19 October 2008

Brief Bio of Samuel Isaac Benchimol, Amazon pioneer, writer, businessman, professor and leader

Samuel Isaac Benchimol was born on July 13, 1923 in Manaus, Amazonas, Brazil. He was a writer (with 110 published works, member of the Academia Amazonense de Letras), professor (Emeritus at the Universidade do Amazonas, where he taught for over 50 years), community leader (president of the Amazonas Jewish Community for over ten years) and businessman (founder of the Bemol/Fogás group of companies).

        In 1942 he entered Law School in Amazonas, from which he graduated with a bachelors degree. He initially worked as a dispatcher of luggage and passengers for Panair do Brasil, where he was exposed to the northeastern migrants to the Amazon, which led him to his work “O Cearense na Amazônia”, an acclaimed work of sociology in the region. Based on this success he earned a scholarship to do a masters degree in sociology at Miami University, Ohio, which he did in 1946-1947. He then returned to the Amazon to initiate his career.

        In his vast body of intellectual work there are 109 publications between books and articles, among which a few deserve highlight: “Amazônia: Um Pouco-Antes e Além-Depois”, “O Pacto Amazônico e a Amazônia Brasileira”, “Amazônia: Formação Social e Cultural”, “Eretz Amazônia: Os Judeus na Amazônia” and “Zênite Ecológico e Nadir Econômico-Social”. He was also known for compiling and analyzing regional statistics, especially in reference to tax collection and international trade of the Brazilian Amazon. Throughout his work, he always defended the need for sustainable development in the Amazon to adhere to four fundamental paradigms: it must be economically viable, ecologically adequate, politically balanced, and socially just.

        As a businessman, Samuel Benchimol was, together with his brothers Israel and Saul, the founder of the Bemol/Fogás group of companies in 1942. The companies today operate in diverse activites, including propane gas distribution (Fogás), department store retailing (Bemol), internet shopping mall (eCenter) and export of Amazon natural products (Benchimol, Irmão).

        As a professor, Samuel taught for almost 50 years at Universidade do Amazonas in subjects related to economics and law. His interest and expertise in the most diverse subjects related to the Amazon culminated in his being chosen by the federal university to create a specific subject, Introduction to the Amazon.

        Samuel was also a community leader, serving as president of the Amazonas Jewish Community from 1975 to 1985. His dedication to his community culminated with the publication of his work “Eretz Amazônia”, a study of the Jewish presence in the Brazilian Amazon from the early 19th century to the present.

        Because of his dedication to academics and education, Samuel was chosen for the Academia Amazonense de Letras. The main building of the Amazonas State University carries his name, as well as the Samuel Benchimol State School. After his passing away in 2002, the Brazilian Ministry of Development, Industry and Commerce initiated the annual Samuel Benchimol Prize in his honor for innovative initiatives for the sustainable development of the Amazon rainforest.

        Samuel Benchimol left a wife, Mery Benchimol, two children, Nora and Jaime, and four grandchildren, Denis, Ilana, Jose and Rebeca.

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