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January 6, 2012     Heritage Florida Jewish News
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January 6, 2012
 

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PAGE IOA By Lisa Keys NEW YORK (JTA)--A parent with a child who is deaf; a sister with a learn- ing disabled brother. The most outspoken advocates for people with special needs tend to be those who became active because of a personal con- nection to the issue. That's not the case for Jay Ruderman, who works tirelessly to improve the lives of those with disabili- ties. As president of the Boston-based Ruderman Family Foundation, he helps fumnel his family's considerable wealth toward programs that integrate the disabled into Ameri- can Jewish life and Israeli society. Special needs, Ruder- man insists, is not an issue that Concerns only those with a personal stake--a point he stressed at Advance: The Ruder- man Jewish Special Needs Funding Conference, the Marian Goldman/Jewish Funders Network Jay Ruderman slresses that special needs is a "Jew- ishissue" andnotonethat concernsonlxthosewitha and special needs as a spe- cial interest aloKeleave us all the poorer," Rudermarl said during his remarks. "This is a justice issue, it's a Jewish issue and it's all of our issue." The Dec. 6 event drew second-eyer gathering of some 150 participants disability philanthropists, to the Baruch College "Focusing on disabilities Conference Center here HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, JANUARY 6, 2012 Philanthropist Jay Ruderman leads new push to help disabled Congregation Ohev Shalom's with the goal of creating partnerships and raising the profile of special needs inclusion within thOewish world. The room w a veri- table cross-sectior of the Jewish community young and old, observalt and not, lay leaders and Jewish communal profesdonals. The positive energy was palpable as colleagues from across America and Israel relished the opportunity to connect face to face. Ruderman, 45 and some- what boyish despite the flecks of salt in his close- cropped beard, exudes a pleasant Calmamid the buzz. Speakin to a re- porer  isffnd 0n- message, clearly seasoned in dealing with the media. His demeanor is both pas- sionate and genuine, even as he tells anecdotes he has shared before. "It's a good, good crowd," said Ruderman, surveying the room. When the Ruderman Family Foundationalong with the Jewish Funders Network, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Adult Conservative Committee, the Jewish Fed- erations of North America and the Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Greater Boston--convened the first Advance Conference last year, "I thought we'd have maybe 50 funders," he said. But more than 100 showed up--a clear sign that Ruderman and his partners had tapped into an unmet need. Approximately 18 per- cent of Israel's population has some form of disability, and estimates indicate a similar percentage within the American Jewish com- munity, Ruderman said. Ruderman's nephew was diagnosed with autism. "It brought us emotion- ally closer to the issue," he said. "It wasn't theoretical; it was personal." Even with many people knowing someone who is disabled--and perhaps becoming disabled them- selves at some point in their lives--conference at- tendees said the organized Jewish community doesn't do enough to reach the disabled. 100 Blessings: The Meaning and Practice Jewish Prayer ***Winter Session. January 9.March 15, 2012"** Mondws 7:00 pm: Rabbi;baron Barr Skolnik "Ble,,s You!" - Finding Meaning in B'raJhot Through Torah and Today Wednesdays 7:00 pm: Rabbi David Kay T'filah for Real - Understanding Jewish Prayer from the Inside Sh'ma and Amidah are the "signet ring of Jewish prayer." Learn to understand the fundamentals of Jewish prayer from lhe inside. Explore the meaning of blessings, through the eyes of those who receive and bestow them, using examples from Torah and modem limes. I are ofcharge open to community. Classes FREE and the Please RSVP to Susan at 407-2984650 or email clergyasat@ohevshalom.org Coagregatiol Ohev Shalom 600 Concoms Parkway South * Maitland, FL 32751 Phone: 407-298-4650 * Fax: 407-296-7101 Web: www.ohevshalom.org * Email: clergyasst@ohevshalom.org The Rudermans, how- ever, are walking the walk. One successful proj- ect, launched seven years ago, allows special needs children access to Jewish day schools throughout Boston. In a more recent en- deavor, the foundation pro- vided a $2.5 million grant to the Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Boston that provides customized job training and ongoing support for young adults with disabilities. Known as Young Adult Transitions to Work and run by Jewish Vocational Services, the program places its par- ticipants in jobs at Hebrew SeniorLife. The challenges facing the community are diverse, from making summer camps wheelchair acces- sible to offering sign lan- guage interpreters at syna- gogues. Finding common ground among funders was another theme of the conference, along with the notion that such col- laboration takes time and patience. Case in point: Last year's conference led to the creation of the Disability Peer Network, a group of 16 funders committed to the cause that is being incubated at the Jewish Funders Network. It's been a slow process, though a director was recently hired. "We're talking about funders who are diverse in size, geographic location and interest," Ruderman said. Ultimately the goal is to work together on projects. For now, Ruderman says, "the idea is to get to know each other, network, ad- vance the field." Indeed, the shared inter- ests of the group is what sets it apart from many of the Jewish community's most high-profile projects and philanthropists. "In the interest of Jewish continuity, they run after what they consider the best and the brightest," Ruderman said. "While doing that, they put aside the people in need who re- ally want to be part of the community. That might be because it's more expen- sive, or more complicated, but if we just focus on the best and the brightest, we're not much of a Jewish community." This sense of commu- nal responsibility is a lesson Ruderman says he learned from his father, the late Morton Ruderman, founder of the health care technology firm Meditech. He was a "very emo- tional, very caring person," Ruderman said. "My father was all about helping people in need." The elder Ruderman also impressed upon his son the importance of apply- ing business principles to the family's philanthropic efforts. "The way you are going to be successful, to have the most impact, is to be able to partner and connect with others who have similar in- terests," Ruderman recalls his father telling him. It's a lesson Ruderman has taken to heart: In 2009, in partnership with the JDC and the Israeli govern- ment, he launched Israel Unlimited, a four-year, $6 million program aimed at integrating those with special needs into Israeli society. As for business acu- men, his father again was an invaluable teacher, as Ruderman's professional background is in law and politics. Ruderman gradu- ated from the Boston University School of Law and began his career as an assistant district attorney in Salem, Mass. But he grew restless after five years in the position and in 2000, he took time off and enrolled in an ulpan in Israel. Itwas a trip that changed the course of his life. There he met his wife, Shira, and upon returning to the U.S. he became the deputy director of AIPAC's New England office. The Rudermans moved to Israel in 2005, where he did a stint with the Israeli army, serving as a liaison between the military and diaspora Jews. Ruderman then became the leader- ship director at AIPAC's Jerusalem office before assuming the presidency of his family's foundation three years ago. In another "like father, like son" trait, Ruderman admits to being a worka- holic, though he says his unique position working in both Israel and the U.S. is partially to blame. After saying Kaddish for his father, who passed away in October, his workday begins at 8 or 9 a.m., and he often makes site visits to the foundation's projects throughout Israel. "Then, around 3:30 or 4, I begin my work on the phone with our programs in the U.S.," he says. "I used to be on the phone until midnight until my wife told me to stop that." With four children at home in Rehovot--they range in age from 3 to 8--quitting time is now around 7. Still, he con- fesses, "I consider myself addicted to email." At the moment, however, Ruderman's mobile device is tucked away and atten- tion is concentrated on the conference, its goals and new ways to honor his father's legacy. Launching that day was the Ruderman Prize in Disability, a world- wide competition that will offer a total of $200,000 to up to 10 organizations that serve the disabled in the Jewish community. "It's gratifying, but I also want to remain cognizant that this is not about us," he adds. "We're providing some leadership, but we're bringing together people who had not come together before. Together, if we can set aside our egos and find common ground, I think we can change the com- munity."