Fern Ruth Levy learned to go out and volunteer from watching her mother. It’s what she was expected to do, she said.
“What do we live for if not to make life easier for each other?” she said. “We’re here to help each other.”
She’s been active in the Jewish community by volunteering for the Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage, the Jewish Federation of Cleveland as a hospital chaplain and Jewish Family Services Association of Cleveland. She also visits homebound Holocaust survivors weekly.
Her main dedication has been educating others about the Holocaust and sharing Anne Frank’s story. She has interviewed people who knew Frank and her family, and Rabbis Harold Kushner and Adin Steinsaltz. She also volunteered for the USC Shoah Foundation started by director Steven Spielberg where she recorded the testimonies of 15 area survivors.
“I’m passionate about everything I’ve done,” she said. “We live once and we get to bring our passions and what we really believe in – our core values – to other people. That’s what we need to be doing. We are trying to create a more beautiful world because the world is upside down. Anything we can do to right that, as little as it is, we need to do it anyways.”
Her most memorable time volunteering was when she interviewed people like National Public Radio’s Terry Gross and Albert Ratner, co-chairman emeritus of Forest City Enterprises, for the “Jewish Scene” radio program on WCLV.
“People loved the show, a lot of Jewish people but also non-Jewish people,” she said. “I worked very hard on my own to find people to interview that the producers might not have known about who were in Cleveland to enrich the show.”
Levy has always been passionate about Jewish life. Even as a child, she wanted to be a rabbi but she was told she could only marry one. Even so, her passion for Judaism followed her throughout her life and she taught 10 years in B’nai Jeshurun’s Sunday school.
“I grew up loving Hebrew school and Sunday school and loving being Jewish,” she said. “Teaching is tikkun olam. It doesn’t always seem important. You’re not sure if you’re making a difference. I didn’t know what impact I had. I bumped into my students when they’ve been grown up and they seem to be so happy to see me. So it makes one think that maybe I made a difference, but you’re never sure.”
As for more work she’d like to do in the community, she hopes she can put more of the Rev. Martin Luther King’s work with Frank. She founded the Anne Frank Moral Courage Project 10 years ago and is determined to offer more programs that teach about King and Frank, particularly during 2019 when they both would have turned 90.
“Their work fights both anti-Semitism and racism,” she said. “When you can talk about Dr. King and Anne Frank together you get a completely different perspective on hate.”
For other’s looking to make a difference, her recommendation is to just go out and be active in the community.
“It’s very easy to make an impact,” she said. “Volunteering is easy, sending get well cards are easy. Making a difference is not a difficult thing to do.”
She quoted Frank and said, “Isn’t it wonderful that we do not need to wait a moment before starting to change the world?”
– Alyssa Schmitt