Steve Ring grew up in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, and enlisted in the Army at 17. He went on to college and became an expert in systems engineering. More than 50 years ago he moved to the North Shore and settled in Peabody. He has had a long career in engineering, and worked for Mitre for 31 years. He has volunteered for numerous Jewish organizations and has been the president of the Temple Ner Tamid Men’s Club, the treasurer of the Maple Hill Cemetery, and adjutant for the JWV Post 220. He and his wife Susan are the parents of Col. Benjamin Ring, and Jennifer Ring. Steve and Susan Ring have three grandchildren.
Steve, you grew up in a heavily Jewish community in the 1950s. Can you describe the community and how it influenced you?
I grew up in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, a suburb of 50,000 with almost half being Jewish. I remember seeing people with tattooed numbers on their arms and didn’t know what it meant at that time. There were 3,000 students in my high school – 2,800 Jewish. Half the 300 teachers were Jewish. I even dated a Jewish girl named Smith. On one street in close proximity to each other, were four Orthodox temples, three kosher butcheries, and four Jewish bakeries. Where I lived, there were four temples within walking distance – two Orthodox and two Conservative.
I was an only child, and my parents were divorced when I was 5. I was raised alone by my mother. Back then, being divorced was a stigma. I didn’t have much contact with my father. When I was young, every year at High Holydays, my mother would take me to a nearby temple on Rosh Hashanah to hear the shofar blow. I especially remember going to the Orthodox temples because I was separated from my mother – women to one side, me, and the men on the other side. To this day, every Rosh Hashanah shofar blowing brings fond memories of my mother.
We eventually joined a new synagogue being built – Park Synagogue (today with over 1,800 families). I attended Hebrew school twice a week. At the start of high school, I began confirmation. Our classes were only on Saturday mornings, and we would attend Shabbat services at the end of classes. Knowing what my mother went through to give me a Jewish education played an important part in the Jewish education of our children and my temple and community involvement.
Your mom was a single parent who worked for a jeweler. How challenging was that for her and for you?
My mother worked for years in a jewelry store in downtown Cleveland as the credit manager – $5 down, $5 a week for life. We always lived in basement apartments. She worked 6 days a week and then from Thanksgiving through Christmas, she worked 12 hours-a-day those 6 days a week. From first grade through high school, I was a latch-key kid. Back then, television was new, and I watched a lot when I came home like “Howdy Doody,” “The Micky Mouse Club,” and the “American Bandstand.”
You were academically gifted and graduated high school when you were 16 and joined the army at 17. When you started you were just one of two Jews out of 300 in your division. Did you face antisemitism, and did you meet people who had never met a Jew?
I attended a private military academy where they skipped me a grade – this would change my life forever. It meant that I would graduate at age 16. I applied to only one college but got rejected. Some advice for young people who are rejected from college – “don’t get mad at the college – get a master’s degree from them” – like I did 11 years later.
Since I wasn’t doing anything, my mother’s boss convinced her that I should enlist in the Army – make a “man” of me. My mother had to sign for me at age 17 to join for three years. This was 6 months before the international Berlin Wall crisis in 1961. Little did
I know my Jewish bubble was about to burst – big time!
It started at basic training where out of 300 soldiers, there we just two Jews – me and another fellow from Detroit. It was right there and then that I realized Jews are just 2% percent of the population, not 25%, or even 50% percent like the predominately Jewish community I grew up in. I met a Jewish soldier from Miami, and we have been lifelong friends these past 61 years.
For my advanced training, I was sent to Huntsville Alabama where I experienced segregation firsthand. This was a jarring moment in my life – separate drinking fountains, separate bathrooms, separate accommodations, etc. I got in trouble once when I went into a “colored” bathroom – people had seen me enter and when I exited, they were staring at me angrily. In my unit was a fellow from North Carolina who had never met a Jewish person in his life. The first time we met, he walked around me, looked at my head, and asked, “where are your horns”? We became good friends after that. In my unit was another fellow with Egyptian ancestry. He would always say antisemitic things to me – “Jew this and Jew that.” We finally had it out and afterwards, we became really close friends traveling to Rome together.
While in Germany, I was 20 years old, I took a two-week leave, by myself, to visit Israel. I had no idea what I would do once I got there. At a per-chance, life-changing instance, I happened to “bump into” my childhood doctor on a Hadassah tour. This was one of the most memorable experiences of my life as they adopted me as their “son.” I went everywhere in Israel with them (although I stayed at the YMCAs and with the bus driver). Jerusalem was divided back then.
You became an engineer after the army and have had a long career working for many companies, including Mitre. Why did you decide to select that profession, and has it been rewarding?
After being discharged, I attended college throughout the Vietnam era. In the movie “The Graduate,” Dustin Hoffman’s character is given one word of advice: “plastics.” When I attended college, that word was “software.” It was felt that if you could program, you would be employed for life – which has become true for me. In my career at all the companies I have worked, software and programming have been an integral part of my professional career.
How did you meet your wife, Susan?
I wanted to take a language and decided on Russian. In my senior year, I was scheduled to take Scientific Russian. There was a young Jewish student in the class – we were the only two students taking Scientific Russian that year. We had many study sessions together. That young Jewish student today is my wife of 51 years – Susan. Within a one-week period, we got married in an Orthodox Synagogue in Cleveland Heights, moved to Peabody; I started my first job here; and we joined Temple Ner Tamid (TNT).
You sent both of your children to Hillel Academy (now Epstein Hillel School). Why was it important for them to go to a Jewish day school?
Susan grew up in her temple and was a bat mitzvah. I grew up with my mother only going to temple on Rosh Hashanah, eventually went to Hebrew school, was not a bar mitzvah but was confirmed, and a had a strong Jewish identity from my time in the military. As such, we both felt strongly our children should get a good Jewish education. When my son was ready for kindergarten, Justin Remis (z”l) invited us to meet the Hillel Principal Bennet Solomon (z”l). Anyone who remembers Bennet, knows how persuasive he was. Both our children attended Hillel all the way through to graduation and had their bar/bat mitzvahs at TNT. My daughter was active in USY and went on the Lappin Y2I trip to Israel. My granddaughter was a bat mitzvah in Maryland, and my grandson had his bar mitzvah at Mount Masada in Israel.
Growing up, you did not have the opportunity to have a bar mitzvah. Later, in life, you did. Can you talk about what it meant to you?
I did not have a Bar Mitzvah because, quite frankly, my mother could not afford the bar mitzvah party. It wasn’t until my son’s bar mitzvah, 31 years later, that I had mine jointly with him. That was a special day for me and my son, and I remember it fondly along with the big party celebration we had.
You have volunteered for much of your life for Jewish organizations. You were the president of the Temple Ner Tamid Men’s Club, vice president of Ner Tamid, created and maintained the database for Ner Tamid for 27 years. You are the adjutant for the JWV Post 220. Also, you’re the treasurer of the Maple Hill Cemetery, as well as the Federation of Jewish Men’s Club (FJMC). You wrote and still maintain Maple Hill Cemetery’s management system. And, five years ago you designed and still maintain the database for the Jewish Journal. Why are you so committed to Judaism and Jewish organizations, and what do you get out of it?
My mother’s efforts to give me a solid Jewish foundation and then have that challenged and tested in the military has strongly influenced me. As a youth, I attended Jewish camps during the summer. I later learned that my mother couldn’t afford the cost of the camps. Someone at Park Synagogue had personally paid so I could attend. That always stayed with me and impacted me greatly that someone would give something back to me so that I could go to summer camp.
My feeling is that you should give back to your temple and community your time, your involvement, and what you do professionally for a living – if you can. Everyone has something to give back. My expertise was computer and software technology. In all the organizations I belong to, being involved enables me to share and promote experiences and give something back.
Five years ago, a member of the Journal’s board approached me to help them with their outdated subscriber/donor system. They asked me what it would cost and offered to pay me. I gave back and continue to do so what I do professionally – at no cost.
Most Jews don’t affiliate with Jewish organizations. But you’re deeply involved in many Jewish organizations. What would you say to people thinking about volunteering for a Jewish nonprofit, and how it might benefit their lives?
It’s a different world today from when I grew up. Technology, and the pandemic, have both physically separated us, and simultaneously, electronically brought us closer together. Involvement enables us to maintain our Jewish identity and way of life and pass that on. Temples today are not that different from Temples when I grew up. Same for Jewish organizations and institutions. While priorities have changed, the foundational principles that guide and direct them have not. We need to insure we pass on our Jewish identity and way of life to our children and grandchildren much like our grandparents and parents passed it on to us. Θ