Rubenstein, Joshua 1949–
Rubenstein, Joshua 1949–
PERSONAL: Born July 18, 1949, in New Britain, CT; son of Bernard Alfred (a furrier) and Ruth (Ruden) Rubenstein. Education: Columbia University, B.A., 1971.
ADDRESSES: Office—Center for Government and International Studies, 1730 Cambridge St., 3rd Fl., Cambridge, MA 02138. E-mail—[email protected]
CAREER: Writer, teacher, and director. Worked as teacher of English in Jerusalem, Israel, 1971–72; teacher of Hebrew in Swampscott, MA, 1972–74; Polaroid Corp., Cambridge, MA, teacher of English, 1974–75; teacher of Hebrew in Chestnut Hill, MA, 1974–79; Amnesty International U.S.A., Northeast Regional Director, 1975–. Mendeleev Institute, Moscow, Russia, lecturer, 1990–91; Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, fellow.
(Editor and author of introduction) Anatoly Marchenko, From Tarusa to Siberia, Strathcona Publishing (Royal Oak, MI), 1980.
Soviet Dissidents: Their Struggle for Human Rights, Beacon Press (Boston, MA), 1980.
Tangled Loyalties: The Life and Times of Ilya Ehrenburg (biography), Basic Books (New York, NY), 1996.
Author of educational filmstrips. Contributor to magazines and newspapers, including Art News, New York Times Book Review, Commentary, New Republic, Canto, Moment, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Boston Globe, Nation, and Columbia Journalism Review.
SIDELIGHTS: A human rights activist and long-time employee of Amnesty International, Joshua Rubenstein is also a writer with expertise on Russian and Soviet affairs and history. Rubenstein spent thirteen years researching and writing a comprehensive biography of Ilya Ehrenburg, a journalist and author in the Soviet Union. Titled Tangled Loyalties: The Life and Times of Ilya Ehrenburg, Rubenstein conducted interviews with at least one hundred people associated with Ehrenburg to flesh out his complicated story.
Ehrenburg, a Russian Jew, was a famous war correspondent during World War II, supporting Soviet leader Josef Stalin in his virulent anti-German reporting. Ehrenburg remained a public supporter and official state writer for Stalin for many years, despite Stalin's anti-Jewish sentiment and regular purges of those who dared to challenge him in any way. Yet over time, Ehrenburg became more in touch with his Jewish roots, was friends with many dissidents, became a respected intellectual force, and was sometimes indirectly critical of Stalin's regime. As Vladimir Tismaneanu wrote in Society: "In the end, the story of his life is one of a mutilated mind and amputated intellect. Rubenstein does an excellent job in documenting Ehrenburg's public and private life and highlighting the intrigues within the Soviet literary world."
Rubenstein coedited and wrote the introduction to Stalin's Secret Pogrom: The Postwar Inquisition of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee The primary text consists of a translation of the transcripts from the secret trial of the fifteen defendants. The fifteen, all Soviet Jewish writers who wrote in Yiddish, were accused of conspiracy because they were members of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee during World War II. They were interrogated, beaten, and tortured for acting against the Soviet Union in the late 1940s and early 1950s. However, many of them had actually supported communism and Stalin while working against Nazi Germany in their Yiddish-language writings several years earlier. Reviewing the book in Midstream, Arnold Ages wrote: "The one simple truth that emerges from this extraordinary volume is that the 13 Yiddish writers who were executed at Lubianka prison in 1952 died not because of the patently ridiculous accusations hurled against them—but because they were Jews."
Rubenstein told CA: "I happened on the subject of Soviet dissent almost by accident. I spent my first year in Boston living in a small, run-down apartment in the North End, trying to write fiction. Having produced one-half of a worthless novel and several mediocre short stories, I was in such a profound rut that I longed for something new to do. During my year in Israel I had managed to produce an article on a young artist I had met in Leningrad (in the summer of 1970) who had since immigrated to Jerusalem and then Paris. His name was William Brui. With his help, I was able to write an article about him and his work that appeared in Art News in December 1971. Entitled "Refreezing the Thaw," it described William's efforts to revive the traditions of Constructivism and Supremativism, artistic movements that flourished in the early years of the Soviet regime only to be extinguished by Stalin.
"Armed with this article, I was able to show book review editors, first at the Boston Phoenix, then the New Republic and Commentary, that I could write about Russia. By 1975, I managed to place reviews in The New York Times Book Review as well and wrote my first extended piece on the Soviet dissident movement and the Jewish emigration movement for Moment. This article later served as the basis for a chapter of my book.
"Meanwhile, after teaching Hebrew school Sunday mornings and four afternoons a week for two years, I was able to relinquish the afternoon commitment in favor of a position teaching at Polaroid Corporation. This job, unfortunately, lasted only about half a year when the effects of the recession limited the company's willingness to provide classes for their employees on company time. My classes were simply dissolved and I was left with regular work only on Sunday mornings. For a time, my writing was able adequately to supplement my income. I wrote my first set of filmstrips that year for Guidance Associates, at the time a subsidiary of Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.
"It was during this period that I joined Amnesty International. I clipped a membership form from The New York Review of Books and sent in a donation. By April 1975, I formed a local chapter in Cambridge, and our efforts began on behalf of Prisoners of Conscience. In the fall, the woman who had been serving as New England coordinator resigned to join the Foreign Service. I immediately applied for the position and was hired in October 1975.
"I work part time for Amnesty as New England coordinator and field organizer. Aside from my responsibilities in the Northeast, where I do a good deal of organizing and public speaking, I also help to organize Amnesty chapters in the Midwest and South. Between 1976 and 1978, I took numerous trips to areas of the country, like Indiana, Texas, Iowa, Ohio, Tennessee, and Georgia, where there was no organized Amnesty International activity but where a number of contributors to Amnesty International lived.
"I don't have the facility to describe how lucky I am to be able to work for Amnesty International and still have the time to pursue my interests as a writer."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Midstream, July, 2001, Arnold Ages, review of Stalin's Secret Pogrom: The Postwar Inquisition of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee, p. 45.
Society, July-August, 1998, Vladimir Tismaneau, review of Tangled Loyalties: The Life and Times of Ilya Ehrenburg, p. 95.
Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies Web site, http://daviscenter.fas.harvard.edu/ (October 10, 2005).
Joshua Rubenstein Home Page, http://www.joshuarubenstein.com (October 10, 2005).