My Aunt Ruthie, who introduced my mom and dad to each other (she’s the reason I’m here today!), died 15 years ago. I still think of her often. She had a hearty laugh and a zeal for life. Enjoy this story, which is followed by a personal reflection question. This story may seem familiar to some of you – a version of it was featured in an early semiannual inspiration message.
You know that I love telling stories, and I hope this story helps get you thinking more deeply about leadership and service to others. Savor it.
However, before I begin the story, a quick note about the picture that accompanies this post. Yes, that is me with Aunt Ruthie. I was 13 years old, and the picture is from my Bar Mitzvah. Quite different than the picture of me on this page, no? Many thanks to my mother for scanning and emailing it.
Ruth Joan Brody, a friend of our family whom I refer to affectionately as Aunt Ruthie (the woman who introduced my parents – I would not be here without her!), was one of the first people in my life to teach me about leadership and service to others. One of my fondest memories of childhood was volunteering with her at Temple Emanu-El’s weekly fundraiser – Tuesday night bingo. I was charged with selling candy and sodas and enjoyed a lot of delicious junk food in the process! Before Bingo began, I sat in front of a shelf of candies and filled customer orders, and during Bingo, I would push a cart of selected snacks throughout the temple. I loved that work, and I loved watching Aunt Ruthie sell the sheets of Bingo cards and kibbitz (Yiddish for chat or gossip) with the customers who knew her well. Everyone loved Aunt Ruthie. Not only was she there to help raise money for her beloved temple and its members, but she also genuinely cared about the women, and handful of men, that played bingo each week.
Aunt Ruthie also organized a temple bowling league for young mothers with kids so that they could socialize and learn more about our temple, led summertime worship services when the rabbi was on vacation, and took time to help special needs kids with their religious school studies. Aunt Ruthie passed away 15 years ago, but her leadership legacy lives on through the Temple Emanu-El Ruth Joan Brody Memorial Fund, which helps bring special programming to the religious school every year. She embodied selfless, servant leadership, and she touched many, many lives.
And perhaps even more importantly to me, Aunt Ruthie was the first person in my life to expose me to gay men. She had friends (you guys know who you are!) that came over to her house regularly, and we would often run into them. My most salient memory is of their hearty, bellowing laughter. Those guys could tell jokes and make sarcastic quips like no one else. She really blazed a trail for me, without even knowing it. She showed me that it’s always okay to be who you are, and that the right people will always, always love you for it.
Aunt Ruthie – Mom, Dad, Marianne, Len, and I miss you immensely, and so do a whole host of people you’ve never met, including the newer members of our family: Ryan, Harrison, and Jon. Your story lives on in the stories we tell about you, and this is one of them. I promise, promise, promise you that your life made a difference to so many of us and that your spirit will live on with us forever and ever.
Question for You: What have you learned from Aunt Ruthie’s story, and how can you use that knowledge to help yourself and others?
Feel free to share your answer here, and I hope I have inspired you to be like Aunt Ruthie, to be the change you want to see in the world.