Eugene J. Ribakoff of Palm Beach, renowned philanthropist and successful businessman, died Friday April 9th in Palm Beach.
As a community leader, Mr. Ribakoff served as Chairman and President of the JDC, the largest Jewish humanitarian aid organization in the world, from 2000 to 2008. He navigated the JDC through a period of rapid growth and change, helping to rescue Jews in more than 70 countries throughout the world. He also served as Chairman of the JDC's Eastern Europe Committee, JDC's Israel Committee, and the JDC Trans-Migrant Program. Under his direction, the JDC resettled hundreds of thousands of Soviet Jews. He helped rebuild Jewish life in St. Peterburg, Russia by funding a portion of the new JCC facility Yesod. Mr. Ribakoff's JDC tenure was a role he loved, and one he often called "the best job in the Jewish world."
Mr. Ribakoff's list of accomplishments was extensive. But what he really cared about was taking care of people, which he often did quietly. Abused children in Jerusalem needing a safe home to learn and to heal, delinquent teenage girls needing a third chance, elderly Jews needing day care in Russia; these were just a few of the hundreds of projects he funded. When Israeli employees were under a wage freeze, he found a way to reduce their costs of living by subsidizing the JDC lunchroom.
In addition to the JDC, Mr. Ribakoff helped a broad range of non-profit organizations over the course of his life. He was Deputy President of World ORT, President of the United Way of Palm Beach County, Founder and President of Temple Sinai, Chairman of the Florida-Israel Chamber of Commerce, and President of the Jewish Federations of both Palm Beach County and Worcester, Massachusetts. Mr. Ribakoff was an active board member of many important organizations in Massachusetts, Florida, and nationwide, including the Boston Museum of Science, the Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Greater Boston, Massachusetts General, and Brandeis University.
As a business leader, Mr. Ribakoff built multiple successful businesses in the automotive sector over a 62-year career, including Automotive Management, Inc., AMI Leasing, and Harr Motor Companies.
His impact on the organizations he helped shape was tremendous. Fellow Palm Beach United Way past President and longtime friend Sidney Kohl called him "Palm Beach's distinguished community citizen, whose volunteer efforts have extended throughout the world. For all of us who knew him well, we realized his overriding personal goal was always focused on those who were least able to help themselves."
Phil Whitacre, former president of the Town of Palm Beach United Way, lauded Mr. Ribakoff: "He was the quintessential gentleman. Whether in a private meeting with the Pope to help alleviate world-wide anti-Semitism, or spending time with a client of one of United Way's 46 agencies, his legacy of longtime humanitarian service will be long remembered. His life is a testimony to service above self."
Mr. Ribakoff was born in Worcester, Massachusetts. He was educated at Case Western Reserve University, and lived in Worcester, Cleveland, Boston, and Palm Beach.
Mr. Ribakoff is survived by his wife Stephanie, his son Charles (Patty), his daughter Betsy Sheerr (Richard), seven grandchildren (Ben and his wife Elizabeth; Deborah and her husband Zach; Jack, Corky, Nicki, Lauren, and Melanie), and three great-grandchildren (Charles, Mia, and Noah). He was predeceased by his wife Corky in 1998.
Services will be held on Sunday April 11th at 4pm at Temple Emanu-El, 190 North County Road, Palm Beach, FL. Memorial observance will be held in Boston on Monday evening at the home of Patty and Charles Ribakoff, in Philadelphia on Tuesday evening at the home of Betsy and Richard Sheerr, and in Palm Beach on Wednesday and Thursday from 2-8pm at the home of Stephanie Ribakoff. Contributions in Mr. Ribakoff's memory may be made to the JDC, 711 Third Avenue, New York NY 10017.
Published in Worcester Telegram & Gazette on Apr. 11, 2010