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Choose between medicine or food? Not here

By Richard Ruvin

October 1st, 2011

Due in large part to economic reasons, I had taken a five year hiatus from my involvement with the Milwaukee Jewish Federation. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, I loved writing checks as they grew bigger each year.

However, as the economy turned, those checks became difficult, then impossible to write.

As time went by, I told myself that, for economic reasons, I could not commit the time and energy that came so freely years ago. I also comforted myself in knowing that I had two young sons and my time was best spent at home.

Two months ago, then-MJF Executive Vice President Richard Meyer reached out to me to chair the J-Help emergency assistance campaign. The timing was terrible, but as I learned about the Jews struggling in our neighborhood, I couldn’t say no.

I found dozens of Jewish families were in need, many in the North Shore. Jewish friends were secretly deciding between food and medication. The anonymous funding from a handful of donors was running out.

I knew in my heart that I just needed to shed light on the situation and the Jewish community, as it always does, would step up and join in the effort. I promised myself I would do my best to make sure no Jewish person in our community would go to bed unfed or medically untreated.

However, I was not prepared for what was to come next.

My first order of business was to introduce J-Help at the Campaign Kickoff attended by 250 people in our Jewish community. The prior evening, I promised my 11-year-old son Nathan that we’d watch a movie together.

Shortly beforehand I started on the speech that I would deliver the following night. As 7 p.m. turned to 8 p.m., Nathan entered my study to ask when we’d watch the movie together. I said “Soon.”

As 8 p.m. became 9 p.m., Nathan came into my study to say goodnight. Feeling terrible, I tucked him into bed and apologized.

He said, “Dad, please don’t get mad, but I was standing outside of your study and I could hear you practicing your speech about J-Help.” I replied, “Yes, I am sorry.” To which he replied, “Dad, you are the coolest guy in the world.”

I’ll never forget his words and how they motivated me to shed that light on the problem.  Likewise, I’ll never forget wrapping up the speech I gave and truly studying the 250 people in attendance.

During my hiatus from Jewish community involvement, everyone in our community looked unique — different ages, clothes, interests and desires.

However, that evening everyone magically looked the same. Everyone looked moved enough to quietly step up for their Jewish brothers and sisters — as we always do. And as my son unknowingly reminded me, that is what makes us Jews so cool.

Thank you Nathan.
Richard Ruvin chairs the J-Help Campaign.