Ralph's life

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Ralph Goldman's name has been synonymous with JDC for as long as many can remember. He has been the "heart" of our organization for over four decades and an icon of international Jewish communal service.

Many of you will be familiar with the details of Ralph's life, and much has been written about him, so we won't go into biographical details. But in this topic, you will see and hear some personal recollections from people who knew Ralph, which will hopefully give you a sense of who Ralph was, what he stood for, and why he meant so much to JDC.

To get a better idea of the person Ralph was, the philosophies he followed, and the beliefs he carried over to JDC, take a look at this video:

A Tribute to Ralph Goldman

 

Ralph's Impact

People from all spheres admired, loved, and were inspired by Ralph. Although these are just a few people's words about him, they give some sense of the multiple ways he touched people's lives.

Like countless other people, I can say in earnest that Ralph Goldman changed my life. I was a Jewish and Russian Studies major...and I knew what I cared about but had no idea how to translate that into a life. 
Mr. Goldman showed me my golden ticket—an opportunity to play an active role in the global Jewish community. I applied for and received the Ralph Goldman Fellowship in 1999. 
Many lunches with Mr. Goldman followed—peppered with pastrami, burning hot soup, and best of all his wisdom and experience.... [Ralph] continued to guide me—and his influence on all those who were blessed to know him surely will not end with his passing.

Jodi Guralnick Block, October 7, 2014
 

Throughout his career, Ralph sought to prepare the next generation of Jewish civil servants. He mentored numerous young people who today populate the Jewish communal world. 
Everyone whose life Ralph touched, whether as a mentor, colleague, or ally, saw in him a real friend with a genuine concern for the life of others. Ralph's devotion to the Jewish world and his loyalty and concern for his colleagues of all ages were rivaled only by his unconditional and boundless love for his own family.... 
They— and all of us who knew and loved him, along with the countless people who benefited from his labors—have lost a remarkable friend, visionary, and benefactor. He has left us an enormous legacy.

David Harman, professor of education in Israel


His service to the Jewish People was unmatched over many decades. His passion and joy for the important work he did every day were inspiring. 
Whether it was Israel, Jews in the Soviet Union, or the smallest Jewish community in remote places around the globe, Ralph cared and did something about it.

Barry Curtiss-Lusher, National Chair; Abraham H. Foxman, National Director, The Anti-Defamation League
 

Ralph's foresight in forging a path in these countries [in Eastern Europe] to enable support has resulted in the delivery of vital assistance to these victims.... These Jews in the former Soviet Union never met Ralph and will never know his name, but their lives were made better and brighter because of his efforts on their behalf. 
Along with the clothing and food, they received something just as important—the understanding that there were Jews in the West who cared about them and who were working to improve their lives.

Julius Berman, Message from the President, The Claims Conference
 

... Ralph believed, probably from his Hebrew College days, in the vitality of Jewish community. He believed that people are central, not buildings. 
He believed that community networks are essential to strengthening the Jewish people, and that the State of Israel, though unique in its sovereignty, was indeed to be an incubator of contemporary Jewish community life.

Eliot Goldstein, JDC Executive Director, Global Resource Development


Ralph made me. From the first moment I met him my life was transformed. He sent me on missions where I always had to stretch my reach in order to grasp our objectives. For many years he believed in me more than I believed in myself. 
He was my teacher, my mentor, and my moral compass.... Always he gave me tasks I thought impossible to achieve and always I succeeded thanks to his guidance and inspiration. 
This is only one story of one person among the thousands of people he touched in his long and illustrious career.

Michael Schneider, former JDC Executive Vice President

 

Ralph's greatness was that he dealt with huge problems in a way that can be called just "Jewish." It was not the fulfillment of so many paragraphs in whatever law book, but rather the spirit that permeates the details and the generalities. 
There are things that are written in the law, and those that are found between the lines. Ralph was not a theologian or philosopher or a great Jewish scholar, but he had an inner understanding of why and how things should be done. 
He did not phrase many memorable adages, and did not proclaim any abstract plans; he just acted.

Rabbi Adin Even-Israel Steinsaltz

 

"Legendary" and "inspiring" are only some of the words I would hear people use to describe you when they would tell me yet another story about the work that you have done. 
You, so humble that most of the things I know about your work I learned from everyone but you. But to me, you were always just plain and simple Saba. 
The Saba to go out for an ice cream with when I was young. The Saba that would spend hours on a transatlantic call in the middle of your workday—because I had just one more question regarding my Jewish history homework. The Saba that would start telling a whole story regarding an event in the history of our country because you saw the name of a street on a walk back home with my brother and me. 
The Saba that would spend hours listening to me and advising me on schoolwork and career options when I got older.... You were a gift, Saba—the best one I could ever receive.

Letter from Noa Ruth Ben-Rafael, Ralph's youngest granddaughter

 

Alan's Thoughts

Here you can hear the thoughts of Alan Gill, CEO, JDC who worked closely with Ralph:

Ralph Goldman joined JDC after having already shaped much of the Jewish future. Ralph wrote private notes of what he wanted to accomplish and he put them in the archives. One of which was to re-enter the countries that JDC had been thrown out of during the times of communist depression. That was over a decade before the curtain started to come down. Imagine, this is a man who had vision; this is a man who always thought not about what was possible but what was impossible and how to achieve that. That's Ralph. Nothing was impossible unless it was proven to him. 

Ralph Goldman personified the execution of the Talmudic precinct that we hold so dear of global Jewish responsibility. It wasn't enough for Ralph to talk about it. In fact, Ralph didn't like to talk about it. Ralph did it, that's who he was and that is the essence of this organization. We do, we move, when Jews are in need and the only address that can help them is JDC, we will indeed be there. 

Ralph Goldman was always, right until the end, looking to the future. One of his favorite expressions was 'לאן אנחנו הולכים?' 'Where are we going?' where to next? Thinking ahead. That quiet, forceful sense of determination grounded in the history of our people, grounded in the core values of who we are as professional Jewish communal workers is something that Ralph left us and unviewed within us every day.