Eishet Chayil: Our Grande Dame Volunteer, Resa Rudney

By Hannah Lee

Resa Rudney is one of HIAS Pennsylvania’s most senior volunteers. She served as a board member of HIAS Pennsylvania, but that was so long ago (more than 40 years since) that it hardly matters to her. Resa arrived at HIAS Pennsylvania three summers ago after she read an article in The Jewish Exponent asking for volunteers. That same article also drew my attention to the organization.

As well as working with the broader refugee community, Resa has developed a close relationship with one young couple, Win and Aung, and their daughter Wendy. She travels to their home in South Philadephia to help them negotiate the confusing world of bureaucracy and to tutor them in English. In her ad hoc English lessons, Resa uses mail order catalogues and the book Why Johnny Can't Read (And What You Can Do About It), by Rudolf Flesch, which has nice, clear graphics. Another resource to her is a newspaper in simple English, which is distributed by the District 1199C Training and Education fund, where Win takes ESL classes. Win’s and Aung’s English improved dramatically, which has enabled them to act as community brokers for the Karen-speaking refugees from Myanmar (Burma).

Through Resa’s efforts, she initiated a partnership between Main Line Reform Temple and HIAS Pennsyvlania. This partnership encouraged the engagement of congregants in tikkun olam activities with refugees and to date has raised thousands of dollars worth of in-kind donations for refugee families. Rabbi David Straus gave the project and Resa’s efforts his full-hearted support by promoting weekly bulletins requesting donations, the Men’s Club to deliver furniture, and the Sisterhood to fix up apartments.

About a year ago, a member of MLRT generously helped to establish a new storage facility for HIAS Pennsylvania’s in-kind donations. MLRT’s Sisterhood manages and organizes the inventory and the flow of in-kind donations stored. The previous storage unit was too small and not coordinated. Now, Resa and her deputies, Linda Brock and Adele Margulies, manage the intake of donations. 

For two years now, she’s arranged for the refugees to benefit from the remainders of the annual rummage sale that MLRT Sisterhood has run as a charitable outreach effort. Last fall, Resa stepped up the ante by hiring a bus to bring the refugees from their homes in South Philadelphia, so that they can select items to their desire. This year, Resa anticipates she might have to reserve two buses. Not content to rest on her laurels, Resa had another brainstorm recently: she will enlist the help of the dentists on the Main Line to offer pro bono dental care. Her first subject was her own dentist, who has agreed to care for Win and Aung.

Resa was born and raised in Jackson, Mississippi and she still retains the softened vowels of her native community. I hail her as the “Grande Dame” of all of the American Friends (despite her modest demeanor), because she’s set a high standard for all of us volunteers.