By Karen Klieger Sponder
Ralph I. Goldman was the ultimate global Jew. Born in the Ukraine, he grew up in United States, and later moved to Israel. More importantly, the impact of his life’s work is still changing lives, still guiding the values and principles of the Jewish world. His life inspires me greatly.
It is a privilege and an honor to announce that the Global Day of Jewish Learning is being dedicated to the life and legacy of Ralph Goldman. Ralph described himself as “a civil servant of the Jewish people.” Indeed, while serving in the US Army in WWII he volunteered to work in Displaced Persons Camps and he served the founding government of Israel, organizing Prime Minister Ben-Gurion’s first state visit to the US.
During his 100 years of life, Ralph both served and led the Jewish people, most notably at the helm of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC). Alan H. Gill, current CEO of the JDC, described Ralph saying he dedicated “his life and career to strengthening Israel, and to ensuring the survival and vibrancy of the Jewish people and communities worldwide.” The JDC is the key international partner of the Global Day. We appreciate all the ways the JDC helps to strengthen Jewish communities and Jewish life around the world.
Ralph and Rabbi Adin Even-Israel Steinsaltz – the founder of the Global Day – were close friends. Ralph valued Jewish texts. He referenced the importance of Talmudic discussion, saying, “But the greatness of the Jewish people is exactly what you have in the Talmud – that there’s disagreements between the rabbis and there are even places where you say “taku” [tie/ not resolvable], they will have to wait until Eliyiahu HaNavi [Elijah the Prophet/the Messiah] will come.”
Both men were also essential to the revitalization of Jewish life in the Former Soviet Union (FSU). There was Ralph’s courageous path-breaking initiative of opening JCCs and Hillels in the FSU. Upon re-entering Russia after the fall of Communism, Ralph described the JDC’s work saying, “Now we need to help restore Jewish knowledge, Jewish learning, to the people here because they didn’t have it for the last 70 years.”
The Global Day is the largest annual world-wide community study of Jewish texts ever held, responding to Rabbi Steinsaltz’s mandate: “Let My People Know.” On Sunday, November 15, 2015, over 600 communities will join together in study.
Ralph was passionate about the Jews. He loved them both as a people, in the abstract, and (mostly) individually. This year’s Global Day theme, “Love: Devotion, Desire and Deception,” challenges us to love the Jewish people as much as Ralph did. Ralph’s commitment to the global Jewish people will always inspire the Global Day’s work; participating communities will further his legacy for generations to come. I invite you to join us.
Karen Klieger Sponder serves as the Project Director of the Global Day of Jewish Learning, a project of the Aleph Society furthering Rabbi Adin Even-Israel Steinsaltz’s mission – “Let my people know” and dedicated to the life and legacy of Ralph I. Goldman.