BBYO mourns the loss of our friend Rob Ruby


A Note from BBYO CEO Matthew Grossman:

It is with profound sadness that I inform you of the passing of BBYO’s dear friend, Rob Ruby. After many months dealing with complications following heart surgery, Rob’s weakened heart succumbed yesterday following a final procedure.

It is difficult to put together the words that can possibly capture all that Rob meant to this world. Gentle, kind, optimistic and extraordinarily decent come to mind. In fact, Rob’s own use of words and language was amongst his greatest skills. He was a master linguist and is probably the only one worthy of putting words to his own obituary. He was far too humble for any such assignment; yet I know he would find humor in the concept. His emails were fine works of literature (I have them all) delivered in a deep baritone. Following a note I sent to BBYO’s board last year about the tragic passing of a colleague, Rob sent me one his many messages of encouragement. He wrote:

“When confronted with the death of a person you care about, a sense of angry helplessness threatens to overwhelm when confronted with the frustrating inability to alter reality, but I am a firm believer that there is real power and virtue in supporting the mourners in a dignified and caring manner. It is not so easy to do but you’ve done it here.”

As a BBYO board member, Rob took his job very seriously. Amongst many positions he held, he served most recently as the chair of BBYO’s Governance Committee. In that capacity he was responsible for such things as updating the organization’s by-laws and tracking the terms of board members. These are not exactly the most glamorous of tasks, but Rob proudly did them because he knew they needed to get done. During meetings Rob wasn’t one to ask the tough questions – he would never want to be seen as challenging. He asked the right questions; questions that got to the heart of whatever issue was at hand. He was incredibly hard working and generous – opening his checkbook and network in the most thoughtful ways. He was so sincerely touched when one of his friends made a donation to BBYO, almost disbelieving that they would be so kind as to give to something about which he cared so deeply.

Rob’s capability as a leader came not only from his intellect, but his optimism. He shrugged off naysayers with a flash of his snarky wit and won people over with praise, cooperation and hopefulness. I was often the beneficiary of his ability to quickly translate optimism into encouragement. So many sentences started with the words, “Matt, you must be so proud that…” He always looked me in the eye (sometimes while he was driving), offering that big smile and sincere look of astonishment. I will miss this terribly.

As it relates to BBYO, his greatest pleasure came from being with the teens. I had the honor of being his guide last summer during a visit to Perlman Camp. I could tell at the time that his heart was already slowing him down. He was determined to make the trip though, by himself via winding roads and rough terrain. Throughout the day we moved via golf cart from session to session. He took so much joy in simply listening to the teens. As they shared their thoughts on Judaism, Israel, friendship, the future – his smile would jump, his head would nod and I even saw his eyes well up. I think he knew that the optimism he so treasured was being well maintained by the next generation.

The last time I saw Rob was at BBYO’s International Convention in February. It was his first big trip following his surgery in October. He swore me to secrecy about his plan to attend, wanting to surprise his friends on BBYO’s board. We were all delighted when he arrived and Rob was in his element. Laughing, joking, inspiring and beaming. The force of the joy he brought to us by his presence was equaled only by the force of the joy he exuded in being around people he loved. He left the event quietly, not wanting to disturb anyone. I didn’t have a chance to say goodbye in person but I received a phone call a few weeks later, “Matt, you must be so proud that…”

Fortunately for the Jewish community, Rob was not only ours. He was past President of his Federation, a leader in AIPAC, a board member of the Jewish Community Foundation and President of Berkeley Hillel. Of course his wife Eileen and son Michael were the primary recipients of his deep ability to love.

A memorial service and gathering will be held in Rob’s memory on Friday, May 20th at 1:00 pm at Temple Sinai in Oakland, CA. Big crowds are expected so people are being asked to carpool and use public transportation. Shiva will be held on Saturday, May 21 at 7:30 pm at the home of Rob’s good friends Moses and Susan Libitzky (62 Inverleith Terrace in Piedmont).

I know that you join me in making sure that his memory will always be a blessing. Baruch dayan ha’emet.