Sunday, November 11, 2012

Meir Ribalow Memorial at The Players

Last night, I attended a memorial, or rather a celebration of the life of Meir Ribalow at The Players in New York City, a club that Meir loved dearly, and was very active in. You may remember that I included information about this event in my previous post, In Memory of Meir Ribalow, where I also provided some extensive comments about this extraordinary individual.

The program included multimedia presentations, a performance of Meir's favorite compositions on piano by the composer, Byron Janis, a sing-along of "Amazing Grace," and short talks by about 20 individuals, ranging across his family, youthful friends, colleagues, collaborators, lovers, and protégés.  There were many references to Meir's affection for westerns, his strong sense of self and code of conduct, his creativity—especially his sonnets, and most of all his caring and compassion for others.

The participants included Alec Baldwin, who worked with Meir on the Creative Coalition (and I have to say it was pretty cool to have been inches away from him and hear him speak from the heart about a friend of mine), and Maria Cooper Janis, the daughter of Gary Cooper, who I've met before through Meir, along with some incredibly talented people.  And me. I was there to speak on behalf of Fordham University, and NeoPoiesis Press, and I was told I'd have 4 minutes to do so. So I wrote out some comments, and timed it out at about 5 1/2 minutes, reading fast, so I think I probably slowed down a bit when I spoke last night, but happily there were no complaints.

So, let I would very much like to share my remarks about Meir here now, with the understanding that 40 minutes would not have been enough time to say all I'd want to say about him.

Meir Ribalow Memorial, The Players, November 10, 2012

Meir Ribalow was my colleague at Fordham University, where he taught for over two decades, and was an Artist-in-Residence. But more than that, Meir was my friend, and it was both a privilege and a pleasure to have known him.

Meir was a talented individual who selflessly gave of himself to encourage and develop the talents of others. In other words, he was an educator. I know they say, those who can't do, teach, but that's a cynical view of education, and Meir gave the lie to that old saw. He was a can-do kind of guy, and a can-do kind of teacher, and he brought out the best in others, at Fordham and everywhere else he went. Meir took pride in his achievements, but always with modesty and humility. And he was not jealous or fearful of the accomplishments of others, but rather shared in the joy of their triumphs.

I want to say there's no me in Meir... And I want to say there's no I in Meir...  But what I can say is that Meir is a Hebrew name, and the Hebrew words for me and I aren't in there.  And the meaning of his name in Hebrew is one who shines, or bringer of light. And how very appropriate for one who shone so very brightly, and who shared his light with so many others. 

And how appropriate for someone who taught courses about the movies, who studied them, admired them, and loved them so very much. Every semester, Meir taught two sections of a course named Movies and the American Experience, and they were among the most popular courses in all of Fordham University. And how very fitting that he taught a course about movies; not film as some obscure and elitist exercise in theorizing and throwing around jargon and French language. But movies, as a genuine American, popular, democratic medium that mixes together the vulgar and the sublime, art and entertainment, industry and inspiration. Meir instilled in his students an appreciation for the art of the moving image and the theatrical performance; an understanding of the craft of movie-making; and the aesthetic sense to tell the difference between quality and crap, and between crap that's good, and crap that's just crap.

As a colleague at Fordham University, I feel obliged to mention that in our department meetings, he was always a voice of reason, and if you know anything about academia, you know how rare a quality that is.

I treasure all of the conversations we had about movies and television, science fiction and superheroes, politics and baseball, and religion, by which I mean Judaism and the New York Mets.

I loved the sense of connection and devotion he had to his father, and his father's work, including updating and coauthoring his father's books on The Jew in American Sports, and Jewish Baseball Stars, both surprisingly thick volumes. Six years ago, when I took over the adult education program for my small Reform Jewish congregation in Leonia, New Jersey, Congregation Adas Emuno, and was given no budget whatsoever, I turned to was Meir, and he generously drove across the Hudson to give a talk about Jewish athletes that folks still refer to to this day.

Meir participated in a number of academic and intellectual events that I organized, and he helped to bring in talented participants, such as his close friend Leslie Carroll, who participated on several roundtables featuring celebrated authors. And there was an extraordinary panel about movie heroes that we put together, that was held here at the Players, and that included, in addition to Meir and myself, Susan McGregor, Maria Cooper Janis, Lee Pfeiffer, and Victor Slezak. But what stands out in my mind from all of that was how truly amazing Meir was as a moderator. Panelists were often shocked at how well prepared he was, how well he researched them and understood their work, how appropriate and insightful were the questions he asked, and how much in control he was of the panel discussion. He was an extraordinary moderator and interviewer because of his integrity as an individual, and his empathy for others. For Meir, it was the relationship that counts.

Several years ago, when I told Meir how I helped to start a little publishing group called NeoPoiesis Press, he mentioned that he had written and published quite a lot of poetry, and I asked him if we could put out a book of his work. Last year we published Chasing Ghosts, and this year we followed that up with his book of sonnets, The Time We Have Misspent, and his novel, Redheaded Blues. And I want to share with you that our editor-in-chief, Dale Winslow, made a heroic effort to rush those two volumes into print this past spring, and set up a book party here at the Players where Meir did a book signing, gave a reading, and enjoyed a thunderous standing ovation. This is the kind of devotion and love that Meir inspired in all who knew him. And it has been an honor for us to play a small role in helping to preserve something of Meir's mind, his wit, his words, and make it available for others to share in.

Speaking on behalf of my colleagues at Fordham University, and NeoPoiesis Press, I want to conclude by saying that Meir's life was truly a blessing, we miss him terribly, but we are thankful for the time we had together, thankful for the bright light that he shined, the light he shared with all of us.

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