Ruth Fromstein, a lifelong lover of arts and culture, learning, languages and Judaism, died at her Bethesda home on February 28, 2023. She was 87. Ruth was a beloved mother, grandmother, sister and friend – and, especially, wife to her husband of 66 years, James Fromstein.
Ruth and James met in 1952, when they were both undergraduate students at the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. They got married the day after graduation and immediately moved to North Carolina, where James was stationed as an Army private first class.
They later moved to James’ hometown, Milwaukee, where Ruth began a career as a writer, advertising copywriter and public relations consultant. She also wrote a book, Milwaukee: The Best of All Worlds and later produced a history for the 150th anniversary of her synagogue, Congregation Emanu-El B’ne Jeshurun.
Ruth was also dedicated to community involvement as well as to the arts, often finding ways to join the two. She served as a docent at the Milwaukee Art Museum, volunteered for the Milwaukee Public Museum and was a board member of the Volunteer Center for Greater Milwaukee. She was a frequent visitor to all manner of arts institutions, including dance performances, jazz and classical music concerts, and art museums.
She traveled widely. She loved languages, especially French, taking immersion classes and studying in France in mid-life. She was passionate about the importance of learning, which prompted her to pursue educational opportunities throughout her life.
Ruth was also deeply involved with Jewish life. Born in Lexington, Kentucky, she moved with her parents at an early age to Birmingham, Alabama, where her father, Milton Grafman, was the rabbi at Temple Emanu-El from 1941 until 1975. Both Ruth and her brother, Stephen Grafman, were greatly influenced by their parents. Milton Grafman was a descendant of a long line of rabbis and cantors. His wife of 64 years, Ida Weinstein Grafman, graduated from the University of Cincinnati when women students were very much in the minority.
Ruth grew up during a time when women generally did not read from the Torah or celebrate a Bat Mitzvah. True to her devotion to learning and Judaism, she learned a Torah portion and read it as part of her grandson’s Bar Mitzvah in 2009.
Survivors include her husband, James Fromstein (BSJ56) of Bethesda, Md.; daughter Mollie Fromstein (Jeffrey) Katz of Bethesda, Maryland; son Richard (Raleigh Shapiro) Fromstein of Golden Valley, Minnesota; granddaughters Mari Fromstein of Orono, Maine, Emily Katz of Washington, D.C., Elisha Fromstein of Boston, Massachusetts., and Julia Fromstein of Golden Valley, Minnesota; grandson Benjamin Katz of Bethesda, Md.; and brother Stephen (Marilyn) Grafman of Potomac, Maryland. Mollie attended Medill’s bachelor’s program (BSJ85), and Ruth and Jim’s son, Richard, like his father, was a Medill cherub.
Mollie said this about her mother:
“Northwestern and Medill left strong, positive imprints on the Fromstein family. My parents made lifelong friends in their Medill classes and in Greek life, limited for them in the 1950s to a handful of Jewish fraternities and sororities. They cheered on the Wildcat football team for years, often driving to Evanston from Milwaukee to attend games dressed in purple while a big NU flag waved from their car as they sped down Interstate 94. Though they did not attend their graduation, they relished marching in the procession at their 50-year alumni reunion and celebrating with their classmates.”
The family requests that contributions in Ruth’s name be made to one of the three similarly-named congregations that occupied such an important part of her life – Temple Emanu-El of Birmingham, Alabama; Congregation Emanu-El B’ne Jeshurun of River Hills, Wisconsin, or Temple Emanuel of Kensington, Maryland.