Paying it forward
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Paying it forward

Remembering Gabby Reuveni's generous spirit

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Gabrielle Reuveni, triumphantly alive, in 2011.

Just a glance at the web page created in memory of Gabby Reuveni of Paramus gives some indication of the number of people she touched and – through the ongoing efforts of her family – she continues to touch.

Killed two years ago in Pennsylvania by a driver who swerved onto the shoulder of the road, where she was running, Gabby, who was 20, was “an extremely aware and kind person,” her mother, Jacqueline Reuveni, said. “We’re continuing her legacy.”

The family has undertaken both public and private “acts of kindness,” she said, from endowing scholarships to meeting local families’ medical bills.

According to her father, Michael Reuveni, Gabby – then a student at Washington University in St. Louis and a member of the school’s track team – was a victim of vehicular homicide.

“She was killed by a criminal from New Jersey who took drugs that didn’t belong to him, fell asleep, and swerved all the way across the road. They’re using every tactic to keep delaying the case,” he said. Recently, the driver, Philip Cise, won another delay by agreeing to undergo psychiatric treatment.

“They’re using the defense playbook,” said Reuveni, “but the case will eventually come to trial. They think we’ll give up. But we will never give up.”

(Cise, who is from Dover, has a history of erratic behavior, run-ins with police, and stints in jail.)

Dr. Reuveni is a member of Hillel’s Angels, a New Jersey-based Jewish motorcycle group affiliated with the Jewish Motorcyle Alliance. Every year, the JMA holds a Ride to Remember, using the rally as a fundraiser for a particular cause.

“Two years ago, one of our members suggested Safe Haven,” a small museum in upstate Oswego, New York, that commemorates a unique act in the annals of American history, Dr. Reuveni said. According to its website, the Safe Haven Museum and Education Center is dedicated to “keeping alive the stories of the 982 refugees from World War II who were allowed into the United States as ‘guests’ of President Franklin D. Roosevelt.” The refugees were housed at Fort Ontario in Oswego from August 1944 until February 1946.

“It was the only camp in the U.S. where people were held,” Jacqueline Reuveni said, and the U.S. government “went out of its way to house these people.” She credited President Franklin Roosevelt and humanitarian and photojournalist Ruth Gerber for the outreach initiative. “It was for Jewish people affected by displacement in Europe.”

While a condition of this arrangement was that the Jews were to return to Europe after the war, President Truman subsequently allowed the Jewish residents to remain and become citizens.

The 2014 Ride to Remember, dedicated to the Oswego museum, raised $60,000, Gabby’s father said, noting that 40 Jewish motorcycle groups from around the country took part in the event. “It’s a tiny museum, with very little money,” he said. “They have more displays than areas to display them. We made that our charity.”

But the Reuvenis wanted to do even more.

“On their wish list was a garden,” Michael Reuveni said. “One day it came to me – ‘Gabby’s Garden.’ Since Gabby was all about people, our family donated the funds to the museum to create a reflection garden to honor the lives saved and the generations they went on to create.”

“They’ve created 20,000 people so far,” Jacqueline Reuveni added, pointing out that this year also marked the survivors’ 70th reunion.

The Reuvenis – Michael and Jacqueline, their 18-year-old son, Zachary, and their 20-year-old daughter, Jessica – have perpetuated Gabby’s memory and carried on her legacy of giving in many other ways as well.

Because Gabby was the 2010 Paramus High School valedictorian, this year, her family awarded the second annual Gabrielle Reuveni Award for Academic Excellence. The $5,000 scholarship was created “both to honor academic achievement and help a high school student with the cost of their upcoming college expenses.”

“We always stressed educational excellence at home,” Michael Reuveni said. “Everyone talks about sports, but nobody talks about how academic excellence is rewarded. Every year, the Paramus High School valedictorian will get a scholarship.”

In recognition of Gabby’s active involvement in her college, the family also supports Washington University’s running team, to which Gabby belonged, and this Passover the Reuvenis worked with the campus’s Chabad emissaries to create “Gabby’s Tables” at the group’s seder “for people without the funds to sit at those tables.”

“Random acts of kindness” are equally important to the Reuvenis.

“Gabby always found a way to give to people or organizations, and she wouldn’t take credit for it,” her mother said. “We got so many cards and letters saying, for example, ‘She found me, she brought me coffee, she convinced me to be proud of who I am, she convinced me not to quit school.’ She always had a kind word and found a way to help.”

While the Reuvenis credit Gabby’s personality for her generous nature, they said they always tried to model charitable behavior for their three children.

“When you drive over the George Washington Bridge, there’s always someone there,” Dr. Reuveni said. “I always give them something, and my kids asked why. I said that if they’re miserable enough to stand there in the heat or cold, we should give them something. I said thank God you have more than them. We have always been thankful for what we have. If someone needs something, we help someone out.”

Ms. Reuveni said that Gabby “always seemed to find a person who needed assistance. She zoned in on people who needed something.”

In this spirit, her parents, through the Gabrielle Reuveni Memorial Gift Fund, have tried to help local residents in distress, such as one family “with sick kids who couldn’t afford the medical bills.”

On the first anniversary of Gabby’s death, her parents urged visitors to her webpage to emulate that. “If Gabby touched you in any way, we ask you to pay it forward,” they wrote. “In her honor, help someone, donate to a cause, help a stranger, give blood – anything that will pay forward the goodness she shared with you.”

Jacqueline Reuveni said she’s learned another lesson as well.

“Everybody should enjoy every moment of their life to its fullest,” she said.

“You don’t know what tomorrow will bring. Enjoy life as it comes, and don’t worry about the minutia. Stop and smell the roses.” Quoting a saying Gabby kept prominently displayed in her room, she added, “Live in the moment, and make it so beautiful that it will be worth remembering.”

The Facebook page established in Gabby’s memory is at www.facebook.com/InMemoryofGabbyReuveni.

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