Ruth F. Brin
1921 – 2009
Ruth F. Brin is one of the liturgical pioneers of the post-World War II era. 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. Her liturgical innovation bore fruit. Today it is difficult to find a Reform, Conservative, or Reconstructionist prayer book or anthology that does not include one or more of her writings, and many individual synagogue services throughout the United States and Canada make use of her work. She is the first woman, and one of the few American-born writers, of whom this can be said.
In a writing career that has spanned more than fifty years, Ruth Brin’s published works have included four books of poetry and prayers, five worship services, five children’s books, dozens of scholarly and historical articles that have appeared in more than thirty periodicals, and librettos for Cantor Charles Davidson’s “The Hush of Midnight” (1970) and “Kristallnacht” (1988). She founded Identity, a Jewish literary magazine, in 1966 and edited it for five years.
She taught Jewish Studies at the University of Minnesota and Macalester College and continues to write book reviews for the Minneapolis Star Tribune. She has served on numerous boards of directors, including the Minneapolis Urban League, League of Women Voters, National Council Of Jewish Women and Hadassah, and she is a founder and board member of Mayim Rabim, a new Reconstructionist synagogue in Minneapolis. She chaired the Head Start program for children in her area, and continues her volunteer activities working with young children at a day care center.
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.” Charles Silberman says Brin has been “responsible for creating an atmosphere conducive to liturgical innovation and experimentation.” Reviewers have commented on Brin’s propensity for mentioning her Minnesota locale, which reminds the reader that her poems and prayers are not detached and otherworldly, but rather are reflections of a wife, mother, community activist, poet, and scholar.
Born on May 5, 1921, in St. Paul, Minnesota, Ruth (Firestone) Brin was the third child and only daugher of Milton and Irma (Cain) Firestone. Her mother’s family was from Germany and France (Alsace). Her father’s family was of Hungarian-Jewish descent. Brin’s two older brothers were an attorney and a doctor. Her father, an attorney, was a graduate of Northwestern University Law School, and her mother was a graduate of Vassar College. Both were Reform Jews and very active in the Jewish community. Her father served on the Ramsey County Welfare Board during the Depression years.
Ruth graduated from Vassar College Phi Beta Kappa in 1941. On August 6, 1941, she married Howard Brin, a 1941 graduate of Harvard. While he served in the U.S. Army, she worked for the War Production Board in Washington, D.C. from 1942 to 1944, and then returned to Minneapolis with him after the war. Howard managed the family business, Brin Glass Company, and became a leader in the Jewish community. He died on June 1, 1988.
Ruth Brin earned an M.A. in American studies from the University of Minnesota in 1972, and received the Keter Shem Tov [Crown of a Good Name] award, comparable to an honorary doctorate, from the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in June 1985. The college library maintains a complete collection of her published work.
The Brins’ four children are Judith Brin Ingber (b. November 5, 1945), author of Victory Dances, A Biography of Fred Berk and founder, choreographer, and dancer with the internationally known Voices of Sepharad; Aaron Brin (b. September 3, 1948), an organic farmer and organic farm inspector; David Brin (b. September 29, 1950), a cellist, composer, and editor of the Mills College Alumni Quarterly; and Rabbi Deborah Brin (b. October 8, 1953), Associate Chaplain at Grinnell College in Grinnell, Iowa.
Bittersweet Berries: Growing Up Jewish in Minnesota (1998); Butterflies Are Beautiful (1974); David and Goliath (1977); Harvest: Collected Poems and Prayers (1986, revised edition published in 1999); The Hush of Midnight, with Cantor Charles Davidson (1967); Amin Records, 1970; Interpretations for the Weekly Torah Reading (1965); Kol Haneshamah Sabbath and Festival Prayer Book (1994); My Heart Is in the East (dramatic script) (1970); A Rag of Love (1971); The Shabbat Catalogue (1978); The Story of Esther (1976); A Time to Search: Poems and Prayers for Our Day (1959); Wildflowers (1982); Women in Social Reform (1977).
Ruth Brin died September 30, 2009.
Greenberg, Sidney, and Jonathan Levine. Likrat Shabat (1981); Harlow, Jules, ed. Bond of Life: A Book for Mourners (1975); Plaut, Rabbi W. Gunther, Bernard J.H. Bamberger, and William W. Hallo, eds. The Torah: A Modern Commentary (1981); Riemer, Rabbi Jack. Wrestling with the Angels: Jewish Insights on Death and Mourning (1995); Silberman, Charles. Introduction to Harvest: Collected Poems and Prayers, by Ruth F. Brin (1986).
Ruth Brin died September 30, 2009.