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November 22, 2013

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HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, NOVEMBER 22, 2013 PAGE 9A My history with the family of Lee Harvey Oswald's Jewish killer By Steve North First person NEW YORK (JTA)--We were sharing a pastrami sandwich and pickles at the Los Angeles landmark Can- ter's Deli. I was 24. She was nearly 50 years older, with a piercing voice as loud as her flaming red wig. Her name was Eva Ruben- stein Grant, and she was a little-known nightclub man- ager the morning of Nov. 24, 1963, when her brother left the apartment they shared in Dallas and blasted his way into infamy by fatally shoot- ing Lee Harvey Oswald. Itwas history's first live televised murder. Eva worked and lived with Jack Ruby and spent the rest of her life defending him against various allegations. "I swear on my life, my brother was not three things," Eva told me, her voice rising. "He was not a homosexual. He was not with the communists. And certainly not with the underworld." I listened with fascina- tion to Eva that day in 1977. (Years later she was perfectly portrayed in a TV movie by Doris Roberts, the high- decibel morn on "Everybody Loves Raymond." She died in November 1992 at 83.) "But Mrs. Grant," I said. "Jack had ties to the 'syndi- cate,' as you call it, as far back as your childhood in Chicago." "Look," she replied in exasperation. "We would see these people in the neighbor- hood and we'd ask, how's your mother? How's your sister? But that doesn't mean Jack was connected with them. I Central Press/Getty Images Jack Ruby, the Dallas nightclub proprietor who murdered Lee Harvey Oswald in 1963, was born Jacob Rubinstein in 1911. grew up with a bunch of boys who turned out to be no good. Who knew?" It was a quintessentially Jewish response, albeit deliv- ered in Eva's hybrid Chicago- Dallas accent. And the Ruben- steins were a staunchly Jewish family, a fact that may have played a role in Ruby's killing of Oswald, President John F. Kennedy's assassin. Ruby was born Jacob Ru- benstein in 1911 to a family of Polish-Jewish immigrants. His parents, Joseph and Fan- nie, were a volatile couple. Jo- seph was a mean and abusive drunk. Fannie suffered from mental illness and at one point was committed to an Illinois state hospital. Their eight children had their fair share of problems, both before and after the parents separated. Ruby and three of his siblings were made wards of Chicago's Jewish Home Finding Society and placed in foster homes for periods of time during the 1920s. Despite their dysfunctional world, the Rubensteins kept a kosher home, observed the holidays, sent their boys to Hebrew school and attended synagogue. Ruby idolized Chicago Jew- ish boxing champion Barney Ross, who later described him as a"well-behaved" youth. But others recall Ruby's hair-trig- ger temper and street brawls, especially when taunted by the non-Jews in his mixed Jewish-Italian neighborhood. Ruby's biographer, Seth Kan- tor, relates that as anAir Force private, Ruby once beat up a sergeant who called him "a Jew bastard." After World War II, Eva moved to Dallas and began managing nightclubs and restaurants. Ruby received an honorable discharge from the Air Force in 1946 and joined Eva a year later in Texas. It was in 1947 that Jack, along with brothers Earl and Sam, legally changed his last name to Ruby. As ayoung man in Chicago, Ruby reportedly ran errands for AI Capone's cousin and henchman Frank Nitti. A former Dallas sheriff once testified that Chicago mafia figures told him that Ruby was sent to Texas to run nightclubs that were fronts for illegal gambling operations. According to evidence uncovered by the U.S. House of Representatives Assas- sinations Committee in the 1970s, Ruby was later linked to mobsters Carlos Marcelio and Santos Traficante, who the panel considered prime suspects in a possible mob conspiracy to assassinate Kennedy. Whatever he was doing behind the scenes, Ruby be- came known as a nightclub Journalist Steve North with the siblings of Jack Ruby (l-r): Eva, Sam and Earl, 1989. owner and at some point began attending services at Congregation Shearith Israel. Rabbi Hillel Silverman, who was the Dallas synagogue's spiritual leader from 1954 to 1964, says Ruby came to say Kaddish for his father. "He came to minyan one day with a cast on his arm," Silverman recalled. "I said, 'Jack, what happened?' He said, 'In my club, somebody was very raucous, and I was the bouncer.'" Silverman, now 89 and still leading High Holy Days ser- vices every year, remembers Rubywell. Once Ruby showed up at the rabbi's house with a litter of puppies and insisted the rabbi take one. When the family went to Israel one summer, Ruby looked after the dog. "The day of the assassi- nation, we had our regular Friday night service, which became a memorial service for the president," Silverman said. "Jack was there. People were either irate or in tears, and Jack was neither. He came over and said, 'Good Shabbos, rabbi. Thank you for visiting my sister Eva in the hospital last week.' I thought that was rather peculiar." Two days later, Silverman spoke to his Sunday morning confirmation class, express- ing relief to the students that Lee Harvey Oswald was not Jewish or there might have been a "pogrom" in Dallas. He then switched on the radio and heard that a "Jack Rubenstein" had killed the assassin. "I was shocked," said Silver- man. "I visited him the next day in jail, and I said, 'Why, Jack, why?' He said, 'I did it for the American people.'" I interrupted Silverman, pointing out that other re- ports had Ruby saying he did it"to show that Jews had guts ." The rabbi sighed. "Yes, he mentioned that," Silverman said. "But I don't like to mention it. I think he said, 'I did it for the Jew- ish people.' But I've tried to wipe that statement from my - mind." Another person close to Ruby who tried, unsuccess- fully, to block out the past is his nephew, "Craig" Ruby. (He asked that I not publish his real first name). His early memories are pleasant: Uncle Ruby on page 19A Power of 'The Book Thief' translates to the screen Wikipedia "The Book Thief" is a 2013 American drama film based on the novel of the same name by Markus Zusak, directed by Brian Percival and screenplay by Michael Petroni, with musical score by John Williams. By Michael Fox Markus Zusak's acclaimed novel, "The Book Thief," could neither compare with nor replace the first-person reality of"The Diary of Anne Frank." The success of the 2006 book does demonstrate, though, that younger genera- tions will identify with and embrace a contemporary, accessible introduction to the Holocaust. The moving film adapta- tion of "The Book Thief," opening Friday, Nov. 15 and appropriate for adolescents, tilts slightly more toward a coming-of-age story than a Holocaust film. There's no question, though, that it's the major Jewish-themed film of the year. "I did want to avoid the Holocaust-movie approach because it's been done so well at times," director Brian Percival said in an interview in San Francisco the day after "The Book Thief" opened the Mill Valley Film Festival last month. "I was never going to make another 'Schindler's List.' This film was not about that. This film really was about the human triumph." "The Book Thief" recounts the saga of Leisei (played by Sophie N41isse), a girl raised by foster parents in a German town duringWorld War II. For a chunk of those harrowing years, the Hubermanns (a kindly Geoffrey Rush and a gruff Emily Watson) also hide a young Jewish man named MaxVandenburg (Ben Schnetzer), who nurtures Leisel's budding imagination and nascent love for words and stories. "Max is so important be- cause he shows Liesel a different way to think about the world," Percival explains. "There's a beauty about his outlook that we find very engaging and Liesel finds engaging enough to invest in it and believe what he says. It's because of Max's inspiration that she sees the world in a different way and has the life that she does eventually have." Academy Award-winner Geoffrey Rush, who played the gifted pianist David Helfgott, the son of Holocaust survi- vors, in "Shine," was affected by the experience of shooting "The Book Thief" in Germany. "Standing four or five months in Berlin and [sur- rounding] locations, you could feel on a daily basis the city itself coming to terms constantly with the depth of its history of the last century," Rush says. "It was an intriguing jour- ney to the dark side of what human behavior can become," he muses."It's something you have to constantly come up against in yourself in your thinking. Germany under the rule of the National Socialists went in a particular direc- tion and you could see how people had to make a choice: 'Do I survive, do I protect my family, what do I do?' That invites you in, whether it's as a reader of the book or a viewer of the film, to go, 'On what side of the fence would I fall if I was faced with those crucial dilemmas?'" "The Book Thief" in- cludes wrenching glimpses of Kristallnacht and the deportation of the Jews, but the most harrowing scene is a book burning in the town square capped by the German national anthem. "We looked at other loca- tions but it felt to me that there was an authenticity to shoot in Germany," Percival says. "Filming with a predomi- nantly German crew, I would gauge reactions as to what they felt, and that in a way would influence and, perhaps not color but make me think about the way I approached certain scenes. There were tears of shame running down the crew members' cheeks when we were filming [the book-burning scene]. They were being forced in some ways to confront what their forefathers had been respon- sible for, and that was quite a moving experience." "The Book Thief" marks Percival's feature directing debut after a decade of excel- lent work for British televi- sion that included a splendid adaptation of Charles Dickens' "The Old Curiosity Shop" and half a dozen episodes of the hit series "Downton Abbey." He clearly has an appreciation for past events, and how they reverberate through time. "Ordinary people can be corrupted into believing that the worst atrocities are the right thing to do," Percival says. "That is the key, to learn that they should never, ever happen again. If a younger generation sees this film and realizes how a society can be manipulated into believing in something so wrong, then that's not a bad thing." 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