Remembering Ed Ruzinsky

Remembering Ed Ruzinsky

Tough businessman, an open-hearted philanthropist, a beloved friend

Ed and Enid Ruzinsky
Ed and Enid Ruzinsky

Edwin Ruzinsky, who died last week, was a formidable man.

He was brusque, straightforward, and at times intimidatingly no-nonsense. He dressed with impeccably formality. He expected much of others, as he did of himself.

He also was generous, not only with his money but with his time and energy. He supported the organizations that he cared about because he believed in their importance to the community, and he believed in community, both local and Jewish.

He was a husband who formed a tight partnership with his wife, Enid, when she was healthy, and gave her the kind of gentle, loving, hands-on care at home later, when she needed it, that not many people can do, although many want to.

He was a father whose children and grandchildren adored him, and their adoration was mutual.

Ed Ruzinsky was born in the Bronx’s Parkchester neighborhood in 1933; his mother, Lillian, was born somewhere on the Polish-Russian border, and his father, Al, was born in the United States to parents whose own parents came from eastern Europe. Al Ruzinsky was an entrepreneur who ran a variety of businesses, including a warehouse in the Bronx. “What he liked best was being his own boss,” Ed Ruzinsky’s son, Bruce, said. Ed worked for Al started when he was around 10; the work ethic was strongly ingrained in him starting then.

Mr. Ruzinsky took only three years to complete high school, so he started at City College when he was 17, majoring in accounting and excelling in ping-pong. He was president of his fraternity there, his son said.

He got married soon after he graduated. It was a mixed marriage — the Bronx boy married a girl from Brooklyn. That was Enid Schnitzer, daughter of Molly and Max, children of eastern European immigrants. Ed and Enid met at a summer camp; they got married at the Kingsway Jewish Center in Brooklyn and moved to Flatbush, and Ed, who was a CPA, worked for an accounting firm called Seidman and Seidman. After a few years he went in-house for Parents magazine, where he “developed an expertise in the publishing industry that led him to develop a very successful consultant and advisory practice in publishing when he went back into private practice with an accounting firm,” Bruce said.

Bruce was born in 1958; in 1959 the young family moved to Maywood. “It wasn’t far away in miles from their parents, but their parents thought they’d moved halfway around the world,” Bruce said. But it was closer to his business, so his father had a shorter commute. His sister, now Ellen Ruzinsky-Agresti, was born in 1961, and the family was complete.

“We lived there, in Maywood, for about five years, and then we moved to Old Tappan, where they built the house where Ellen and I grew up,” Bruce Ruzinsky said.

Ed Ruzinsky continued to work as an accountant, specializing in tax law and publishing; he became a partner in J. K. Lasser, which “merged with and was absorbed by Touche Ross,” which itself later “merged with and was absorbed by Deloitte, and became Deloitte and Touche.

“By that time Dad was doing consultancy work there, and was an expert witness, with a lot of specialized knowledge of the publishing industry.” In other words, he was flourishing. He was a very successful man and was as driven as that success implies.

“What really took up his time during those years was the stuff that was really close to his heart, and to our mother’s,” Mr. Ruzinsky said. “The temple” — that’s Temple Emanuel of the Pascack Valley — “Jewish Family Service, Holy Name Hospital. Once they took an interest, they threw themselves into it.

“They were a team. At one point my mother was president of the temple sisterhood, and my father was temple president. They were very involved in the temple, and in the move from Westwood to Woodcliff Lake, on the top of the hill,” where it stands today.

They also were close to their synagogue’s famous and deeply beloved rabbi, Andre Ungar, and his wife, Judith, and to the shul’s cantor, Mark Biddelman.

One of the shul’s sifre Torah is from London; it had been hidden and damaged during World War II and the blitz. The Ruzinskys brought it back “and found it a new home at Temple Emanuel,” their son said.

“Dad served on the board at Holy Name for over 30 years,” he continued. “Once he took an interest in it, and got to know the nuns there, who were delightful, he figured out that he could help it with his financial expertise, and he did. He poured his time and effort into it and got a lot of satisfaction from it. That place does a ton of good things — he would tell me about the doctor who would go to Haiti for two weeks, do 100 surgeries there, and come home exhausted.

“He was very involved in the establishment of Villa Marie Claire” — a hospice in Saddle River that offers its dying residents an extraordinary level of comfort, dignity, and compassion. “He decided that there was a void in the community, and the hospital should fill it. He was very involved in its creation and its continuation.”

Ed Ruzinsky also was involved with the Sinai Schools — the local educational institution for students with special needs, and with St. Jude, “which does great work and research and doesn’t charge.” Mr. Ruzinsky worked to be sure that the estate planning work he did would get the charitable organizations that were their beneficiaries as much as possible, as quickly and expeditiously as possible.

His mother was a partner and sounding board in all of this, Bruce Ruzinsky said.

What drove Ed and Enid Ruzinsky?

“I think that it was in part the way they were brought up, and the values their parents instilled in them,” their son said. “They got a lot of satisfaction out of doing good for the community — and the community wasn’t limited to any narrow boundaries. It went wide and deep.”

Bruce Ruzinsky, who is a lawyer, and his wife, Linda, live in Houston. They have two children

His sister, Ellen Ruzinsky-Agresti, and her husband, Joe Agresti, live in Yorktown Heights in Westchester County; she has a market research firm.

“My father was a giant,” Ms. Ruzinsky-Agresti said.

She acknowledged his drive, his business acumen, his clarity of thought and of speech, his success both in providing for his family and for the organizations that meant so much to him, but when she was asked to talk about him, she chose to talk about “the part that I’m most proud of — his love for my mom.

“My mom had Alzheimer’s for seven years, and my father loved her every day of that,” just as he had loved her before, she said. “I remember him sitting at the kitchen table  for hours, trying to get her to eat, whispering sweet nothings in her ear, telling her that loved her.

“My father was the consummate professional. He was always in a suit and tie. He was always dressed to the nines. But there he was, taking over the role of caregiver.

“It could have been very different. He could have made the decision to put her in a facility. But he knew that she wanted to be home, and he wanted to be home.

“They had both cared for my mother’s mother, my bubbe, who died in that house in Saddle River. And my mother died there too. They both had wonderful care there. He wanted them to be home.”

Ironically — or perhaps not ironically — Mr. Ruzinsky did not die at home. He had been sick, had been at Holy Name, and recovered. A few weeks later, on a visit to Holy Name, he died suddenly, in the medical center’s Teaneck parking lot.

“So he also died in a place he truly loved,” Ms. Ruzinsky-Agresti said. “He truly loved Holy Name.”

Sam Fishman of Fair Lawn is the Sinai School’s managing director. He came to know Mr. Ruzinsky only eight years ago, but in those eight years what began as a business relationship turned into a real friendship.

“A blessing that comes with my work at Sinai is that I get to see the best side of really good people,” Mr. Fishman said. “That is how I characterize my relationship with Ed. By the time I got to know him, he was over 80 years old. Some monumentally good things happened during those eight years, and both the Sinai Schools and I personally are so much better for having Ed in our lives.”

Mr. Ruzinsky’s involvement with Sinai grew from his deep connections to Holy Name; he’d been on its board for decades  and the medical center already provided some of Sinai’s students with vocational placement. “Its warm and nurturing culture made it a superb placement site for our students,” Mr. Fishman said.

As he did in so many ways, Mr. Ruzinsky served as a bridge between the Roman Catholic medical center and the Jewish school. “Ed knew that a public embrace of Sinai would speak to Holy Name’s president Mike Maron’s sense of social justice, and its shared commitment to help those in need. So Ed facilitated an introduction.”

The result was “the relationship between Catholic and Jewish organizations working together to help better the lives of children with special needs. It is truly extraordinary. Ed was so very proud of that relationship.”

Mr. Ruzinsky  also was instrumental in helping the Sinai School move forward with its benefactors. “He played a meaningful role in convincing his friend David Schwartz of blessed memory to name Sinai as a significant beneficiary in his will.” Sinai was just starting its legacy program, and the gift was not only significant in itself but also a moral boost. Bruce Ruzinsky remembered his father working with Mr. Schwartz, “who had no family of his own,” no ties to Sinai, and was looking for a charitable institution that upheld his values and could benefit from his gift. Ed Ruzinsky helped Mr. Schwartz find Sinai. “The estate was not a tiny estate, and my father threw himself into it,” Mr. Ruzinsky said.

Mr. Fishman said that after he and Pam Ennis, Sinai’s development director,  had become close to Mr. Ruzinsky, one of the two of them would call or visit him many Friday afternoons, to say good Shabbes and also to check on him. “He had a very warm, very caring Jewish soul,” Mr. Fishman said. “A true yiddische neshama. And it was a joy to see him light up when he spoke about his children and grandchildren.”

So. The grandchildren. He had four — Aaron Ruzinsky is a chef in San Diego now, and Miranda Ruzinsky will graduate from the University of Houston in December. Jason Agresti plays baseball for the New Jersey Jackals, and Adam Agresti, a high school senior, is committed to play baseball at St. John’s University next year. Oh, and Aaron played baseball at Davidson College, before a foot injury stopped him.

Did Ed Ruzinsky love baseball? “My father was not so much interested in baseball until his grandkids started playing,” Bruce Ruzinsky said. But once they started, that changed. “He was so involved with his grandkids,” he said.

Ellen Ruzinsky-Agresti is deep in mourning, but she is comforted by the knowledge that her father accomplished much in his life, and that now her parents are back together; just a few weeks ago, she said, she and her father made their annual summertime visit to the cemeteries where their closest relatives are buried, and she watched as her father said kaddish for her other, his beloved wife.

“They truly were a power couple, and they paved the way for us to continue to do what we do,” she said.

James Janoff, the owner and publisher of the Jewish Standard, knew Mr. Ruzinsky for decades; Mr. Janoff saw Mr. Ruzinsky as a kind of  heart-of-gold father figure (and Ms. Ruzinsky-Agresti saw Mr. Janoff as a surrogate second brother, so it was mutual).

“Ed loved our newspaper,” Mr. Janoff said. “He spent years representing publishers at Touche Ross and reminded me often of the importance of a Jewish newspaper —that we were the glue that bound our community together.

“Throughout my career, Ed was always there. We would speak often and I valued his advice. And he could be tough. He had a point of view and shared it. It wasn’t always what you wanted to hear, but when Ed spoke, you listened. Our community would be different if he hadn’t been part of it.

“That was Ed Ruzinsky. A true visionary who I was truly blessed to call a friend.”

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