Jewish Journal

‘We’re here to make other people’s lives easier’

by Julie Gruenbaum Fax

Posted on Jan. 5, 2012 at 5:40 pm

Hanne Mintz

Hanne Mintz

Many people avert their eyes when they walk by the homeless.

Hanne Mintz opens her hand, her heart and her home.

Four years ago, Mintz, 68, found Ryan, 20, living on a park bench near her house, and after they bonded over her bullmastiff, she took Ryan out to breakfast and offered him a bed in her home. 

“Maybe I’m an ax murderer,” Ryan said.

“Maybe I’m a child molester,” Mintz shot back.

“You have to trust yourself and take those chances,” Mintz said. “The worst thing that can happen is it doesn’t work out.”

Ryan, who had no family to fall back on, had come from New Hampshire to pursue acting. Mintz gave him a job operating audio software in the translation services company she founded 20 years ago and still runs.

Today, Ryan is doing stand-up comedy in Boston, and he’s in touch with Mintz regularly.

The fact that she took Ryan in didn’t surprise Mintz’s daughter, Marina, who says her own friends routinely still come over to hang out with Mintz, as they have since they were kids. Mintz also loves to go salmon fishing and camping and is president of a bullmastiff club. 

Her warmth emerges the moment you meet her — she is a hugger, and her eyes sparkle with interest in others.

Story continues after the jump

Mintz’s father was on a Red Cross transport out of Germany in 1939 and settled in a small town in Sweden with 20 Jewish families. Hanne grew up in Sweden and has memories of her parents taking in survivors in the years after the war.

“I have very strong compassion for people who sort of live in a marginal way,” she said. “I think the notion of service has never been anything extraordinary to me. It’s just something you do. We’re here to make other people’s lives easier. Really, why else are we here?”

Mintz co-chairs a group at IKAR, her spiritual community, that undertakes projects to support people in need. She has helped run Thanksgiving food drives and Christmas dinners for a few years, and this year ran a collection of hats, socks and scarves to distribute at the Greater West Hollywood Food Coalition. She volunteers regularly there and at People Assisting the Homeless (PATH), where she cooks dinners, serves clients and makes friends.

But what is perhaps closest to her heart is her work with the Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation. Her son, Adam, died in 2002 at the age of 33 of mesothelioma, a rare and slow-growing cancer that invades the membrane surrounding organs and has a 5 to 10 percent survival rate. The disease is directly linked with asbestos exposure.

Mintz, who also lost her husband, Burt, a few years ago, is board co-chair of the foundation, working to raise funds for awareness and research, and to support the families of mesothelioma victims. The foundation has distributed $8 million in the 10 years since it was founded. She is convinced that with enough research funding, mesothelioma can go from terminal to chronic, like AIDS.

She brings the same passion and energy to her work raising funds that she does to helping the homeless.

“None of this is hard to do. It’s just a matter of will. I think with a lot of things you make a decision or you visualize something that is needed, and most problems are quite easily solved if you just have the will to do it. And then you have to find enough people to embrace your enthusiasm and get it done.”

For information on the Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation, go to curemeso.org.

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