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Dialectical . . what? August 26, 2008

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Jack Lucero Fleck
Oakland, California

clip_image001I came across Ira’s book, Dialectical Materialism, at a used bookstore (“A Dirty Poorly Lit Place for Books”) on Turk Street in San Francisco in the early 90s.  The book was a bit beat up so I asked the clerk for a discount.  She said, “Dialectical . . what?” so she gave me half off.

As a devout dialectical materialist myself, I loved the book.  In the early 90s I wrote to the publishing address, but it came back.  I decided to try New York directory assistance and there was only one Ira Gollobin, so I called him and we had a long talk.  (I found it was very difficult to have a short talk with Ira.)  Ira’s book gave me the confidence to pursue a project I had been thinking about, which was to write children’s books on the subject of dialectical materialism–to prove Engel’s point that any schoolchild can understand negation of negation. 

I was able to get together with Ira a couple of times while visiting New York where my son, Ryan, was attending NYU film school in the late 90s. 

I ran my ideas by Ira, and he was very supportive.  He said it was “a whole new pedagogy,” which was a very nice compliment.  I never found a publisher for my stories, but, when the internet started, I decided, like Ira, to self-publish and started the web site, “Dialectics for Kids” (www.dialectics4kids.com).  Every once in a while I would check in with Ira.  I sang him some of my songs about dialectics to get his opinion.  I checked in with him after 911 and was happy to learn he was OK.

My son’s first feature film, Half Nelson, has a lot about dialectics, taken from dialectics4kids.  When the film premiered in New York at the New Directors, New Films festival in 2006, I was very happy that Ira was able to join us for dinner and the movie.  He enjoyed the film and said, “It’s a film with substance and emotional content.”   The accompanying photo is of Ryan, Ira, and myself taken then by Ryan’s filmmaking/domestic partner Anna Boden.  I also added a discussion of the dialectics in Half Nelson to my web site.

Good luck in keeping Ira’s spirit and thoughts alive.

A Neighbor Remembers August 7, 2008

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Erica Smith
New York, NY

Ira & Ruth_Autumn I’ve lived in Hillman for five years and have very fond memories of Ira and Ruth. My boyfriend John and I ran into Ira and his daughter Ruth once when they were on their way to the farmer’s market to get fish. We live in the same apartment that they lived in on the 12th floor before they moved to the 10th floor.

I often saw Ruth in the elevator and she was always so gracious. Once I loaned Ira an umbrella when he was on his way out and I was on my way in and it had started raining. He promised to return the umbrella, and lo and behold, later that night there was a knock on my door. After handing me the umbrella, he offered a charmingly formal introduction, and signed off with “I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship . . . ”

Both Ira and Ruth made me feel so welcome here, and I will always remember them.

Our verbal sparring was delightful, challenging, and mind opening August 7, 2008

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Alan Feigenberg, Bronx, NY
Professor of Architecture, CCNY

I first met Ira after returning from a trip to China in 1973. I began working with the U.S.-China Peoples Friendship Association with Ira’s wife Esther and periodically would meet Esther and Ira for dinner in Chinatown….a meal with brown rice and an organic, healthy Chinese cuisine (no msg), and always a heated discussion about China, the U.S. and the world. Over the years Ira was always available for dialogue…and healthy Chinese food, interlaced and sprinkled with appropriate quotes from Shakespeare, Byron, Marx, and Mao Zedong.

Ira was someone who challenged me to think more independently and critically, always with a wry sense of humor, verbal puns, and strong convictions. Our verbal sparring was delightful, challenging, and mind opening. Not one for small talk, Ira would greet me with a handshake and a “so, what do you think about the revisionist trend in China?” or “didn’t you feel the Guardian article was a bit simplistic in its analysis?”

There were several occasions when I referred some of my Haitian architecture students to Ira for immigration issues, and they always came back with a great appreciation for Ira’s professional assistance, but also for his knowledge and empathy of their nation’s history, their sufferings, and their struggles. If they were strapped for money, which most of them were, Ira would still counsel and guide them, often representing them in immigration hearings, and tell them, “when you’re settled and making some money, then we’ll talk about it some more.”

Ira’s life and career have been that of a generous person committed to the ideas and ideals of true human equality.

Ira, thanks for your inspiration, your energy, your humor and your humanism.

Ira, la lucha continua!

My Statue of Liberty August 1, 2008

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Kristiina Altman
Monkton, MD

I had entered this country two years earlier in an “old fashioned” way. My arrival resembled the style used by many of my countrymen a century ago, when they traveled through the Ellis Island immigration facilities. I came like so many generations of immigrants before me, a single mother with two children who did not understand a word of English, my whole belongings fitting into six suitcases (eleven cardboard boxes came two weeks later on a ship).

I had left behind my home, my family, my native language, and profession, but also a personal holocaust. Although I was scared of coming to this new land, which I had never visited, and feared what would be in front of me, I was even more afraid of what was behind. The difference between my ancestors and me was that I came to a crowded New York Kennedy airport, where I could not see the Statue of Liberty welcoming me to the New World and to a new beginning, which I was awaiting.

I had left behind my home, my family, my native language, and profession, but also a personal holocaust.

After settling into a very humble start, I met Jeremy, and my life began to smile. All was well until a cruel truth started evolving from the labyrinth of rules, which regulated my immigration status on J1 visa. It became clear, that if Jeremy and I got married, I had to leave the country for two years, during which time I would not be eligible to come, even for a visit to the U.S.

Jeremy and I started looking for legal help. The immigration law office, where one of Jeremy’s partners guided us, was posh and pompous. The lawyer explained in a self-important way, that he expected $5,000 (in 1993) for reviewing the case, but there was no guarantee that he would take the case, even less that it would ever be successful. All what was certain was that the five thousand was just a little premium, and the estimate was at least $35, 000 — most likely much more than that.

We had a referral to another law office in Washington. The senior partner had just retired, and the junior member did not seem to know even as much as I knew by that time about the “home rule requirements.” These rules dictated that a scientist who had been doing research on a J1 visa had to return to his or her home country to bring back the know-how obtained during the U.S research work, before s/he would be able to qualify for a new temporary visa. Another rule stated that a person who was married to an American citizen could enter the country only on a permanent visa, not a temporary one. These two rules combined meant that I would be banished from the country for at least two years.

“You should go and see my Uncle Ira in NY.” ”Uncle Ira?”

I was very depressed; Jeremy was concerned. Then he got a phone call from Hara [Bouganim]. After hearing the story, Hara immediately suggested: “You should go and see my Uncle Ira in NY.” ”Uncle Ira?” “Yes, Uncle Ira was an immigration lawyer with a very, very long career behind him.” “How long?” Jeremy wanted to know. “Very long: he was now 82 years old.” Upon hearing this, I broke into tears. “He will be dead, before my case is half-way finished!”

But as we were running low with options, we decided to try this last straw. Jeremy called Uncle Ira’s office, expecting several secretaries to answer the line, but was highly surprised when after the first ring an energetic voice answered: “Gollobin.” Jeremy felt quite incredulous: how would an extremely famous lawyer answer his phone personally? Jeremy explained our situation. Uncle Ira stated briskly: “You have to make an appointment with me, before I can decide if I am taking the case.” Having learned the price range from our previous, $35,000 law office, Jeremy asked how much the consultation would cost. “Thirty-five,” said Uncle Ira. “Thirty-five-hundred?” asked Jeremy. “No, thirty-five dollars.”

Now I was getting really nervous about our prospective lawyer. Not only was he old in age, but also this $35 price made me even more nervous than the $35,000 – although for a different reason. But we had few choices. I had been in New York City only once before so we decided to combine a consultation with Uncle Ira with my second trip to this big city. After a long hike down Manhattan, we arrived at his tall office building. Seeing a jewelry store on the street level, we walked in and bought engagement rings, as if an encouragement for the impending difficulties.

I totally fell in love with this enormous personality – for the rest of my life!

After taking the elevator up to Uncle Ira’s office, we were seated in the waiting room. In the corner there was a coat tree where a stylish cane and a hat fit for an English gentleman were hanging on it. Finally the door opened and Uncle Ira gestured us in. He sat down behind his enormous desk. His physical persona was very small, but his personality filled the huge office room, and his incredible charisma simply overflowed way out to the Brooklyn Bridge which you could see from his window. His wall was covered with plaques from different immigration organizations, thanking “Mr. Ira Gollobin for his 50 Year’s Service to Haitian Immigrants,” etc. His clip book included articles from several decades, with headlines “Ira Gollobin Again Successful in Supreme Court.”

I totally fell in love with this enormous personality – for the rest of my life! After listening to my story, Uncle Ira got up from his chair, walked around his desk, hugged me tight, and said: “Welcome to America!”

Thus began a long process of documents being faxed between Uncle Ira’s office and my research laboratory. Uncle Ira would fax me lists of documents, which I would need to request from Finland or from my research organizations. I faxed them back, and he would fax me questions he needed to know. Soon my Israeli colleagues in the research laboratory learned this “routine.” “There is a fax from Uncle Ira,” they would say. Uncle Ira was now part of the whole research group’s daily life, and he was “Uncle Ira” to everybody!

After many, many months of intense faxing, Uncle Ira told me that he was now sending the paperwork to ”The Dragon Lady,” as he called the Immigration officer, who was in charge of my case. Uncle Ira knew this dragon very well, and most importantly, he knew how to defeat it. He would be my true knight. Apologizing, he asked that I now pay him $50 for office costs!

The warmth of his voice always lifted and carried me for weeks and months

When “The Dragon Lady” was defeated and I was notified about my change in immigration status, Uncle Ira remained my eternal hero. I would write Ira a note with our annual Christmas letter, describing my children’s achievements in school and college, about my completion of the American Medical Examinations, my recertification as an OB/GYN doctor, and my career at Johns Hopkins, where I was now training new generations of OB/GYN doctors. My son Alex wrote Uncle Ira a thank you letter when he was accepted to Medical School at the University of Pennsylvania, and when he graduated with honors. We all knew that for every achievement in our family we owed all of it to Uncle Ira. He had made this all possible. I would bring our family’s successes to Ira like a tribute. After receiving the annual Christmas letter, Ira would call me each January, and I thanked him for everything I could list in our letter. The warmth of his voice always lifted and carried me for weeks and months.

This year our “Christmas letter” was sent out quite late, yet Uncle Ira called me in his usual manner after receiving the letter sometime in March. I felt somehow especially touched when I heard his voice. I told him how grateful I was for everything, and how he was my true hero in life. The extremely warm and emotional conversation ended with my words: “Ira, I truly love you.” A few weeks later I heard that he had passed.

From Uncle Ira’s office I remember one important picture among the numerous honorary plaques on his wall. It was a photograph, where he was standing in Battery Park. Behind his noble profile was the Statue of Liberty. This is the picture, which will always remain in my mind. Uncle Ira is my true American Hero. He is my own Statue of Liberty.

I love you so much, Ira, and thank you for everything!

Ira: do a documentary on me at your own peril July 23, 2008

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Pam Sporn
Bronx, NY

I first heard the name Ira Gollobin in 1964 when my father was called before HUAC [House Un-American Activities Committee] in Buffalo. Ira was his lawyer. The hearings were dramatic as my father and the other witnesses followed Ira’s counsel to skillfully and relentlessly challenge the legitimacy of the committee. Ira helped turn what could have been a traumatic event in the life of an 8 year old into a moment of extreme pride and a life long lesson in speaking truth to power. A year ago I asked Ira if I could do a documentary film on his life and work. He said I could do so at my own peril and that I’d have to accept the consequences. I agreed. I’d like to leave you with two clips of Ira.

Ira Gollobin: Mentor and Friend July 22, 2008

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Ira Kurzban
Miami, FL

[Remarks made at memorial service for Ira and Ruth Gollobin, July 19, 2008]

irak-2008-iragmemorial Ira Gollobin was a remarkable lawyer, a brilliant strategist, and a superb mentor and teacher. He did it all with deep humility that arose, not from false modesty, but from a profound understanding of a lawyer’s role in the political arena.

Ira was not humble because he was afraid. He had a healthy respect for the awesome power of a federal government gone astray as in the Palmer raids, or in the treatment of Haitian refugees, or today, in the treatment of the foreign born from the Middle East. And he knew that bravado alone was not enough to fight such an implacable foe. But he also knew, and encouraged all of us to recognize, that by coordinating excellent legal work with a deft political strategy, we could uplift the poor and disenfranchised, and support if not win, their political objectives.

He also took the long view. He knew we were in a struggle that went beyond the individual crisis of the moment and invoked a class struggle that used and reused the foreign born for economic objectives. Because his perspective was so broad, he wisely counseled us to be patient and to not indulge in the delusion that we, as lawyers or as organizers, would have some final, definitive victory for immigrants and refugees. We all wanted to be dragon-slayers in our youth and Ira taught us in middle-age to be fisherman who patiently prepare and wait for the appropriate opportunity.

“Ira Gollobin taught a generation of lawyers what it meant to be an activist”

His strategy worked remarkably well in the struggle for Haitian refugees who fought racial injustice and political intolerance. In the 1970s as more and more Haitians fled the oppression of the Duvalier regime, Haitians began seeking refuge in the United States. Those who came by airplane in the late 1960s and early 1970s went largely unchallenged by immigration authorities. However, when Haitian refugees began appearing by boat on the shores of South Florida in the mid- and late-1970s, the government acted swiftly, cruelly, and intolerantly. The entire foreign policy and intelligence apparatus of the United States would not support any suggestion that the Duvaliers were violent dictators. The local South Florida community also recoiled at the thought of having waves of the first Black refugees come to the area. Haitians, including women and children, were imprisoned in local county jails. Their treatment was in sharp contrast to that accorded Cuban refugees who were embraced by the foreign policy establishment and greeted with open arms in the South Florida community.

iraat81 Ira had already begun the defense of Haitian refugees when I arrived in Miami in 1977. He was working, in his inevitable low-key style, with the leaders in the Haitian community in Brooklyn, the National Council of Churches, the local Catholic Archdiocese in Miami, Leonard Boudin, the renowned civil rights lawyer, and a team of lawyers led by Don Bierman and Neil Sonnet in Miami to craft and organize a broad political and legal defense for Haitian refugees. Like the maestro that he was, Ira assembled a complete defense for Haitian refugees that involved these organizations and lawyers as well as brilliant lawyers, strategists and activists such as Peter Schey, Rick Swartz, Michael Hooper, and Rulx Jean Bart. Ira’s goal was not only to initiate high-profile litigation, but to develop the capacity to elicit and train lawyers and lay members of the South Florida community to prepare asylum claims on behalf of the refugees arriving in the U.S. Ira, well-knew, that without the difficult, less glamorous work of preparing and presenting asylum claims in a professional and competent manner, we could not file a law suit against the government. He also wisely understood that lay persons and lawyers taking the asylum claims would inevitably become community activists for Haitians after hearing their stories. He brilliantly managed to turn a difficult civil rights lawsuit into a broad-based political movement that challenged the entire foreign policy establishment of the United States on the grounds of racial bias and inequality. The rest of the history is well-known as lawyers in Haitian Refugee Center v. Smith, Jean v. Nelson, Haitian Refugee Center v. McNary and Haitian Refugee Center v. Baker consistently, repeatedly, and successfully challenged the government’s conduct by not only changing immigration law but the foreign policy of the United States toward Haiti.

Ira Gollobin was a modest man in all respects

Despite his brilliant organizing strategy, Ira Gollobin was also a modest man in all respects. He lived modestly. He dressed like a man who felt uncomfortable in a suit and tie. He spoke in the measured tones of a modest person. I can not remember Ira ever raising his voice. And his expressions of anger were more sardonic humor than personal affront. And he never over-indulged personally or professionally. Ira was so modest about his legal work and political accomplishments that he never mentioned, and I did not know until now, that he worked on such renown cases as Kwong Hai Chew v. Colding and Harisiades v. Shaughnessy — classic immigration cases taught in law schools through the United States. He also taught us something about how to live healthy lives. He never ate much. He asked me for a banana and an egg when he stayed at my home and we spent the rest of the day waiting for Ira to get hungry again. He never did.

I also had the good fortune of sharing Ira’s name. When I started practicing immigration law, people would come to my office and invariably confuse me with Ira. They would say: “I can’t believe that you look so young and have accomplished so much” or they would say: “I thought you were much older.” At first, I actually thought they were talking about me. Then I thought, how could they think I was in my sixties — do I really look that old already? Of course, today, rapidly approaching sixty, they do not say anything about my age — which is worse!

Ira Gollobin taught a generation of lawyers what it meant to be an activist. He taught a generation of activists, what good lawyering was. For those of us who chose law as a vehicle for change, Ira Gollobin was and will always be the standard to live by. His character, intelligence, and vision live within each of us and remind us that our duty is to follow his lead and to train the next generation of lawyers and activists.

Two Ruth Gollobins! July 19, 2008

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Ruth Gollobin-Basta

Cedarhurst, NY

For me, the beginning of knowing Ruth was 1983. Ruth Baharis was dating my Dad, Ira, who had lost his wife, my mother, in February of 1981. He was 72 years young and was happy again. Parents want their children to be happy; well, this child was happy for her parent! In 1985, Ruth was there to celebrate my marriage to my husband Peter Basta and was ecstatic with the birth of her first grandchildren in 1988 and 1989. When my father married Ruth in June of


1994, the world now had two Ruth Gollobins! We shared the same name, even our Yiddish name. We were both stepmothers and grandmothers, and we both loved the same man very much, albeit differently! We were both raised in families that were socially active, and we both shared compassion for people, be they family, friend, or stranger. Not bad at all!

Ruth was a wonderful grandmother to my children, Matthew and Caitlin; always insisting on taking the Long Island Railroad to Cedarhurst to celebrate their birthdays, school plays, and activities. Though my father and Ruth shared the same vision of a different society, it was quite amazing that he had married a woman who owned her own tool box and who loved to go to Yankee and Mets baseball games with us!

Ruth was quirky, Ruth was funny, Ruth was bright, and Ruth was usually late. The two of us would often sneak away to share a cup of coffee together without my Dad’s disapproving looks. Ruth was especially thoughtful of finding that special present for not only her grandchildren but my grandchildren as well. Central Park was my neighborhood park as a child; it was her special place to jog around the reservoir, to photograph children and the trees, especially her Osage tree, or to just wander and sit and love.

Around the end of 2007, because of Alzheimer’s, the threads became tangled more and more in her brain, however, Ruth’s intelligent mind was still functioning. We became closer and although quite ill, she gave me an extraordinary present — the gift of forgiveness.

Organizing this memorial gave me further insight and respect for her. Someone once wrote, “The ultimate test of a moral society is the kind of world it leaves to its children.” Although Ruth never had children of her own, she lived her entire life trying to make this world a better place.

My Daddy

I am only 58, not like my father who would have been 97 on July 18th and whose speech about his wife Ruth remains as words on an index card (vitamins, Poland, Hunter College, cats, babies, photography, the Left, etc.) because he was such a gifted speaker. It was 2005, and about three days before he was being honored as a founding member of the National Lawyers Guild for his unwavering fight to defend the rights of immigrants, when he called me up and said, “You know dear, people are paying good money to hear me speak, they are not paying to see me read.” So I’m hoping that when I’m in my nineties I can be a grown-up like him.


My Dad was a courageous attorney who led the vanguard defending the rights of immigrants for 70 years. He was part of the struggle to transform us into a truly more human planet. In November 1967, the columnist James A. Wechsler entitled his column “Happy Endings” writing about deportation facing Joseph Sherman to his native Poland after 46 years of residence in the U.S. and of 65 year old Wilhelm Lahtinen to Finland who had arrived here as an infant. Wechsler wrote: “In any comment on the two happy endings recorded in swift succession after so many years of anxiety, there should be recognition somewhere for attorney Gollobin. A quiet, modest man, he will never capture fame or fortune in the fashion of Lee Bailey or Edward Bennett Williams, but his resolute dedication sustained lonely clients through many long years. Such lawyers are too rare and their hours of glory too few. They endure long winters of anonymous frustration. But this spring Gollobin’s winning record in the justice league must offer large compensation for years of deadlock and defeat. He gains no such tangible dividends as those enjoyed by barristers who succeed in helping the affluent evade the tax laws. His reward is the sight of a new light in the eyes of Joseph Sherman and Wilhelm Lahtinen, and, one hopes, his ensuing capacity to sleep serenely at night.”

I found my father’s 1928 Evander Childs High School yearbook. Under his name he tells us that he was the manager of the tennis club, vice-president of the French club, member of the yearbook, track team, and service league. He wrote across his photo, “I’ll be growing up before long.” The yearbook editor wrote, “The tiny manager of successful racquets.” And on the page for autographs a fellow classmate wrote the following: “Small in stature, long in deed, my friend Ira will never be greedy.” My grandmother Nana Clara would tell me that when Ira was about three she found him sitting facing a corner, saying aloud, “Ira was a very bad boy.” No one ever found out what he did, but throughout his amazing life he never stopped fighting the bad boys and their terrible deeds!

My father had a most remarkable mind. As a child and as an adult, I’d ask what I thought was a simple question wanting a simple answer…. well not from him! He’d go back what sounded like 10,000 years in history, and what I thought would be a one- or two-minute answer became a 30-minute explanation and history lesson.

To this day I find it strange to go to someone’s home and never see a book. In my Dad’s apartment every room and hall had a floor-to-ceiling bookcase with books double-stacked. As a child I read Charles Dickens, Nancy Drew, Willa Cather, and Mark Twain.

And to supplement and expand our world my parents had a shelf on which they would rotate books for my sister and me to read: ones about Resistance fighters of World War II, W.E.B. DuBois, Langston Hughes, Russian folktales, Sholem Aleichem. To look at his comprehensive over 2,000-volume library now and know that he read and understood EVERY book — Piaget, Shakespeare, Walt Whitman, Marx, Sophocles, and Lincoln, to name a few — still amazes me. But even more remarkable is that in the course of a conversation he would begin to quote, not just a line but sometimes paragraphs, of poetry or prose, verbatim, even if it was in Latin, French or German, telling me the translation and then going back to our original discussion; never going off on tangents, focused throughout!

And speaking of books, ah, THE BOOK, Dialectical Materialism. Over decades I typed and typed and retyped that 600-page book so many times that one day I called him up and said, “Dad, guess what? I’m starting to understand it!” Although he didn’t own a computer and many including his grandchildren, Matt and Caitlin, would try, he knew to ask me to “Google” or buy a book on-line to help in his research for his next, albeit unfinished, mini opus, entitled “Seeds and Society.” I typed a letter that he wrote to a friend in August, 2007, quoting the anthropologist James Frazier, “My sun is westering and the lengthening shadows remind me to work while it still is day.”

My sister and I grew up in a very political and progressive home, filled with activism. Our parents put us in a carriage for a walk, but in 1953 it was for a demonstration to save Ethel and Julius Rosenberg. Yet we went to shuleh to learn Yiddish, went to sleep-away camp, took modern dance at Henry Street Settlement, spent summers in a bungalow at the beach in Far Rockaway with our Bubba and our Nana, and went ice skating and rode the carousel in Central Park. Our parents took us to Broadway plays — plays like The Wall, The Crucible, The Miracle Worker, or A Raisin in the Sun — but not having much money they would buy two tickets for one play and two for another. I would go with our father and my sister would go with our mother, or vice versa; in this way we all would “see” two plays each, albeit vicariously! In 1963 we all went to the March on Washington for integration and to hear Martin Luther King. There were Pete Seeger concerts or the Bolshoi Ballet at Carnegie Hall and then we were off to enjoy some blueberry pie at the Horn & Hardart. My Dad had a thing for blueberries since a child, so whether it was with his brother on a bike trip, up in Roscoe when I was a kid or with his grandchildren Matt and Caitlin, he just grabbed handfuls of the fruit and ate them!


Like all children, my sister and I were taught right from wrong but we also were taught Left from Right! We quickly mastered the dialectics of picketing, stuffing envelopes, and speaking our minds. We didn’t have a father who played cards and talked sports with the guys. We had a father who played checkers with us, taught us how to fold the Times when we were eight, and made sure we knew about Sacco and Vanzetti. We grew up in a home where we were taught to see what is inside a person, not outside — “appearance and essence,” he would say. In those days it was quite unique to have a father make our school lunch sandwiches, help with the dishes, and bring his own suits to the cleaners. My mother Esther was working part-time, active in the PTA, and organizing others in the neighborhood to fight for better schools, hospitals, and a better society. As a teenager my friends thought my parents were pretty cool because they would be on the same antiwar demonstrations with us. My high school teacher and principal weren’t prepared when I refused to participate in an air-raid shelter drill. (For those that may not remember, in elementary school we hid under the desk, in junior high school we went to the basement, and by the time I entered the Bronx High School of Science we just waited in the hall.) I was suspended for only a day because my father threatened to sue if I wasn’t reinstated. My parents told me how proud they were.

For two decades my father was defending many called before HUAC in addition to his other cases. In those days some of his Chinese clients would take our family out for a dinner as a thank-you. I have heard that many paid their filing fees and basically that was his payment! Although my parents were always busy and we had to share my Mom and Dad with what felt like everybody, I knew they loved us deeply and I always really felt it.

Speaking of payment, my Dad would sometimes tell some potential clients that he couldn’t help them. They would say, “But another lawyer said that if I gave them $6,000 they would try to help me.” My Dad would get out his garbage can and say, “Would you put your money in the garbage? I know the law and for your situation there is nothing I can do.” Sometimes a potential client’s case didn’t warrant hiring a lawyer. If you were from Cuba, he would tell you “how to do it yourself” and charge an extremely low consultation fee. And the best is that even after he retired he would be notified by the Immigration Service that so-and-so had been given a green card, etc. because he was still listed as the attorney on record. He was a people’s lawyer, always living his life true to his beliefs in helping people and making a better world for immigrants and their families.

When my father “retired from the practice of law” in 2004, he told me that he was doing so before he “got too decrepit” and, after all, “the landlord was taking all his money!” Asking that his clients retrieve their files, he ended his letter to them by stating, “It was a privilege to be your lawyer and I have done my best in preparing and presenting your case.”

My father was ageless. Rain or shine, for the past two years our Saturdays would have a routine: the two of us would stop at a health food store, a vitamin store, walk and shop our way through the Farmer’s Market at Union Square (of course hugging the ladies at the fish stand), sometimes getting a bite to eat, and then I would drop him off at the gym! How many daughters can give their 96-year-old father a yoga mat and flannel-lined blue jeans for Chanukah? (Yes I found his size! He thought the person who invented them was brilliant!) My Dad dropped the “in-law” in his loving and special relationship with my husband Peter soon after they met, and he so enjoyed the homemade chocolate nut bark Peter supplied. I don’t have to tell anyone how he loved and enjoyed his grandchildren, and in case anyone is wondering, yes, he discussed dialectical materialism with Matt and Caitlin!

In a Father’s Day card I wrote: “In case you’ve forgotten, you’ve already given me so much: a wonderful, amazing, special, and loving father (even if he forgets to change his underwear and doesn’t know ‘who’s on first base’); an unusual but meaningful last name (so what if I’m spending my life spelling and pronouncing it); the family patent to a unique, lightweight, portable appointment book (forget Palm Pilot, or a Filofax and Mont Blanc pens; just give him seven 3×5 cards, a stapler, and an extremely small pencil to fit in his back pocket and voila! He had his calendar for the week); the family Bible: Dialectical Materialism; a wonderful sense of humor that I sometimes love even though I’m slow with the pun-ches; and a sense of giving, sharing, and loving that’s unselfish and endless and special.”

My loving, special, extraordinary father had many amazing abilities, but I cannot think of anything more wonderful and special than his being a father, my father, the father all children deserve!

A Letter to Ira about Ruth’s Death July 19, 2008

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Ursula Nienhaus
Berlin, Germany

Dear Ira,

What sad news to hear! I do hope, though, that death was a blessing to Ruth, after she had problems speaking, which must have been a very strange hardship on her. I am thinking about Ruth, and I am sure that I will never forget her.

Maybe you also remember this:

Ruth was still living by herself in a seventh-floor apartment near Central Park on the Upper West Side when I first met her. It must have been sometime in the autumn of 1983, when I was visiting Gerald Sider on my way to the International Seneca Women’s Encampment for a Future in Peace and Justice in Romulus, N.Y. Jerry wanted to do some repair on Ruth’s TV and took me with him to keep her company in the meantime.

Being German, a historian, an “unorthodox lefty,” and an outspoken feminist, I still felt a little shy meeting Ruth, a very remarkable Jewish woman whose biography Jerry had given me in broad outlines. Ruth Baharis, however, welcomed me in all openness very cordially; she introduced her two cats to me and got me into a conversation on history and politics, outlining her sympathy for anarchists — in response to my confession about a master’s thesis on Mikhail Bakunin.

Anyhow, we spent some intense hours together, and she asked me kindly to please keep in contact and tell her regularly about the social and political developments in — at that time — West Germany, especially Berlin. Thus, in later years Ruth took me for history walks on the Lower East Side, let me have sumptuous meals at the “Odessa,” made us stroll through SoHo, or took me to Coney Island for swimming in the Atlantic, always discussing big politics and the ongoing changes in the neighborhoods of New York as well as our private lives and loves, in tacit verification that the personal is political.

After Ruth married Ira Gollobin and moved to the Lower East Side to live with him, they finally even came to visit me in our Berlin feminist center where we had fresh cherries for lunch from the Farmer’s Market, which Ruth so much wanted me to appreciate. And on each New Year’s Eve there was a long telephone call. In return for all the love you both, Ruth as well as you, dear Ira, gave me, I somewhat let her “check” all my life partners on various visits to New York. Ruth took them to the United Nations, Grand Central Terminal and the Empire State Building, where she liked to take photographs, talk about Susan Sontag to us, and later exchange the photos. On one such stroll, she had me stare into a show window as she explained the term “camp,” years before this term made its entrance into German gender studies. She always shared my annoyance about the strange fact that many renowned scholars are forced to teach for free at universities in rich capitalist Germany. Thus, I feel honored to have met her so often and have learned from her. I definitely do miss her, and I will keep her in warm memory.

In Memory of Ira Gollobin and His Two Wives, Esther and Ruth July 19, 2008

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Jim Haughton
New York, NY

I first met Ira when I was a community organizer for LENA (Lower East Side Neighborhood Association) in the ’50s. Esther worked closely with me in building a strong organization. She knew everybody worth knowing and through her I met Ira at their home. Ira briefly stepped out of his study, said hello, and returned to his work: the science of dialectical materialism. It took many years before I got a copy of his book and some time to read it, study it, and get two more copies for some folks I know.

Ira had his law office not too far from where I live and we would meet for lunch and dinner at a Greek restaurant on Reade and West Broadway. A few times he invited Ruth to meet us at the restaurant where we talked at length, about everything.

Esther and Ruth were powerful women who clearly understood the nature of class struggle. Esther and Ruth were also beautiful, physically and spiritually.

Dialectical Materialism is a formidable work that deals with “Its Laws, Categories and Practices.” This book requires study, not just reading, if we are to comprehend the meaning of dialectical materialism. I never knew how many copies Ira had left! It was a big struggle getting copies for friends whom I thought would greatly benefit from studying this work. I am reading it again. . . .

Ira came to my home where some twenty black and white workers would assemble to hear him talk and ask him questions. The sessions were not only educational but inspirational. Before that time, although I did not know him, I knew that Ira defended progressives, accused of being communists, before HUAC, led by Senator McCarthy. He also provided legal assistance to undocumented workers who were members of Fight Back. Ira was also generous: he loaned me money when I was broke, which I paid back!

Shortly before his passing, Ira came by to see me. He had heard I was sick. He walked up a long flight of steep steps, paused, embraced me, and said, “Remember, it is law-governed.” He left without saying anything else.

We should all rejoice in Ira’s life and work. For me, he was a kiss from God, a friend, and an inspirational teacher. His work and spirit shall live on as we continue to address capitalist society. Long live the spirits of Esther, Ruth, and Ira Gollobin!

My Boss July 19, 2008

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Etta Beckerman
New York, NY

He was a short man but to me he was 10 feet tall. I first met Ira Gollobin about eight years ago when I came to work for him as a legal secretary. It was a Monday morning. I arrived early and sat down to wait. The door opened and in walked Ira carrying a small leather bag. After he introduced himself, I asked him if he had been away for the weekend. He said, “No, I was at the gym.” At that time he had just turned 89. I smiled, he smiled and said, “Get your book; we have a lot of work to do.” I only worked one or two days a week, which was enough for his purposes and mine. We clicked immediately.

I spent four pleasant and interesting years working for him. This was my first experience working for an immigration lawyer. He seemed to sense my understanding of the problems of immigrants. Sometimes he would dictate a legal paper and ask me what I thought. I was flattered that he asked for my opinion, as I knew nothing about immigration. When Christmas came, he was very generous. He also kept me supplied with nuts imported from Asia.

We had our differences. At times when I voiced a grievance, he would say, “You’re pretty frisky today.” When he told me he was retiring, I was surprised and dismayed. He explained that the reason was because his wife was ill and needed him, not because he wanted to.

After I left, I still kept in touch. Many times he would ask me to come to his house to do some work. Often we would talk about some of his cases. He told me about the time during World War II when he was stationed in the Philippines; how after the war was over, his unit was kept there without any sign of returning home; and how he engaged the military to help him persuade the commanding general and Washington to send his unit home. Through his efforts they were sent home within two weeks.

But the most heart-rending case he had was about a client who escaped with his family from Nazi Germany in 1944 and who was threatened by the Immigration Department to be sent back. After appealing to all the government agencies to get his client and his family to stay in the U.S., Ira went to the press. Immigration instructed him to bring his client and family to Ellis Island for deportation, but Ira decided he would not do it the usual way. Ira told them to pack their bags and walk from Washington Heights to Ellis Island and the press would walk with them and take pictures! This created such a stir that Ira won his case and the family was allowed to stay in the U.S.

I love this story. I’ve told it to many people and now to you.