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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


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.


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!


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!

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.

An Indefatigable Man July 19, 2008

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Ruth Misheloff, New York, NY

I met Ira in the early ‘80s, I think. His book, Dialectical Materialism, which he’d been working on for over a quarter-century at that point, was still in manuscript, but the end was in sight and he needed a copy editor to help prepare it for publication. He was a very good writer, fluent, strong, precise, supple, yet even the best manuscript needs an outside eye to vet clarity and continuity, catch inconsistencies and typos, query possible citation errors, and mark up headings for the designer. I took on the job happily, figuring not only to make some money but to learn a lot in the process. So I started on what became at least a two-year gig, reading line by line, making marginal notes or attaching post-its, and providing additional sheets of queries. When he returned the first batch of manuscript so I could check the changes, I discovered that while responding to my queries, he’d had fresh thoughts, incarnated as new sentences, new paragraphs, and whole new pages.

And that’s what happened with every batch of manuscript I returned to him. It came back to me not only with fixes for the things I’d marked but with elaborations, augmentations, amplifications. I’d comment or query about the new material, of course rereading the old in the process — and then the revised sheets would come back to me amplified yet again!

Ira’s partner in producing these endless new versions was his heroic daughter Ruth, who typed every blessed page, over and over. (Remember typing? On a typewriter? And carbons? White-out? Manual cutting and pasting? It’s sobering to recall what it took to produce a good and careful book in those days, even with a Selectric! If Ira had had access to a computer, the book might have turned out twice as long, if indeed he would have ever been able to stop….)

Even while realizing how painful it probably was for Ira to separate from a project in which he’d invested so much, eventually I couldn’t help chaffing him that he needed a 12-step program to kick his book addiction, and once I may have even conjured up the image of myself and his daughter Ruth as Chaplins on a Modern Times assembly line! He responded goodnaturedly, of course, but was undaunted, and the iterations continued. I began to wonder (silently) if he would experience the authorial version of post-partum depression when he finally turned the manuscript over to the printer.

Ira was an amazing, indefatigable, stalwart, intense, bright-spirited, and dedicated man, and a multi-tasker before the term was invented. One example that has stuck in my mind: when he used to go out running — yes, he did that, too, possibly till he was in his late 80s — he carried index cards with passages of poetry to memorize. Once he “had” the lines, they were his forever. No senior moments for him, at least to my knowledge. He used every second of his time in this world. I can hardly imagine him gone.

Ira Meant a Lot to Dino and Me July 19, 2008

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Claire Hirsch, Los Angeles, CA

Dear Ruth [Gollobin-Basta],

You asked me about the background of my husband Dino’s and Ira’s friendship and I told you it would take too long to tell you when I was in New York. I want to tell you again how much it meant to me to stay in his apartment; to be surrounded by the marvelous library that was the background to all the thinking, writing, and teaching that he did!

Dino was an “armchair Marxist” and went to jail for having committed a capitalist crime in the export business which he had learned from his father in Italy. When he came home after having served eleven months of a “year and a day” sentence, he was confronted with deportation proceedings. It was then that he met your Dad because of a referral from a bail bondsman.

clip_image002It was a lucky circumstance that he found Ira to defend him. They became friends soon (more like teacher and student in the beginning). They met every month or so in a restaurant in Greenwich Village and would talk. I soon joined them and at first was in awe at the level of their discussions!

Ira suggested to Dino that his condition in this country was not about to change, so he might as well get involved in trying to change things. He soon became active in his union and remained an activist until the day he died. Your mother Esther and I became close friends through our activity in the U.S.-China People’s Friendship Association.

After we moved to California we continued to stay in touch, at first with visits to New York and then their final visit to L.A. when we drove them to Mexico to seek a cure for your mom’s cancer. We were happy to welcome him to Aspen, Colorado, where we spent several of the most wonderful hiking vacations together, first with him alone and then joined by his [second] wife Ruth.

We talked by phone often and he managed to set into perspective whatever was going on in the world at the moment until a few months ago. I shall miss him sorely but am happy to have benefited from his friendship and knowledge for so many years!

Ira Was a Profoundly Decent Person July 19, 2008

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Tamara Thompson, Maplewood, NJ

tammi-ira Ira signed my copy of Dialectical Materialism “To Tammi, with affection and esteem — and hope!” I think part of the hope he referred to was that I would one day finish reading The Book. In defense of my very slow progress, I have reasoned that if it took Ira over thirty years to write it, it will take me a while to read, understand, and absorb it.

I have started it, and even met with him several times to discuss what I had read, but to my regret did not finish it before he died.

He would often ask about my progress in reading The Book. I’m convinced that he kept asking not just because he was the author, but because he believed in what he wrote — to his very core. For him it was not just a book or a way of thinking but a way of living. When faced with prostate cancer or a broken ankle, he frequently mentioned how applying the principles laid out in The Book helped him to overcome both conditions and to achieve so much more.

While Ira’s achievements were monumental, they weren’t the reason I rushed to the hospital to see him when I heard he wasn’t expected to live through the night. I didn’t love Ira because he had won two Supreme Court cases. I loved him because he was a profoundly decent person who cared for others and consistently showed it. It sounds trite, almost insignificant, but Ira was a man of his word. He said what he meant and meant what he said. He kept his promises.

I humbly assert that what defined Ira was absolute congruency. What Ira believed, he lived; what he said, he did (except for his promise to live to 100, which I’m trying not to hold against him). No substitutes; no shortcuts. Though not a religious person, Ira had profound faith — in people and their ability and responsibility to make the world a better place. He lived his life doing just that — making the world better, more just, more compassionate; a place of welcome and sustenance for all, not just a few.

In Ira we’ve lost not only a father, friend, and advocate; we’ve lost a national treasure. I believe that Ira’s hope was that in finishing The Book, I would live a more congruent life as well, a life that makes sense in and of this world; a life better equipped to wage true justice and to pick up the struggle where he left off. Here’s to Ira, The Book, and living a life of utter integrity!

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.