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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.

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

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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.

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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!

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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!

A chance meeting at the grocery store… a lifelong friendship July 19, 2008

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Birgitte Spoorendonk
Vamdrup, Denmark

Dear Friends of Ruth,

According to Ira, I must have meant something to Ruth at a time when she had difficulties with her life. I did not do much but I happened to be at the right place at the right moment. We met at the grocery store. She was looking for sauerkraut. This is not a common dish in Denmark so I told her to look in a shop for specialties. We had a little chat, but I felt she needed a bit of comfort, so I asked her to come and see me, which she did. She met my dear husband, children, and their fiancés. When my daughter married, Ruth was going to attend, but she took a train and didn’t find the church. So she came to our home bringing a gift: six small glasses of her own, probably from Poland or the U.S.

In the meantime Ruth lost her mother and her husband left her. She had some Greek and Danish friends who were involved in Greek politics. She had to move several times. Even if her belongings were few, I remember once when my husband was helping her, he complained about her many books. I remember taking her to Hamlet’s castle in Kronborg with a group of Danes. (I was a guide back then.)

Ruth returned to New York. In 1980 my girlfriend Agnes and I made a trip to America. We were supposed to meet Ruth at LaGuardia Airport. We waited and waited; but finally I had to call. “Oh dear, didn’t you get my message?” Ruth had bought a couch for our arrival but it could be delivered only at the same time as we were arriving. She had called the airport and asked the information desk to tell us to take a bus. I had paid no attention to the loudspeaker since they are so difficult to understand. It was quite late when we arrived at Ruth’s flat. “What would you like to eat?” she said. “Well, what have you got?” “I am going to get something,” was the answer. “Now? At this time of day (10 pm)?” “Birgitte, you are in America!” Ruth declared. In Denmark, shop hours were from 8 am until 5:30 pm and Saturdays to 2 pm. Other hours were unthinkable.

Ruth was a good host. She took us by hand around Manhattan, and to the Empire State Building where she worked, and one day we toured with her friend Paula Gronska. She enjoyed having us and wanted to show us that she could manage her life again.

My beloved husband passed away February 17, 2007, exactly a year before Ruth. I wish those attending the memorial a meaningful day.

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.

Truly Beautiful and Loving Folks July 19, 2008

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Yuka Hirata and Mark Blackshear
Brooklyn, NY

Ira and Ruth were indeed like my and my wife Yuka’s surrogate grandparents. They always treated us kindly. We remember and appreciate the few times we met them for lunch or dinner, as well as the hospitality extended to us at their home. They witnessed our wedding ceremony in December of 2002, and we considered it a great honor.

Ruth was a photography student, and I loved the glee she expressed showing off a portrait of Ira she had taken by a lake at a country retreat. She and Ira were rather proud of it. I totally enjoyed it when Ira would start telling some of his stories; the tales regarding his legal exploits were priceless. I regret the fact that I can no longer enjoy his oral history lessons and his gems of enlightenment.

We remember Ruth and Ira as truly beautiful and loving folks. Yuka and I shared a genuine fondness for them. They made us feel like they felt the same for us — by the way they always smiled and often laughed when we were with them.

Impossible to believe my 35-year-long conversation with Ruth is over! July 19, 2008

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Judith Mahoney Pasternak, New York, NY

Ruth

Impossible to believe my 35-year-long conversation with Ruth is over! I was part of her extended family — my mother, Bea Kelvin, is her step-cousin and, though not related by blood, was close to her from Ruth’s childhood on. Ruth was out of the country in my youth, but from the time she returned in the early ’70s, we talked often and about almost everything, although always returning, in the end, to politics. Her fierce, wide-ranging curiosity made those discussions different from conversations with anyone else.

Ira

A great advocate who spent sixty-plus years defending the rights of immigrants and radicals, Ira was also a warm and gentle man, a serious thinker, and a good friend and relative. My family is glad for the years we knew him.

We’ll miss both of them.

My Memory of Ira and Ruth Gollobin July 19, 2008

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Drs. Amir and Halel Ansari and Family
Pleasantville, NY

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Ira was my “American Dad.” He was my immigration lawyer when I was in residency at Methodist Hospital in 1994. We soon became close friends. Ira and Ruth came to my wedding in 1998. We visited each other at my Westchester home or in the city a few times a year. When my father came to America, I introduced Ira to my father as, “my Dad in America.” He was a great and caring man. Ira went beyond what he needed to do to help others. For instance, it was in the middle of the summer on a hot and humid day. I informed him that I needed to go to the INS to give them a copy of my documents. Despite knowing that this was a simple issue, he left his office practice and walked with me to the INS! He wanted to be sure the job was done. I will always remember his compassion.

Ruth was an exceptionally knowledgeable and wonderful person. However, the one thing I will never forget is how she interacted with my children. When Ruth was surrounded by children she was passionate, sensitive, patient, kind, and a good teacher.

We feel that we were lucky and honored to know these two wonderful individuals.