Sunday, September 9, 2012

In Memory of Meir Ribalow

My friend and colleague, Meir Ribalow, passed away on August 23rd, and I write this post in his memory (and please find at the end of this post information about the memorial for him that will be held in November, and the fund set up in his name). 

We shared many a delightful conversation about movies and movie stars, about sports and especially baseball (and our team, the New York Mets), about comics, Jewish culture and literature, and so much more.  

As a colleague, it was always a delight when I would see him walking down the hall, dressed impeccably, smiling good-naturedly.  As our Artist-in-Residence in the Department of Communication and Media Studies at Fordham University, he did more than his fair share in service of our students, and was always a voice of reason at faculty meetings.  Semester after semester he taught a class called Movies and the American Experience, which was one of the most popular, and hence one of the hardest to get into, in the entire university (and the only course, aside from our required introductory classes, that we always ran two sections of). He also taught Screenwriting, and in that way helped to nurture young talents at Fordham, as he did elsewhere.  He was involved in so much more, and would use his connections to enrich his courses, for example by having Alec Baldwin drop in on a class.

He was a gifted writer, and I tried to go see his plays as often as I could, which wasn't often enough by far.  But I did bring my son to a few, and there was one dramatic reading at the Players Club, where Meir was an active member, that really inspired and sparked my son's interest in the theater.  

When I first joined the Board of Trustees of Congregation Adas Emuno in Leonia, and took over as Adult Education Chair, Meir was kind enough to drive over and give our first ever Havadallah Talk back on April 14, 2007, to talk about Jews in sports, a subject his father had written about and Meir had continued to work on. I wrote a post about that event, back in only the second month of my blogging here, and you if you want to read it, here's the link:  Sports Spiel.

Back about a decade or so, I was contributing a chapter to an anthology on baseball by my old MA program professor at Queens Coolege, Gary Gumpert, and my colleague at Hofstra University, Susan Drucker, entitled Take Me Out to the Ballgame, and I was happy to hook Meir up with them, so he could contribute a chapter on Jews in baseball (mine is on baseball as a medium).  Here's a link, in case you're interested:

And last year, Meir published a baseball novel entitled Peanuts and Crackerjacks:

I was also quite happy to be able to recruit Meir for NeoPoiesis Press, the publishing partnership that I've been involved with, and when he passed away, I wrote the statement for the press, which I'll share with you here:
We join together with Meir Ribalow's family and friends, with so many others whom his life has touched, to express our profound sorrow at his passing. Meir was a man of great talent, of great humor, and of great generosity of spirit. We feel privileged to have played a small role in helping the world to know him a little better through the publication of his writing, and to preserve his words for so many who will never have the chance to know him as the beautiful human being that he indeed was. Meir was one of a kind, we will not see his like again, and he will be dearly missed. May his memory be for a blessing.

Before he passed away, Meir was able to publish another novel, Redheaded Blues, and two books of poetry through NeoPoiesis Press:

That last one, The Time We Have Misspent, is a book of sonnets that are wonderfully humorous and touching.  And interestingly enough, one of the individuals working for Fordham's internal communications recognized the NeoPoiesis statement as my writing, and used it for quotes for their post for Fordham's newsletter and website, Fordham Mourns Artist-in-Residence Meir Ribalow.  Here's the piece:
The Fordham University community mourns artist-in-residence Meir Ribalow of the Department of Communication and Media Studies. Ribalow died Aug. 23. 
A prolific author, Ribalow was widely-published in various media. He wrote 24 plays and numerous books, articles, and poems on a range of topics, including theater, sports, chess, and travel. His award-winning plays have been produced more than 180 times in cities throughout North America and Europe. 
“Meir was a man of great talent, of great humor, and of great generosity of spirit,” said Lance Strate, Ph.D., professor of communication and media studies. “Meir was one of a kind, we will not see his like again, and he will be dearly missed.” 
Ribalow was a well-known film scholar as well as playwright. He frequently served as a film historian for documentaries, including a Discovery Channel feature on the portrayal of scientists in film. He also wrote for The Sciences magazine as a film columnist and co-wrote the program for the 1990 World Chess Championship. 
In addition to working hands-on in the industry, Ribalow served in many administrative positions. He was the production associate at the New York Shakespeare Festival for several years, founder of The American Repertory Company of London, and the artistic director of New River Dramatists in North Carolina. 
His administrative duties brought him in contact with an array of personalities. He served alongside Alec Baldwin as vice president of The Creative Coalition, a non-partisan, nonprofit group for members of the entertainment and arts industries who are active in social and political issues. As international arts coordinator for The Global Forum, Ribalow worked with the Dalai Lama, Mikhail Gorbachev, and other notables. 
Ribalow taught at Fordham for more than 27 years. A devoted teacher, he lectured at more than a dozen secondary schools, colleges, and universities over the years. 

“We feel privileged to have played a small role in helping the world to know him a little better through the publication of his writing, and to preserve his words for so many who will never have the chance to know him as the beautiful human being that he indeed was,” Strate said.

Glen Hirshberg wrote a lovely piece for the Jewish Daily Forward entitled, Remembering Meir Z. Ribalow, which I won't reproduce in its entirety here, but I do want to quote two paragraphs:
I first met Ribalow at a Seder given by my uncle, Rabbi Judah Nadich, during my first semester of college. We turned out to be related, vaguely. We talked baseball, and writing, and the Holocaust, and writing, and early films noir, and writing. I was eighteen, and thought I knew about these things. Meir knew about these things. When I got home to my dorm, the phone was ringing. Meir was calling to continue the conversation. It continued for nearly four decades. Meir didn’t teach me how to write, but he probably taught me how to be a writer. He taught me how to care for and support and teach and learn from other writers. He taught me how to immerse myself in my work without disappearing into myself. Very early in our relationship, I realized Meir was carrying on similar conversations with literally dozens of other artists, activists, and passionate people of all stripes . He awoke us all to ourselves, and to each other. 
A deft satirist and exceptionally witty craftsman of dialogue, Mr. Ribalow’s work blends bleak comedy with bursts of ironic, surprisingly gentle humor and hard-won wisdom. The New York Times hailed his play, “Sundance,” as “A deceptively savvy cultural essay about the mechanics of a beloved American genre wrapped inside a pitch-perfect satire.” His dramas have received over 180 productions worldwide and regionally across the United States and Canada.

I know that Meir was especially proud of being able to publish as well as put on plays from the New River Dramatists group that he led, and two volumes that he edited are available, each one including one of his own plays as well as two others:

And since Glen mentioned it, Amazon also has copies of "Sundance" for sale:

Meir's father, Harold Ribalow, was an editor who dealt with just about every major Jewish-American fiction writer of the mid-20th century, and every year, Hadassah Magazine gives out a prize in his name, as they explain:

Hadassah Magazine's annual literary award for outstanding Jewish fiction was established in 1983 by the friends and family of the late Harold U. Ribalow, an editor and writer known for his passion for Jewish literature and his interest in promoting the work of many now-famous writers. Ribalow was inducted posthumously into the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame in 2009 for his contributions to society through Jewish sports writing.
I was very happy to be invited to attend the awards presentation each year, where the author and an invited speaker would be part of the program, and Meir would always give a talk. I remember how he would say that in his family, going into business and making a lot of money was considered a perfectly respectable thing to do...  for those individuals without talent!

Meir was very much his father's son, very much dedicated to helping others, in addition to being very talented in his own right.  His enthusiasm and encyclopedic knowledge of movies, sports, and literature made him a delightful conversationalist, and his good humor and generosity of spirit was a blessing and an inspiration.  I think his New York Times obituary is worth sharing here as well:

RIBALOW--Meir Zvi, Internationally renowned playwright, poet, novelist, critic, and activist, died on August 23rd after battling prostate cancer. He was 63. Mr. Ribalow had 24 of his plays receive some 180 productions worldwide, winning awards in London, New York, and regionally. He won national awards for fiction, his widely published poetry, and musical lyrics; co-wrote ten children's books; and published articles on sports, music, theatre, literature, film, travel and chess. 
He was co-author, with his father, Harold Ribalow, of three books on sports, and was Director of an award-winning sports website. Mr. Ribalow's poems have recently been collected in two volumes, "Chasing Ghosts" and "The Time We Have Misspent" and two novels, "Peanuts and Crackerjacks" and "Redheaded Blues" -- along with a new play, "Masterpiece" -- have all been published in the past eighteen months during a typically furious burst of creativity that his illness did little to slow. 
He wrote articles for publications as diverse as The New York Times, The Sciences, Hadassah, and the program for the 1990 Kasparov-Karpov World Chess Championship, commented on films for the Discovery Channel, and hosted the online radio program "New River Radio" on His scholarly film commentary appears on a number of special edition classic DVD's, including High Noon and Sergeant York. A popular and widely respected educator, he served for almost three decades as Artist-in-Residence in the Department of Communication and Media Studies at Fordham University. 
Mr. Ribalow was born into a family of writers and scholars -- his grandfather, Menachem Ribalow, edited the only weekly newspaper published in Hebrew in the United States, and his father, Harold, was an internationally renowned author and anthologist of Anglo-American Jewish literature--and was supported and encouraged by his passionately engaged music educator mother, Shoshana, and sister, Reena Ribalow Ben Ephraim (also an award-winning poet and fiction writer). 
Mr. Ribalow graduated from Phillips Exeter Academy in 1966 and was a University Scholar and Class Poet at Princeton, class of 1970. He was a co-founder and Vice President of the Creative Coalition, a group of entertainment professionals devoted to social and environmental advocacy, working alongside fellow board-members Alec Baldwin, Christopher Reeve, Ron Silver, and Stephen Collins. He was also International Arts Coordinator of The Global Forum, where he worked with the Dalai Lama, Robert Redford and Mikhail Gorbachev. 
Mr. Ribalow was the Founding Artistic Director of New River Dramatists, the dream child of indefatigable producer Mark Woods, which offers playwrights week-long residencies in the mountains of North Carolina and has developed some 400 new plays and screenplays, almost half of which have already been produced or optioned worldwide. Mr. Ribalow attracted and mixed established, high profile playwrights such as the late James McLure, Wendy Hammond, Richard Dresser and Lee Blessing, with lesser-known, often young, but always deserving writing talents such as inaugural McLure Fellowship and 2012 O'Neill Residency winner Hilary Bettis. 
Mr. Ribalow directed numerous plays in London and New York, was Joseph Papp's Production Associate at the New York Shakespeare Festival for several years, and founded the American Repertory Company of London. A Broadway Gala Theater Benefit reading of his play Nature of the Universe with Blythe Danner and Brian Dennehy raised funds for The ALS Association of New York. 
Mr. Ribalow is survived by his mother, sister, nephew Shaiel Ben Ephraim and niece Riora Kerr, and by a grateful and still-expanding community of artists, writers, actors, performers, and philanthropists who learned much of craft and even more of care through his vision and by his example.
Yesterday, I received notice from the executor of Meir's estate about the memorial event that will be held in November at the Players Club:

There will be a celebration of the life of
 Meir Z. Ribalow
 Poet, Playwright, Novelist, Actor, Director, Teacher,
Activist, Sage, Son, Brother, Uncle and Friend….
Saturday, November 10, 2012 at 7:30pm
The Players
16 Gramercy Park
New York, NY 10003

We will have our own memorial at Fordham University at a later date, but also, for anyone interested in honoring his memory, here is additional information about the fund set up in his name:

THE MEIR Z. RIBALOW ’66 PRIZE AND THEATRE FUND By gifts made in memory of Meir Z. Ribalow, Class of 1966, Phillips Exeter Academy will establish a permanent endowment fund titled The Meir Z. Ribalow ’66 Prize and Theatre Fund. In recognition of Meir’s distinguished career as a renowned and award winning playwright, poet, novelist, critic and activist, the Academy’s annual prizes in theatre will be named The Meir Z. Ribalow ’66 Theatre Prizes. In addition to this public acknowledgement, proceeds from the endowment will also be used to support activities of the Theatre Department that will benefit the performances and drama instruction of our students. Among the uses of the Ribalow Fund will be the support for visiting actors, producers, playwrights and other theatre professionals to come to campus to meet with students and faculty. In addition to supporting classroom participation, the Ribalow Fund will encourage instructional opportunities through master classes. Working with students and young artists was a particular passion of Meir and it is believed that he would be pleased with a fund in his name to support Theatre and the Exeter Harkness instruction that he held so dear throughout his lifetime.

Meir moved in so many circles, touched so many different people, and worked with so much talent, of others and his own, and yet he never bragged about all of his accomplishments and connections. He was a modest, humble, and down-to-earth individual who always had a twinkle in his eye, a smile on his face, a good word for everyone he came into contact with, and a helping hand for those who needed one. It was a privilege to know him, and to call him friend.

1 comment:

Ben Hauck said...

Meir's passing is a surprise and a sadness. I didn't know him all that well, but what I knew of him set the bar. I mostly saw him in the context of panel discussions, where he was usually the moderator. I know of no one who was able to fill the position of moderator better than he. He truly moderated: He kept the discussion going, probing his panelists with questions of interest to the audience. This consciousness of show and audience I'm sure poured into his playwriting. He is already missed.