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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!

Role Models… Always Practicing What They Preached July 19, 2008

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Jan Gronski, wife Ping Ping, and children Natasha and Jessica Shanghai, China

Dear Friends,

I met Ruth for the first time somewhere in Poland. Most likely it was in our own house, as my mother liked to entertain a lot and almost every evening there were some friends or acquaintance who would show up for supper. I remember that Ruth emigrated to Poland under very difficult circumstances. She was following her husband, who needed to come and settle there. Needless to say, emigration is a difficult thing. Many of you (or your parents) experienced it. Coming to a strange country with no knowledge of the language requires indeed a lot of courage. After a little while Ruth settled in and found a job — as I remember it (my memory might be faulty) — within the American section of Polish Radio.

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My mother, herself an employee of Polish Radio, met Ruth there. By the time I met Ruth she already had a fair understanding and mastery of spoken Polish. This is not a minor accomplishment. Anyone who has tried to wander through the maze of nasal vowels and sibilant consonants will attest to that. Little wonder that she so gracefully, albeit not without some painful moments, settled in Poland. My memories of that time, me being still a child, are rather hazy and so I do not exactly recall the circumstances under which she and her mother left Poland and emigrated to Denmark. All I know is that after reaching Denmark, her mother passed away, suffering from Alzheimer’s, the disease that eventually afflicted Ruth.

Most of my memories of Ruth come from the period when my mother rediscovered Ruth in New York. Ruth was always interested in politics. I remember that many a time she impressed me with her deep understanding of the political situation in the United States. We did not always agree, but she always helped me understand this place a little better. Ruth was a good friend and she was a person with a profound understanding and empathy for others. Her friendship and her interest in me, my wife, and my children were deeply touching. She always had a good word for us as well as a word of advice for me regarding my relationship with my mother. To me her relationship with Ira was a shining example of how people should support each other: loving, respectful, and always supportive of each other. When the news came that Ruth was in the hospital I was shocked, but an even bigger shock came when, just as I was thinking of calling Ira, I received an e-mail from Ira’s daughter Ruth about Ira’s passing. I had known Ira almost as long as my mother did. I thought that he was the most remarkable human being. His vitality, good humor, and mental clarity were an example for me that you can be a complete human being at 96. I was looking to talk to him more about my experiences in China and was curious about what he was writing about. I thought that he took Ruth’s passing so well and it seemed like he had decided to double his exercise and write. He seemed immortal.

Ira and Ruth seemed to be so eternal. Although I will miss Ruth and Ira dearly, I am also happy for them that their departure was swift and peaceful. All of us have to go one day. We will miss you, Ira, your sense of humor, your incisiveness, and, not least, your lasting interest in the life of common people. We will miss you, Ruth, your keen mind, your commitment to your friends, your kind heart, and your wonderful personality.

Ira was a true mentor July 19, 2008

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Sue Susman, New York, NY

Dear Ruth [Gollobin-Basta],

Ira was a true mentor to me — encouraging me to go into the field of immigration law, and requiring — as a condition of his tutoring me — that I learn to eat fish and tofu at a particular Chinese restaurant every Tuesday evening. I learned from him legally, politically, culinarily, and otherwise. I may still have his book on the Committee for Protection of the Foreign Born.

You may have heard the tale that he told. While he was having dinner with me each Tuesday evening for many months, your mother Esther was telling him she had met a terrific young man at the U.S.-China People’s Friendship Association — my husband Sekhar; so we “double-dated” a few times for dinner. In the years after he married Ruth, he seemed content with her. We met them for dinner once or twice as well and sat next to them at Guild dinners.

I was sorry to hear of Ruth’s death, but was devastated to hear of Ira’s. I had somehow assumed that with all of his running, swimming, and healthy diet, he would live forever. You have had a wonderful father, mother, and stepmother for a wonderfully long time. I hope Ira left this world peacefully.