Marilyn Ratkin

Marilyn Ratkin in 2010. Photo: Mike Sherwin

Mike Sherwin

One of Marilyn Ratkin’s favorite quotes is from Anne Frank: “How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.” That seems to sum up well Ratkin’s passion for community service and advocacy.

After earning her MBA at UM-St. Louis, Ratkin worked with the National Health Screening Council, coordinating health fairs.

After a few years she worked in corporate marketing. But six years later, Ratkin decided that her heart was really in the non-profit world.

Eventually, she found her way to the Jewish Community Relations Council, where she served as Domestic Issues Director and became involved in a wide swath of the St. Louis community – a role she relished.

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“As part of the JCRC you’re working with the community in all of your endeavors, whether it’s advocacy or serving on committees,” Ratkin said. “You’re working with a wide group of ethnic and interfaith groups and it’s a chance to get to know people far and wide in the community,” said Ratkin.

One aspect would prove particularly transformative – directing the Rabbi Robert P. Jacobs Jewish Fund for Human Needs. The fund allocates grants to St. Louis-area social service organizations.

“For 12 years I had the amazing opportunity of visiting community organizations – I’ve probably been to more than a hundred of them in the St. Louis region,” she said.

“Those are the people I really call the ‘Unsung Heroes,’ because day in and day out I saw them working with very little compensation or recognition really helping the down and out. They made me humble. I would come away thinking these are the most amazing people.”

The namesake of the fund, the late Rabbi Robert P. Jacobs – a longtime rabbi with Hillel and the St. Louis Rabbinical Association – was a great inspiration for Ratkin.

“He was an amazing man. He was one of the founders of the fund and I used to travel with him to many site visits,” Ratkin recalled.

“He stressed that we’re obligated to help people as part of Judaism.”

Rabbi Jacobs also instilled in Ratkin the importance of Jewish involvement in the interfaith community – another area where Ratkin has much experience, having served as JCRC representative on Interfaith Partnership’s social justice committee and participating for the past 10 years in an African-American and Jewish dialogue group.

Although Ratkin retired from JCRC in 2008, she continues to serve on committees of JFHN and JCRC – among a number of boards on which she serves.

She said JFHN gave her a love for being out in the community, which was furthered by her participation in Leadership St. Louis in 2008-2009. As part of that experience, she was able to learn more about the region and met with someone from the United Way. Now she serves on an allocations panel for United Way.

She is also on committees with the Spirit of St. Louis Women’s Fund, another granting organization that works to inspire women to engage in significant giving.

“It’s funny, I always sort of said if I could do anything, I’d love to have a huge trust fund and be able to give money to the community,” Ratkin said. “So in a sense, I’m giving money away to the community – it’s just not my money,” she jokes.

Ratkin is also active with National Council of Jewish Women, where she serves on its board and advocacy advisory committee and is the liaison for the Kids’ Community Closet. In fact, this month Ratkin is receiving NCJW’s section award on advocacy.

Ratkin, who grew up in University City and has been a lifelong member of Congregation Shaare Emeth, is currently chairing their Tzedakah Team Project.

As if that wasn’t enough, Ratkin also volunteers once a week with Ready Readers, reading books to at-risk children at Head Start preschools.

Batya Abramson-Goldstein, JCRC’s executive director, doesn’t hold back in her praise of Ratkin. “She’s truly a heroine,” she says. “Quietly, effectively getting the job done is what counts for Marilyn – not personal glory. She’s a valued resource and friend to the JCRC and to me personally.”

In her down-time, Ratkin says she and her husband travel to Chicago as often as they can to see their five grandchildren. “I hope to instill in them my passion for the community,” Ratkin says, “which stems, I believe, from our Jewish tradition of tikkun olam.”

Marilyn Ratkin

Family: Married to Gary Ratkin for 43 years. The couple has two married daughters, Kimberly Ratkin, 43, and Stephani Becker, 39, both living in Chicago, and five grandchildren.

Home: Creve Coeur

Occupation: Retired in 2008 after serving nearly 12 years as Domestic Issues Director for the Jewish Community Relations Council

Fun Fact: Ratkin loves to tap dance.