As Long As The Candle Burns
By Chana Bunim Rubin Ausubel
A memoir, according to the Oxford dictionary, is a brief biography, especially one based on personal knowledge, and this description adequately covers the memoir of the octogenarian author, who now lives in Jerusalem.
The book takes its name from a parable about Rabbi Yisrael Salanter, a great sage in the 1800’s. He passed an aged shoemaker, working late at night, bent over a small flame. When he questioned him as to why he was working so late at night, the shoemaker replied: “As long as the candle burns, there is still time for me to accomplish.”
As well as the inspiration for her memoir, the title was also that of a play her father, Irving Bunim, wrote during World War II to help raise money for Jews in Europe. It was produced at Madison Square Garden. For Rubin-Ausubel the light of the candle encompassed the light of Torah, of Israel and of accomplishment.
She was born in 1932 in New York, daughter of Blanche and Irving Bunim. Her father was a leader of 20th century American Jewry and a founder of Va’ad Hatzolah and the Young Israel movement. She has also dedicated her life to many Jewish causes – as a teacher and an activist for many organizations, including the New York Conference for Soviet Jewry; field director of Emunah Women of America; founder of Gush Emunim in America; and involved in the founding of the Israeli town of Beit El. She was also a director of the English division of Machon Ora, Machon Meir’s Women’s Division and Machon Maayon Bina – a school for olim needing conversion in Israel.
The first section deals with her life in from 1932 to 1950, her childhood and teenage years, spent in New York’s Boro Park with her parents and siblings Amos and Miriam – she was the middle child, but her young sister tragically died aged 3. When she was 9, another sister, Judy, was born.
The next section, from 1950 to 1971, covers her first marriage to Schulem Rubin and the birth of her four children. For some reason, there is very little description of her marriage, and even less of her divorce in 1966, although for readers it would have added some interest to the memoir, as divorce was very rare at that time in the Orthodox Jewish community.
One can’t help but admire her many accomplishments, especially as the director of Head Start, which was a pre-school program for young children from poverty-stricken homes; and her involvement in setting up chapters of Emunah throughout the U.S.
During her life, there were many occasions when she met colorful personalities including Reb Shlomo Carlebach – more expanded impressions would have been welcome.
The next chapter, from 1981 to 2004, covers her aliyah and her second marriage to Mordechai Poupko, a widower ten years her senior. They made their home in Jerusalem’s Old City. Sadly, after five years together, he passed away from lung cancer.
A year later, she married Yitzhak Ausubel , a retired dentist. They agreed to settle in Israel and were married in the Old City of Jerusalem, with the reception at Yeshivat HaKotel. They enjoyed traveling together to many exotic locales.
Chana relates some interesting stories from Maayan Bina and of the young women who were studying there for the purpose of conversion. She was saddened when it closed, for economic reasons, in 2009.
The final section is headed “My Family” and details the accomplishments of her children and grand-children, who seem to have led impressive lives. She also goes into some detail of the close relationship she had enjoyed with her father, who was one of the founders of the Young Israel movement in the 1930’s.