By Michele Justic
When Tom Brokaw coined the term “the Greatest Generation,” he was referring to certain character traits that proved crucial in saving the United States from economic and military upheaval — strength of character, a generous spirit, a commitment to community. Ruth Simon, a’h, and her husband Hyman, a’h, exhibited these traits, and millions of children benefited from their largesse.
Their names adorn buildings for Yeshiva of South Shore and Mesivta Ateres Yaakov, a children’s room at Congregation Beth Sholom, a fertility clinic at Shaare Zedek hospital in Israel, and a playground in Hebron, among many other places. But their donations were not about seeking attention; they were about making the world a better place.
“Aunt Ruth,” as she was known to many, loved children. Sadly, she and her husband were not blessed with children. Instead of feeling bitter about these circumstances, they set out to help other children. From Hyman’s career in the toy business to their personal and financial involvement with YOSS, MAY, and other organizations, their love for children was evident to all.
It all began with a chance encounter on a bus as Hy returned from his valiant service in WWII and Ruth noticed the only other Jew on the bus with her. It was a match made in heaven, and the rest was history. They led simple lives, living in a cellar, waiting over a decade to buy an engagement ring, but as they received more of Hashem’s blessings in parnassah, they made sure to use it for good.
Ruth’s cherished niece, Debra Fink, relates that Hy met Rav Binyamin Kamenetzky, zt’l, at Zomick’s bakery and after speaking to him for a bit declared, “I would even buy the Brooklyn Bridge from you.” Rav Kamenetzky’s caring and charismatic character is well-known, so it is not surprising that these families formed a lifelong friendship along with partnering in many chesed projects. Hy donated many toys to fundraising drives and bazaars held by Yeshiva of South Shore.
As Mesivta Ateres Yaakov began to bloom, the Simons took an active role there as well. Rabbi Mordechai Yaffe, rosh ha’yeshiva, Mesivta Ateres Yaakov, lauds Ruth. “She felt a personal responsibility for the success of the yeshiva and would often come into the office to leave a check that no one had requested … Although she never had children of her own, on many occasions I would publicly call on her to regard all of the hundreds of talmidim who attended our yeshiva, and the thousands who will follow, as her own progeny. Furthermore, it can be said with no exaggeration that our yeshiva was only able to be sustained during trying earlier years due to her largesse and vision. About how many people can this be said?”
Their generosity crossed over to Israel as well. For his 70th birthday, Hy donated seven pairs of tefillin to Boys Town. Ruth loved visiting Israel, especially with her nieces and nephews, to see the miracles in action—how the Simon donations were benefiting Israeli children everywhere, from Sderot to Hebron to the heart of Yerushalayim.
Back in the States, Ruth spent a lot of time with her family, even watching her grandnieces and nephews as a grandmother would. Tova Fink Goldfarb relates how she often confided in Ruth and felt as close as a grandchild. Ruth worried about her family perhaps more than herself.
Ruth also had many friends she enjoyed entertaining in her apartment or going out with them to Cho-sen Island or the theater. Her personality endeared her to many, as Rabbi Yaffe related, “I forged a personal connection with her because that’s how she was. She was an individual who truly cared about others individually, in addition to her exceptional generosity to the needs of the many. She never failed to send regards to my wife or ask about my mother’s well-being, a woman she only met a few times. She appreciated being invited to events in our yeshiva and made it her business to attend and participate, well into her nineties. When she felt too unwell to attend, it was she who would apologize to us. She was fiercely independent, and at the end of an event, we would almost have to trick her into allowing a talmid to walk her home.”
Rebbetzin Knobel remembered Ruth as “always very friendly. When you met her at a simcha, she was always ready to help and to do. She never spoke bad about anybody and always saw good in people.”
Rabbi Yaffe concluded, “She was truly a grand lady who carried herself with a grace and dignity that is rarely found today. She always expressed that she considered it her privilege to help Jewish children in their education, a testament to the mission she and her beloved husband had embarked on together. Our yeshiva will miss her presence and the security her presence provided, but I will miss her personally. I am blessed to have known her.”