuel Synagogue  in Willemstad.

In an interview, Adams said that the Salas family to which her mother belonged had spread from Curacao throughout the Caribbean and Latin America, with some of them becoming important figures.  Some stayed Jewish, others intermarried resulting in the next generation becoming Christian.  One cousin in Colombia, Ernesto Cortissoz, helped to found a forerunner of Avianca Airlines, and another relative, Henrique Salas Römer, ran unsuccessfully in 1998 for President of Venezuela against Hugo Chavez.  Her mother’s branch of the extended family had lived in New York and in Cuba before migrating to Panama.  “They went where there was opportunity,” she said.

Adams’  father was an Ashkenazic Jew who had escaped Germany in 1937, the year before Kristallnacht,  and who thereafter avoided ever speaking about Germany or using its language.  Günther Hirschfeld spoke Spanish with such a strong German accent, however, that he couldn’t completely bury his roots.  Hirschfeld worked with Adams’ maternal grandfather at Almacen Salas, an import/ export business that sold American goods to Panamanians and helped Latin American companies export their goods to the U.S and other markets overseas. 

While Adams never actually worked in the family business, as a girl “I used to go visit my grandfather and my father.  They had air conditioning—and that was a big draw,” she recalled.

Most young women in Panama married almost immediately after high school, but that was not the future that Yolanda Salas, Adams’ mother, had dreamed about for her.

“My mother was a very advanced person for her generation, for her time,” commented Adams during a recent interview in her La Jolla home. 

“She always had wanted to go to college so she made sure that I went to college, and that I wanted to go to college.  That was what was needed for me – I couldn’t see myself being married young in Panama.”

She enrolled at Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida, a chief attraction being that Florida was the closest point in the mainland United States to Panama.  The drama professor there, incidentally, was Arthur Wagner, who later came to UCSD where he was instrumental in persuading Mandell Weiss to underwrite construction of an on-campus theatre.   Except for Adams’ roommate, Gloria Pasternak, there were few other Jewish students at Rollins.  Pasternak, attuned to Adams’ feelings of being a fish out of water, persuaded her to transfer to American University in Washington, D.C, where Pasternak’s family resided.   One of her sisters-in-law was Nina Hyde, the fashion editor of the Washington Post.

Adams decided upon a marketing major, rare then for a woman.  “It sounded good to me,” she explained.  “I wanted to be in business but accounting sounded dull and boring and statistics I didn’t do well.  I knew marketing was a coming field.”

Owing to her familiarity with the family business, Adams wrote a paper on exporting , a subject that was a novelty because most American University students at that time “didn’t focus on international at all.”

Her father, drawing on his lessons as a refugee from Germany, persuaded Adams to apply in the United States for a Green Card as an insurance policy, even though her immediate plans were to return to Panama.  At the time, certification as permanent residents in the United States was fairly easy for Panamanians to obtain, so she did so.

Following graduation in 1962 with a bachelor’s degree in international marketing, she returned to Panama where she took graduate courses at the University of Panama in Panama City to which, in the interim, her parents had moved from Colon.   Many Panama City residents own businesses in Colon, 60 miles away, either commuting to their stores or having on-site managers, Adams said. 

Adams got her first job in Panama City as a management trainee for Sears Roebuck and Co.  Her salary, she recalls, was $22 a week, paid in a cash envelope.   Despite her boss saying that in the United States she never would earn more than $90 a week, she went to New York in 1965, obtaining a job in market research at the Kenyon and Eckhardt advertising agency.  As her boss had predicted, her salary was $90 per week, disappointing her because she really wanted to earn $100 so she could have $5,200 yearly.

The agency handled such accounts as the Lincoln-Mercury lines of automobiles and Brylcream, a men’s hair product. Because she was fluent in Spanish and knowledgeable about Latin American lifestyles, “I got to do projects in Latin America with the research director,” she said.  “The visibility I had was unbelievable because you get taken out of your cubicle and you get to deal with presidents of companies that are clients in Latin America.”

After three years, she moved to Richardson-Vicks International, which manufactured such products as Vicks VapoRub, Oil of Olay, and Clearasil.  Suddenly, she was being paid $11,000 a year by the company that eventually was absorbed by Procter and Gamble.  “They sent me to Mexico City for six months, and I ended up staying there for ten years.”

Adams became director of research in Mexico City—a promotion that put her in the unenviable position of having male Mexican subordinates who resented her and an American boss who she described as the epitome of the chauvinistic male middle manager such as those portrayed in the television series “Madmen,” dealing with advertising firms of the 1960s.

She didn’t let them get her down. 

Adams’ American studies and her Panamanian upbringing helped her realize one problem that American companies were encountering in Latin America:  “The foreign consumer, the multinational consumer, is not an American in a different language.  Too many marketers make that mistake.  Too many advertisers think, ‘Oh, we’ll just put a commercial in Spanish—we can take the same commercial in English and put it into Spanish.’  But the consumers’ experiences are different…. “

Adams recalled an advertising campaign in which the blue mouthwash {Scope} was being  sold as better tasting than the medicinal one {Listerine}.  The problem was that mouthwashes were not then part of Mexican culture; consumers there needed to be educated as to the benefits of the product.  Contrasting one product that Mexicans didn’t know with another product they didn’t know was wasted advertising, Adams said. 

Another example was when Tropicana in a direct translation of its U.S. campaign boasted that orange juice was fresh, not concentrated.  But Spanish speakers liked what  “concentrated” conveys in Spanish; “it means more and stronger, more Vitamin C,” said Adams.  

It was in Mexico that Adams met her husband, Henry Adams, from whom she is now divorced.  A psycholinguist who also had grown up in Panama, and had gone to university in Washington, D.C., he  was well-versed in understanding the different concepts words can convey to people who speak different languages

For example, she explained, if one says “rice,” what image will come to an American’s mind? Probably white grain in a bowl.  What about the word, “arroz,” which means rice in Spanish?  More than likely an Hispanic person may think of something that looks pink or yellow.

In that words can convey different images, advertising messages must be sculpted to make certain audiences understand what they are intended to convey.

While the Adamses was living in Mexico, her parents died. One brother, Richard, moved to Caracas, Venezuela, and today is an investor in Houston.   Her younger brother, Gary Hirschfeld, 12 at the time, came to live with them, and had his bar mitzvah in Mexico City the following year. Today, Hirschfeld is a successful investor and board member at Congregation Beth Israel.  Although Adams is the older sister, her relationship to Gary is almost that of a mother, and that of a grandmother to his two daughters.   She does not have any children of her own.

As comfortable as life was in Mexico, they decided that their future was elsewhere.  “We realized that while we were Hispanic, we weren’t Mexican.  Everyday someone would say to us, ‘We, here in Mexico, do this.’   {Luis} Echeverria {Alvarez} was president at the time, and he was very anti-American, anti-foreign.  That couldn’t be long term for us. We made nice salaries but we didn’t make a wealthy living there.  And we didn’t have friends and family we could count on.”

They decided that he should study in San Diego for a license as a psychologist and return to Mexico approximately every six weeks to see his patients.  She would fly when she could to San Diego to search the job market, which was dismal.  “We chose San Diego because at the time it was the cheapest air fare between Mexico City and the U.S.”

The plan to move might have been stillborn, but for Ed Noble, the proprietor of a large advertising firm in Mexico City, Noble & Associados.  In line with his own plan to purchase radio stations along the U.S.-Mexican border, he agreed to back Adams in establishing a San Diego based firm that would specialize in advertising research for the American-based Hispanic Market.  But the firm did not live up to immediate hopes, and so “I bought him out, paid back every cent he invested in the company and I created my own company.  This was Market Development Incorporated (MDI).  My first office was on Mission Center Road, across the street from the building where the Anti-Defamation League has its offices. “

From a small professional suite opened in 1978, her company grew to the point that it took over a quarter of a floor, “so we moved to our own building at 1643 Sixth Avenue, a little stand-alone building that is now part of a condo complex. “  Outgrowing that, the company moved next to the Comerica Bank on B Street.   Thereafter it decided to hire not only the researchers who crunched the data, but also the people who went out and conducted the focus groups.  “The interviews had to be in proper Spanish and we weren’t finding suppliers to do that,” Adams said.  As it continued to expand, the company moved to Chula Vista, then to Bonita, and finally it rented a building in National City near the freeway. 

Where were her customers?  “I got on a plane a lot because the market was not here that I was researching and my clients were not here.  I can’t remember any client that I ever had in San Diego of national importance, so I was always either getting on a plane to go to New York or the San Francisco Bay area.”

Clients like the Beef Council, Wells Fargo and Chevron contracted with MDI to research the Hispanic market in the United States.   “When I started in 1978, I think the market size was 15 or 20 million,” she recalled.  “Now it is up to 45 million.   When I started there was one Spanish-language TV network and now there are nine, and there are internet sites in Spanish.  If you go to the Zoo, you will find a Spanish site there.  Nothing like that existed before. “

Among potential clients back when she started, “there was a lot of lip service given to this market—everyone said ‘we’ve got to do Hispanic,’ but it never stuck.  It came and went with the management.  A new VP in charge of ethnic marketing or multicultural markets would say ‘we will do it right now,’ and then the guy was gone in six months and that was the end of that budget, so it was very fluid.  It was not consistent with clients you could count on. “

The good news was that those who believed in the Hispanic market formed a community.  “They would go somewhere else, so you could find them and start up with them again,” Adams said. 

One of the problems was that “there were a lot of people who were afraid of the market—the Spanish-language market.  They didn’t see the benefits; the stereotypes were there.  They would say ‘these are poor people.  What can they afford?’   Well, they do like branded products, because when you are a poor person you cannot afford to make a mistake and buy an unknown product.  So they will buy Tide or Ivory Soap or Crest Toothpaste or like that.  But there was fighting the stereotypes about the Spanish market.”

MDI found customers not only in the private sector, but in the government and the non-profit sectors.  “I did work for the American Cancer Society in Spanish and that was very needed and very worthy kind of research I did,” she said.  “Another heartfelt kind of work I did was for OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) because even though accidents were going down among other segments of the population, they were going up among Hispanics.  They are the ones doing the labor intensive and precarious jobs.”

Adams said at the request of OSHA “I did a lot of work with laborers and people in different markets and they were scared to death of their own bosses, who were usually Americans or assimilated Hispanics.”  Some Hispanic laborers “never reported their accidents because they were afraid of being fired from work.  They weren’t being paid when they were hurt because they’d lose their job if they took off time from work to go to the hospital.  So they would limp along and do whatever they could.  This was heartbreaking, and it was revealing.  They came from countries where people don’t wear goggles; they don’t know the value of wearing those things.  ‘Why do you need to wear goggles?’  ‘Because it will save your eyes.  And gloves are important.’  So a whole educational process was needed.”

Adams said utilizing focus groups in her research “gave me a mountain of insight into the consumers—the end users of the product” To run the focus groups,  “I needed people from Latin America who knew Latin American culture, and to whom we could teach marketing, psychology or some kind of social science to get their reports going.”  

In the process, she said, MDI created many competitors—people who would start companies of their own after being trained by MDI, which “helped build the industry, the multicultural marketing research industry.  I was one of the pioneers of that, without a doubt.”

In 1999, Adams sold her company, which has annual revenues of $7 million, to Taylor Nelson Sofres (TNS) for an undisclosed amount.  Bruce Shandler, then TNS chief executive officer, was quoted as saying that MDI had “pioneered the development of transcultural consumer research, an area that is growing in importance as ethnic marketing increases in the U.S.  It provided leading U.S. corporations and global advertising agencies with an in-depth understanding of Latin American and U.S. Hispanic consumers, local customs and cultures, and the products and services Latin consumers use most.  The Latin American research is carried out primarily, but not exclusively in the major markets of Argentina, Brazil, Chile and Mexico.  In addition, MDI has a 120-station, tri-lingual CATI telephone facility in San Diego, fully staffed by personnel who can interview consumers and business executives in English, Spanish or Portuguese.”

Neil Schwartz, today TNS director of Southwest operations, said that in their industry, Adams is credited as a pioneer of research into the U.S. Hispanic market.  “She established that whole niche in marketing research,” he said.  “She really pioneered it.   She had prescience and foresight, but her success definitely also was her entrepreneurial spirit.  She was an extraordinary presence in the industry, with a real determination to tell the meaning of what the research is saying.”

Besides being a successful entrepreneur, a woman and an Hispanic, Adams also was a Republican – and that was a combination that proved irresistible to some national figures in the Republican party.

She was invited to Washington D.C. on one occasion to attend a social function sponsored by senators with large Hispanic constituencies.  It was before John McCain’s rise to national prominence and Adams says she regrets that she didn’t get to know him better back then, because she would have enjoyed learning more about his early life as a military dependent in the Panama Canal Zone.  McCain’s father completed his military service as an admiral, as did his grandfather.

While on a business trip to Chile, Adams received a telephone call from U.S. Sen. Bob Dole, who then was the Republican leader in the U.S. Senate.  He explained that a new government group was being formed, under the chairmanship of Jack Kemp, called the National Commission for Economic Growth and Tax Reform, and that he would like her to be a commission member.

“I had no idea what he was talking about, but he was Bob Dole, so I said yes,” Adams said.

Besides Kemp, commission members included former Internal Revenue Service Commissioner Shirley Peterson (the only other woman), former Cincinnati Mayor Ken Blackwell; former Delaware Gov. Pete DuPont; and Fortsmann-Little CEO Ted Fortsmann. Economist Arthur Laffer served as a consultant.

It was an enjoyable experience for Adams.  “We flew all over the country and went to town halls, and people talked to us about taxes.”  Eventually the commission proposed a single tax (some call it the “flat tax”) on gross income to replace the current graduated income tax with its system of exemptions and deductions.

“I remember we went to Boston, where I met William Weld, the governor, who was brilliant, and then we went to Omaha to have dinner with Warren Buffett.”  The billionaire investor had sold a business  property to Disney, and to celebrate “he wore that day a tie with Mickey Mouse on it.”  The commission also went to Stanford University where a meeting had been arranged with Nobel Prize winners.

Dole and Kemp went on to become the Republican presidential and vice presidential candidates in 1996—the year that both the Republican presidential convention and a debate between Dole and Bill Clinton were held in San Diego.  On one occasion, Kemp asked Adams to introduce him to a luncheon crowd of business people that filled a local ballroom.  She did so, and then Kemp turned the tables on her, spending much of his speech talking about her career, entrepreneurship, and the contributions immigrants can make to America.  Adams was pleased but embarrassed; “I was thinking ‘oh let this room swallow me up.’”

Social life for  Adams family was, of necessity, quite limited because of all the flying she did throughout the week.  However, she made some lasting friends, sometimes through her business, and sometimes by being someone else’s customer.

Linda Levy first got to know Adams some 25 years ago when she did an interior design project for Adams’ home, which then was in the  Del Cerro area of San Diego.   “I  also helped her find her home here in La Jolla,” where the two live close enough to walk to one another’s homes and then to continue on walks into La Jolla Village.

The two also have taken longer trips together.  “She went with me one time to Memphis where I grew up” and they are planning a trip together to Panama “so I will be getting to see her roots.”  Additionally, they have gone to New York, on a Jewish Family Service trip that included some fashion shows, and “I like to kid her that when we walk around San Diego, she doesn’t walk as fast as we do in New York.  She always can walk two or three times faster than here.”

Levy said Adams “has a good sense of humor—that’s important to me.  She’s always ready to try new things, we tried tap dancing together.  We took a cooking course a couple of years ago…we had to do the preparation one day and we literally were like Lucy and Ethel  (Lucille Ball and Vivian Vance) on the old television show. We were so tickled.”

Terry Goldfarb, an American living in Panama, met Adams more than two decades ago when Adams was visiting family and friends there.  When Goldfarb’s son, Neil, arrived in San Diego to attend UCSD, Adams promptly invited him to join her for Shabbat dinner.  “She met my future daughter in law, Megan, before I did,” Goldfarb recalled.

When Goldfarb followed her son to San Diego a few years later, “she took me under her wing.”  The friend said Adams has a “caring nature – no matter if she is on the road, if she knows you have a doctor’s appointment on Wednesday she’ll call you Wednesday night to see how the appointment went.”

“She’s very intelligent, keeps au courant with everything, a wonderful hostess, gracious, giving, inclusive, caring person.  And she keeps up with so many people from her past, whether a cousin, or a former employee, she goes to baby showers, weddings, and meets socially for coffee.  She’s formed and kept many friendships along the way.”

Nadja Frank Kauder, who had been director of the women’s division of United Jewish Federation, said she thinks she initially was introduced to Adams by Sylvia Liwerant, who is active in the Mexican Jewish community.   Her first husband, attorney Stan Frank, eventually did some legal work for MDI.  Meanwhile, Nadja Frank persuaded the Adamses to go on the large community mission to Israel in 1995—the one participants always will remember because it coincided with Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination.  Eventually, on the suggestion of the Jewish communal activist, Adams became involved with Project SARAH (Stop Abusive Relationships At Home) of Jewish Family Service.

“It is very challenging to work in this area with the Jewish community because it is not accepted that domestic and spousal abuse exists within the community,” Adams said.  “Some rabbis turn a blind eye to the whole situation, ‘it doesn’t happen to us.’  But it does happen in the same proportion as in the general population.

“There is also a misperception of what spousal abuse is – I think when we think in terms of spousal abuse we think of an eyeball hanging out and a black eye.  But abuse can be physical, emotional and verbal.  I think we probably don’t have that much of the physical abuse but there is a lot of the emotional and verbal, and I think that is where the Jews may have a blockage that doesn’t allow them to recognize that it exists.”

Adams helped to create an advertising campaign for Project Sarah, the theme of which is “this is the face of domestic abuse.”  The face is that of a regular person with no bruises.

Now a JFS board member, Adams is helping the agency plan the fundraising Heart and Soul Gala in March.

“We have a nice base of donors but to survive we need more donors and the demand is getting bigger for services with this economic downturn,” Adams said. She suggested that if Jews knew that there are other Jews in need, they would try to help them.  But because people tend to know only those people in their social circle or synagogue, they may not be aware that in other areas of San Diego County, “there really are people who are needy out there, who need our help.  And that means we need to create an awareness that there are people who need our services, our money and our help.”

Pondering Adams’ career trajectory, one can say there were some fortuitous steps along the way.  She was able to study at a fine American university.  She obtained a Green Card, before it became very difficult to do so.  She saw an important market research niche: the Hispanic market.  Her entrepreneurial experiences brought her into contact with business and political leaders.

But had she not learned English in addition to her primary language of Spanish—English so fluent that she had no difficulty whatsoever in her marketing studies in America—Adams might never have had the career and life that she did.  

With some amazement, Adams tells of a workman she once spoke to who was indignant that his child’s school was insisting that the boy take Spanish.  “This is America; we speak English,” Adams recounted the man saying.  It was like hearing someone slamming the door on a child’s possible future.

Harrison is editor of  San Diego Jewish World