As a young boy, growing up in Rockaway Beach, NY, in some ways Robert Keehn lived every young child’s dream. The son of a toy wholesaler, Robert looked forward to when his parents would vacation in Florida, for they would leave a garage full of toys– a new one for each day they were away.
Every year on his birthday, his father would bring a toy for his classmates in his Jewish day school and on visiting day at Camp Massad in the Poconos, he’d bring one for Robert’s bunkmates. However, as Robert grew, these toys and the gestures they invoked, came to symbolize so much more.
“I learned at an early age, the value of generosity. In some way, those small acts laid the groundwork for my philanthropic future for they taught me the power of giving back.”
It was this value, coupled with his strong Jewish upbringing that included education at Jewish day schools and summers spent at a Zionist camp, that would shape Robert’s life.
Today, Robert, a retired orthopedic surgeon, is coming off receiving the prestigious Carole Sibel Award, given by The Associated to a volunteer who has been a dedicated fundraiser over the years. Yet, when asked about what it means to be only the award’s fourth recipient, he says he doesn’t do it for the accolades. He does it because of his strong belief in sustaining a thriving Jewish community.
Over the years, he served as president of Beth El Congregation, co-chair of The Associated’s Maimonides Society for healthcare professionals who give over $1,000 to the Annual Campaign, and president of the Jewish Museum of Maryland. He first became involved with The Associated after medical training, when he and his wife Carol, a native of Baltimore, traveled on the Young Leadership Council Mission to Israel.
It was not his first trip to the Jewish state. In 1970, he spent eight weeks there, traveling the country and volunteering at Hadassah Hospital. He was assigned to the orthopedic ward – long before that would become his profession.
He returned on various missions over the years, including last year when he co-chaired The Associated’s Family Mission, bringing his sons, their wives and his grandchild Molly. It was a chance to pass down his lifelong love for the country and Zionism, and when his granddaughter admitted this was the best trip ever, he felt he was succeeding.
This year, he knows, he unfortunately won’t be visiting the country, but he is excited about continuing his involvement. He is serving as co-chair of the Baltimore-Ashkelon Partnership and is excited about the possibilities this position will bring.
“What I love about this, is it is a chance to throw politics aside and focus on connecting Jews here in Baltimore and in Ashkelon. When people talk to one another, we learn from each other.”
Learning has always been a core value with his family, and his father always imparted sage advice.
“He always impressed upon me that it was important to learn something new every day. Even when I was working, I wanted to share that lesson with the kids I would often meet in my practice. One of the first things I would always ask them when I saw them was ‘what did you learn today?’”
It’s this desire to learn more that has encouraged him to seek out new opportunities and to stay involved with The Associated in so many ways. When he explains to others why they should join him, he likens the organization to a department store.
“There is something for everyone,” he says. If you like education and history, try the Jewish Musuem. If you are passionate about Israel, there are the shinshinim, the missions, the Partnership. If you are interested in helping those in need, the organization supports programs like CHANA for those who are abused. There is just so much there.”
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