My Father and Our Legacy
by Jay Ruderman
How a family decides to choose their philanthropic agenda is both complex and at the same time fairly straight forward. The complexity arises from the varied dynamics of each individual family. As my friend Jeff Solomon has said, “Once you know one foundation, you know one foundation.” We each have our own internal family relationships based on our history as a family. How a family decides to work with each other and decides which issues are important to them can be complicated and even stressful at times. However, any family which decides to engage in strategic philanthropy is seeking to achieve maximum social impact on the issues they espouse.
Our family chose to advocate for the full inclusion of people with disabilities because my father fundamentally believed that it is unfair for anyone to be excluded from life in our community. He believed that a Jewish community and State of Israel which segregates people with disabilities and systematically excludes them from inclusion in our schools, workforce, housing, trips to Israel, camping, synagogues and general community life, denies their civil rights to be part of our society. My father believed that the way we currently treat people with disabilities is antithetical to what being Jewish is all about.
As the president of our family’s foundation, my overriding goal has always been to take my father’s vision and maximize the impact we can achieve in Israel and the Jewish community to make our society inclusive for all. We try to develop partnerships with major Jewish organizations and run our own advocacy efforts in an effort to change our community. Our family firmly believes that unless our community begins to honor the rights of every Jew to participate in our community’s life, we are at risk of being labeled as a community open to only some members and not all. Inclusion is not only the right thing to do, but an exclusionary community will be unattractive to the very young Jews the Jewish community is obsessed in engaging in Jewish life. In short, inclusion is our future.
My father passed away two years ago on Erev Sukkot. We have thought long and hard about the best way to honor his legacy and celebrate the impact he had in transforming our Jewish community and the State of Israel to be a better place for all. In order to remember my father, our foundation has announced the Morton E. Ruderman Award and will grant $100,000 annually to an individual who has championed the inclusion of people with disabilities in our community and general society. This year we are honored to grant the inaugural Morton E. Ruderman Award to Professor Michael Stein of Harvard Law School. Michael Stein has been a leader of the inclusion of people with disabilities in the United States, Israel and around the world. I know my father would have liked him.
You may ask yourself why you should care about Mort Ruderman and the issue of inclusion of people with disabilities. Well, as Jewish philanthropy continues to change, as private family philanthropy grows and as private philanthropy’s relationship with major Jewish organizations evolves, our family’s history and agenda could serve as an example. We do not shy away from trying to solve complex issues; just the opposite – we see philanthropy as a vehicle for driving societal change and making our community one that is fair and flourishing.
As for the issue of inclusion, we are either going to be on the right side of history or the wrong one. My father, who cared deeply about our community, understood that. Our foundation is guided by his commitment to fairness and we will not waver.
Jay Ruderman is the President of the Ruderman Family Foundation.