Ruth Brin, a Jewish scholar and author of 13 books, died September 30 of a heart attack. She was 88.
Famous for her Jewish poetry, prayer services, scholarly articles, children’s books and librettos, Brin’s work made an impact far beyond the city limits of her native Saint Paul, Minn. Her liturgy was found in the pages of Reconstructionist, Reform and Conservative prayer books around the country.
“She was about 4 1/2 feet tall and had an immense spirit,” said Mordecai Specktor, editor and publisher of the American Jewish World, and a good friend. “She was someone who had this great compassion for people and did what she could do in the community to uplift people.”
Born in 1921, Brin was intellectually curious and never failed to challenge conventional wisdom, particularly when it came to the role of women in religion. “She was always a seeker,” said her daughter, Judith Brin Ingber. “She was always challenging things intellectually.”
In 1941, she graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Vassar College and later returned to Minneapolis, where she married Howard Brin, a follower of Mordecai Kaplan, the founder of Reconstructionist Judaism. She continued her education at the University of Minnesota, where she received a master’s degree in American studies.
Not content to be a passive female worshipper, she began modernizing traditional Jewish texts in the 1950s.
“She was a pioneer in her own right,” said Specktor. “She tried to make Jewish theology and Jewish texts relevant for women.” She also helped found Mayim Rabim, a Reconstructionist synagogue in Minneapolis.
Among her many contributions, Brin was a member of the Urban League as early as the 1960s and worked in collaboration with the Urban League and the National Council for Jewish Women to found the first day-care center in Minneapolis’ African American community.
In 1969, along with her late husband Howard, Brin helped establish the Jewish Community Center of Greater Minneapolis. Located in St. Louis Park, a burgeoning suburb for Jewish families, the JCC was created as both a space for Jews and a place to celebrate the arts. Through the JCC, Brin started the Jewish literary magazine Identity, and edited it for five years.
“She was always a source of support for people who were trying to do something beautiful in the arts, trying to create a more just social order,” said Specktor. To those who knew her, Brin’s lifelong dedication to social justice left an indelible imprint on her city of Minneapolis and on the greater Jewish community.
Even in her older years, she continued to be actively engaged and involved. In 1998, she wrote a memoir about growing up Jewish in Minnesota in the 1920s and 30s; in 2008, at the age of 86, she published her first novel. Up until her death, she wrote book reviews for the American Jewish World and the Minneapolis Star Tribune.
In addition to her daughter, Judith, Brin is survived by three other children: Aaron, David and Deborah; two grandchildren and one great grandchild.