There aren’t many dinner honorees who would read an original poem and sing an original song in lieu of a stodgy acceptance speech.
But then again, there aren’t many people like Ruth Hyman, 98, who built a successful business and made shrewd investments at a time when many women were homemakers who rarely ventured into these male-dominated domains.
The almost-centenarian from Long Branch has donated millions to charity, Jewish causes in particular, a lesson she learned from her Lithuanian immigrant parents, David and Ida Hyman, who were founding members of Congregation Brothers of Israel in Elberon in 1896, where Hyman is still a member.
“My parents didn’t have money, but they put a nickel in a pushka every day,” said Hyman. “I was brought up to always give tzedakah. I learned tzedakah from them.”
On March 13, Hyman was one of three honorees at the 39th annual Founder’s Day Dinner of Rutgers Chabad in New Brunswick, which drew 300 people to the organization’s College Avenue building.
In an interview with NJJN, Hyman said she felt “wonderful” about receiving the award, adding, “They recognized I deserved it.”
Other honorees included Israeli Consul General in New York Dani Dayan and Rutgers Chabad alumnus Yair Klyman, founder of Klyman Financial, as well as the Rutgers Chabad Alumni Group a year ago, which has already raised $40,000 in donations.
After finishing her one-of-a-kind acceptance speech, Hyman continued her lifelong pattern of generosity by announcing she was donating $100,000 to Rutgers Chabad. With that gift, the dinner raised approximately $500,000, according to Chabad executive director Rabbi Yosef Carlebach. He also announced a campaign to pay off the remaining $4 million mortgage on the $20 million expansion of its building, which opened four years ago.
Philanthropist Ruth Hyman was honored with the Eishet Chayil Award from Rutgers Chabad.
Photo by Debra Rubin
“By our 40th anniversary dinner in December we expect to have it paid off,” he told the crowd.
A good fashion sense and boatload of self-confidence helped Hyman succeed in her business,
Ruth Hyman Fashions, launched in the early 1940s — on a dare from her cousin. As a young woman working in government payroll, Hyman would travel to the now-defunct Orbach’s department store in Newark to buy clothes for her co-workers.
“They would compliment me every day on what I was wearing,” said Hyman, who was, of course, stylish at the dinner, dressed in black and wearing pearls, her nails polished red.
One day an overweight coworker asked Hyman to buy something she thought would look good on her. Soon others were making the same request.
“I bought it all retail and would charge them whatever I paid,” said Hyman, adding that her cousin downplayed her idea of opening her own business telling her, the bank “will never give you credit.” The next day she went out “in defiance” and secured the credit she needed to start her business.
Running her business out of her home, Hyman built up $2 million worth of inventory and developed a reputation for her sense of style and excellent customer service.
“Everybody who bought from me got compliments,” she noted. “People would say to them, ‘You bought that from Ruth Hyman.’ People literally cried when I went out of business 25 years ago.”
Hyman parlayed her profits through sound investments at a time few women were involved in financial markets.
“I enjoyed my years in business,” said Hyman. “I never closed my door and thought, ‘Thank God this day is over.’ I loved my business and I loved my customers.”
In addition to her gifts to Rutgers Chabad, Hyman has given to numerous other charitable causes. In 2015, she donated an ambulance in her parents’ names to American Friends of Magen David Adom, Israel’s national ambulance, blood services, and disaster-relief organization.
Throughout her life, she has supported various Jewish community organizations, including Hadassah, for which she also served as president of the Long Branch chapter; the former Ruth Hyman JCC of Greater Monmouth County; Jewish Family and Children’s Service of Greater Monmouth County; and the Jewish Federation of Monmouth County, now merged into the Jewish Federation in the Heart of New Jersey.
Hyman’s gift to the Red Bank-based Visiting Nurse Service established the Ruth Hyman Spiritual Support in the Jewish Tradition Hospice Program and the Ruth Hyman Advanced Care Institute.
She received the Jewish American Heritage Award as a major supporter of Aish International as part of the U.S. Senate’s Congressional Jewish Heritage Celebration. Along with the many other honors she has received, Hyman had her list of accomplishments read into the Congressional record last year by N.J Rep. Frank Pallone (D-Dist. 6).