Traditions to Live By

A parent of a student in the predecessor of what's now the K'tonton School for Young Children at Congregation B'nai Jacob in Phoenixville once told his teacher, Ruthe Actor: "My son won't eat until he's said the blessing before meals."

For Actor, the actions of that small boy epitomize the bigger picture of Jewish identity and continuity that she taught her students over a 25-year career at the synagogue's preschool and its Macy B. Solomon Religious School.

Actor founded the synagogue's preschool in 1976, and was its first director and teacher. "Jewish learning needs to begin early," Actor stressed. "Children are so receptive and when they learn early it stays with them. It's also good for the parents and the synagogue if a family gets involved earlier."

While she's now retired from teaching, Actor, a graduate of Hunter College who holds a master's degree in education from Rutgers University, has continued to have a hands-on presence in the religious school as education chair and volunteer tutor, and in the preschool as an advocate who helped keep its doors open to area youngsters.

When its director moved last spring and the school was in danger of closing, she called Shelley Rappaport at the Chester and Delaware County Regions of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia. "I looked to Federation as a community convener," said Actor. "Shelley referred me to Maddy Malis, the executive director of Federation Early Learning Services. We're excited about the match, and already have children signed up for next year."

Actor is a past board chair of the Chester County Region and a member of Federations' Women's Philanthropy, where she is a Lion of Judah, part of a nationally recognized group of women who make their own gift of $5,000 or more to their federations' annual campaigns.

"I'm a Lion of Judah because the money is used to keep Judaism alive in the community and worldwide. It really concerns me that traditions are dying out."

Married to Paul Actor for 50 years – the childhood sweetheart she met when she was 14 – Ruthe Actor, grew up on the Lower East Side of New York. "My father died when I was young, and my mother raised my brother and me in an observant home with the help of our grandparents who lived nearby. She was always telling us: 'You have to give tzedakah.' "

Actor worked her way through college at various secretarial jobs in the summers. "Shabbat was the day I looked forward to so much. It was a time to pray, and there was time for me to read. Shabbat kept me going then, and it still does."

In the home where Ruthe and Paul Actor raised their three children, Jewish observance and learning was a given. The couple are shomer Shabbas, and chose a home within walking distance of B'nai Jacob when they moved to Phoenixville 41 years ago. The Actors have each served as synagogue president, the only couple to do so.

Moreover, the Actors' seven grandchildren all attend Jewish day schools.

Said the grandmother with more than a touch of pride: "Judaism is inbred in me. It means so much to see our heritage continue in my children's children and in the children I taught."