Younger generations today might be surprised to learn the influence of the Communist Party in America. In fact, in 1942, as the US was entering WWII, there were as many as 85,000 members! May Rubin’s earliest recollections were of her family’s involvement in the Communist Party and it helped shape the person she would become.
May Rubin was born in 1924 to an immigrant family on New York’s Lower East Side. Her father, who had left Russia to avoid being drafted into the Tsar’s army, was a confirmed Communist and atheist. May was fascinated by his politics and felt very much a part of that life. As a member of the Young Communist League, she fondly recalls attending May Day parades in her blue uniform and red tie. She also remembers the horror of the Rosenberg trial. She and her family personally knew Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, and May passionately defends their innocence: “There was absolutely no crime and it was a terrible time for us.” She also recalls government agents coming to their door to question her sister who promptly slammed the door in their faces! Hers was a family of strong convictions.
While not religious, May attended a left-wing Jewish school on the weekends for 10 years, speaking Yiddish and connecting with other politically minded students. She went to work immediately after high school, working for Israel Bonds in their accounting department. After marriage, May and her husband raised their family in Long Island, joining a synagogue there as they wanted their children to know what it meant to be Jewish.
May remained an activist and was a member of Women’s Strike for Peace. After retirement, when she moved to the Bay Area, she joined Rodef Sholom and also became involved very early in the Marin Organizing Committee. When meeting with Latinos in San Rafael, she was struck by their stories. “It was amazing to me to hear how similar our immigrant backgrounds were!”
Today May hopes that strong Jewish values will perpetuate among young people. Her life is a fine example of those values.