jump to navigation

Two Ruth Gollobins! July 19, 2008

Posted by admin in : Ira, Ruth, Testimonials , comments closed

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

clip_image002

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.

clip_image004

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!

clip_image006

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!

In Memory of Ira Gollobin and His Two Wives, Esther and Ruth July 19, 2008

Posted by admin in : Ira, Ruth, Testimonials , comments closed

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!

My Boss July 19, 2008

Posted by admin in : Ira, Testimonials , comments closed

Etta Beckerman
New York, NY

He was a short man but to me he was 10 feet tall. I first met Ira Gollobin about eight years ago when I came to work for him as a legal secretary. It was a Monday morning. I arrived early and sat down to wait. The door opened and in walked Ira carrying a small leather bag. After he introduced himself, I asked him if he had been away for the weekend. He said, “No, I was at the gym.” At that time he had just turned 89. I smiled, he smiled and said, “Get your book; we have a lot of work to do.” I only worked one or two days a week, which was enough for his purposes and mine. We clicked immediately.

I spent four pleasant and interesting years working for him. This was my first experience working for an immigration lawyer. He seemed to sense my understanding of the problems of immigrants. Sometimes he would dictate a legal paper and ask me what I thought. I was flattered that he asked for my opinion, as I knew nothing about immigration. When Christmas came, he was very generous. He also kept me supplied with nuts imported from Asia.

We had our differences. At times when I voiced a grievance, he would say, “You’re pretty frisky today.” When he told me he was retiring, I was surprised and dismayed. He explained that the reason was because his wife was ill and needed him, not because he wanted to.

After I left, I still kept in touch. Many times he would ask me to come to his house to do some work. Often we would talk about some of his cases. He told me about the time during World War II when he was stationed in the Philippines; how after the war was over, his unit was kept there without any sign of returning home; and how he engaged the military to help him persuade the commanding general and Washington to send his unit home. Through his efforts they were sent home within two weeks.

But the most heart-rending case he had was about a client who escaped with his family from Nazi Germany in 1944 and who was threatened by the Immigration Department to be sent back. After appealing to all the government agencies to get his client and his family to stay in the U.S., Ira went to the press. Immigration instructed him to bring his client and family to Ellis Island for deportation, but Ira decided he would not do it the usual way. Ira told them to pack their bags and walk from Washington Heights to Ellis Island and the press would walk with them and take pictures! This created such a stir that Ira won his case and the family was allowed to stay in the U.S.

I love this story. I’ve told it to many people and now to you.
IRA, YOU ARE REMEMBERED.

A brilliant Lawyer… the Wisest of Men July 19, 2008

Posted by admin in : Ira, Testimonials , comments closed

Muzaffar Chishti
New York, NY

Ira was special to so many of us in so many ways. To me he was not only a brilliant lawyer, but one of the wisest men I had the honor of knowing. Chats with him were a treat. He was sweet enough to have two long phone chats with me after Ruth’s passing. I knew that I couldn’t force a meeting until he was ready. But I can tell you how fortunate I feel that I had a long dinner meeting with him while Ruth was in the hospital. Yes, indeed, it was the night when I ran into his daughter Ruth and Carol Smith outside Ruth’s room. We went to a Turkish restaurant (where the maitre d’ had been a client of his) and discussed everything from Ruth’s impending departure to the importance of John Adams. Ira never ceased to impress me with his thirst for new intellectual pursuits. Only last year, he asked me to give him a list of books and other readings so that he could begin to have a better sense of India — not its past (which many are preoccupied with), but its place in the future of humanity. With all that he knew, he never stopped learning.

No Ordinary Lawyer July 19, 2008

Posted by admin in : Ira, Testimonials , comments closed

Sara Lustigman
New York, NY

I first met Ira in his office on Broadway in the early ’90s when I wanted to ask for his help in obtaining a green card. After explaining my situation, Ira gave me a very careful and professional explanation of how we would go about applying for it. As I got ready to leave, Ira stepped around his desk and gave me a big hug, letting me know everything would be all right.

clip_image002“This is no ordinary New York City lawyer,” I thought to myself. My suspicion that I was dealing with a unique individual was confirmed when I asked Ira about his payment policy. Being both new in the City and not making very much money, I needed to know how much cash I would have to provide up front. However, when asked, Ira simply said, “You don’t pay anything until I start meeting my milestones at every stage of the green card process.” “Wow!” I thought, “The stereotypes about avaricious lawyers seeking billable hours sure don’t apply here.”

Every time I had a subsequent appointment with Ira, I was greeted with a big hug. Grateful as I was for the reasonableness of Ira’s fee schedule, I wasn’t fully sure what those hugs meant. But it’s a testimony to Ira’s sincerity and humaneness that I soon came to cherish them. Visits to Ira, a warm and caring human being, took me away from the pressures of my lab; in those days they were the highlight of my week. I soon became fast friends with Ira and Ruth, who sometimes tried to fix me up with eligible bachelors! Although the matchmaking didn’t quite work, after Joel and I married, we continued to get together with Ira and Ruth periodically. It seemed like they always knew the most interesting restaurants and we always had the most stimulating conversations and discussions with them.

It also became apparent that the help that Ira provided to me was far from an isolated case. Not only did he assist several of my friends and colleagues from the New York Blood Center with their immigration needs, it was clear that Ira had helped thousands of people in a similar way, many of them far more disadvantaged than my band of young scientists. Over time, we learned just how much Ira had worked to assist persecuted individuals from all over the world in obtaining asylum. You could always count on him to stand up to the various hysterias of the moment which always seem to target the most vulnerable people in society.

My husband and I are extremely proud and fortunate to have known Ira and Ruth and be considered their friends. We just hope that in a small way we can carry on with their legacy and their spirit.