Alan Goldsmith has never forgotten the valuable lesson he learned as a child from his “zayde” — never miss an opportunity to help a fellow human being.
“My grandparents, and my parents, always taught me to give back to people whether they were Jewish or not,” recalled Goldsmith. “On Pesach we had people around our table who had no place else to go.”
But the incident that Goldsmith recalls every time he helps anyone as founder and president of the Perth Amboy-based Jewish Renaissance Medical Center and Foundation occurred when he was six.
His grandfather had given him a nickel to buy candy. As the two strolled through the streets of Perth Amboy to purchase the treat, they encountered a legless man in a wheelchair holding a tin cup.
“My zayde said to me, ‘Boychik, what are you going to do with your nickel?’ recalled Goldsmith. “I told him I was going to buy candy. He said to me, ‘Boychik, look at that man.’ I knew what he wanted me to do.”
The boy put the nickel in the cup, prompting the man to tell his grandfather, “You are teaching your grandson the ways of the Almighty.’”
As they continued, Goldsmith noticed his grandfather was crying. When he asked why, he was told they were tears of joy. “You have the light of 10,000 candles,” the boy was told. “You know what it means to be a Jew.”
At the foundation, he has tried to keep that light shining, leading more than 50 medical missions to Cuba, the Dominican Republic, and other poor or disaster-stricken countries around the world; running school-based health-care services in Newark and Perth Amboy; and helping revitalize Perth Amboy neighborhoods.
Now the foundation — whose motto is “One people, One heart,” taken, Goldsmith said, from the medieval sage Rashi — has turned its attention to helping Haitians devastated by the January earthquake. The quake killed about 250,000 and left upward of a million Haitians homeless.
Goldsmith has gone to Haiti five times with a medical team on missions that have treated more than 2,000 people. During the latest mission, which left on July 11, a large parcel of land was donated to the foundation by the municipal government of Leogane, a coastal city 18 miles west of Port-au-Prince near the earthquake’s epicenter, where housing, a construction materials factory, a medical center, and a safe haven for children will be built. The safe haven, a personal request of Haitian First Lady Elisabeth Preval, will provide for 200 children whose parents can’t afford to care for them.
A rotating team of doctors, mostly from the United States, will help staff the medical facility, which will provide primary care, a dental clinic, and a birthing room. A smaller number of physicians will come from Israel through the Israel Medical Association.
JRF has secured partners — including foundations, corporations, and individual donors locally and in the United States and Canada — to build the facilities.
“We have been there from the very beginning and we’ve seen very little improvement,” said Goldsmith in a phone interview with NJJN. “There is still garbage strewn throughout the streets in areas affected by the earthquake. They have no equipment. Instead of using machines to clean up the rubble, they are using people to pick it up by hand, which gives some jobs. However, it will also take them many years.”
Moreover, the tent cities where many remain “have become slums” where infectious diseases are spreading.
While in Haiti, Goldsmith was asked by national police commissioner Justin Marc to “adopt” the Tabarre School, a small, tin-roofed plywood building without electricity, where children from a nearby tent city are educated.
“Justin Marc, with the other national police commissioner, started the school and have been paying for it out of their own pockets because these children had nothing,” said Goldsmith. “The school is really nothing but a blackboard with these old-time benches where four or five children sit. These children have nothing except the clothes on their backs.
“But you should see the faces of those children when we walked in the room.”
At Marc’s insistence, the school’s name will be changed to include the Jewish Renaissance Foundation.
The Spotswood resident, a United Nations goodwill ambassador, was honored by Hadassah several months ago with its Myrtle Wreath Award for his lifelong devotion to tikun olam (repairing the world).
Recalling that his dream began in the back of his father’s shoe store on State Street, Goldsmith said he is forever grateful for his zayde’s guidance “and to the Almighty” for allowing him build that dream.