I went to the boys bathroom by mistake..Ralph entered..saw me sitting with puffy eyes and tear-soaked sleeves. He looked at me...I looked at him...he did not say a thing. He just smiled at me with that Ralph smile...its so genuine and filled with compassion. He offered me his hand to help me up. I felt in that moment of silence that he saw me. From then on, I had an unspoken conversation with Ralph; an unspoken language of sorts. It's as though he knew what I was going through. If I was feeling sad, he would send me a heartwarming smile to tell me everything would be OK. This was our language. Mine and Ralph's. Ralph will always live in our hearts and in our memories. I know with certainty that I will always remember his unconditional kindness and his soft spoken demeanor...I will always remember his attention to detail... I will always remember the twinkle in his eye when he saw me having a good day...and I will always remember that smile.
Ralph Raskas was the coolest friend I've ever had. Whatever it was: his love for aviation, playing guitar, cooking, collecting cologne or visiting all 50 states. Ralph was determined to succeed at everything he put his mind to. When Ralph decided he wanted to learn something, he became an absolute expert on that topic. I miss Ralph everyday, and I'd give anything to be able to speak with him one more time. I know Ralph is looking down on all of us, and we have the opportunity to make him proud by proactively pursuing our dreams in the most passionate ways.
As I read through the memorial, I smiled several times as I was reminded of the "classic" Ralph I knew. I have come to realize that everything Ralph did, from his dry humor to his meticulous attention to detail in baking, was founded in caring for someone else..
Thank you again for the paperweight (with Ralph's signature). I have found the perfect place for it on my desk, and as I enter the long years of school ahead, it will be nice to have Ralph beside me throughout, just as he always was.
I keep his picture on my desk at home. He was a special, kind and intelligent young man.
When I look back at my experiences with Ralph in elementary and middle school I can't help but smile. Ralph had the uncanny ability to cheer up the people around him and lighten the mood, no matter how lethargic his fellow classmates were or how dreary the day. Whether it was his caricatures, the tickets he gave out as leader of the backpack police or any of his other countless bits, you could always count on Ralph to brighten your
His Spirit is so strong that it will motivate you to move forward and onward. Learning about Ralph yesterday was just amazing, enlightening, and inspiring. He motivates me to be a better physician, father, and friend to those who matter.
I recall my daughter at a very young age, perhaps ten years old, coming home from school and saying that Ralph Raskas had good character traits. My daughter at such a young age made this observation. After Ralph passed away, I asked my daughter what else she recalled about Ralph and she told me that he was the only boy never to make fun of the girls.
After over 20 years, events are a little fuzzy, but you could say I knew about Ralph before he was born. As his dad, Jonathan, puts it to me, our meetings were not a “random intersection”. When I was expecting my youngest son, I happened to meet Ralph’s grandmother, Adinah, while I was helping at an Epstein school event. Adinah noticed that I was expecting (well, you could see me from the moon by then) and remarked that one of her children was also expecting. I realized later that it was Ralph, the sweet shy little boy who became childhood friends & classmates with my own son, Jake. When Adinah became sick a few years later and the situation was dire, I didn’t know Adinah well at all, but I knew Ralph through my son Jake, and called them to offer blood. I was told that she actually needed a kidney. Wanting to help, I somewhat naively offered to be tested and after a very long, invasive process, it was decided we were enough of a match that I donated one of my kidneys to Adinah, which B’H (thankfully) worked for her, miraculously. Against huge odds, her body and the new kidney are functioning and cohabiting well together. Had Jake not known Ralph, I wouldn’t have known Adinah, and she would not be present today to attend her children and grandchildren’s simchas (special events). In a way, through a mystical, divine circular intersection or Venn diagram which I really don’t understand, Ralph and Jake helped bring about this miracle along with me & of course Ha’Shem (higher wisdom). I think about that a lot. The other side of the coin is when we tragically lost Ralph last December (2016), I knew how close Ralph always was to his grandparents, as my children are to theirs and knew they’d be crushed as well as Jake and everyone else. There was, to be honest, also a sense of loss and confusion for me, that I had done this partly so Ralph wouldn’t have to know life without his grandmother, and now through some ugly irony, she was here without him, grieving. It wasn’t supposed to be this way, anyone would agree. In seeking to pull some reason out of sad, senseless mishegas (craziness with a tragic overtone), I realized that at least out of Jake and Ralph’s pure, caring friendship for each other came the opportunity for a miracle to happen, a miracle that can’t be erased: Ralph inadvertently helped give his adored grandmother the chance to be well again, and me the chance to help. Those are some of Ralph’s lasting and most comforting legacies in my eyes. That’s a lot for him to have accomplished in such a short time.
Ralph Gabriel Raskas
Ralph Gabriel Raskas
I'm John Goldstein, a lifelong professional musician, composer and guitar teacher. At the time of turning the last century I'd been teaching for thirty years, and had mentored literally thousands of students. Somewhere near this time Jonathan Raskas answered one of my sporadic newspaper ads, telling me he sought lessons for his older two children; a daughter and son Ralph, ages nine and six. I explained that usually age six was somewhat young for starting a guitarist, because the left-right hand coordination is not fully developed enough until typically age 8 or 9, and also because in the first few months, the physical demands of the left hand fingers pressing the strings into the neck causes extreme pain, before calluses can be formed.
He told me he had played when he was a child, and had experienced this, and thoroughly understood my points; but countered by saying Ralph was extremely determined, enthusiastic and ready to learn, having recently seen Fleetwood Mac in concert, also; he was incredibly fired up, his interest had been piqued, and he was intensely aroused. Raskas said, “I'm biased of course, but it's been my observation as his father that when Ralph is effected this way, his drive, determination and zeal will create all the follow through necessary for success.” Before I could even suggest obtaining a decent scaled-down learner instrument, Jonathan mentioned that he had recently purchased perhaps the finest model available, the “baby” Taylor, and was proud to report, “He's already plunking on it.” I said let's sign them up for a month, we'll see how it goes.
When I first met Ralph he was small, even for a first grader---but it was clear he was smart, making fine eye contact. While speaking very little, he exuded a supreme confidence as I showed him how to properly hold the instrument and pick. Having recently seen Fleetwood Mac's Lindsey Buckingham's impressive playing (without pick) employing finger-style exclusively, he asked if it was mandatory to use one. Delighted by his question I explained, “We'll eventually do both, but you already know naturally how not to use a pick, so let's start out with first teaching you how to use one.”
I began each of the children with the same method book, and after the first two weeks I told Jonathan he was correct about Ralph. Left-right coordination was no problem, and he was perfectly fine and willing to endure the pain of very sore fingertips. He was cheerful yet reserved, rarely speaking unless asking a question, and always totally cooperative. As the months moved on it was clear that this young soul was very mature, belying his tender years. He did not seem like a child, but a well-realized emotionally full-formed small human. He was never fidgety, never seemed bored, never failing to study, practicing his full assignments, never complaining, joyful and fully content, with a gently subtle, even impish sense of humor.
His rate of learning quickly doubled, skyrocketing exponentially past that of his sister, and quickly we moved on to learning “real” songs, popular music not found in the method book. I asked him what he would like to learn first, and without hesitation he said, “Would I be able to play (Fleetwood Mac's) Rhiannon?” Off we went, and with this song we began his learning to “finger” pick. His dad has unearthed a video of Rhiannon, tiny Ralph playing it with my accompaniment. It's at a reduced tempo, played with only very few flaws. Watching the recording I was surprised to notice that Ralph was mimicking my placement of the right hand's pinky finger planted firmly on the guitar's body, anchoring it near the bridge. I had not taught him to do that, because it's somewhat quirky, and some teachers don't recommend it.
I recall at the time feeling honored by this gesture, and it was not to be the only time; guitar picks come in all sizes, shapes and thicknesses. When I start a new student I bring them a mixed handful for experimenting, to determine for themselves which is most comfortable in their hand. I placed them on the music stand, explaining the logic, demonstrating the benefit and sounds of the various picks, which (like golf clubs) can have a vast difference in performance, usage and resulting timbre. He tried them all that day, but after a few months I noticed he always chose the identical pick I would most often employ. I asked why, and with deepest eye contact, as if to say, “don't be silly,” his simple reply: “They're what you always use, so that's the best for me.”
As the years passed, Ralph became one my best, most promising students, and we added many many pop and classic rock standards to his guitar repertoire. I worked with him developing his ear, and cultivated in him the ability to hear something and be able to find it himself on the fretboard. He was fascinated with electronics, computers and audio equipment, and as a result he was intrigued by the notion of one guitarist contributing several different parts in the building, arrangement and recording of his beloved, ornate musical extravaganzas---we dissected and he learned many of these multi-layered songs, with his favorites remaining Fleetwood Mac and Lindsey Buckingham.
The family had a piano in the living room, upon which his youngest sister took lessons. Some time around the age of ten he expressed interest in learning something about the keyboard, and I told him we could use an entire lesson period sitting at the piano, and I could explain its relation to the guitar, and show him some rudimentary accompaniment styles. From what I've learned in later years, after his lessons with me had stopped, Ralph had become quite proficient tickling the ivories, and of that I am very proud and profoundly pleased.
I suffered a horrible shoulder injury in 2006 after an auto accident, causing me to miss several months of lessons during my recovery from surgery. It was then that I began realizing how kind and compassionate he was, based on his expression and very mature questions as I relayed how this had caused my playing career to be so suddenly ended; as I was now somewhat crippled, he would always set up the equipment for his lessons, which by then had involved amps, special FX, audio equipment, music stand, guitar stands and chairs.
What a sweet boy, with so many various renaissance-man level interests and talent, an actual wunderkind, a true mensch; so sad that his brilliant life and potential were so shockingly cut short---Ralph Raskas serves as an inspiration and teaching for us all, on the fleeting nature of this precious human existence.