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Tribute to Ruth Baharas Gollobin and Ira Gollobin July 19, 2008

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Gerald Sider
Professor of Anthropology, Emeritus,
The Graduate Center, City University of New York

New York, NY

I met Ruth in 1980, when we both lived in Park West Village. Ruth at that point was struggling to support herself — the price paid for a life on the left, and in exile, and a return to the U.S. with job experiences such as being a translator for the Polish State Radio. When I met her she owned two typewriters, one of which typed right-to-left, in Yiddish, for the Forward newspaper, and one of which typed left to right in English. She typed on both late into the night, piece-rate work. Little by little, with much encouragement from friends, she worked herself up out of this difficult spot. As she did, and her optimism increased, she met Ira, and the two fell — or better, ascended — in love.

This relationship, as it developed, was wonderful to behold. Ruth would tell me how much she loved Ira, but she couldn’t marry him because he admired Mao; and Ira, as I got to know this wonderful man, would tell me how much he loved Ruth, but he couldn’t marry her because of her commitments to Soviet versions of the future! My task was to tell Ira that many flowers bloom on the left — a variant of the old Maoist slogan — and remind Ruth about early internationalist forms of left struggle. I had very little work to do on this; they were increasingly committed to each other.

One of the very special features of their developing relationship was their morning run. I would see them, dressed up in nearly identical gray sweat suits, with thick blue wool watch caps on their heads, like dockworkers, and what looked on them like enormous running shoes. They were both so thin, so light, that the running shoes hardly bent when they moved — they were like two wonderfully impish children, each with their characteristic wry smile — in an adult version of the kind of flat-soled shoes that toddlers used to wear. But these dear souls, Ruth and Ira, side by side, very slowly and very surely ran the whole six miles around Central Park together, week after week, most of that winter and spring in the early 1980s. They only looked somewhat frail; they were actually as strong, and of course as strong-willed, as they come.

In recent years — to skip ahead in the stories — I had two engagements with Ira and Ruth. Ira and I talked frequently about the book he was writing on the rise of the state — the critique of the state, actually, in long-historical terms. Ira worked on this with special focus and intensity over the past several years, and his daughter Ruth, much to his appreciation, typed and retyped it into the computer, where it now resides, not quite finished. (If people are interested in helping me investigate the possibility of finishing this book, please contact me at gsider2@gmail.com.) Ruth and I for the past several years would go on Thursday mornings to the Philharmonic rehearsals at Lincoln Center. It was a chance to see wonderful music put together, as the conductor worked with the orchestra. Both of us liked this much more than the actual concerts. It was also a chance, in our pre-concert kaffee-klatsch, the intermission, and afterward, for Ruth to teach me about the history of the American left, for and with which she had worked so hard for so much of her life.

Ruth and Ira were, each in their own way and also together, activist intellectuals — the very best kind of activists, and the very best kind of intellectuals. In this, and more concretely in their lives as they made them daily, they stand as monuments to the best of the left, as ideals for us to follow, and most of all as people who it was wonder-full to know and to love. Rest peacefully in the struggle for justice and equality, dear special Ruth and dear special Ira.


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