My history with the family of Lee Harvey Oswald’s Jewish killer
By Steve North
NEW YORK (JTA) — We were sharing a pastrami sandwich and pickles at the Los Angeles landmark Canter’s Deli. I was 24. She was nearly 50 years older, with a piercing voice as loud as her flaming red wig.
Her name was Eva Rubenstein Grant, and she was a little-known nightclub manager the morning of Nov. 24, 1963, when her brother left the apartment they shared in Dallas and blasted his way into infamy by fatally shooting Lee Harvey Oswald. It was history’s first live televised murder.
Eva worked and lived with Jack Ruby and spent the rest of her life defending him against various allegations.
“I swear on my life, my brother was not three things,” Eva told me, her voice rising. “He was not a homosexual. He was not with the communists. And certainly not with the underworld.”
I listened with fascination to Eva that day in 1977. (Years later she was perfectly portrayed in a TV movie by Doris Roberts, the high-decibel mom from “Everybody Loves Raymond.” She died in November 1992 at age 83.)
“But Mrs. Grant,” I said. “Jack had ties to the ‘syndicate,’ as you call it, as far back as your childhood in Chicago.”
“Look,” she replied in exasperation. “We would see these people in the neighborhood and we’d ask, how’s your mother? How’s your sister? But that doesn’t mean Jack was connected with them. I grew up with a bunch of boys who turned out to be no good. Who knew?”
It was a quintessentially Jewish response, albeit delivered in Eva’s hybrid Chicago-Dallas accent. And the Rubensteins were a staunchly Jewish family, a fact that may have played a role in Ruby’s killing of Oswald, President John F. Kennedy’s assassin.
Ruby was born Jacob Rubenstein in 1911 to a family of Polish-Jewish immigrants. His parents, Joseph and Fannie, were a volatile couple. Joseph was a mean and abusive drunk. Fannie suffered from mental illness and at one point was committed to an Illinois state hospital.
Their eight children had their fair share of problems, both before and after the parents separated. Ruby and three of his siblings were made wards of Chicago’s Jewish Home Finding Society and placed in foster homes for periods of time during the 1920s.
Despite their dysfunctional world, the Rubensteins kept a kosher home, observed the holidays, sent their boys to Hebrew school and attended synagogue.
Ruby idolized Chicago Jewish boxing champion Barney Ross, who later described him as a “well-behaved” youth. But others recall Ruby’s hair-trigger temper and street brawls, especially when taunted by the non-Jews in his mixed Jewish-Italian neighborhood. Ruby’s biographer, Seth Kantor, relates that as an Air Force private, Ruby once beat up a sergeant who called him “a Jew bastard.”
After World War II, Eva moved to Dallas and began managing nightclubs and restaurants. Ruby received an honorable discharge from the Air Force in 1946 and joined Eva a year later in Texas. It was in 1947 that Jack, along with brothers Earl and Sam, legally changed his last name to Ruby.
As a young man in Chicago, Ruby reportedly ran errands for Al Capone’s cousin and henchman Frank Nitti. A former Dallas sheriff once testified that Chicago mafia figures told him that Ruby was sent to Texas to run nightclubs that were fronts for illegal gambling operations.
According to evidence uncovered by the U.S. House of Representatives Assassinations Committee in the 1970s, Ruby was later linked to mobsters Carlos Marcello and Santos Traficante, who the panel considered prime suspects in a possible mob conspiracy to assassinate Kennedy.
Whatever he was doing behind the scenes, Ruby became known as a nightclub owner and at some point began attending services at Congregation Shearith Israel. Rabbi Hillel Silverman, who was the Dallas synagogue’s spiritual leader from 1954 to 1964, says Ruby came to say Kaddish for his father.
“He came to minyan one day with a cast on his arm,” Silverman recalled. “I said, ‘Jack, what happened?’ He said, ‘In my club, somebody was very raucous, and I was the bouncer.’”
Silverman, now 89 and still leading High Holiday services every year, remembers Ruby well. Once Ruby showed up at the rabbi’s house with a litter of puppies and insisted the rabbi take one. When the family went to Israel one summer, Ruby looked after the dog.
“The day of the assassination, we had our regular Friday night service, which became a memorial service for the president,” Silverman said. “Jack was there. People were either irate or in tears, and Jack was neither. He came over and said, ‘Good Shabbos, rabbi. Thank you for visiting my sister Eva in the hospital last week.’ I thought that was rather peculiar.”
Two days later, Silverman spoke to his Sunday morning confirmation class, expressing relief to the students that Lee Harvey Oswald was not Jewish or there might have been a “pogrom” in Dallas. He then switched on the radio and heard that a “Jack Rubenstein” had killed the assassin.
“I was shocked,” said Silverman. “I visited him the next day in jail, and I said, ‘Why, Jack, why?’ He said, ‘I did it for the American people.’ ”
I interrupted Silverman, pointing out that other reports had Ruby saying he did it “to show that Jews had guts.” The rabbi sighed.
“Yes, he mentioned that,” Silverman said. “But I don’t like to mention it. I think he said, ‘I did it for the Jewish people.’ But I’ve tried to wipe that statement from my mind.”
Another person close to Ruby who tried, unsuccessfully, to block out the past is his nephew, “Craig” Ruby. (He asked that I not publish his real first name). His early memories are pleasant: Uncle Jack having a shot of whiskey with Craig’s father, doling out silver dollars to the kids, his flashy sports cars.
Like millions of Americans, Craig watched Oswald’s murder live on television. Soon afterward, he and his mother heard the name of the gunman.
“Did you ever hear the expression ‘The color drained from her face?’ I literally saw my mother’s face go from flesh to green,” he recalled. “At age 12, that was a little freaky to watch.”
Half a century after the fact, Craig is still bitter over the dramatic effect his childless uncle’s act had on the extended family, including bomb threats and huge legal bills. Given his last name, Craig was an easy target for bullies during his junior high school years in Dallas. But worst of all was facing Uncle Jack himself.
“One Sunday my dad insisted we go to see Jack in jail,” Craig said. “Outside, a police car’s siren started up, and my uncle was standing there with this incredibly intense, wild-eyed look on his face, and he yelled, ‘You hear that? You hear that? They’re torturing Jews in the basement!’ That particular experience was traumatic enough to where talking about it right now, 50 years later, is turning my gut into a knot.”
Silverman, who later testified before the Warren Commission, also vividly remembers his jailhouse visits.
“In prison, he deteriorated psychologically,” the rabbi said. “One time I walked in and he said, ‘Come on, rabbi, duck underneath the table. They’re pouring oil on the Jews and setting it on fire.’ He was quite psychotic.”
My initial connection to the Ruby family was through Eva, who I convinced to appear on ABC’s “Good Night America” program in 1976. Later I visited her several times at her apartment in Los Angeles, where she once gave me the last piece of stationary from Jack’s Carousel Club.
She introduced me to her brothers — Earl, who owned a dry cleaning store in Detroit, and Sam, who lived in the Los Angeles suburb of Sylmar. Sam showed me the one picture he had of their immigrant parents as well as the rusting car Jack drove to the Dallas police station the morning he shot Oswald.
In 1991, Earl allowed me to rendezvous with him in Dallas on the day he retrieved Jack’s gun, which he won after a decades-long legal battle. I later showed the weapon on television for the first time since 1963, shortly before it was auctioned off for $220,000.
The brothers also downplayed Jack’s ties to the mob. Sam, who died in 2006 at age 90, leaned in close and lowered his voice, confiding: “These guys would come into Jack’s club, and you had to be nice to them, ya know.”
Ironically, when Earl chose a place for us to meet in Dallas the day he was given Jack’s gun, he picked an Italian restaurant better known for its links to the Mafia than its lasagna.
Some conspiracy theorists believe Ruby was ordered to silence Oswald by his organized crime contacts. Others, who think the murder was an impulsive act, point to Ruby’s fury over an anti-Kennedy advertisement in a Dallas newspaper the morning of the president’s visit. It was paid for by a right-wing Jewish activist named Bernard Weissman, which Ruby thought put Jews in a bad light.
We will never know for sure. What Craig Ruby knows for certain is that he did not mourn his uncle’s death from cancer in 1967. His family had moved to Chicago by then and when he saw the headline announcing Ruby’s death, he felt like a weight had lifted.
As for having a connection to one of the darkest moments in American history, Craig Ruby’s view has not changed in 50 years.
“I wish to God it hadn’t happened to us.”
Steve North is a broadcast journalist with CBS News who’s been reporting on the Kennedy assassination since 1976.
Jewish leaders respond to Kennedy assassination
Editor’s note: The TJP’s Editor and Publisher Jimmy Wisch covered JFK’s visit to the Metroplex firsthand. On the next few pages is the original text from the TJP Nov. 28, 1963 issue.
By Jimmy Wisch, TJPost Editor-Publisher
Messages from Jewish leaders offering condolences for the late President John F. Kennedy came pouring into the offices of the Texas Jewish Post as Dallas and Fort Worth synagogues held memorial services for the departed national leader earlier this week.
Sermons Friday evening, the same day of his assassination, choked up many rabbis. One was too grief-stricken to proceed and had to pause for a few moments before he could continue his sermon.
Dr. Nelson Glueck, President of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, who gave the Benediction at the Inauguration of President Kennedy in January, 1961, issued the following message:
“In this hour of national sorrow I pray that the noble life which President Kennedy gave for the well-being and blessing of America and the world may end senseless strife and bitter discord among our people and result in that peace for his beloved country and for humanity for which he so endlessly and restlessly labored.
“More than ever before must we pray as I did at his Inauguration in Washington that God may ‘ensure the unfettered implementation of the letter and spirit of our Constitution for all the inhabitants of our land, to provide equal opportunities of learning and labor and well-being for all our citizens; and glad shelter to those who seek refuge with us from tyranny, to safeguard the physical and moral integrity of our beloved Commonwealth, founded on faith in Him.’
“May God bring strength and comfort to the late President’s widow and children, to his bereaved family and to all who love him.”
Mr. Solomon Litt, president of the National Jewish Welfare Board said: “The National Jewish Welfare Board is shocked and grieved by the tragic death of our nation’s President. Our sympathies go out to the members of his family and to his colleagues. Their loss is shared by all the free peoples of the world.
“In this critical moment of history, the National Jewish Welfare Board and its affiliated Jewish Community Centers and Armed Services Committees across the United States pledge continued support of the ideals for which John F. Kennedy stood, and for which he died. As an organization which was born on American soil and which has flourished in the American atmosphere of liberty for all, we affirm our constant devotion to the cause of freedom which he held so dear.
“We Jews are too familiar with the pain of martyrdom, but the impact of the blow is never softened by this familiarity. We join with our fellow Americans in this time of mourning, and earnestly pray that our President’s sacrifice will not be in vain.”
American Jewish Committee president A.M. Sonnasend said: “We are shocked and deeply saddened by the tragic death of the President of the United States.
“John F. Kennedy had come to represent the promise of America and the soaring spirit of humanity. In his life he gave expression to the age-old yearning of the people of the world for peace and good-will.
“Like Abraham Lincoln a century ago, he has given his life for the dream of freedom and human dignity.
“The grief at his death is felt in the hearts of all men. We shall mourn for him, in the words of Scripture, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a first-born.”
These were only part of a flood of condolences. Each, one could detect, was written with a heavy heart, burdened and breaking with pain.
Tribute to a Martyr
Editor’s note: Jess Jawin was the weekly front page column by TJP Editor and Publisher Jimmy Wisch. It was a play on words as well as his name, Jessard, and his initials J.A.W.
The week began with high hopes.
The President of the United States of America was coming to Texas.
Fifty percent of his time was to be spent in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
Moreover, and perhaps more important, was the announcement that he was scheduled to spend the night at the Hotel Texas, Thursday, November 21.
What a great day for the history of this state and our communities, we thought.
Accredited as a member of the working press, we had planned to use this time to get all the coverage we could out of the President’s visit.
Then, as if destiny was already showing its face, our linotype operator did not show up for work. After several hours of checking, we discovered he had left his family without notice and was supposedly in California.
Still, the President of the United States of America was due and we thought the Texas Jewish Post should have a fitting welcome for him.
Luckily we know how to run a linotype. We burned the midnight oil and rammed out the copy on a machine that squirted hot metal instead of proper lines.
When we got the machine fixed it was well into Tuesday. We were ready for a press-run after our pages had been made up.
Then our press broke down.
It wouldn’t work and when it did, its reserve pressure nearly sent it through the side of the building.
Another day of travail.
Just the normal snafu, we mused. The President of the United States of America is coming. What’s a little breakdown compared to that.
By Wednesday the press was in good shape — almost better than it had been in years and we were joyed with the prospect of getting out earlier. Then, it happened.
The folder quit.
Instead of cutting the papers on the guide, it jammed them into the cutting blades and rollers making it impossible to run.
Following a night session we got the folder working right.
Then gloriously for an historic moment everything jelled on time and we completed our final run.
We personally took a copy of the Texas Jewish Post to the Texas Hotel with our November 21 Kennedy coverage. We thought the President would be interested in reading the TJP along with the daily newspapers. We arranged for him to have it in his room.
Well, we thought, this week wasn’t at all…
We were next to the President when he arrived at the Hotel Texas in Fort Worth. He and his wife brushed alongside, nodded, and instead of going into the lobby of the Hotel, the President and Mrs. Kennedy, after greeting the Hotel Manager, walked around their car and went toward the parking lot South of the Hotel where more than 5,000 well-wishers sent up a cheer of greeting as soon as they saw him.
The President’s smile was infectious.
Mrs. Kennedy was gracious.
Though they had been through a grueling day, they stopped and shook hands with hundreds that lined the barricades.
The following morning, our High Command and this old jaw rose at dawn and started the school lunches going and the early morning chores to get our tribe ready for school.
We both had to be at the office early to read some proof before we could cover the President’s Breakfast, Friday, November 22.
We made it.
We were at the breakfast covering the event. There were many people we knew. The breakfast was a huge success. In the group faces stood out: Pearl and Maurice Rabinowitz, Judy and Herman Morris, Sol and Etta Brachman, Rose and Sol Saginaw, Lila and Mark Cristol, Elaine and Dave Samson, Ann and Louis Bogart, Ben and Sara Betty Gilbert, Frank and Connie Messing, Sarah and Bob Kragen with Arnold, Mrs. Herman Baum and Kenneth Baum, Sello and Egon Herzfeld, Tobia and Ben Ellman with son Larry and mother, Mrs. Sophia Miller, the Bob Zodins, Morris and Rose Antweil, and oh so many more…
All had come to see the President of the United States of America.
And we’re sure that all had rushed through the morning — through one upset or another — to get there on time to honor the Chief Executive of this nation.
It was such a good, joyous vibrant feeling to be there.
And, adding to joy of joys, we saw our old colleague and buddy, Seth Kantor.
Seth, who works for Scripps-Howard as a Washington correspondent, formerly worked for the Fort Worth Press and the Dallas Times-Herald respectively.
This was indeed a great day.
And then the President entered.
A cheer went up for him.
Finally, after what seemed a long period of waiting, in came the First Lady. She was dressed in a pink suit, trimmed with a black collar. She looked more beautiful than she had appeared either the night before or in any of the newsreels or television or magazine photos we had seen.
The President finally spoke following some pleasantries and the acceptance of gifts.
One of the gifts was a Texas Hat. The President was asked to wear it. “Come up to see me in Washington Monday,” he answered. “And I’ll put it on.”
The President’s address mainly concerned Fort Worth’s position in the nation’s economy role the city is playing in the nation’s defense effort.
But the talk had an underlying plea for the cooperation of all people. It told about the support the United States of America was giving to the underprivileged nations around the world.
The President added: “I do not recite these facts for partisan purposes nor are they the result of any partisan effort. They are a result of America’s determination to be stronger and this State’s contribution to that strength. So long as international communism threatens peace — so long as fear and oppression are abroad — so long as force is regarded by any nation as an instrument of national policy — we must have the power to deter others from aggression.”
In closing the President said: “As a result of all these and other steps, we now have the capacity to resist and respond effectively to any attack by any means from any source. We intend to maintain that capacity until peace and justice are secure. And with the continued help of this City and State, I know we can achieve that goal.”
The Presidential party left Fort Worth and started for Dallas.
We were going to cover the event, too, but decided to let our Dallas office handle the assignment.
On the way back to our office we read the speech President Kennedy was to have delivered in Dallas at the Trade Mart to the Dallas Citizens Council, the Dallas Assembly and The Graduate Research Center of the Southwest.
The speech told of the link between leadership and learning and how essential it was at the community level. However, “It is even more indispensable in world affairs. Ignorance and misinformation can handicap the progress of a city or a company, but they can, if allowed to prevail in foreign policy, handicap this country’s security. In a world of complex and continuing problems, in a world full of frustrations and irritations, America’s leadership must be guided by the lights of learning and reason — or else those who confuse rhetoric with reality and the plausible with the possible will gain the popular ascendancy with their seemingly swift and simple solutions to every world problem.”
The President would have continued: “There will always be dissident voices heard in the land, expressing opposition without alternatives, finding fault but never favor, perceiving gloom on every side and seeking influence without responsibility. These voices are inevitable.
“But today other voices are heard in the land — voices preaching doctrines wholly unrelated to reality, wholly unsuited to the Sixties, doctrines which apparently assume that words will suffice without weapons, that vituperation is as good as victory and that peace is a sign of weakness. At a time when the national debt is steadily being reduced in terms of its burden on our economy, they see that debt as the greatest single threat to our security. At a time when we are steadily reducing the number of Federal employees serving every thousand citizens, they fear those supposed hordes of civil servants far more than the actual hordes of opposing armies.
“We cannot expect that everyone, to use the phrase of a decade ago, will ‘talk sense to the American people.’ But we can hope that fewer people will listen to nonsense. And the notion that this nation is headed for defeat through deficit, or that strength is but a matter of slogans, is nothing but just plain nonsense.”
President Kennedy used biblical passages to highlight his speeches. His speech in Dallas would have concluded with the following passage: “We in this country, in this generation, are — by destiny rather than choice — the watchmen on the walls of world freedom. We ask, therefore, that we may be worthy of our power and responsibility — that we may exercise our strength with wisdom and restraint — and that we may achieve in our time and for all time the ancient vision of ‘peace on earth, good will toward men.’ That must always be our goal — and the righteousness of our cause must always underlie our strength. For as was written long ago: ‘except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain.’”
The rest of the heartbreaking story you know.
It has stunned a nation into an unbelievable grief. A sort of fantasy that says, “Surely this is a dream. It has not happened. He will be with us tomorrow.”
But, alas, these tomorrows never come.
They are the realities of today.
We as a people need much soul-searching.
We need to examine our fears and jealousies, our prejudices and our intolerances.
Once and for all let us stand up and say that this death will not have been in vain.
Let us rededicate ourselves to the foundations which have made the country great and strong.
For the protection of the rights of the individual and upholding of the dignity of the individual.
For the uplifting of all peoples, everywhere…for we are the torchbearers of Freedom. If we are not the American Dream, the American Ideal has perished.
Let us once, in unison, outlaw the emotionalism of Hate from our land and march hand in hand for Brotherhood under the Fatherhood of God.
This will be the greatest tribute we can pay to the memory of our dearly beloved President.
President John F. Kennedy was more than a President. He was a human personality, a father, husband and friend to many.
The greatest recollection we have of the President concerns a departure he made from Washington while Mrs. Kennedy was convalescing in Europe several weeks ago.
John F. Kennedy was both President and Father in this particular scene. The helicopter landed and was waiting to whisk him away on some important government business.
John Jr., not quite three, came perilously close to where the helicopter waited as the President boarded it.
John Jr. was in tears. He seemed to be crying as most average children do when Daddy goes off someplace, “Daddy, Daddy.”
The President looked at his son.
Suddenly one detected the impulse for him to take his son in his arms and carry him along with him.
But then he hesitated.
The Father was the President of the United States of America.
An officer came up and took John Jr. away.
The Father took another long last eager look at his son.
Then the President of the United States of America entered the helicopter and it departed on its governmental mission.
He had to go.
But, oh, so young, dear God.
Oh So Young!
Rest in Shalom, in sweet peace, dear John Fitzgerald Kennedy.
Your people will never forget you!
Eulogy to the President
John F. Kennedy, thirty-fifth president of the United States
A poem by TJP Editor and Publisher Jimmy Wisch appeared on the front page of the Nov. 28, 1963 edition. Copyright 1963 TJP
Here was a noble man
Imbued with the spirit of America
And of being an American.
Here was a courageous fighter
On the battlefields of valor
And in the Halls of Congress
Here was a gifted leader
With a vision of the future
For all the people of his nation
Here was a man with heart
Who, though born to riches,
Tried to eradicate poverty
Here was a gentle man
Of great respect
For the aged, the weary, the downtrodden
Here was a man of high hopes
Who translated his beliefs
Into action for the general good
Here was a true patriot
Who asked not “What Can America Do For Me,
But What Can I Do For America”
He did all he could
He gave all he could
Here was John Fitzgerald Kennedy
The Thirty-Fifth President
Of The United States of America.
May he rest forever in Sweet Peace
A fitting memorial
The tragic events which have occurred this past week have numbed the hearts of Americans of all major political beliefs.
The assassination of President Kennedy, our youngest president, and among our most courageous, is a deed that blotted out the life of one of our country’s greatest patriots and leaders.
President Kennedy had the courage of his convictions.
He spoke of those convictions in every corner of this great nation — whenever and wherever he had the chance.
His last official pilgrimage of progress was to our own state of Texas where though cognizant of some fanatical attitudes against him, he made the journey to meet the people and bring peace to a state that seemed divided politically.
Assuming office during a period of international crisis, he devoted a major part of his efforts to deflate the possibility of a nuclear conflict — a conflict in which he said there would be no victor, no victory, —just “ashes in our mouths.”
However, even when his political adversaries were charging him with timidity, he showed his courage and ability of leadership by standing up for the rights of the United States of America.
But President Kennedy was much more than the presiding officer of his nation.
He was a leader of his people.
He saw clearly that we couldn’t preach the values of democracy abroad if we did not practice them at home.
He abhorred the policy of hate and tried to institute a true feeling of Brotherhood and mutual respect between all men.
President Kennedy saw two burning questions which were weak points in our democracy. They were namely the lack of an insurance program for the aged and the need for a true Civil Rights Bill.
He earnestly believed that it was unfair to torment the aged citizens of our country with the prospect of being impoverished by catastrophic or lesser illnesses. With dignity he appealed to the nation to give our senior citizens the security of knowing that their own insurance program would provide for their needs in case they were stricken in later life.
He worked so hard to achieve this and, alas, had not. Even when the statistics from nations all over the world showed that we were greatly lacking in this respect.
The other major setback came in the delay in enactment of a Civil Rights Program for Negroes which is a century late.
President Kennedy clearly saw that in a world where most of the population is colored, the white man could not preach democracy if he did not practice it himself. This is simple reasoning.
President Kennedy wanted to change that situation.
He wanted to provide Negroes with the rights they should have enjoyed a century ago.
It is a sad and heartbreaking commentary that two of the nation’s greatest presidents — Lincoln and Kennedy each with similar dedication — should have been assassinated.
There will be many proposals for monuments to President Kennedy within the next few weeks.
These will be proper and should be constructed.
But, perhaps, we can give him the greatest monument he deserves. That would be speedy enactment by the Congress of a Medical Insurance Plan for our Senior Citizens and the Civil Rights Bill to guarantee the rights of all the people of this great nation.
This would truly be the greatest monument we could give him.
This would translate his death into a living reality.
This would certainly make his living triumphant.
And his martyred memory emblazoned upon all citizens of the United States now and forevermore.