Imagine Paul Rubin’s surprise when he found a suitcase full of journals penned by his mother, Roz Kaufmann, dating back to 1944. Kaufmann was 79 and suffered from dementia when her son found the journals in 2004. She died two years later at age 81.
“All of a sudden my mother came alive again with her most inner thoughts, what was going on in her life and her earlier history,” Rubin, 61, told the AJP. “My dad died of cancer at age 44. I was 13. It’s hard not to cry now. I see the experience of his dying through her eyes, her regrets. During the ’60s we didn’t discuss dying. It was a taboo subject.”
Kaufmann’s children started passing the journals around. “I was pretty much the family historian,” says Rubin, who decided to self-publish “In Her Own Words: A Life Well Lived,” which contains excerpts from the journals. He distributed copies of the book to family members on Thanksgiving to “rave reviews.”
Kaufmann had been “in absentia” for the last 10 years of her life, notes Rubin, whose own children, Max and Anna, both in their early 20s, along with 15 of her other grandchildren, “got to know her in a whole different way” through her writing. Nieces and nephews and friends who’ve read the book have called Rubin to say that “it brought back so many great memories, and that she was always such a good friend, always there for them.”
“It makes me really appreciate what a great woman she was,” says Rubin. “It made me realize how like her I am. I’m also involved in the community and am social.” Kaufmann was active in the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona and the Tucson Jewish Community Center. She and her husband, the late Henry Kaufmann, traveled to the former Soviet Union to meet refuseniks in 1978.
That same year, Kaufmann noted in her diary that she attended the General Assembly of the Council of Federations in San Francisco. She stood at a vigil across the street from the Soviet consulate with only 14 others. The next day, as she wrote in the AJP, “upon reflection of the previous day’s pathetic showing, I was outraged that with 3,000 delegates in San Francisco the leadership of the Assembly had not fulfilled their promise to include notice of the vigil in the agenda of meetings” (“What Happens When a Nice Jewish Lady Gets Mad?” AJP, 11/17/78). Kaufmann took the floor microphone and chastised the delegates; before the session was over another vigil was set for that afternoon.
“I had no intention last year of getting so involved in anything big again,” Kaufmann wrote in her diary on March 16, 1979, “but after our visit [to the Soviet Union] and knowing how uneducated so many of our Jews and non-Jews are about the situation, how CAN I NOT do something?”
The Kaufmanns “adopted” the Kogan family from Leningrad, who, after immigrating to Israel, visited them in Tucson in March 1987.
Other historical moments were recorded in Kaufmann’s diaries, notes Rubin. “She was dreading the war in Japan. There was excitement in the air when FDR was re-elected.” His mother wrote on Aug. 7, 1945, “Wow, yesterday we dropped an atomic bomb.” At age 18, she lamented her dating life because “all the guys were away.”
During World War II, Kaufmann “got rejected from the armed services because of a medical reason,” says Rubin. “She was devastated.”
Kaufmann’s activism and desire to assist others has influenced other family members, “who have gravitated to the helping professions like teaching and social work,” says Rubin, a union organizer for 35 years. “I got that from my mother too.”
Since reading “In Her Own Words,” some family members have started their own journals. For Rubin, in addition to the rewards of learning more, “I have certain regrets. I wasn’t as loving to my mother as I would have liked to have been.”