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Remembering Ira July 19, 2008

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Susan Gebel (daughter Ruth’s longtime friend)
Brooklyn, NY

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I remember Ira as a kind yet very strong person. He was not a big man, but there was conviction in his gaze. He had a knowing look about him and he made you feel that he really cared about you. He didn’t always say that much when there were family gatherings at his daughter Ruth’s house, but if you were to have a conversation with him, you had to be on your toes because he was so knowledgeable! Ira wanted to know how things were going with you and really took an interest in you. What I remember most about Ira were his hugs. He may have been wiry and thin, but he gave the best and strongest hugs I’ve ever had. Ira, you will be missed!

John David, Manila, 1946 July 19, 2008

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Erwin Marquit

Minneapolis, Minnesota

As members of the U.S. émigré/deportee community, Ruth and I were good friends in Poland from the time of her arrival until I returned to the U.S. in 1963. My wife and I were in  contact with her during my sabbatical in Copenhagen in 1971/72. Ruth would often take care of our teenage children when we traveled without them. I then met her occasionally in New York at the annual Socialist Scholar’s conferences.

I first met Ira in June 2000, when I interviewed him in connection with a history I was writing about the G. I. demobilization demonstrations in January 1946. He was one of the principal organizers of the demonstrations in Manilla (I had taken part in the demonstrations in Hawaii).

If I were able to attend the memorial, I would recount one rather surprising exchange with him, considering his age at the time of the interview. At the end of the interview, he asked me, “Who are you going cite as the source of this information?” “You, of course,” I replied. “Oh, no!” he said, "I’m still practicing.” 

When I published the history in the journal Nature, Society, and Thought (Vol. 15, no. 1 [2002], pp. 5-39), I referred to him only with the pseudonym “John David,” explaining in a note that he did not want to be identified by his real name. Hero to me that he remains, I assume there will be no objection to my publishing an “update” note giving his true name so he can have full credit for his contribution to the demonstrations.

Let Aaron be gathered to his kin… July 19, 2008

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Josh Lipschutz
Bala Cynwyd, PA

Sitting in Shul two weeks ago with my parents, Mike and Linda Lipschutz, my wife Lisa and our three children, Hannah, Benjamin, and, as of one month ago, Jacob, I was inspired by a passage. I hadn’t planned on saying anything today, content to let my mom, Ira’s niece, the daughter of Ira’s sister Beatrice, represent the family; however, I think this is worth telling.

The section of the Bible we were reading two weeks ago was Hukkat, and there were several notable deaths in that chapter, including Miriam, Moses’s sister, and Aaron, the high priest and Moses’s brother. As it is written in Numbers 20:24, when the Israelites reached Mount Hor, which was next to the Promised Land, which neither Moses nor Aaron were going to be allowed to enter, G-d said to Moses and Aaron, “Yaasafe Aaron el-Amo”. The Hebrew is translated as, “Let Aaron be gathered to his kin…” The commentary in the Etz Hayim Chumush interprets this as “Let his good qualities now enter the souls of those living who knew him, that those qualities not be lost after his death.” And I think that’s what we are doing here today. We are letting the good qualities of Ira and Ruth now enter the souls of those who knew them, that these qualities not be lost even after their deaths.

And what are those qualities? I’ll mention a few that stand out for me. I remember Ruth as a woman who loved the world. It has been said that anybody who is not a Communist at age 18 doesn’t have a heart. Ruth had a great heart and, I believe, remained a Communist, in the best sense of the word, long after age 18. I remember telling her after 9/11, that I was joining the army, and her getting very upset and crying. Even though I was joining as a doctor, she hated the concept of armies and war. The world needs people like her.

And Ira, ah, so many good qualities. To mention a few, he was a brilliant thinker and the father of a new field of law, Immigration Law, which I’m sure others, who are expert in this area, will tell you more about. Ira was also a dedicated family man and always kept in close contact with the exiled Indiana branch of my family. Though advanced in years and somewhat frail, Ira and Ruth made the trek to San Francisco for my wedding in December of 2000.

Interestingly, sometimes public and private worlds collide. At our wedding, my wife’s Aunt, Barbara Hines, who is a Professor of Immigration Law at UT Austin, met Ira and remarked that it was like meeting a legend. So to paraphrase that greatest of books, the Bible, “Yaasafe Ira Varut el-Amo.” Let Ira and Ruth be gathered to their kin.

Remembering Ira Gollobin July 19, 2008

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Peter A. Schey, Los Angeles, CA

President & Executive Director, Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law

[The following was distributed widely via Peter’s email list.]

Ira Gollobin, a renowned civil rights and immigration lawyer, who practiced law in New York City for over 70 years, acting as attorney in many high-profile immigration and extradition cases from the 1950s to the 1980s, passed away peacefully this morning in New York, following several days of hospitalization for a staph infection. He was 96 years old.

Ira served on the Board of Directors of the Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law for 25 years. He was a long-time active member of the National Lawyers Guild. He will be deeply missed by those who were honored to meet and learn from him along his 96-year life journey.

Ira wrote numerous periodical articles on immigration policy, dialectics, East Asia, and Marxist theory. He is the author of Dialectical Materialism: Its Laws, Categories, and Practice (1986), and Winds of Change: An Immigration Lawyer’s Perspective of Fifty Years (1987).

Ira’s epic book on dialectical materialism is a comprehensive review of Marxist philosophy, integrated into subjects ranging from workers to politics to human consciousness. For those interested in the relationship between history, philosophy, politics, consciousness, and the struggle for freedom, this is a book you want to read. If you use a highlighter, forget it. You’ll want to highlight the whole book.

Ira served as general counsel to the American Committee for the Protection of the Foreign Born throughout the McCarthy period. During the Cold War witch-hunt to identify and deport immigrant “communist sympathizers,” Ira and the American Committee coordinated the legal defense of immigrant workers, labor leaders, authors, and others for their real or perceived communist beliefs or associations.

In 1980 Ira put together a team of lawyers including Ira Kurzban, Rick Swartz, and me to work on the Haitian Refugee Center v. Smith case. Under his guidance, and with the help of many others, we won a major class-wide injunction that blocked an “expedited deportation program” initiated by the INS headquarters to quickly deport over 5,000 Haitian refugees deemed a “threat” to South Florida. After a class-wide permanent injunction that we won was upheld in the Court of Appeals (Haitian Refugee Center v. Smith, 676 F.2d 1023 [1982]), the first Haitian adjustment act (which Ira and Rick helped draft and get enacted) granted all class members permanent resident status. Ira was the architect of this victory. In the last chapter of his dialectics book, a chapter on wisdom, Ira wrote:

Class society places its imprint on wisdom. The musings of the sage. . . and the guile of the rulers. . . have been acclaimed as wellsprings of wisdom, while the masses’ hard-earned experience and insights, gained in labor and class struggle amid a multitude of afflictions, have been denigrated by oppressors as responses, sometimes docile, sometimes violent, of beings little above the level of brutes. On the contrary, as regards the oppressed, those with the most practical experience are the wisest and most capable. All wisdom comes from the masses. . . . The wisdom of tens of millions of creators creates something incomparably higher than the greatest prediction of genius. (Quotations and citations omitted.)

Ira was a unique intellectual adventurer and a lawyer whose passion for justice was easily matched by his clients’ love and affection for him. We will miss him, and his guidance, very deeply. We will always treasure what he brought to each of us and to humanity’s struggle for emancipation.

Ruth and Ira Made a Unique Contribution to Our Lives July 19, 2008

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Edith and Roberto Belmar Pantelis
Santiago, Chile

[Roberto Belmar was the Head of Public Health for Santiago under Allende and later on for all of Chile. Although he received asylum in the U.S. through Ira’s efforts, he returned to Chile in 1985.]

Edith and Roberto Belmar, with our six daughters, four sons-in-law and 14 grandchildren — three generations of the Belmar Pantelis family — join you in remembrance of two very special people, Ira and Ruth Gollobin. We are very sad to know that our friends have passed away. They have made a unique contribution to our lives and to our country, Chile.

Ruth and Ira were our supporters, from the legal to the emotional dimension, to make possible our return to Chile. This was in 1985 during the worst repressive times, because we truly believed then as we do now that it was our obligation to be with our beloved Chilean people, confronting with them the risks of the process to restore democracy in Chile five years later.

Ruth and Ira not only helped us in the return process, but they also went to Chile, thereby securing our safety with their presence in those dark days of the violation of human rights and persecution of those struggling for the restoration of democracy, and in the creation of a new democracy for Chile. When they came to our country to be with us in those days, it was a unique and brave decision.

Although we cannot be there, our souls will be there, accompanying you in your sorrow. We, the twenty-six Belmar Pantelis, will always honor Ira and Ruth’s contributions to make this a better, just, and peaceful world.

Vignettes of Ira, Characteristic of Ruth July 19, 2008

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Freda Birnbaum, New York, NY

Vignettes of Ira

Ira was a man of many quotations. He would sprinkle them through a conversation to light up a subject or clarify a point in a rather impressive way. I relished the way he dipped into his memory bank and came up with an apropos quote.

Sometimes Ira would take off on a subject about which he was passionate and go on and on and on, little tuned in to the capacity of his listener to grasp what he was expatiating upon or promulgating. It was all so clear to him, and I could be left behind befuddled in the intellectual dust clouds he had bestirred.

Ira and I talked every day in the last couple of months of Ruth’s life. When I asked Ira one evening how he was doing with sleeping, he said that if he had any trouble falling asleep he recited the Gettysburg Address to himself. Before he reached the end of it, he’d be asleep.

A Characteristic of Ruth

People talk at funerals about “a woman of valor.” I think of Ruth as “a woman of fervor.” She was fervent about what she didn’t like as well as what she did like. Often her warm excitement about a musician or a political commentary was contagious so I’d find myself wanting to hear the artist play or to read the brilliant analysis of the admired thinker. Her eagerness to share her experience was intense.

Ira, a dear, dear man July 19, 2008

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Mary Mazur
New York, NY

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Ruchl’s mother and my mother were sisters. Before Ruchl’s illness I didn’t know Ira very well. We would see each other a few times a year at family gatherings or going out for dinner. During Ruchl’s illness I got to know a man of integrity who was a private person, shy and modest, considerate to a fault, and tireless in his devotion to Ruchl.

While still at home, as Ruchl declined, Ira’s days were filled with sickroom chores, shopping, cooking, and major decisions; only then did he finally (after much prodding) seek help. He found Wendy Clarke, Ruchl’s patient, loving caregiver.

During Ruchl’s hospitalization, Ira’s daughter Ruth spun into action, anticipating Ruchl’s needs, reorganizing the apartment, buying whatever was needed for Ruchl’s care and comfort, and taking care of her father, who often forgot to take care of himself. Ruchl’s homecoming was not to be.

In the hospital Ira would sit for hours and hours each day — he didn’t want Ruchl to be alone. He sat holding her hand under the covers as friends and family came and went. Ira was constant. Based on information from the doctors, he was forced to make agonizing decisions. He spoke to those close to Ruchl and asked their opinions. “I want to do the right thing,” he said.

In preparation for her memorial he knew exactly how he wanted to honor and cherish her memory. I now knew a man for whom I have deep affection — a dear, dear man.

An Indefatigable Man July 19, 2008

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Ruth Misheloff, New York, NY

I met Ira in the early ‘80s, I think. His book, Dialectical Materialism, which he’d been working on for over a quarter-century at that point, was still in manuscript, but the end was in sight and he needed a copy editor to help prepare it for publication. He was a very good writer, fluent, strong, precise, supple, yet even the best manuscript needs an outside eye to vet clarity and continuity, catch inconsistencies and typos, query possible citation errors, and mark up headings for the designer. I took on the job happily, figuring not only to make some money but to learn a lot in the process. So I started on what became at least a two-year gig, reading line by line, making marginal notes or attaching post-its, and providing additional sheets of queries. When he returned the first batch of manuscript so I could check the changes, I discovered that while responding to my queries, he’d had fresh thoughts, incarnated as new sentences, new paragraphs, and whole new pages.

And that’s what happened with every batch of manuscript I returned to him. It came back to me not only with fixes for the things I’d marked but with elaborations, augmentations, amplifications. I’d comment or query about the new material, of course rereading the old in the process — and then the revised sheets would come back to me amplified yet again!

Ira’s partner in producing these endless new versions was his heroic daughter Ruth, who typed every blessed page, over and over. (Remember typing? On a typewriter? And carbons? White-out? Manual cutting and pasting? It’s sobering to recall what it took to produce a good and careful book in those days, even with a Selectric! If Ira had had access to a computer, the book might have turned out twice as long, if indeed he would have ever been able to stop….)

Even while realizing how painful it probably was for Ira to separate from a project in which he’d invested so much, eventually I couldn’t help chaffing him that he needed a 12-step program to kick his book addiction, and once I may have even conjured up the image of myself and his daughter Ruth as Chaplins on a Modern Times assembly line! He responded goodnaturedly, of course, but was undaunted, and the iterations continued. I began to wonder (silently) if he would experience the authorial version of post-partum depression when he finally turned the manuscript over to the printer.

Ira was an amazing, indefatigable, stalwart, intense, bright-spirited, and dedicated man, and a multi-tasker before the term was invented. One example that has stuck in my mind: when he used to go out running — yes, he did that, too, possibly till he was in his late 80s — he carried index cards with passages of poetry to memorize. Once he “had” the lines, they were his forever. No senior moments for him, at least to my knowledge. He used every second of his time in this world. I can hardly imagine him gone.

A True Friend July 19, 2008

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Guy Sansaricq
Roman Catholic Auxiliary Bishop of Brooklyn,

National Director of the Haitian Apostolate
Brooklyn, NY

Dear Ira,

I do not contact you easily yet I assure you that you are one of the people that I hold in highest esteem and affection. Your total dedication to the cause of Haitians has always deeply inspired me. You are a man with a big heart.

I feel very close to you as you mourn the departure of your good wife Ruth. It’s one of those moments in life that we dread but cannot prevent.

I do not dare offer you any special reflection or advice, as I know you are a wise man who certainly has his own appreciation of life’s moments.

I simply want you to know that in your large circle of admirers there is also one in Brooklyn who values you as a true friend and feels very close to you these days.

Ira Meant a Lot to Dino and Me July 19, 2008

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Claire Hirsch, Los Angeles, CA

Dear Ruth [Gollobin-Basta],

You asked me about the background of my husband Dino’s and Ira’s friendship and I told you it would take too long to tell you when I was in New York. I want to tell you again how much it meant to me to stay in his apartment; to be surrounded by the marvelous library that was the background to all the thinking, writing, and teaching that he did!

Dino was an “armchair Marxist” and went to jail for having committed a capitalist crime in the export business which he had learned from his father in Italy. When he came home after having served eleven months of a “year and a day” sentence, he was confronted with deportation proceedings. It was then that he met your Dad because of a referral from a bail bondsman.

clip_image002It was a lucky circumstance that he found Ira to defend him. They became friends soon (more like teacher and student in the beginning). They met every month or so in a restaurant in Greenwich Village and would talk. I soon joined them and at first was in awe at the level of their discussions!

Ira suggested to Dino that his condition in this country was not about to change, so he might as well get involved in trying to change things. He soon became active in his union and remained an activist until the day he died. Your mother Esther and I became close friends through our activity in the U.S.-China People’s Friendship Association.

After we moved to California we continued to stay in touch, at first with visits to New York and then their final visit to L.A. when we drove them to Mexico to seek a cure for your mom’s cancer. We were happy to welcome him to Aspen, Colorado, where we spent several of the most wonderful hiking vacations together, first with him alone and then joined by his [second] wife Ruth.

We talked by phone often and he managed to set into perspective whatever was going on in the world at the moment until a few months ago. I shall miss him sorely but am happy to have benefited from his friendship and knowledge for so many years!