Politics & Government

Costco chairman giving nearly $1 million to Temple Beth El for early learning center

Costco chairman and co-founder Jeff Brotman is donating nearly $1 million to Temple Beth El in Tacoma to build a preschool and day care.

Brotman grew up in Temple Beth Israel, which in 1960 merged with Tacoma’s other Jewish congregation to become Temple Beth El.

While the Tacoma native left the city in 1960 to attend the University of Washington, he continued to stay involved with Temple Beth El for several years.

“The congregation launched me into being a responsible adult,” said the 72-year-old Brotman, who graduated from Wilson High School and now lives in Bellevue. “I was interested in doing something for them where I thought it would have a major impact.”

Temple Beth El plans to start renovating a classroom wing in early January to create the Brotman Early Learning Center. The facility will provide care for infants as young as 6 weeks to children up to 5 years old.

It will have a day care and preschool with a capacity for about 42 children, including up to eight infants, said Rabbi Bruce Kadden, of Temple Beth El. It also will provide child care before and after school, a draw for working parents.

The Jewish center will open in September with full- and part-time enrollment open to anyone. Plans call for it to operate from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m on weekdays.

Brotman’s gift of $950,000 includes money for a center director. Temple Beth El recently hired Rebecca Ross, a former preschool director with a Jewish background, to lead the center, Kadden said.

The learning center will charge tuition, but Brotman said some financial aid will be available. Registration will start early next year.

The preschool is only the second major facility change at the temple since it was constructed in 1968. The temple at 5975 S. 12th St. was remodeled and expanded in 1994.

The early learning center’s curriculum will focus on values that are both Jewish and interfaith, such as loving your neighbor and the importance of family and community, Kadden said. The center also will teach about Jewish holidays.

“We are very open to those who want a quality education for their children,” Kadden said. The program will aim to prepare children for kindergarten.

Kadden said he expects the center will attract children from the Temple Beth El congregation, part of Judaism’s Reform movement, and those of non-Jewish parents.

“It’s exciting to have the opportunity to reach out to our community and invite them into our building,” said Temple Beth El president Sarah Rumbaugh. “Whatever their traditions are, they’ll be stronger because they’ve learned another tradition.”

The center’s outreach will include Jewish people not affiliated with a congregation, Rumbaugh said.

The renovation will include an art room, infant room, kitchen, office, preschool, a toddler room and a play area.

Temple Beth El hasn’t had a preschool for about six years, and that program was only part time.

Temple leaders brought the idea of funding a preschool to Brotman about nine months ago, proposing a program beginning with 2 1/2-year-olds. He encouraged thinking big, Kadden said, and asked, “What would be your best chance for success?”

That led to adding care for infants.

Brotman said the Tacoma congregation took care of him while he was growing up and taught him many lessons.

“I always have been and continue to be a big believer in early learning,” he said.

Brotman expects the center will not only teach children, but also help adults in their parenting skills. And he hopes the center will build a sense of community among people from a variety of faiths and a better understanding of organized religion.

Brotman is Jewish and his wife, Susan, is a Christian. They have two adult children.

Jeff Brotman is the older son of Bernie and Pearl Brotman, who were part of the congregation along with their younger son Michael.

Kadden said Jeff Brotman “always had a warm spot in his heart for the temple and the Jewish community in Tacoma.”

Much of that connection was due to Rabbi Richard Rosenthal, who moved to Tacoma in 1956 as rabbi of Temple Beth Israel.

Rosenthal led Temple Beth El after it was formed in 1960 from the merger of Temple Beth Israel, a Reform congregation, and Sinai Temple, a Conservative congregation. Temple Beth El has a membership of about 260 families.

Brotman said Rosenthal, who died in 1999, was “as influential as anybody in my life.” He taught him the value of the Ten Commandments and teachings from wise men in history, using those as standards for one’s behavior.

Brotman continued to meet with Rosenthal through his college years and afterward.

“He was an amazing guy,” Brotman said. “We were able to accept teachings from him that we wouldn’t from our parents.

“You don’t think your parents are smart when you’re little. Then you learn.”

Brotman, who has donated to many charitable projects in the Seattle area, said he feels “a very close connection” to Tacoma.

“I’ve been looking for things in Tacoma, particularly, that I could do,” Brotman said. “This is the first one I felt strongly about.”