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My Statue of Liberty August 1, 2008

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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!

Ira Gollobin: Mentor and Friend July 22, 2008

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Ira Kurzban
Miami, FL

[Remarks made at memorial service for Ira and Ruth Gollobin, July 19, 2008]

irak-2008-iragmemorial Ira Gollobin was a remarkable lawyer, a brilliant strategist, and a superb mentor and teacher. He did it all with deep humility that arose, not from false modesty, but from a profound understanding of a lawyer’s role in the political arena.

Ira was not humble because he was afraid. He had a healthy respect for the awesome power of a federal government gone astray as in the Palmer raids, or in the treatment of Haitian refugees, or today, in the treatment of the foreign born from the Middle East. And he knew that bravado alone was not enough to fight such an implacable foe. But he also knew, and encouraged all of us to recognize, that by coordinating excellent legal work with a deft political strategy, we could uplift the poor and disenfranchised, and support if not win, their political objectives.

He also took the long view. He knew we were in a struggle that went beyond the individual crisis of the moment and invoked a class struggle that used and reused the foreign born for economic objectives. Because his perspective was so broad, he wisely counseled us to be patient and to not indulge in the delusion that we, as lawyers or as organizers, would have some final, definitive victory for immigrants and refugees. We all wanted to be dragon-slayers in our youth and Ira taught us in middle-age to be fisherman who patiently prepare and wait for the appropriate opportunity.

“Ira Gollobin taught a generation of lawyers what it meant to be an activist”

His strategy worked remarkably well in the struggle for Haitian refugees who fought racial injustice and political intolerance. In the 1970s as more and more Haitians fled the oppression of the Duvalier regime, Haitians began seeking refuge in the United States. Those who came by airplane in the late 1960s and early 1970s went largely unchallenged by immigration authorities. However, when Haitian refugees began appearing by boat on the shores of South Florida in the mid- and late-1970s, the government acted swiftly, cruelly, and intolerantly. The entire foreign policy and intelligence apparatus of the United States would not support any suggestion that the Duvaliers were violent dictators. The local South Florida community also recoiled at the thought of having waves of the first Black refugees come to the area. Haitians, including women and children, were imprisoned in local county jails. Their treatment was in sharp contrast to that accorded Cuban refugees who were embraced by the foreign policy establishment and greeted with open arms in the South Florida community.

iraat81 Ira had already begun the defense of Haitian refugees when I arrived in Miami in 1977. He was working, in his inevitable low-key style, with the leaders in the Haitian community in Brooklyn, the National Council of Churches, the local Catholic Archdiocese in Miami, Leonard Boudin, the renowned civil rights lawyer, and a team of lawyers led by Don Bierman and Neil Sonnet in Miami to craft and organize a broad political and legal defense for Haitian refugees. Like the maestro that he was, Ira assembled a complete defense for Haitian refugees that involved these organizations and lawyers as well as brilliant lawyers, strategists and activists such as Peter Schey, Rick Swartz, Michael Hooper, and Rulx Jean Bart. Ira’s goal was not only to initiate high-profile litigation, but to develop the capacity to elicit and train lawyers and lay members of the South Florida community to prepare asylum claims on behalf of the refugees arriving in the U.S. Ira, well-knew, that without the difficult, less glamorous work of preparing and presenting asylum claims in a professional and competent manner, we could not file a law suit against the government. He also wisely understood that lay persons and lawyers taking the asylum claims would inevitably become community activists for Haitians after hearing their stories. He brilliantly managed to turn a difficult civil rights lawsuit into a broad-based political movement that challenged the entire foreign policy establishment of the United States on the grounds of racial bias and inequality. The rest of the history is well-known as lawyers in Haitian Refugee Center v. Smith, Jean v. Nelson, Haitian Refugee Center v. McNary and Haitian Refugee Center v. Baker consistently, repeatedly, and successfully challenged the government’s conduct by not only changing immigration law but the foreign policy of the United States toward Haiti.

Ira Gollobin was a modest man in all respects

Despite his brilliant organizing strategy, Ira Gollobin was also a modest man in all respects. He lived modestly. He dressed like a man who felt uncomfortable in a suit and tie. He spoke in the measured tones of a modest person. I can not remember Ira ever raising his voice. And his expressions of anger were more sardonic humor than personal affront. And he never over-indulged personally or professionally. Ira was so modest about his legal work and political accomplishments that he never mentioned, and I did not know until now, that he worked on such renown cases as Kwong Hai Chew v. Colding and Harisiades v. Shaughnessy — classic immigration cases taught in law schools through the United States. He also taught us something about how to live healthy lives. He never ate much. He asked me for a banana and an egg when he stayed at my home and we spent the rest of the day waiting for Ira to get hungry again. He never did.

I also had the good fortune of sharing Ira’s name. When I started practicing immigration law, people would come to my office and invariably confuse me with Ira. They would say: “I can’t believe that you look so young and have accomplished so much” or they would say: “I thought you were much older.” At first, I actually thought they were talking about me. Then I thought, how could they think I was in my sixties — do I really look that old already? Of course, today, rapidly approaching sixty, they do not say anything about my age — which is worse!

Ira Gollobin taught a generation of lawyers what it meant to be an activist. He taught a generation of activists, what good lawyering was. For those of us who chose law as a vehicle for change, Ira Gollobin was and will always be the standard to live by. His character, intelligence, and vision live within each of us and remind us that our duty is to follow his lead and to train the next generation of lawyers and activists.

A Meaningful Life Indeed! July 19, 2008

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Joseph Eger, Pompano Beach, FL

Conductor/Music Director, Symphony for the United Nations

Ruth was a wonderful woman in partnership with a most extraordinary man, a truly great man of any time. What a privilege it has been for me to know them, though in a limited way.

Ruth [Gollobin-Basta] dear, I’m of your family, of the human family Ira represented, for he was one of the most human, like Beethoven. Anyone who experiences either Beethoven or Ira becomes, ipso facto, more human, becomes more of what our species can be, the farthest reaches of our magical species-being. I recall discussing this aspect of music many times with Ira.

I first met Ira via my best friend, Ralph Dale, another giant who revered and respected an even greater giant, your father. Ralph too passed during this year. Now I must think for myself with Ira’s Dialectical Materialism in front of me.

I had the great good fortune of having Ira in my home as my guest less than a year ago, but visited him in his office many times, gaining wisdom as I struggled with my book and my unceasing, varied activities to make the world a little better. Ira’s wisdom knew no bounds, whether historical, literary, Marxist, or in everyday struggle.

I envy you having had such a father, and give you my love for all of him that is in you. The world is smaller without him.

Hello friend! July 15, 2008

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Ira Gollobin & Abraham Lincoln Hi, I am Ira Gollobin and I approve of this web site.

Let me be clear about where I stand on some issues. Although you might be misled by the statement above into thinking that I am running for President of the United States in 2008, let me assure you that I am not.

From my current vantage point, I see that Barack Obama and John McCain, both of whom expect to be nominated as their party’s candidate for the Presidency, are busy putting their stamps on ads being broadcast in these United States. They both say at the end of the ad: "Hi, I am (fill in the blanks) and I approve of this message."

I will have  none of that. I can’t. You see: I hover above all of these rituals. I have done so throughout the 97 years I spent on earth, thanks to my parent’s upbringing and my own discoveries as I grew up, mingling with the common folks who through their sweat, blood and tears, have built these United States into the most powerful country of the 20th century.

I regret that I  can only be with you in spirit throughout the 21st century. I hope you will accept my generous offer of things learned and practiced in the last century and allow me to continue living vicariously through you.

Here, on this web site, you will find things written by me and about me. Take as much of it as you wish to. No one will mind (I certainly won’t). Use as much as you can. Question it. Discuss it. My wish from where I sit is that you make the best of it as you connect with the good in all of us, regardless of color, origins, language, culture, and beliefs.

I have been and remain a humble student of Abraham Lincoln who was perhaps America’s greatest president. He is known for many things. His achievements are extraordinary. His intellect? Superb! He has blessed us with many insights. As I take leave, I leave you with this one:

Let not him who is houseless pull down the house of another, but let him work diligently and build one for himself, thus by example assuring that his own shall be safe from violence when built.  — Abraham Lincoln

May you be the best that you can be.