(photo credit: WIKIMEDIA/JDCISRAEL)
Ralph Goldman was a personal friend and I shall mourn him greatly while at the same time, remembering the indelible effect he had on the Jewish social fabric across the world.
Goldman, who died in Jerusalem on 7 October, a few days before the Succot holiday at the grand old age of 100, was a legend in his own long lifetime. His influence and personal involvement covered virtually every aspect of Jewish communal life. His sprightly and articulate presence, his immaculately-dressed figure with its ever-present bow tie, was a fixture in every major event of Jewish social service, in his role as honorary vice-president of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (the “Joint”) for many years.
He was also of enormous help when we established Limmud FSU in 2006 to bring Jewish culture, education, tradition and identity, to thousands of Russian-speaking Jews across the world, but especially in those countries, which for 70 long years under communism had been deprived of the right to study, learn and even to partake in Jewish communal, traditional and religious life. The Joint, established in the year Goldman was born, is among the major donors to Limmud FSU.
We of Limmud FSU, together with the Jewish community of Belarus celebrated his 100th birthday as part of the opening gala celebrations at the beginning of a Limmud FSU conference held in Vitebsk, just a few weeks ago. Hundreds of Russian-speaking Jews attended the gala opening and heard a message from Ralph, delivered from his Jerusalem home. “It is a great honor for me, that my service, which has always been very gratifying but not always easy, is remembered in this way by Jews attending Limmud FSU, which is a big development in the region.”
The Joint celebrated its own centennial in Jerusalem – where the humanitarian organization was established in 1914 - and during that event marked Goldman’s birthday – who had also been a leading figure in the building of the State of Israel. Attending the centennial was then-president Shimon Peres, who paid a moving tribute to his long-time friend. “They say a person has to decide what to be and what to do. What to be comes from nature. What to do comes from vision. And Ralph had a rare combination of the two.”
Ralph Goldman was born in Lechovitz, in what is now Ukraine, which may have explained his interest in Limmud FSU. He immigrated with his family to the United States as an 11-year-old. Goldman studied history at Harvard before living for some time in Israel, where in the late 1930s he participated in the establishment of Kibbutz Hanita in the Upper Galilee on the Lebanese border.
Goldman was an archetypal “Man for all Seasons,” a Jewish patriot in the broadest sense of the word and a man whose contribution to so many Jewish social concerns was perhaps unparalleled in our generation. He will be sorely missed, but his mission and work will be remembered for a very long time.The writer is founder of Limmud FSU and a former treasurer of the Jewish Agency.