The Extraordinary Ruth Begun

Tags: Planned Giving, Charitable Giving, Family

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Who Was Ruth Begun?

Ruth Begun was no ordinary woman. Born in Germany in 1912, she studied physics at the University of Berlin with Albert Einstein and immigrated to the United States with her soon-to-be husband, Semi, in 1937. They married one year later and settled in Cleveland where she worked at NASA Glen Research Center as co-developer of the spacecraft engine. He was an inventor of note, recognized in the Inventors Hall of Fame. Together, through their private foundation, they would leave a legacy beyond their scientific achievements, creating the Society for Prevention of Violence in 1972 and ultimately establishing the Semi J. and Ruth W. Begun Foundation, a supporting Foundation of the Jewish Federation of Cleveland, before her death at age 102.

Semi J. and Ruth W. Begun Foundation

“When you run a private foundation, you file the tax returns, maintain the checkbooks, and manage all the business of that foundation,” explained Hedy Milgrom, Chief Development Officer at the Jewish Federation of Cleveland,

“But when your foundation is a Supporting Foundation of the Federation, we do that business for you, with donor intent at the heart of the decision-making.”

After Semi passed away, and with no children as their heirs, Ruth started thinking about how her legacy would continue. She entrusted the Federation to carry that legacy forward. “She knew that her philanthropic goals and interests would be maintained with us,” said Milgrom. The Federation works with Jewish community members whose philanthropic interests include and extend beyond the Jewish community. Through the Federation, Ruth was exposed to new opportunities in which her Foundation could make great impact.

Making Impact

Ruth believed that if children at a young age learned to be nice to each other, there would be less violence in society. Working with Sally Wertheim and John Carroll University, she built an entire curriculum around this idea. In fact, her curriculum was being used in pre-schools and elementary schools as part of violence prevention programming.

Although Ruth had been focused on local needs, her sister-in-law, Henrietta – who had her own Foundation – was investing in violence prevention programs that used Ruth’s curriculum in Be’er Sheva, Israel. Ruth knew of its success.

When the Federation hosted Ron Huldai, Mayor of Tel Aviv, who came to speak to potential funders about the work of the Tel Aviv Foundation, Ruth attended. She spoke to the Mayor about the success of Henrietta’s investment in schools in Be’er Sheva and she wanted to expand the good work in Israel. He agreed.

Innovative Programming

Working together, the Federation and the Begun Foundation partnered with the Tel Aviv Foundation to bring her innovative violence prevention programming to the Amiel-Rambam School.

Here’s what happened: not only did the pre-school children show improved behaviors in the classroom, but the parents started calling the school saying they had seen changes in the children at home. The children who often ate alone in front of the television were suddenly asking to have family meals and practice eating at the table with their family. The parents said that it had improved their family dynamic as they were now sharing family meals together.

The program expanded to another school. It was no ordinary school – just as Ruth was no ordinary woman.

The Bialik-Rogozen School in south central Tel Aviv was a K-12 educational campus of 750+ at-risk youth. It was known as one of Israel’s most culturally diverse, with students representing forty-eight different countries. Many arrived to the school fleeing poverty, political adversity, or even genocide.

Ruth’s violence prevention programming gave them common ground, a way to relate to one another, and its success was extraordinary.

Her Legacy Lives On

As Ruth’s health declined, she moved to live with her nephew Allan Steinhardt in Virginia. He became increasingly involved with the Begun Foundation, and today is the President.

“Allan works with us to ensure that Ruth’s initial goal of creating a just society without violence is held true,” said Milgrom. “We were able to work with Ruth in a trusted relationship. We developed an understanding so she knew that we would be able to grow the goodwill she left to the world.”

Meet Hedy Milgrom

For more information, contact Hedy Milgrom at 216-593-2850 or hmilgrom@jcfcleve.org.

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