A privilege to work with

Those who were fortunate to know him personally will not soon find anyone who can fill the void.

Barry Rubin. (photo credit: Courtesy)
Barry Rubin.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
I was devastated when I learned of Barry Rubin’s untimely passing.
During my time as cultural attaché at the American embassy, I was privileged to work with Barry on a number of projects for worldwide dissemination. In the process of our work, we often discussed where Israel and the Middle East were headed. I felt as if I was learning at the “feet of the master.”
I would ask him a question, he would close his eyes in contemplation, and then he would hold forth on his visions of the future. Invariably, his insights and predictions proved to be accurate – though other people might not come to the same conclusions until months later.
BARRY WAS a prolific writer. Following my retirement from the diplomatic corps I became an avid reader of his frequent opinion pieces both in The Jerusalem Post and on his personal blog. His use of satire, irony and references to contemporary culture enhanced the depth of his commentary.
I trusted his judgment, and consulted him when I needed a thoughtful evaluation of a particularly troubling development in the region. On the rare occasion when I disagreed with something he had written, he responded with sensitivity and humility. He accepted criticism graciously, and willingly entered into honest discussion in the search for truth.
In my 25 years as an American diplomat I was lucky enough to meet a few people who were clearly special. I shook hands with them and after just a few minutes of conversation I said to myself, “This person is in a class by himself.”
Barry was one such person. He was a recognized expert in his field, and yet he was so much more.
I recall one experience that was especially touching. Barry was a fan of American folk music.
I invited him to attend a performance by a touring American singer at my home. The audience was to include diplomats and professional contacts. Barry said he would attend, but only if he could bring his young daughter who was a budding guitarist. I was happy to agree to his request.
At some point during the performance, the singer explained that the song he was about to sing had been a big hit, and that the song on the flipside of the record had then become a hit as well.
I looked over and saw that Barry and his daughter were deep in conversation.
He was explaining to her what a record and flipside were. He was holding his hands up in a small circle to describe what a record looked like and how it would spin around with a needle on top to produce sound.
When an important figure dies we often hear a commentator say, “He will be missed.” That observation has become a cliché. In Barry’s case, however, it is entirely appropriate.
Israel has lost one of its staunchest and most eloquent defenders. Those who were fortunate to know him personally will not soon find anyone who can fill the void. We are all richer for his presence, and poorer for his departure.
The author served for three years as American cultural attache. Now retired and living in Zichron Ya’akov, he is a Senior Fellow at the Institute for Counter-Terrorism at IDC, a Fellow at Bar-Ilan’s Center for International Communication, and Board Member of CoHaV (Coalition of Hasbara Volunteers).