A vibrant social organizer, Dorothy Franco Muscatel was born in Seattle in 1917 to parents who, in 1910, were among the first Sephardic Jews to immigrate to Seattle from Rhodes, Greece. Her parents and grandmother were instrumental in creating important Seattle Jewish institutions, including the Sephardic cemetery. Dorothy learned from their example. Her achievements include helping form Seattle chapters for The City of Hope and Guide Dogs for the Blind; and service as president of the Seattle Sephardic Sisterhood and Sephardic Bikur Holim Ladies' Auxiliary. Married to Jack Muscatel and mother of three, Dorothy continued to shine the light of her family and herself on Seattle’s Jewish and secular communities until her death on December 26, 2003.
“My mother’s mother, Leah Mossafer, followed my mother to Seattle. She was the true matriarch of the Sephardic community. She quickly organized a few men and they found a little tiny place to have services and then eventually my father became first president of the Ezra Bessaroth. My grandmother was the first Sephardic woman to do anything. And then right behind her was my mother. My grandmother was president of the Ezra Bessaroth Women for ten years. She organized the Red Cross. She got a few women together and up until her death she made the shrouds for the brotherhood, for all the Jewish people. All the Sephardics. She used to go door to door collecting money for the poor. Nobody would ever say no to her. She was wonderful with herbs. She was a healer. Everybody used to come to our house, it was like a hospital. I loved my Grandma. And I would just go any place with her.”
“I watched my mother sew and I became a very excellent seamstress. I made handbags from fabric scraps, everyone different. And I took them out to Glendale Country Club. I said, ‘Now girls, I made these and I’m going to raise money for Neighbors in Need.’ Well, before I got out of there I must have had an order for 100 bags. They raised two thousand dollars. And I gave the money to different charities. I was the May Day Chairman for the Jewish Federation. I was seven months pregnant, and nobody would go into Central Seattle. So I said, ‘I will.’ I went to the home of Mrs. Barlia. Now here there was no money. They lived on practically nothing. And it was a Friday. She opened the door and she knew who I was, and she had tears in her eyes. She said ‘Sus bendicha hija de bendicha madre’, which means, ‘You’re a blessed daughter of a blessed mother.’ She insisted that I come in. She had just baked. Everything was fresh. Smelled like a million dollars. And the house was immaculate. So I sat down and had a cup of tea with her. And a piece of desayuno. And she gave me twenty-five cents. Now that twenty-five cents from Mrs. Barlia was like twenty-five dollars from somebody else. I will never forget that woman. She was so kind. And so happy. From that time on, people in that neighborhood were always contacted. Even if they gave a nickel. Even if they couldn’t give anything. Give them the courtesy of calling on them.”
© 2004 Jewish Women’s Archive. Photographs by Joan Roth.