Judith Colp Rubin

I am no longer the woman behind the writer

My husband, prolific and respected, was the family's star. Then he died
Barry Rubin at a Center for Security Policy's National Security Group event  on Capitol Hill on July 12, 2013. (screen capture: YouTube/securefreedom)
Barry Rubin at a Center for Security Policy's National Security Group event on Capitol Hill on July 12, 2013. (screen capture: YouTube/securefreedom)

The four-year anniversary of my husband’s death and the start of this blog got me thinking about, of all unlikely people, Katherine Graham. I didn’t think I had much in common with the late Washington Post publisher, except that we both attended the University of Chicago and were reporters in Washington, DC. But after seeing the film, The Post, I found something else. It was Graham’s father, Eugene Meyer, who owned the Washington Post and handed it over to his son-in-law, Phil Graham, rather than his daughter. In her autobiography, Personal History, Graham wrote “Far from troubling me that my father thought of my husband and not me, it pleased me. In fact, it never crossed my mind that he might have viewed me as someone to take on an important job at the paper.” Then Phil Graham committed suicide and the newspaper passed to his widow. The film depicted how Katherine Graham slowly became more confident and independent in her role as publisher.

And so, a different decade and place, but a similar story. My late husband, Barry Rubin, was a highly prolific and widely respected Middle East analyst whose books and blog, Rubin Reports, were read by thousands. We shared a love of writing, but we were never professional equals.

I met Barry in 1988 when I was a young reporter for The Washington Jewish Week and he, 13 years older, worked for the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, one of the capital’s most prestigious think tanks. I kept running into him around town, first when he gave a dinner talk about genocide and then, a few months later, during a debate with a New Jersey congressman about Israel. We struck up our first conversation during an Independence Day event at the Israeli Embassy, which concluded with his pressing his business card into my hand.

“Let’s have lunch one day. Call me,” he said.

I got up the nerve to do so a few days later. During that first call, he told me that he had no time for lunch and that we should have dinner. Before the date, I went to the popular Dupont Circle bookstore, Kramer books, to see what exactly he had written. After I found four of his books there I panicked. I was just a junior reporter. Why would he be interested in me?

During our almost 30 years together, his career blossomed. He wrote many more books, the majority on Middle Eastern topics but also one about Jewish assimilation which I think was one of his best. He started MERIA, the first academic online publication about the Middle East, lectured worldwide and ran a research center at IDC. His blog, Rubin Report, had a large mailing list, and many admirers told me they waited with anticipation to see what he would write after a big event in the region.

A diagnosis of stage IV lung cancer didn’t lessen his productivity. When the cancer spread to his brain and so impaired his fine motor skills that he couldn’t use a computer I hired him an assistant. For several months he wrote by dictating, even while hooked up to an IV undergoing chemotherapy. He also finished two books which were published posthumously: Silent Revolution and Nazis, Islamists, and the Making of the Middle East (co-authored with Wolfgang Schwanitz). His last article, “Imagine all the People living in Islamist Hegemony,” was published two weeks before his death at age 64.

During our marriage, I was the woman behind the man. For a few years, I co-authored three books with Barry, including a biography of Yasser Arafat and a history of anti-Americanism. When we publicized these books, he tried to push me in front during interviews and talks. But he was the expert, and no one believed that more than me. I decided to stop writing books with him, spend more time with our two children and keep most of my own writing private. Until now.

During this, the fourth anniversary of his death, my children and I went to Kiryat Shaul cemetery where he is buried. We mourned his absence, but also remembered his quirky habits such as his habit of making notes on packets of sugar, his fierce devotion to Israel and love for his family. We wondered what he would have thought of the changes in the world — the election of President Trump — and those in our family — his daughter finishing a three-year tenure in the IDF as an officer, a religious son and a wife who has her own blog.

We laid a bouquet of flowers on white granite tombstone that bears his name along with the carving of a book to signify his love of writing. The empty place for me on the tombstone made me think about the kind of legacy I wanted to leave for my children. It will be both different from and like Barry’s. But the carving of the book will also be there for me.

About the Author
Former journalist -- The Washington Times, USA Today, New York Daily News, Women's International Net -- among others. Co-author -- Arafat: A Political Biography (Oxford, 2001), Hating America (Oxford, 2003). Completed the Masters in Creative Writing at Bar Ilan.
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