Samis Trustee Spotlight: Al MaimonJuly 19, 2021
Samis Trustee Spotlight: Victor AlhadeffAugust 23, 2021
A conversation with child Holocaust survivor, dedicated board member, and Sam Israel’s physician, Alex Sytman
Years of Service: Lifetime Trustee
Committee (s): Israel Grants Sub-Committee, Endowment Investment Committee
Past Service: Grants Committee
Did you have a personal connection to Sam Israel before joining the board? What is your connection, if any?
My wife was Sam’s niece. Her father was Sam’s brother. And I was briefly his physician. It was not a very formal relationship with Sam. We visited him a couple times, maybe three times at Soap Lake. He gave us a gift for our wedding and that’s about the extent of it.
Please describe your most memorable interaction with Sam.
Well, probably one of the happiest memories with Sam was when we visited him at Soap Lake and he showed us around his property. He showed us his collection of tractors, the land and the perimeter and showed us around Soap Lake telling us that he virtually owned all the property around the lake. And of course, I knew his beginnings in Seattle and how he started his success. I’m not sure whether I got that from him or just by learning things as time went by.
What’s the greatest story you ever heard about Sam?
I think it’s about his beginning. That he started out as a shoemaker and was lucky enough to get a contract with the United States military, probably the army, to repair shoes for them and that’s how he made his money to buy property. He started buying property predominantly around downtown Seattle in Pioneer Square and he never sold anything.
What was your path to joining the Samis Board?
Eddie Hasson and Sam chose me. For what reason, I’m not certain, except that perhaps they trusted me. Eddie knew me better than Sam knew me, and Eddie probably thought that I would be a good fit because I had some dealings with him and I think that he learned about my personality and character and therefore nominated me.
How long have you served on the board? What positions have you held?
I’ve been on the board since inception. I have not had a committee chairmanship. I was on the investment committee at one point, and I guess my signature contribution to that committee was getting the liquid assets placed in Vanguard. It took me six months to convince the board that it was necessary. There was a banker and a hedge fund investor on the board at that time and they were very aggressive at promoting more risky approaches to investing.
What is the most meaningful story, event, or experience you can recall related to your service on the Samis Board?
For me, it’s about the people at Samis. I was exposed to incredible people on the board, who are concerned about the community and have done so much for the community. Virtually everybody on the board I admired for one reason or another, and it has been a pleasure to serve among those people.
How does your personal Jewish journey relate to the Samis mission?
Well, Sam and I, we were both born outside of America. And we had a different journey, he much earlier in the century then myself. My paternal grandfather was born in Lublin, Poland. My father was also born in Lublin. My mother was born in Warsaw and they met in law school in Warsaw. My father died in the ghetto and I immigrated to America when I was 10 years old. I had an uncle in Corvallis, Oregon who adopted me and that’s how I was able to skip the quota. I came directly to Corvallis, Oregon when I was 10 years old speaking Polish and French at that time, because when we got out, we spent two years in Paris, France where I learned French and I was able to go to school. I was actually in fourth grade for three years; first in Poland, then in Paris and then in Corvallis. I still think about how I’m at least one year behind in my education! I’ve lost my French and Polish, but I still remember a few swear words. When I arrived, I was mainstreamed into English to better assimilate. They really tried not to allow me to speak Polish or French, which is really too bad. It was my luck that I eventually got to Seattle, because then I got to be on the board.
I’ve been involved in my synagogue. I was in the hierarchy, at one time, on the way to being president of the shul, but then I got out of that sequence, because I thought I’d be too busy in my practice to do a good job. I practiced internal medicine and interventional cardiology. All my kids are very involved in Jewish things, all three of them, and they’re all local in Seattle.
I’m currently learning Hebrew. In fact, Rob Toren inspired me to learn Hebrew. I really love the trips that we’ve taken to Israel with Samis. The Israel trips changed my life.
Which area of the Foundation’s philanthropy most resonates with you and why?
I think they all resonate for me, but the schools particularly because the best way to maintain Jewish heritage is through education.
How has serving on the Samis Board impacted your perspective on philanthropy and the Jewish community?
Serving on the Samis board has made me more aware of the needs in the Jewish community and in the world.
Where do you envision the Seattle Jewish community ten or twenty years from now?
I would like to see the Seattle Jewish community perhaps double in number. And to see more people engaged in community life, synagogues, and philanthropy.