Mr. Rubb Compromises

The following story comes from a 1998 recording made for the NCJW Oral History Project. It doesn’t have anything to do with Friendship Park. It’s just a lovely Pittsburgh story I discovered while doing some research this evening. I felt compelled to share it.

The speaker is Ernest Light, a Holocaust survivor who came to Pittsburgh from Czechoslovakia in 1946 and started a wholesale clothing business on Fifth Avenue.

There is a lot of terminology in the story, but the only detail that is really crucial to know at the outset is that in a traditional synagogue, men and women sit separately.

“There was a shul close by on Washington Street. It was called Beit Hamedrash Hagadol. They had no rabbi. They had a so-called shames, a very knowledgeable and a very fine gentleman by the name of Mr. Rubb. He was an unusual man. He was a Survivor. His family perished during the Holocaust. One daughter survived… With the redevelopment, the shul was torn down. They built a new shul… and they built an apartment for him, too.

“He lived there with his family. He kept the shul going, because he really was a caring person. In the morning, he was the first one to open up the shul. He used to come in early in the morning. If anyone came in, any stranger came in, he right away approached him and he said, “Do you have a yahrzeit?” or “Can I help you in some way?” He had minyans every morning, every night, plus all the holidays. And most of the people had high regard for him because he was an unusual man. Despite all that what he lived through, he was kind, caring. I would call him almost a tzaddik. He was a very righteous person.

“I remember a case with him. It was a Thursday — usually Mondays and Thursdays they read the Torah. A lady walked into the shul, and the lady was distraught. He went over. ‘What is it?’ She said she had someone in her family who was very sick. She would like to make a mi shebeirach. And he said, “That’s alright.” When we were finished with the laning, he went and he called her up there, right in the front of the Torah, and he made a mi shebeirach. And he told me, he says, ‘Isn’t it wonderful that today there are still people left who believe in that, and they come to shul?’ It was a very touching thing for me. Because in a lot of ways he was very observant, but at the same time he was a realist. He knew that to survive in a place like that, an isolated place, you have to compromise.”

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3 Responses to Mr. Rubb Compromises

  1. Layne says:

    This article gives a memorable flavor to
    a Pittsburgh of the past and present.
    This slice of Pittsburgh is still alive and well
    in Squirrel Hill.
    The thread of life that connects that generation to the present generation is a tangible aspect that makes Pittsburgh the remarkable
    historic environment it is.

    Also, it reminds me of the opening scene in you
    short story about the man and his dog.

  2. Chuck Sheiko says:

    This site is just amazing. It wasn’t exactly what I was searching for (duh! I’m embarrassed to state what that was). It is so much more. I snagged a PGH Princess and went to Pitt, always loved so much about the city, and it’s nice to have someone besides (and more florid) than Chabon, to stimulate memories and fantasies in an old brain.

    What really impresses me is that you hooked onto this story and it impressed you enough to include it here, and call it “lovely”. Let me corroborate/authenticate/bless your keen eye and poetry. Pittsburgh, in my experience, generated an amazingly high number of Tzaddikim (godly people, exuding kindness and sweetness) — and I can think of a few Irishmen and blacks to be included in that number!

    Wish you the very best. Actually, I think you’re there already.

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