Ruth F. Brin was a literary pioneer famous for her authentic Jewish poetry, prayer services, scholarly articles, children’s books, librettos, a memoir, and most recently, at the age of 86, her first novel.
She was born in Saint Paul, Minnesota, and lived in Minneapolis until her death, at the age of 88, on Wednesday, September 30th. However, her poetry and teachings have moved beyond the Twin Cities, filling the pages of Reconstructionist, Reform and Conservative prayer books used in synagogues around the country.
Her Jewish Women’s Archive encyclopedia entry states that “In the 1950s, when most Jewish women still seemed content with their traditional subordinate role in public worship, Ruth Brin was already at work modernizing traditional Jewish prayers and texts, and offering new interpretive readings and original poetry reflecting her own religious experience. . . . Brin has described her own work as “a personal search for the ultimate reality, the wonder, the mystery, the meaning that most of us call God.” She has been called “one of the few truly authentic Jewish poets” writing today, and her work has been described as “a spiritual feast” and “a resource for people seeking faith or engaged in helping others understand and make sense out of their traditions.””
Ruth Brin was an essential part of the fabric of Minnesota’s Jewish community, teaching classes on immigrant literature, American Jewish writers and Judaism at the University of Minnesota and Macalester, shaping the Jewish arts scene with contributions of time, energy and critical funding, writing book reviews for the Minneapolis Star Tribune and the American Jewish World up until her death, and raising distinguished and engaged children, who themselves have made numerous contributions in the Twin Cities and beyond. As stated by her friend David Harris, Executive Director of Rimon: the Minnesota Jewish Arts Council, “She was very, very, very small in stature. But there was nothing else tiny about her. She will be missed by many people.”
“This past spring, the St. Paul JCC had the opportunity to host an event in Ruth’s honor,” recalled St. Paul JCC Jewish Cultural Arts Director, Jeffrey Richman. “We celebrated Ruth’s life and work with selections from her memoir, novel, and poetry, read by Ruth’s daughters, Judith Brin Ingber and Deborah Brin, Ruth’s brother-in–law, Charles Brin, and Ruth herself, who reflected on her years as a writer, poet and liturgist, and growing up Jewish in St. Paul in the 1920’s. The packed event culminated with Ruth blowing out 88 candles on a cake big enough to serve all her guests!”
“Not long before the event,” Richman continued, “I met with Ruth and a small group of volunteers at her apartment in Minneapolis. Looking at the photographs displayed in the hall, I noticed a picture of Ruth and her husband Howard (of blessed memory) sitting with David Ben Gurion, and I thought to myself this person has done some amazing things! Only a few days ago I exchanged messages with Ruth. She told me to drop off a book for her to review for the American Jewish World Newspaper! She was truly a remarkable woman who affected so many, and whose work will have a lasting impact.”
Learn more about Ruth Brin in her Jewish Women’s Archive’s encyclopedia entry, in the moving Star Tribune article about her 2007 novel The Most Beautiful Monday in 1961, or in the American Jewish World newspaper. Or head to the library, the synagogue, or your local bookstore to immerse yourself in Ruth’s writing.
May her memory be a blessing.
(Thanks to Jeffrey Richman at the St. Paul JCC for the photo of Ruth Brin)