Sunday, January 27, 2019


Longtime Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, a Jewish American who is reportedly mulling an independent run for the presidency, is one of several potential Jewish contenders in the 2020 race.

Others so far include Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and former New York mayor Mike Bloomberg.

Schultz has spoken out frequently on how his Judaism has affected his life path and his worldview. Born and raised in Brooklyn, Schultz says his Jewish upbringing and heritage enhanced his understanding of the American dream.

“I grew up in federally subsidized housing in Brooklyn,” Schultz wrote in 2002. “I was part of a generation of families that dreamed about the American dream. My dad had a series of blue-collar jobs.”

At the end of the prologue of his book, Pour Your Heart Into It, published in 1997, he explains the Jewish tradition of yahrzeit – a practice he follows for his deceased father each year – and its symbolic significance for the work he does in life. “I just don’t want that light to go out,” he said.

Growing up in Brooklyn with Jewish, Italian and black kids, he wrote also taught him the values of pluralism and diversity – core liberal tenets that have shaped his politics. “Nobody ever had to lecture us about diversity,” he wrote. “We lived it.”

He also notes in his book that the unlikely expansion of Starbucks ultimately rested on a triumvirate of Seattle philanthropists who were active in the Jewish community – developers behind some of the “sturdiest businesses” in town. Their ultimate angel investment put the company over the top.

According to Inside Philanthropy, Schultz and his wife have donated sporadically to small, local Jewish organizations. And Schultz was offered an award by Aish Hatorah, a Jewish Orthodox pro-Israel group, in 1998. But Schultz’s level of observance and the extent of his activity in the community are not immediately clear.

Nevertheless, his collective writings and policy-related actions at Starbucks suggest an active Jewish life.

At one point in 2002, Schultz wrote about a transformative experience he had in the 1990s on a work trip to Israel with Starbucks colleagues, with Rabbi Nosson Tzvi Finkel, who once headed the Mir Yeshiva.

“Who can tell me what the lesson of the Holocaust is?” The rabbi asked to a befuddled crowd.

Teaching them a lesson on the “human spirit,” Schultz writes, Finkel explained to them the dehumanizing experience Jews went through corralled into cattle cars, sent to death camps, given a single blanket for every five people, and having to make the choice, in their last living days, to stay warm in their blanket or to share it with others.

“Take your blanket,” the rabbi explained. “Take it back to America and push it to five other people.”

Schultz led Starbucks through much of its growth into the iconic American company it is today. The coffee chain briefly entered the Israeli market, but closed all of its stores there in 2003 citing “operational challenges.”

An early boycott effort targeting Israel in 2014 attacked Starbucks with conspiratorial rumors that the company was directly funding the Israeli government and the IDF – rumors that grew so loud and widespread that the company was forced to address both its general investments in Israel as well as Schultz’s personal donations to Israeli causes.


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