Ruby Family History Project Blog

Its October

Thank you, Dan for today’s update and the push to add my thoughts. Just read pieces that I hadn’t seen before, and learned there’s yet another family member to add to the important October dates: Walter Ruby (my grandfather’s) birthday, Oct. 15. So that sits right between mine, the 11th and Helga’s, the 20th. And right in there we also have Stan’s death day, the 18th. And most years we get Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur thrown in there too (as we did this year). So, all in all, it’s a heavy month for me. Very fortunately, we are blessed with a fabulous annual musical experience in Golden Gate Park – the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival -- that gives me temporary relief from the weightiness of it all.

Yesterday was Stan’s yartzeit, tomorrow is Helga’s birthday. Last week, on my birthday, I took my dear, darling, Carly to the cemetery. After being hit with a big wave of grief and tears, I realized that I’d rather be tearful and reminiscent up there in the beautiful hills where they lay than lying on my bed on my birthday. I gathered a few photos (this one I took of them on their anniversary in ___), my/ our collection of seashells, and a journal. There at the Oakmont Cemetery in Lafayette, in the Jewish section, called “compassion” I do find true comfort. It does surprise me. Who would have known? It’s not just that it is so incredibly beautiful, being in the open hills and looking down on what I call “Hodel’s Farm” (reference to our backyard neighbor in Pittsburgh). Its that it all seems right; the decision of which plot/s, our carefully crafted words on the stone (“Stanley and Helga Ruby, generous spirits and forces of life, the important thing is to not stop questioning”); that you pass Green Valley Drive and Stanley Boulevards on your way; and that Carly is free to roam. So, it only seems fitting to post this photo of their grave - our official unveiling on the blog.

To add: Suzanne & Joe, Gene Ring visits. Their house. Four little girls on the stoop. They would like it.

Videotape I listened to yesterday: Stan on 71st bday w/ camera for first time w/ his own family history; Christamas’ w/ Lani & Zach in their element; Club Cascadas (our beach timeshare home. Our last family gathering; Rosh Hashanah 2004, just 3 weeks before Stan died. Need to get these up on blog.

Was flooded with my still very vivid memory of his last week: on my 50th bday (Monday), not being able to take him home as was the discharge plan, but instead to the hospital. I drove him: my sleeping, very, very sick father w/ a failing heart and failed kidneys next to me. I remember it feeling a bit surreal; like this could be it, he could go out on me right there rolling up 280, his all time favorite highway, past SLAC, to exit for Stanford Hospital. He rallied and made it: a ‘rolling admission” (hospital variety not college) – an in an out stay for the very sick elderly who come in from nursing home and are discharged quickly back to the nursing facility. The dialysis was keeping him going, but not for much longer they predicted. We gathered family and friends. I invited Peggy, of the Good Death Institute, to meet Stan. He had been so quiet and withdrawn. I just had this sense that if he could become aware of his imminent death, he might choose to use the time he had. He had struggled so desperately his last months with is want to have time, to be awake, not to be asleep when he had so much to write, read, say, share. It had been driving him crazy; how his biorhythms were so out of wack. How the kidney failure affected his cognitive process. As a child with my own sleep issues, he had so stressed the beauty of being awake. It just seemed right to give him this expert who helps the dying person die a good death. We did it, and he did. Peggy met him on Saturday afternoon 4ish. Stan had been quiet all day, closed eyes, not responded to anyone including cousins Sandy & Mel, Joe, Gene Ring, Helga, me. Peggy held his hand, rubbed it, told him she is my friend, and came to talk about his heart. He opened his eyes. Looked straight at her and said, “my heart?” I can tell you a lot about my heart, but you should hear about my kidneys.” Within minutes Stan was alert, upright, and fully engaged, as we all know he can be, and then asked who are you? In finding out she was not a doctor, or nurse, but rather a person who talks with people before they die, Stan looked genuinely puzzled, and said, “die”. “Do you think I’m going to die?” Peggy later told me she’d never in 15 years of hospice work had ever had met a person w/ Stan’s level of denial. She found him absolutely remarkable, brilliant, funny, witty and loveable all at once. They talked about the ways of death, of ritual, of the middle ages. She talked about using time that we have in whatever way we want. Stan, said repeatedly, “I am so enjoying this. Thank you so much, Jo, for bringing her to me. But what do I call you? I need a name for you. I know, I’ll call you the ‘warner’”. He pleaded w/ Peggy to come back just as soon as possible. She said she’d be there Monday after his dialysis and could stay for a few hours. He said he would be very grateful. It was stunning. To have Stan back, his brain woken up, his intellectual curiosity aroused. I took Peggy to BART and drove an hour home. Most incredible was that Stan was bright on the phone in the morning, and when I arrived Sunday afternoon, he was reading Science journal and Time magazine.

Enter all stuff in his box downstairs that was in his bedside table. What he was reading. Writing.

Put what he said last night. My eulogy.

Stan's science legacy

We received a wonderful email today from Gopal Chenoy, a long-time colleague of Stan's from Argonne days who we Ruby kids remember well from his many meals and overnight visits at our home. His message said that the physics journal Hyperfine Interactions would be publishing a tribute to Stan's work in physics written by himself, John Arthur, and Gennaddi Smirnov, two other colleagues. He attached pdfs of the author's proofs of the article, which are reproduced here.

The article puts Stan's legacy as a physicist as clearly as anything we have seen. Here are some excerpts:

His most recognized work from this period [early 1960s] was on the acoustic modulation of the wavelength of resonant gamma radiation, detected using the Mössbauer effect. During a visit to the Weizmann Institute in 1962, he observed the 9.3keV Mössbauer resonance in Kr83.

Stan wil lbe best remembered for his proposal in 1974 to excite the 14.4keV Mössbauer resonance in Fe57 using synchrotron radiationrather than a radioactive source to populate the nuclear excited state. Although it was the group of Erich Gerdau that first achieved this goal in 1985 at DESY, Stan and the SSRL group followed in 1987 and proceeded to make important contributions to this new field.

Fundamental physics was central to Stan’s life, though his interests ranged from cosmology to biology. While he allowed that quantum mechanics was useful for calculations, he found it very unsatisfactory on a philosophical level. During his later career, and especially after his retirement, he worked hard to find simple, alternative explanations for quantum phenomena.

As well as reviewing Stan's scientific accomplishments, the article gives an appreciation of him as a co-worker and man in the world. After the article appears in the journal, I'll put up a link to it or reprint the text. Gopal says he has also submitted a proposal for a longer article on Stan's science legacy that has not yet been accepted for publication.

All of this was wonderfully timely, since we're observing Stan's Jahrzeit this week. Joanne has lately visited with several of Stan and Helga's close friends. She and I will go to synagogue to say kaddish tomorrow. I'll ask Joanne if she wants to post some of her thoughts.

In the meantime, thanks so much to Gopal for this unexpected gift today.

Walter's Israel journal (Part 6): Coming home

This is the final installment of Walter's report on his recent Israel trip. Although it only peripherally about our Israeli relatives, it sounds as if it could be the opening of a new chapter of Ruby family history.

As for myself, I made a decision during my two days visiting my cousins in Afeq and sitting with residents in the air raid shelters of Haifa; namely that someday in the not-too-distant-future I will return to live in the hometown of my youth, stricken now, but still achingly beautiful as it sits resplendently on the steep slopes of Mt. Carmel.

Over 25 years ago, I made a decision not to stay permanently in Israel despite my abiding love for the land, the people, the Hebrew language and the primal intensity of the place. I felt myself too much of a cosmopolitan Jew to stay permanently in a place that then seemed to me parochial and intensely nationalistic, and I was unready to join the IDF and take part in enforcing an occupation of the West Bank and Gaza that I found to be fundamentally wrong and immoral. Or so I rationalized it to myself then, yet somehow I have known in my bones during all the ensuing years that Israel is where I belong.

And then suddenly last week, listening to my aunt Penina narrate the story of our family and the role they played in the rebirth of the Jewish commonwealth in the land of our forefathers, and listening to Orly Magen express her profound distress on the emotional toll that the latest outburst of violence is exacting on her Etai and whole new generation of Israelis, I vowed to myself that I will return to Haifa to devote the remaining years of my life to doing whatever I can to help transform conflict into reconciliation so that the next generation of Jews and Arabs, Israelis, Palestinians and Lebanese alike, will not have to endure the horrors that have scarred the lives of this generation and the four generations of Israelis and Arabs preceding it.

Suddenly I remembered two things I knew long ago but had somehow since forgotten; that underneath their hard-edged and sometimes truculent exteriors, Israelis are kind, decent and profoundly vulnerable. Also that despite the hell visited upon it by recurring wars, the tiny jewel-like Land of Israel is the most radiantly beautiful place on earth. It is where I belong.

Walter's Israel journal (Part 5): An odd sense of normalcy

Away from the war zone, Walter finds life goes on in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

Like almost every Israeli to whom I spoke, Magen (see previous post) said she supports the government’s decision to press on with its military offensive to the Litani River, some 20 miles north of the Israeli-Lebanese border, although, like nearly all the others, she is dubious the expanded offensive will bring lasting peace or end the missile threat that had turned their lives upside down. When the cease-fire was announced several days later, there was an almost unanimous feeling that it would last only a matter of hours or days and then violence would erupt again.

The three quarters of the Israeli population that lives south of Hadera in the region where the missiles have yet to penetrate live in a jarringly different reality than their compatriots further north. In Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and elsewhere in the center and south of the country, life goes on more or less normally. People sit in cafes or to the beach as though the whole nightmarish scene happening a few score miles to the north simply does not exist.

A slogan emblazoned on an electronic billboard overlooking the main Tel Aviv-Haifa highway proclaims, ‘Residents of the North, we are all with you’, yet the slogan seems at least partly hyperbole. When I informed friends in Jerusalem that I had just spent two days in Afeq and Haifa before coming to the capital; most responded with comments to the effect of, ‘You were brave to have done that, but I wouldn’t go there myself in this situation.’

Most of those to whom I spoke seemed to feel they are in enough danger and under enough stress given the reality they are forced to live with in relatively peaceful times as well as times of war—that they don’t need to go in for false heroics. It is enough that they go to work every day to keep the economy running—not to mention being ready, if fate so decides, to sacrifice their children for the good of the country. In addition, many have opened their homes to refugees from the north. So why, they ask, should they go north and dodge missiles themselves?

Walter's Israel journal (Part 4): An encounter in the shelter

Walter hears the sad story of a young Israeli mother.

Inside the hot, dank and overcrowded shelter, Orly Magen, a harried-looking woman of about 25, sat dejectedly in the corner, holding her two and a half year old son Etai. Asked about her situation, Magen explained that several weeks earlier her husband had been called into the reserves and the office where she is employed as a clerk sent its workers home for the interim of the conflict.

After several days in which she and Etai were forced to take shelter ten or more times a day during incessant air raids, Magen decided to take her toddler to Tel Aviv and stay with acquaintances there until things calmed down in the north. Yet after a week, and a half, Magen felt that she had worn out her welcome, and with her meager bank account dwindling rapidly, she was in no position to move into a hotel. Instead, she drove back to Haifa with Etai, and moved in with her mother in the building in which the Hadassah members took shelter (see previous post).

A few days later, a missile landed nearby, totally demolishing Magen’s car. She has been assured by a government official that she will eventually be reimbursed a large portion of the value of the car, but, for the moment, she has no idea when the money will come. After narrating her story in matter-of-fact fashion, Magen’s voice quavered as she said, “I can’t stand any more of this. Etai is being traumatized by the constant air raids and the boom of the rockets when they hit. The situation is completely unbearable.”

Several of the Hadassah women hugged Magen and placed into Etai’s eager hands presents like stuffed animals, crayons and coloring books. Smiling broadly through her tears, seemingly for the first time in days, Magen profusely thanked the visitors and said, “It means a lot to me that there are Jews from America who are willing to come here despite the dangers and be with us at this moment.”

Walter's Israel journal (Part 3): Haifa under seige

The strain on the Israeli populace is evident on another day with bombs falling.

After leaving Afeq, I spent the following day touring Haifa while covering the visit of a Hadassah solidarity mission to the city. I relate to Haifa as my hometown, since I spent two years living there as a would-be new immigrant 30 years ago, when I was in my mid- 20’s. Haifa was and remains, Israel’s most liberal and secular city, with a community center called Bet Hagefen (House of the Vinyard), where members of the city’s Jewish and Arab communities meet for cultural events and rap sessions.

The day we were in town we found counselors from Bet Hagefen entertaining Arab and Jewish children in a stifling parking lot underneath a kenyon (shopping mall) in the city’s ethnically mixed Wadi Selib section, that is serving as a large bomb shelter. Amidst a deafening clamor as children banged away on drums and danced to Middle Eastern music, an Arab youth leader named Shadi Alowia shouted into a microphone; “The Jews and Arabs of Haifa stand together in this crisis as we always have. We won’t allow Nasrallah to drive us apart.”

The severe impact of the ongoing missile barrage on Haifa’s civilian population hit chillingly home for myself and members of the Hadassah group, when an air raid siren sounded as they were reboarding their buses; compelling them to take shelter in the basement of a 1950’s era apartment building in the seaside Bat Galim section that had clearly seen better days. As the groups filed down the narrow staircase, they ran into a middle aged woman, screaming incoherently and banging on the walls. Moments earlier, the woman’s husband had rushed into the street, shouting that he would rather be killed than go back into the shelter. Several of the Hadassah ladies tried to console the woman, but she was sobbing uncontrollably, saying; “The idiot will be blown up by a missile. He cares only for himself. What will happen to me if I am left alone?”

Walter's Israel journal (Part 2): War analysis

Part 2 of Walter's report contains his observations on the political and military situation.

Pnina’s response (see previous post) seemed to me axiomatic of the trademark ain breirah (no alternative) attitude manifested by most of the Israelis I met during a week-long sojourn in the Jewish state during the second week of August, both in the so-called ‘red zone’ in the northern part of the country where the missiles have been falling in great numbers, as well as in the remainder of the country where life has continued more or less normally; except that every family seems to have a son or daughter in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) serving inside Lebanon or providing logistical support on the Israeli-Lebanese border.

On one hand, Israelis are tough and resilient and determined at all costs to survive and thrive, despite the difficult challenges they are now confronting. On the other hand, there is a palpable sense of frustration that their vaunted IDF, which destroyed the armies of three Arab states in seven days in 1967, has been unable to break the 3000-strong Hezbollah militia in the course of over a month and has taken heavy casualties; and that the overpowering Israeli bombing of southern Lebanon that caused hundreds of Lebanese civilian deaths and caused sharp international criticism of Israel, has not succeeded in preventing Hezbollah from lobbing missiles across northern Israel, with the largest daily number of missiles hitting northern Israeli cities like Haifa, Nahariya, Safed and Kiryat Shmona on the last day before a shaky cease-fire was declared.

Unlike past wars during which Israelis manifested an almost breezy sense of self-assurance, today a visitor feels from Israelis from all walks of life a palpable sense of insecurity and even of existential dread; a sense that in the cohorts of Hezbollah, Israel has finally met its match; coming up against an implacable Arab foe that, impelled by an intense Islamic faith, might prove impossible to eradicate. If that is truly the case, and if the élan motivating Hezbollah and Hamas spreads and fires the rest of the Arab world with the spirit of Saladin, then the very survival of Israel is at risk.

Walter's Israel journal (Part 1): At Kibbutz Afeq

Ruby Jewsday blog.

I was having lunch with my 87 year old aunt Pnina, her daughter Raya and son-in-law Amiram in the communal dining room on Kibbutz Afeq, listening to Pnina reminisce about how her husband, 89-year-old family patriarch Ze’ev, a refugee from Hitler’s Germany journeyed to the Land of Israel as a teenager in the mid-1930’s and, together with other members of his Zionist youth group, helped to found the kibbutz and to plant orange groves on land located on the coastal plain between Haifa and Acre that was then mostly sand dunes and malarial swamps.

Penina talked movingly about how she herself escaped the Nazi invasion of Poland as a young woman by fleeing to Soviet Russia, where she was interred for several months in a prison camp in Siberia before being allowed to emigrate to Palestine. Finally she spoke about the desprate struggle for survival that was Israel’s War of Independence in 1948, and how Ze’ev and other members of a platoon from Afeq took part in house to house fighting in the battle to capture the ancient seaside city of Acre from Arab forces during the 1948 War of Independence.

Suddenly my absorption in Pnina’s narration of a piece of our family history I have heard many times before but which never fails to fascinate me, was pierced by the unmistakable wail of an air raid siren. Manifesting no discernable sign of alarm, Penina said, “OK, we’ll finish our meal in a little while, but right now we need to get up and walk quickly to the shelter”. So I followed my dynamo of an aunt and about 30 other kibbutzniks out of the dining room and down a flight of stairs to a smallish space underneath the stairwell of the building; an alcove which, it appeared to me, would offer only minimal protection to its occupants in the event of a direct hit by a katushya missile.

We stood against the walls of the shelter for about five minutes, with the kibbutzniks socializing and discussing the latest developments in the war, and then, without waiting for an ‘all clear’ signal, walked back up the stairs and concluded our meal.

As we tarried over coffee and ice cream, I asked Pnina how it felt to have survived the onslaught of the Nazis and the rigors of a Soviet prison camp; to have experienced seven Israeli-Arab wars, including the 1973 Yom Kippur War, during which one of her three children and her her only son, Avinoam was killed; to have participated in the building of a kibbutz from swampland into a thriving entity and to have watched her beloved Israel grow from a struggling entity of 600,000 Jews to one of six million, only to find herself having to run to an air raid shelter in the sunset of her life.

She paused for a moment to consider the question in all of its weight and then said, “Look, I don’t appreciate having to run for the air raid shelter five or more times a day as we have been doing here for the past three weeks, and sometimes I ask myself why I bother to take shelter at all, because I am going to die soon enough anyway. But then I say to myself, ‘I don’t want to give those Hezbollah bastards the satisfaction of killing me.’ So I get up from whatever I am doing when the alarm sounds and head for the shelter.’”

AP: Famous ancestors adorn most family trees

Here's an interesting article from the Associated Press that says that almost everyone descends from a famous ancestor. In our family, that could be the Kovno Rav. The article goes into detail about actress Brooke Shields' pedigree. Among her ancestors are Catherine de Medici and Lucrezia Borgia, Charlemagne and El Cid, William the Conqueror and King Harold II, vanquished by William at the Battle of Hastings.

Even more surprising, according to Irish computer scientist and genealogy enthusiast, Muhammad, the founder of Islam, appears on the family tree of every person in the Western world. Who knew?


Twyla turns 21

Stan and Helga's first grandchild turned 21 a few days ago. Here's a photo of Twyla, her mom Kate, and her dad Dan enjoying a toast and the view from San Francisco's Top of the Mark.