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My Statue of Liberty August 1, 2008

Posted by admin in : Ira, Testimonials , trackback

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!


1. Christine M. Peyton-Ely, CMA,RMA - July 30, 2009


You are such an amazing inspiration. I worked with you for 5 years- at Bayview, and I learned more under your guidance and teaching than I ever learned in a classroom. IVF treaments, PCOS treament, Hiritsutism…It was a GREAT honor to work at your side as your assistant.

When a friend or family member needs OB/GYN or Reproductive endocrinology.. I SPEAK UP- DR. KRISTIINA ALTMAN.

I know of patients that we have seen together that traveled (hundreds) of miles to see you- and I know why! In addition, I know that you have assisted many families achieve their dream to have a baby. . . What an amazing person you are!

Thank you for all you have done, and will do. God has blessed each of us with you and I for one and extremely humbled to have known you.