DENVER (Intermountain Jewish News via JTA) — Theodore “Ted” Paul Ruskin, whose activism mirrored the evolving face of Jewish Denver, died of COVID-19 on April 7, 2020, at the Medical Center of Aurora. He was 76.
Rabbi Avraham Mintz officiated at an April 12 graveside service at Mt. Nebo Cemetery. Feldman Mortuary made the arrangements.
Mourners watched the service over the internet platform Periscope and also lined their cars outside the cemetery “so that Ted would not be alone,” said his close friend and executor Paul Thomas.
“Ted was singlehandedly responsible for getting Temple Sinai its own cemetery” at Mt. Nebo, said Sinai’s emeritus rabbi Raymond Zwerin. “He convinced Rabbi Stanley Wagner of BMH to meet with us to discuss halachic issues, and it was decided that Sinai’s senior rabbi would be solely responsible for determining ‘Who is a Jew’ for the purposes of burial at Mt. Nebo.”
Once financial obligations between the two congregations were finalized, “Ted bought the first plot before the ink was dry,” Zwerin said.
Thomas said that Ruskin’s sense of humor “belied a profound Jewish perspective on life. He was a wonderful man, and generous to a fault.”
Ruskin was born July 15, 1943, in Brooklyn, New York. He moved to Denver in 1970 and earned a master’s in business administration from Metro State College.
He worked as a business education teacher at the Federal Correctional Institution in Englewood, retiring in the mid-1980s due to advancing blindness caused by retinitis pigmentosa.
Ruskin, fluent in Hebrew and a sculptural designer, worked for Norman’s Memorials for seven or eight years before opening Ted Ruskin Memorials.
“His nickname was Mr. Tombstone, and he worked right up until he got sick,” Thomas said.
Ruskin helped found Denver’s Babi Yar Park, a memorial to the victims the Ukrainian massacre. He also started the annual clean-up of a long neglected section of Golden Hill Cemetery. He belonged to the Colorado Committee of Concern for Soviet Jews.
At Temple Sinai, he was on the education committee, ran the cemetery committee for many years and sang in the High Holiday Choir.
After reading an article about Denver’s pioneering Elsner family and their daughter Rose Elsner in the Intermountain Jewish News, Ruskin discovered that Rose was buried without a headstone in Emanuel Cemetery.
“Ted paid for Rose’s headstone himself and had it erected in Emanuel’s cemetery,” said IJN Assistant Editor Chris Leppek. “That’s the kind of guy he was.”
An avid student of Denver Jewish history, Ruskin loved the opera and attended the Santa Fe Opera Festival for the last 28 years.
He supported the Central City Opera, Tabor Opera House, the Foundation Fighting Blindness, Rocky Mountain Jewish Historical Society, the University of Colorado opera program and Denver Dumb Friends League.
Ruskin is survived by his cousin Libby Meg Gerschansky; and nieces Stacey Lynn Schwartzwald and Randi Beth Sisti. He was predeceased by his partner, Gary Bobb, who died of AIDS in 1994.