Star-Bulletin Features

Registered nurse Sue Alden-Rudin is the director of Jewish Community Services on Oahu, which provides assistance to those in need.

Isle Jews offer a
helping hand
to those in need

Mitzvot, or good deeds, are
the driving force behind the
work of the Jewish Community
Service on Oahu

By Mary Adamski

A struggling family whose income fell short of the month's expenses got an emergency subsidy for rent and utility bills.

Senior citizens, whose transportation needs range from a wheelchair to a bus pass to a volunteer's round-trip chauffeur service to the doctor's office, found themselves with wheels.

A frail woman who inherited property that had been trashed by renters was able to move in after her benefactors not only invested in repairs, but scrounged furniture and household items and delivered them.

A child was lent a menorah and other Jewish items for his school show-and-tell project.

Mitzvot -- good deeds -- large and small are all in a day's work for the Jewish Community Service on Oahu. The nonprofit social services agency is essentially a one-woman show, but director Sue Alden-Rudin would dispute that. The board of directors representing several Jewish organizations provides more than remote oversight: "When I need to find a volunteer, that's who I call," she said.

The agency provided services and funds for 225 people last year and made 206 referrals, connecting people with other organizations that met their needs. The board dispersed $160,000 in subsidies and grants in 2001.

Funding comes from Jewish donors who intend to take care of their religious community and from trust funds set up by two deceased members of the local Jewish community.

But it so happens that this is the time of year when the agency also dispenses financial assistance to the general public. It is one of many island nonprofits that administer Federal Emergency Management Administration funds. Their federal grant, $16,800 this year, will be given to people needing shelter and food. Applicants may call the community service office, 258-7121, or the Aloha United Way information hot line, ASK-2000, for referral to other sources of FEMA funds.

"It's not always about money," said Alden-Rudin, a registered nurse whose day job is administrator with a private-duty home-care service.

With that background, she knows the resources available in the social services network here. "It could be a divorced person who needs to find a support group," she said. "We may find a family who needs to prepare to give care for an elderly person. Sometimes half of their need is the anxiety, the fear of the unknown, not knowing what to expect."

"Most people at some time in their life need to accept help," Alden-Rudin said. "I think the basis of most belief systems is that we're here to help one another. Jews call it a mitzvah, a good deed."

Despite the belief in doing good, there are some who feel uncomfortable about being on the receiving end, and there she exercises the compassionate professionalism of a nurse and the experience of a former single mother who once needed help herself.

"I think there are people who won't ask for help because they feel that way. There is some pride there," she said. "I try to help them think about it, that it is something they have done for others in the past or can pass along when it's their time."

Two people whose mitzvah continues long after their deaths are Arthur Murray, the 1960s television show host whose name still graces a dance studio chain, and Jeanette A. LeVine, a former Temple Emanu-El member.

Alden-Rudin frequently applies on behalf of her clients for specific grants from the estate of Murray, who stipulated that his money go to meet singular emergency needs, "to provide a solution to a problem," said Alden-Rudin. The trashed house mentioned above was renovated with Arthur Murray money. In another grant, a single mother and her dependent son were given transportation and moving aid to be near her adult daughter on the mainland.

Alden-Rudin said, "I wish I could have known Jeanette LeVine," whose will provides help for needy elderly people, a resource the agency taps frequently.

"It could pay for dental work, or it could be as simple as paying a taxi to get to temple events. The bottom line is that it helps them socially and nourishes their spirituality."

The Jewish agency originated as a program of the Jewish Federation of Hawaii, and was incorporated as a nonprofit agency after that organization folded in 1998.

Alden-Rudin said she found the job, which she took 18 months ago when longtime director Howard Tocman retired, a perfect match for her experience. "I do feel it's part of my nature; that's why I'm a nurse. It's gratifying for me to be in a position to help others and to be associated with all the groups reflected on the board."

The agency's services are limited to Oahu, but there are plans to expand to the neighbor islands. According to state data, there are about 12,000 people in the state who identify themselves as Jewish.

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