On May 25, the US commemorated Memorial Day, in a year everyone will never forget – 2020 – the year of the COVID-19 pandemic. Along with remembering our fallen heroes and the more than 100,000 American lives tragically taken by the virus, I am remembering my lifelong friend, Raymond S. Solomon.
I am sorrowfully mourning his loss of another one, too soon, taken by this horrifying virus. Raymond was a frequent contributor to The Jerusalem Report, as well as other publications focused on Israel and Jewish issues.
He left the world unassumingly, on a respirator in the ICU unit of a New York City hospital on April 6, without fanfare, or even much notice, along with hundreds of other victims. He is survived by his wife, Judy.
I was devastated when the doctors told me I could not come to say goodbye. They would not let me into the ICU under any circumstances, not even to see him through a glass window! An unceremonious departure from a devoted friend who had come to my rescue in life on more than one occasion.
Ray was a person of high intellect and high moral integrity – a rare find indeed, in today’s upside-down world. He was a unique individual, a sensitive soul whose heart suffered right along with those injured by social injustices in our fallen world. I think of him whenever I read Psalm 19 “How blessed are those who observe the Lord’s testimonies, who seek the Lord with all their heart. They walk in his ways.”
Raymond S. Solomon was such a man – a man of moral conscience who was interested in repairing what he could in a bruised and broken world. I remember that, as a young man, Ray had manned the phone lines for the widows and orphaned Biafran children. He worked for the humanitarian effort to help raise world consciousness. It was organized by the American Committee to Keep Biafra Alive. The defenseless Briafrin children were the new refugees created by the ways perpetrated by the Nigerian government. It was thought that Nigeria resented the Christian missionaries working in Biafra and supported by the Catholic Church.
While Ray’s humanitarian efforts were not limited to those which affected only his religious identity, he demonstrated a strong involvement in issues affecting the Jewish community. He attended every demonstration he could to put an end to the evils perpetrated on Soviet Jewry. He was never intimidated by the possibility of arrest due to civil disobedience and his goal was to shine the spotlight on the evils of discrimination and take it out of the shadows. He knew that all it takes for evil to prosper is for good men to do nothing.
He worked to help Yemenite Jews immigrate to Israel. He worked for those still fleeing oppression and the antisemitic conditions of their homelands that made their lives intolerable. He did whatever he could with a charitable heart while he was with us. He never failed to help a friend in need.
Raymond studied Torah. He consulted with rabbis to seek God’s will, and he also sought to be closer to God. He was a man who did not just study, but walked the walk.
In a corner of my mind, I can still see Raymond in his prayer shawl when I read Psalm 143 “Tell me in the morning about your love, because I trust you; Show me what I should do, because my prayers go up to you.
Teach me to do what you want, because you are my God. Let your good spirit lead me on level ground.”
Indeed, Ray was a man of lofty pursuits. He was a dreamer, but also a doer. Yet, he knew how to be grounded because of his acute perception of reality. He never stopped wanting the world to be a better place than it was. He had an encyclopedic knowledge of history and, in particular, the Holocaust.
Interestingly, Ray’s beloved parents, Sidney and Clara Solomon were, more-or-less, atheistic in their spiritual beliefs. However, he was blessed with the gift of faith. He had a strong sense of his social justice and moral integrity from both Sydney and Clara. Raymond’s writings reflect those values. He’s had his many articles, commentaries and book reviews published on Jewish issues in publications that include The Jerusalem Report, The Jewish Press, The Jewish Spectator and The Journal of Psychology and Judaism.
Ray had a wonderful intellect and an astute literary mind. He was the type of person who could take a footnote in history and write a doctoral thesis around it! The following is a quotation from his review of Racing Against History: The 1940 Campaign for a Jewish Army to fight Hitler, by Rick Richman: “It is incredibly well researched, thoroughly documented, from published and unpublished sources, including letters. It is a great aid for people wanting to do additional research, including Internet research. Yet, it is eminently readable. I found it hard to put down. This book fills the gaps that exist in many standard Middle Eastern and Second World War histories. It adds a new dimension to historical scholarship about pre-state Israel, The United States, and Great Britain before and during World War II.”
For those unfamiliar with Richman’s book, it is about Vladamir Jabotinsky and his heroic efforts to rally world leaders to assemble an all Jewish Army to fight Hitler during World War II.
Raymond Solomon, like Rick Richman, amidst the shambles that is our history could still see the good it is possible to achieve if good men act to defeat evil. Ray’s life-force to accomplish good, for the greater good, was never obscured.
His articles, commentaries and reviews were a much needed voice – a voice I can still hear in my head. It was a voice I shall miss – a voice I feel I didn’t listen attentively to when here. I took it for granted. I learned, we must pay attention even when it hurts, even when we are too exhausted to listen.
Raymond had a library of well over 1,000 books in his one-bedroom apartment, many of which he had published together with his father, Sydney Solomon. In this library you could find publications such as Arthur Koestler’s Darkness at Noon, a book about the Russian purge trials of the 1930s, which was a movement to rid Russia of Jews and other intellectuals deemed adversarial to the governments communist regime. It hearkens back to the much earlier programs of our parents and great-grandparents in Russia.
Raymond liked to publish and write about issues that were largely left out of – or cosmetically removed from – traditional school texts. He wanted to bring issues not necessarily in the mainstream into public consciousness.
Another wonderful book in his library is Russian Nightmares, American Dreams, by Edith Kaplan. It is the moving personal memoir of a Jewish family escaping the pogroms of Russia.
Ray knew that the best way to stop evil was to take it out of hiding and put it in the harsh spotlight of public awareness.
How wonderful that he had a career in which he could actually be that spotlight! Ray’s articles and reviews are insightful, articulate and beautifully written. An extraordinary accomplishment for someone who, as a child battled against severe dyslexia. He still had, in his adult life, a quite halting speech pattern due to a neurological condition. Ray, despite heart problems, surgeries, surviving cancer, and other health issues, soldiered on, both physically and psychologically.
Tragically, like all good soldiers, there came a time when he could soldier on no longer. It was time to rest. Those who loved him are bereft and left in an empty void, that can never be filled. I wish I had made more of an effort to listen to his magnificent voice when he was here. Although we have a treasure chest of articles and reviews, we will never have his voice again.
So, for Raymond S. Solomon (11/11/1946-4/6/2020), accomplished publisher, editor, writer, commentator, reviewer, beloved friend, son, cousin, humanitarian and husband – we will miss you and we will forever miss your compassionate erudite voice! n