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Joel David Burstein (December 11, 1929 - November 2, 1990)

Fifteen years ago today, my father Joel David Burstein died.

I tend to think Dad was a fascinating person. He was born in December 1929, in the wake of the stock market collapse, and so grew up during the Depression, which affected his outlook for the rest of his life. When he was almost ten years old, he attended the 1939 New York City World's Fair, and fell in love with the visions of the future it presented. He graduated as valedictorian of DeWitt Clinton High School (which was in Manhattan at the time, I think) and started college at Columbia, where he was editor of the college newspaper, The Spectator.

But as he was in his teenage years and World War II was raging, news of the Holocaust came to the United States. My grandfather was a rabbi, and my Dad grew up in a religious household; but the Holocaust caused him to lose his faith in God and to break away from religion.

On the other hand, he felt a strong connection to the Jewish people. In the 1940's he ran guns to the nascent Jewish state of Israel, and then he dropped out of college, never finishing, in order to smuggle himself into Israel and fight in the 1948 War for Independence.

Dad was dedicated to journalism and newspapers. He used to like to quote Thomas Jefferson, who once said that he would rather have newspapers without government than government without newspapers. Dad spent his life working at a whole variety of newspapers in New York City. In the midst of all this, he married his first wife, Evelyn, and had two sons, my half-brothers David and Daniel. Eventually, Dad and Evelyn divorced. He met my mother Eleanor, married her, and had three more sons: Jonathan, Michael, and Joshua.

By the time I knew him, Dad had been working at the New York Daily News for many years. In 1990, the Daily News unions once again went on strike against the owner of the paper, the Chicago Tribune Company. Dad was in the Newspaper Guild union office fifteen years ago when he collapsed of a heart attack and was pronounced dead at St. Claire's Hospital. My brothers and I were in the Boston area at the time -- Jon in medical school, Josh and me in college. Jon and Josh were on a train home already because my father's mother had just died the day before, and they were going to NYC to be with my Dad for her funeral. We had no way of knowing that on Sunday, November 4, we would attend one funeral after another, with print and TV reporters gathered with our friends and family, the media there to report on my father's death as another tragic story.

My father was a strong believer in justice, in supporting the powerless against the powerful. Two months before he died, I marched with him in the NYC Labor Day Parade. The Greyhound bus drivers were on strike, and Dad -- who always kept an eye on family finances -- donated money to their fund without blinking. After he died, I found among his personal papers articles he had clipped about a Mohawk tribe in upstate New York struggling to get a piece of land back from the federal government. Dad always shared stories like that with us, to remind us that the fight for justice was a neverending battle.

Dad had been a reader of science fiction and comic books when he was growing up; by the time I knew him, he mostly read mysteries. But he inculcated in me a love of science fiction, and my one regret about my own writing is that he never got to read it. But his spirit infuses every word I write.


I remember your father and I remember seeing you and Joshua on TV after he passed away. My condolences, remembrances and prayers continue to be with you and your family as you observe this sad anniversary.
It's a good feeling when your dad is your hero. I sense that your father was. This is a good thing. Always remember.

Prayers to you.

Your dad sounds like a fascinating and inspiring man, and I'd always wished we'd met a few years earlier so that I could have met him. May his neshama have an aliya on this anniversary and on the yahrtzeit (which I believe comes out on Nov. 16 this year).
Actually, Dad died after sundown, so his yahrtzeit is 15 Heshvan, which starts the night of November 16 this year and then goes into the day of November 17.
He sounds like a wonderful person who understood what's important in life (and important to teach the next generation).
Wow! Your father was an amazing and extremely interesting person. I can see where you get some of your drive to try (risky) things that are meaningful to you (such as taking your year off to write).
A hard person to lose, but a good person to remember...
Your dad sounds like such a special person. I wish I could have met him.

I can't even imagine what it must have been like to go through that massive double loss with all that media attention. Have you ever tried to grapple with that experience through your writing?
I've considered writing a memoir of my father's death, but it's hard to do.
I'd say you've already started working on it.

I can understand that.
Beautiful tribute. He would be proud of you.
I'm guessing other than your brothers, I probably have known you the longest of anyone who might be reading this, since Jonathan and I were friends since 7th grade and I was constantly over at your house. So that would have made you about 8 years old. :-) I have very vivid memories of your Dad, and knew about the gun-running, the smuggling himself into Israel, and the love of journalism. He was a fascinating guy. :-) Best wishes.
He sounds like he was a great guy, and I'm sorry you didn't get to have him around longer.
*hugs you* I'm sorry for your loss.
That was a lovely tribute, Michael. Thank you for sharing it.
Sorry for your sadness but that was a beautiful tribute.
Sounds like someone I would've very much enjoyed getting to know.

And for some reason, I only found your entry about him through your next entry, talking about this one. For some reason this didn't show up on my Friends List, nor did--I just noticed, looking at your LJ--the one prior to this. Wonder what's going on? But if you're wondering why I haven't commented here lately, that would be why. :/

(And you're the second person in two days I've discovered that I missed because their entries weren't showing up. Wonder what's up.)
LJ has been doing some experimenting with new features, and they're planning to move everything to new servers; perhaps that's why you've missed some posts.

in remembrance


I only saw the post today, so I'm late with my wishes, but I wanted to know that you and your father are in my thoughts. I am glad that I was able to meet him, and I remember the day of his passing as if it was yesterday.


Re: in remembrance

John, it was a memorable day for both of us. Thanks for having been there for me.

December 2016

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