Appreciation: ruth Stein 1947-2010

Like many friends and colleagues here, in the US and around the world, we were shocked and heartbroken by Ruth Stein’s sudden death in New York on January 17.

Like many friends and colleagues here, in the US and around the world, we were shocked and heartbroken by Ruth Stein’s sudden death in New York on January 17.
Ruth was born in Linz, Austria, on June 3, 1947. Her father, Asher Steinberger, a brilliant talmudic scholar, was imprisoned at Auschwitz for three years, and lost his first wife and three children. His new family made aliya when Ruth was four.
At 19, Ruth married her first husband, Dov Stein, and both of them chose a haredi lifestyle. Their children, Dolly, Bitti and Yoav, were born in the subsequent years. Ruth studied at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, majoring first in French literature, later on in psychology, and became a clinical psychologist. Following her first analysis, with Erich Gumbel, she divorced in 1980 and adopted a secular lifestyle.
Ruth pursued doctoral studies under Joseph Sandler, the first professor at the Freud Chair of the Hebrew University. Her doctoral dissertation, accepted summa cum laude, formed the basis of her book Psychoanalytic Theories of Affect (1991).
Ruth undertook psychoanalytic training at the Israel Psychoanalytic Institute, graduating in 1992. She joined the faculty of the Tel Aviv University Postgraduate Program in Psychotherapy and of the Psychoanalytic Institute.
IN 2001, Ruth married Gavriel (Ben-Ephraim) Reisner, a lecturer in English literature, and they moved to New York, where she became an associate professor at the NYU Postdoctoral Program in Psychotherapy and Psychoanalysis, and practiced psychoanalysis and psychotherapy.
Ruth presented her work in conferences of the International Psychoanalytic Association and of the International Association of Relational Psychoanalysis and Psychotherapy, and in numerous professional centers around the world. She was a member of the US editorial board of the International Journal of Psychoanalysis, and served as an associate editor of Psychoanalytic Dialogues.
Following 9/11 she became deeply invested in the study of fundamentalism, utilizing Muhammad Atta’s letter to explore the motivations of his group. This interest culminated in her recent book, For Love of the Father: A Psychoanalytic Study of Religious Terrorism (Stanford University Press, 2010).
A major focus of her writing has been sexuality. Her paper “The Otherness of Sexuality: Excess,” was awarded the Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association Prize in January.
Tragically, her untimely death followed this honor very shortly. At the end of one of the sessions of that same conference she suddenly lost consciousness, and a massive stroke was diagnosed at the hospital to which she was rushed, leading to her death two days later.
Ruth’s interests and wishes were universal. Her intellect was a like a penetrating beam of light, turning away at nothing. Always in a hurry, she believed she could have it all. Alas, although she got to have a lot, having everything proved impossible.
Would she have lived longer if she were less ambitious, less demanding of herself, less eager to present her thought everywhere? But then, maybe we would have lost some of her irreplaceable qualities.
Her discourse was always both abstract and sensual, experience near but also remote in its daring innovation, expressed in a memorable, brilliant, unique poetic style.
Anyone exposed – whether as a friend, a patient, a supervisee or a student – to Ruth’s unique personal presence, to her deep thoughtfulness, to her capacity to describe both ambitious ideas and mundane life details with great accuracy and originality, will always remember her and miss her.