It’s getting harder and harder to find common ground these days. People, organizations, countries, even religions increasingly seem to see things as black or white, all or nothing. That’s just one reason why Ira Riklis is so appreciative of the efforts Aish HaTorah, a Jewish educational organization with educational centers around the world. Their name translates as “Fire of Torah,” and their true passion—their fire—is teaching all who seek to learn about Judaism and the Jewish Holy book.
There’s no doubt that they spring from Orthodox beliefs. It’s just that they don’t force those beliefs of those who come to them. For them, Judaism is a path that each individual travels in their own way, at their own pace. It’s that sense of
inclusiveness that has made Ira Riklis a staunch long-time supporter. He, like millions of others around the world have found support and guidance from the group in times of need.
We all know the old acronym “TGIF”: Thank Goodness It’s Friday!” But for some those letters may stand for something else: “Thank Goodness It’s Food!” The two meanings combine on early Friday mornings at the Central Synagogue Caring Committee food kitchen. With the help of volunteers like Ira Riklis, the kitchen serves hot breakfasts and bag lunches to the homeless on Friday (and Thursday) mornings. And as the only organization in the area serving those morning meals, they provide an invaluable service for the working poor who have jobs that simply, sadly, don’t pay enough to put a roof over their head or provide for regular nutritious meals.
They Caring Committee has been doing their good work since 1983 after an urgent appeal from the mayor to meet what was thought to be a temporary need. Of course, the need wasn’t temporary and has grown over the years. Ira Riklis got involved personally nearly thirteen years ago after learning about the need and the group’s efforts.
It was nearly 30 year ago, back in 1981 when food critic Gael Greene, chef James Beard and cookbook author Barbara Kafka read an article about how many of New York’s homebound elderly had nothing to eat on weekends and holidays. Deeply touched by the story, they form a unique partnership with the New York City Department for the Aging and raised $35,000 to provide a Christmas dinner for 6,000 elderly poor that year. That inspirational act led them to form Citymeals-on-Wheels to continue providing food for those elderly who needed it. The organization grew as they called on friends like Ira Riklis to lend their support.
From that simple beginning, Citymeals-on-Wheels has grown to serve more than 2.5 million meals each year and has a budget of nearly $17.5 million—every penny of which goes to provide nutritious, hand-delivered meals to this group of people who would otherwise be hungry and alone. Ira Riklis continues to be a strong supporter, just as he was at the beginning. And he urges others to offer their support to similar organizations operating in their area.
It wasn’t that long ago that a diagnosis of the form of cancer known as acute myeloid leukemia was a death sentence. But today, as Ira Riklis could tell you, there is hope. That’s the good news. The not-so-good news is that there’s a big IF attached to that potential hope. The disease can be put into remission IF a suitable bone marrow transplant donor can be found. Mandi Schwartz, a Yale women’s hockey player, is living proof of that.
A continent-wide search for a donor finally paid off for her. She recently was treated and doctors hope the donated stem cells will take hold and repair her immune system. That she found a match at all was remarkable. Bone marrow transplants require very close tissue matches. And those matches can only be found if volunteers have sent in tissue samples (something that’s easy to do by taking a simple cheek swab). Those people are registered in a national database. From there it’s a matter of time and luck that a match can be found for someone in need. The only thing that can boost the odds is if more people register as potential donors as Ira Riklis did many years ago. Donor drives associated with Mandi’s case resulted in 4,200 new donors signing up. If everyone reading this registers and urges their friends to do so as well, maybe we can get another 4,200 and save more lives!
Do you just ever throw up your hands at all troubles of this world? It would be nice to see a need, give of yourself to help out and have it all settled. Everybody would feel good and things would be right again. Ira Riklis feels that way at times, but he (like most of us) is well aware that it just doesn’t work that way. No matter what you do it seems hard to make a real difference even in one small area. One can end up thinking it’s folly even to try.
But rather than despair, it’s better to just do. Do whatever is in our power to do and know that we have tried and we have made a difference however small. Ira Riklis learned that lesson years ago from a Rabbi who told him the parable of the star thrower. Based on a Loren Eiseley essay about a young man who was trying to save stranded starfish on an immense beach by throwing them one by one back into the sea, the story speaks to optimism, determination and the willingness to appear foolish at times all in the service of doing the right thing to improve the world.
Not too long ago, Ira Riklis passed on a link to this beautiful video that captures some of the pageantry and excitement of Tel Aviv’s centennial celebration last year. Now, it goes by pretty fast, but somewhere in the middle you’ll see a picture of the inside an old pharmacy. There’s a man inside, who may just be Mr. Rikli’s great grandfather, Zelig Krinkin. Why would we think that? It turns out that Mr. Krinkin opened Tel Aviv’s first pharmacy way back when!
Ira Riklis also wants to note that while this video shows bits of some of the concerts, fireworks and special events that marked the centennial, there’s another side to Tel Aviv. Beyond the thriving modern cultural and business centers, there are neighborhoods where poverty runs rampant. That’s why he continues to support the American Friends of Tel Aviv Foundation. This group works tirelessly with donors to improve the lives of people in these neighborhoods by developing wide-ranging educational, cultural, artistic and sports projects.
Most of us make at least a few charitable acts each year, giving of our time or money to help make this world a little better place. Some do so regularly; others more sporadically. (Blessed with financial success and the means to do more than many of us, Ira Riklis supports some fifty causes and organizations each year.) But one question to consider is: how do these acts make you feel? Do you give only when confronted with the need to give? Do you give begrudgingly, as if it’s an effort for you?
The fact is that any form of giving is good for your soul (and of course, good for those who receive). But some forms of giving are vastly better in terms of their spiritual nature and the effect they have both on you and on those to whom you give. Ira Riklis can tell you that those gifts giving freely, openly and without being asked for represent a higher form of giving, one that helps restore justice and fairness to the world. You should feel good about your giving, not out of a sense of self righteousness, but because it’s the right thing to do.
It’s become a popular misconception that on the old Dragnet show, Sgt. Joe Friday’s signature line was always “Just the facts, ma’am.” (He really usually said something like “All we want are the facts, ma’am.”) Well Ira Riklis wants you to know the facts about the need for blood and blood donors. Fact: The demand for blood transfusions is growing faster than donations. Fact: Less than 38% of the U.S. population is eligible to donate blood. Fact: Blood cannot be manufactured — it can only come from generous donors.
Here are some more facts to consider. Fact: Every two seconds someone in the U.S. needs blood. Fact: A single car accident victim can require as many as 100 units of blood. Fact: Blood donation is a safe, simple process that takes about an hour from start to finish. Fact: By donating blood, you’re helping to save lives. Fact: Ira Riklis makes it a point to donate blood several times each year. Fact: He urges you to consider doing the same.
Regular readers of this blog may recall that a few weeks ago, we talked about Ira Riklis’ appearance as a featured guest on the Executive Leaders Radio Program. The program, based in the Philadelphia area invites prominent local business leaders to share their insights into the secrets to their successes. Each edition provides listeners with rare opportunities to benefit from the knowledge and experiences of these “men and women at the top.”
The show with Ira Riklis aired over a period of several days in early September on several different local radio stations. But your only chance to have heard it was if you happened to be fortunate enough to be within range and tuned in at the time of airing. Now, we’re happy to let you know that you can listen to show anytime, anywhere in the world by visiting the program’s website! You should also be able to listen to it as a podcast on iTunes as well.
Whatever you may think of the sport, there’s no denying that’s football season is here again. And whatever you think of the sport, there’s no denying it’s inherently dangerous. One of the most deadly aspects of the game is the possibility of serious head trauma. No parent would think of sending their children out to play contact football without a properly fitted football helmet. So, by that same token, Ira Riklis urges everyone, both children and adults, to wear properly fitted bicycle helmets when they go out for a ride, no matter how short.
The statistics are clear. Most bicycle-related deaths occur as a result of head injuries. And the vast majority of these can be prevented simply by wearing a helmet. Ira Riklis became aware of this nearly twenty years ago when he was approached by a child safety organization seeking support in raising awareness of the problem and providing free helmets to local families. Upon learning the facts, he was quick to oblige and has since become a strong advocate for the wearing of helmets in any potentially dangerous sport.