Ruth Rales, 81, Philanthropist
Published Thursday, April 1, 2004
by Tal Abbady


Section: LOCAL   Page: 6B

   Friends and family knew Ruth Rales for her unassuming style and her unique cuisine, while
thousands of strangers have benefited from her fierce devotion to family through a
charitable organization that bears her name.

    Mrs. Rales, 81, died in her Hillsboro Beach home Sunday from breast cancer, relatives
said.The Ruth Rales Jewish Family Service of South Palm Beach County, west of Boca Raton,
forms part of her legacy.

    Born into a modest Russian-American family in Pittsburgh, Mrs. Rales married her
husband, Norman Rales, who grew up in an orphanage in New York City, 55 years ago. The two
met in Miami while Mrs. Rales worked behind the counter of her family's dry-cleaning
business. Norman Rales was a customer.

    The couple settled first in Pittsburgh and then Washington, D.C., eventually amassing
a fortune through Norman Rales' home improvement business.

    "Her real focus when we were growing up was on her husband and children,"
said Joshua Rales, 46, of Potomac, Md., the youngest of the Raleses' four sons. "A
lot of folks focus on their children being accomplished. My mother focused on us being
kind people. She did that by spending time with us and caring for us through our stomachs.
She made the best matzoh ball soup ever, and she never used recipes so you couldn't
duplicate what she cooked. She baked and cooked from the heart."

    The Raleses started coming to Florida in the 1970s, initially staying in Boca Raton,
where they bought a house and grew roots in the community. After 1996, they divided their
time between their homes in Potomac and Hillsboro Beach.

    In 1990, they made a substantial contribution that allowed the construction of the
20,000-square-foot building that houses the Ruth Rales Jewish Family Service of South Palm
Beach County
, founded in 1979. The new building, on the Jewish Federation's Siemens
Campus, opened in 1991.

    "The most important aspect of Ruth Rales' life was her family. She had a great
concern for families, especially those less fortunate than herself," said Jaclynn
Faffer, the service's executive director. She said the agency offers support services to
15,000 people each year.

    Bill Bernstein, executive vice president of the Jewish Federation of South Palm Beach
County, said the Raleses' philanthropy had a major impact on the area, and the couple
contributed regularly to the federation's annual campaign.

    Despite the family's considerable wealth and philanthropic activities, Ruth Rales took
a low-key approach to life that her family says helped her through a 1988 cancer
diagnosis. In the last days of her life, Joshua Rales said, a home care nurse helped hoist
her up in her kitchen as she began preparations for the upcoming Passover holiday.

    The self-effacing good humor his mother was known for, Joshua Rales recalled, marked
her recent words to a friend when she summed up her ailing health: "Thank God it's
not so serious."

    Funeral services for Mrs. Rales were Tuesday in Washington, D.C. She is survived by
her husband, Norman, 80; sons Steven, 53, of Washington, D.C., Stewart, 52, of Fort
Lauderdale, Mitchell, 47, of Potomac and Joshua, 46, of Potomac; and seven grandchildren.

    Tal Abbady can be reached at or 561-243-6624.


Rales put family first and won them over with her cooking.

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