Ross Den was born in Ukraine in a family of medical professionals, but didn’t follow in their footsteps.
After his family immigrated to the U.S. when he was a child, he became enthralled by the new freedoms he enjoyed and developed a commitment to justice. While at John Jay College, Den entered the NYPD’s part-time police cadet program. After 9/11, he and some of his friends felt compelled to sign up with the IDF, and Den served two years carrying out anti-terror missions in the West Bank and on the Lebanese border.
His experience in the Israeli army, he said, solidified what he already knew about life, “You never know [what can happen], and never give up.”
Observing that the gear provided by the Israeli army is sometimes of poor quality, when Den returned home, he worked with the Council of Jewish Émigré Community Organizations to raise $30,000 to buy such gear as LED flashlights, hydration systems, headlamps and knee pads for Israeli soldiers in combat. To distribute the equipment, he works with an organization called Chayal le Chayal, meaning soldier to soldier.
Perhaps because he never experienced much anti-Semitism (there were very few Jews in his hometown of Blay Tserkov) Den hasn’t felt compelled to live in the Jewish state he once defended, but he’s keeping his options open. “One day it would be great to settle in Israel and enjoy the Holy Land to the fullest,” he said.
Den, who works as a professional photographer, also applies his altruistic efforts at home. During Hurricane Sandy, he organized grassroots relief and recovery efforts, directing volunteers from Russian-speaking communities in the area and as far away as Philadelphia.
“If I feel something needs to be done,” he said, “I do it.”
Freedom rider: Ross can be seen zipping around Midwood on his Kawasaki Ninja.
Stroke of luck: When he went to the Shorefront Y to pick up the competitive swimming he had left behind, he found his coach from Ukraine, who had emigrated two years earlier.