A Passion for Community

by Niel Glixon

Call him a character.

For example, take his hat -- please! It was the kind you could crumple and shove in your pocket and, when you took it out, it looked just as if . . . you had crumpled it in your pocket. But dear Israel gloried in his and wore it everywhere.

And then there was his politics. In the first months that I knew him, I used to greet him by saying, "You look pretty good -- for a Republican." But soon afterward I stopped -- because he never teased me back, because he was too good-natured to take umbrage or be difficult about anything.

In short, he was a joy to be around, and his idiosyncrasies paled beside his virtues. Yes, he regarded himself as God's gift to women -- and lots of women apparently agreed -- but that was never a part of his social atmosphere, which was always upbeat, supportive, and unassuming. In fact his hospitality was a legend in itself, as all of us who attended meetings of Kulanu at his house quickly learned. Not to mention his merely social lunches and dinners.

Besides, he didn't divide his friends into categories. I was not a liberal; I was me. And he didn't behave like the leader of the local Kulanu, which he was -- as he was the leader, founder, conceiver of so many enterprises, especially Jewish ones, in Tucson. But he was almost out of sight, and he put others ahead of himself when it came to exposure and giving credit.

Yet there was so much that he promoted -- not only Kulanu, but Sekhel-ve-Lev, a suite of courses for senior Jews; marking off the Jewish cemetery in Tombstone; setting up a comprehensive website for regional Jewish enterprises. And these were all in Arizona. Back in Maryland and DC, where he spent half a year, he led the Commission for Preservation of the American Heritage Abroad, plus a slew of local activities. All of these were inclusive, not divisive, because that reflected his basic principles -- and his personality.

But he never gave himself airs. If you were impressed by Israel Rubin -- and you were bound to be -- it was because of his sincerity, his originality, his self-deprecating air of authority. Put all this together and you have what is best about a "character" -- an original, a unique and valuable human being. Arizona without him will be, alas, a less vital, emptier place.

Niel Glixon
Vice-President, Jewish Historical Society