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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.

Tribute to Ruth Baharas Gollobin and Ira Gollobin July 19, 2008

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Gerald Sider
Professor of Anthropology, Emeritus,
The Graduate Center, City University of New York

New York, NY

I met Ruth in 1980, when we both lived in Park West Village. Ruth at that point was struggling to support herself — the price paid for a life on the left, and in exile, and a return to the U.S. with job experiences such as being a translator for the Polish State Radio. When I met her she owned two typewriters, one of which typed right-to-left, in Yiddish, for the Forward newspaper, and one of which typed left to right in English. She typed on both late into the night, piece-rate work. Little by little, with much encouragement from friends, she worked herself up out of this difficult spot. As she did, and her optimism increased, she met Ira, and the two fell — or better, ascended — in love.

This relationship, as it developed, was wonderful to behold. Ruth would tell me how much she loved Ira, but she couldn’t marry him because he admired Mao; and Ira, as I got to know this wonderful man, would tell me how much he loved Ruth, but he couldn’t marry her because of her commitments to Soviet versions of the future! My task was to tell Ira that many flowers bloom on the left — a variant of the old Maoist slogan — and remind Ruth about early internationalist forms of left struggle. I had very little work to do on this; they were increasingly committed to each other.

One of the very special features of their developing relationship was their morning run. I would see them, dressed up in nearly identical gray sweat suits, with thick blue wool watch caps on their heads, like dockworkers, and what looked on them like enormous running shoes. They were both so thin, so light, that the running shoes hardly bent when they moved — they were like two wonderfully impish children, each with their characteristic wry smile — in an adult version of the kind of flat-soled shoes that toddlers used to wear. But these dear souls, Ruth and Ira, side by side, very slowly and very surely ran the whole six miles around Central Park together, week after week, most of that winter and spring in the early 1980s. They only looked somewhat frail; they were actually as strong, and of course as strong-willed, as they come.

In recent years — to skip ahead in the stories — I had two engagements with Ira and Ruth. Ira and I talked frequently about the book he was writing on the rise of the state — the critique of the state, actually, in long-historical terms. Ira worked on this with special focus and intensity over the past several years, and his daughter Ruth, much to his appreciation, typed and retyped it into the computer, where it now resides, not quite finished. (If people are interested in helping me investigate the possibility of finishing this book, please contact me at gsider2@gmail.com.) Ruth and I for the past several years would go on Thursday mornings to the Philharmonic rehearsals at Lincoln Center. It was a chance to see wonderful music put together, as the conductor worked with the orchestra. Both of us liked this much more than the actual concerts. It was also a chance, in our pre-concert kaffee-klatsch, the intermission, and afterward, for Ruth to teach me about the history of the American left, for and with which she had worked so hard for so much of her life.

Ruth and Ira were, each in their own way and also together, activist intellectuals — the very best kind of activists, and the very best kind of intellectuals. In this, and more concretely in their lives as they made them daily, they stand as monuments to the best of the left, as ideals for us to follow, and most of all as people who it was wonder-full to know and to love. Rest peacefully in the struggle for justice and equality, dear special Ruth and dear special Ira.