Hal Abroms remembers the day that, with some concern, he told the late Emil Hess that “every organization in the city” was asking for a charitable contribution from the Parisian department store chain. Hal had recently joined the company, which had been in the Hess family for five decades, and he didn’t know if the news would be welcome.
“Emil broke out into a big smile and said, ‘Well, isn’t that wonderful,’ “Hal recalled. “Emil was my mentor, and I learned from him the joy of philanthropy.” Given this history, it is more than fitting that Emil’s son, Donald, and his wife, Ronne, are co-chairing a charitable event to honor Hal - CJFS’ annual “Hands Up Together” on the afternoon of Sunday, April 28.
In more than six decades of married life in Birmingham, Hal and his late wife, Judy, expressed their priorities through philanthropy. With major gifts to Indian Springs School, UAB and the N.E. Miles Jewish Day School, they supported innovative educational initiatives. In founding the Abroms Engel Institute for Visual Arts, they built a channel through which contemporary artists can interact with the UAB and Birmingham communities. And in their decades of support for CJFS, they expressed their concern for the frail elderly – especially those without the financial means to engage private caregivers. “When Esther Schuster was the executive director of CJFS, she told me that when a child has to come in and clean a parent’s apartment and bathe the parent, it’s a humiliating thing for both the parent and the child. That made sense to us, and we could see how worthwhile it was to expand the CJFS Personal Care program,” Hal said.
After Judy was diagnosed with dementia in 2009, Hal himself turned to CJFS for guidance and support. He had seen loved ones with dementia withdraw and deteriorate, and he was determined to help Judy stay engaged and active for as long as possible. In January 2015, Judy was one of the first participants in CJFS CARES, a respite program for people affected by memory and movement disorders. On Judy’s days at CARES, Hal had a few hours to himself – and Judy made new friends and stayed active. “She was the best balloon volleyball player – everybody wanted to be on her team,” Hal recalled with a smile, “and she loved to sing.”
The Abromses’ support for CJFS over the years has gone far beyond their financial contributions, said CJFS Executive Director Lauren Schwartz. “Long before he and Judy began using our services, they were deeply committed to our mission – to enhance quality of life and strengthen independence for individuals and families, with a primary focus on older adults, by providing exceptional support services in accordance with Jewish values,” she said. “For many years, they were valued advisors, advocates and fund-raisers for this agency, and we were honored that when they needed guidance and support, they turned to CJFS,” Lauren said.
After partnering with Judy and Hal for decades in both business and philanthropy, it was natural that Ronne and Donald lead this year's event to honor Hal.
"Life has taken a couple abrupt turns in Hal's life the last several months, with Judy's death in October and his own hospitalization this January and February," Ronne said. "Hal has been a role model for all of us throughout his life and especially through these difficult months. He has shown his tenacity, his determination and his vulnerability. He is like the Energizer Bunny, still determined to move forward and make a difference in this world.
"We hope you will join us to honor Hal and his legacy of giving as he lives on April 28 at the Alabama School of Fine Arts with the Rat Pack Revue from Vegas to add to the celebration."
CLICK HERE to honor Hal Abroms and support CJFS by purchasing tickets and/or sponsoring Hands Up Together on April 28.
To purchase tickets/sponsor by phone, please call 205.879.3438.