Last January 28, on his 63rd birthday, Barry Rubin posted on Facebook:
As an additional birthday present–though it is not yet official–the notation on my latest test says that I’m making continued progress with the therapy clearing the disease out of my lungs. And one of the best birthday presents of all is your support. Thanks.
At the time it sounded so good. It sounded like our prayers had been answered with a resounding “yes.” Barry would continue to improve and was well enough to travel to the United States for several weeks in the summer. Just a few months earlier Barry had doubted that he’d ever visit the States again.
Now a year and a week later, that hopefulness seems like a cruel tease. Barry’s victory over cancer was a temporary one.
But there’s another group over whom Barry wielded a great influence, served as our mentor and became our friend. It was bloggers; specifically pro-Israel bloggers.
In 2009, I had lunch with someone who is now a very prominent pro-Israel advocate. As we said good bye he commented that Barry Rubin knew more about the Middle East than anyone. I’m not sure how aware I was of that at the time, but I started more paying attention to his columns. I contacted him and he was accessible. If asked he would offer advice or criticism.
But I wasn’t the only one.
A long time ago, I wrote what I thought was a piercing analysis of Syria. After I posted it, I sent a copy to Barry, since he has written a book I admired on the topic. Within a half hour, he responded with a devastating fisking of my piece – a fisking that was so good that I appended it to my post.
Another time, Barry thought I should write something for the Jerusalem Post, so I wrote up an op-ed. Again, within less than an hour, he completely rewrote my piece and made it orders of magnitude better.
Similarly, Jeff Dunetz recalls:
Professor Barry Rubin, is more than one of the great intellectual defenders of Israel, he was my teacher and a friend. When we first met, it was Barry who taught me to change from being a frothing at the mouth lunatic to a thoughtful commentator. He taught me to discern the quality of information coming from the trash. In 2009 when I was leading the charge against Chas Freeman’s nomination to a key Obama National security spot, It was Barry Rubin giving me advice on future steps.
Barry Rubin was a man of knowledge, experience and an incredible number of contacts. We were non-credentialed amateurs who shared nothing with him except, perhaps, a love of Israel. Perhaps it was other qualities.
I met Barry online years ago, after he was interviewed for the Shire Network News podcast. Barry loved On Second Thought, my contributions to the podcast. My humor tickled him very much, and that in turn tickled me. We emailed, and sometimes spoke on the phone. We met for lunch in Maryland a few years ago. He was charming and intelligent and we had a wonderful conversation about the issues of the day concerning Israel. One of the things I liked best about Barry is that he always felt the situation was much better than most people thought. He was positive about Israel’s future, and would tell you why things were so good in such a way as to make you walk away feeling hopeful as well.
Whatever qualities we had, Barry chose to nurture us. We may not have possessed the training, rigor or discipline he had, but he treated us as equals. Brian of London, at Israelly Cool, reminisces about one meeting he had with Barry.
Having met online at least a year before making Aliyah, we met up in person in Israel. Barry was an academic who loved to learn and listen. A chat over lunch with Barry was never an academic lecture, it was always an exchange with the feeling that all views could be changed or moved with persuasive arguments. I will always remember him apologising profusely before answering his mobile phone as we ate in a café round the corner from his home in Tel Aviv. This was what I overheard:
“Ahh hello Ambassador, no, sorry, now is not a good time, I’m in a meeting, can I get back to you? Yes, certainly thank you.”
Bumping an Ambassador is surefire way to make your lunch companion feel more important than they really are.
Barry had little patience for poseurs or false narratives. If I saw an article that I knew was wrong but didn’t have the knowledge to critique it effectively, I’d send it to him. One of these e-mails turned into a column about how the term “nakba” has been corrupted.
While Barry had a disdain for academia and the mainstream media for abandoning rigor and standards in pursuit of political correctness, he was open to praise those who showed independence from the herd. In particular he praised Jackson Diehl of the Washington Post even if he disagreed with him. Results were not as important as methods. If someone honestly analyzed the evidence and came to the wrong conclusion, that would be a reason to disagree with him not to dismiss him.
Barry encouraged us bloggers use his expertise in support of our arguments. He lent us a hand or an ear when we asked for it. Sometimes we gave back. Jeff designed the Rubin Reports website. Meryl in recent months helped Barry edit his posts.
We are all better advocates because of Barry. We will miss his guidance, knowledge and wisdom. But most of all we will miss our friend.
Yehei zichro boruch – May his memory be a blessing.
I did not know Barry personally, but I followed his writings and always viewed him as a source of information and wisdom. He will be sorely missed, and my thoughts go out to his family.
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