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90-Plus for Peace: Selma Rubin

Among her many contributions to Santa Barbara, she helped create the Get Oil Out organization and was involved in the city's first Earth Day celebration.

Editor’s Note: This is one in a series of stories by Steven Crandell to introduce readers to extraordinary Santa Barbara peace leaders. All of them are older than age 90. Although their lives are very different, one thing binds all of them: They take individual satisfaction from contributing to the greater good.

Lasting satisfaction in life comes from being part of the whole. Whether we contribute to the well-being of the planet, our communities or our families and friends, we feel good when we realize that we have played a role in something bigger than ourselves.

Selma Rubin

Selma Rubin, a vibrant, energetic 93-year-old, exemplifies this kind of integrity and generosity of spirit. A community stalwart, she has served on 42 nonprofit boards since she arrived in Santa Barbara in 1964. She still serves on eight of them.

Rubin was an environmentalist before the name came into vogue. Her efforts as a grassroots activist helped create the Get Oil Out organization in response to the oil spill of 1969. She also was involved in the founding of the first Earth Day in Santa Barbara, the Community Environmental Council and the Environmental Defense Council. In 1970, she coordinated the petition drive to save the El Capitan area from a 1,535-unit development in one of the first land-use skirmishes over the Gaviota Coast. In addition, she played a key role in working to get the petition that created the Coastal Commission on the ballot.

Born in 1915, Rubin says her Russian-born Jewish parents provided a caring, harmonious home. Her father told her once: “Live your life so that when you die, people will remember you as having done something good.” She took her dad’s advice to heart.

A strong advocate of the ACLU, Rubin is passionate about civil liberties. In the 1960s, she worked against racial discrimination in housing and in support of farmworkers’ rights.

Her third passion, peace, is an amalgam of her core values. “Peace means living in harmony and love with ourselves and the Earth,” she says.

She traces her interest in peace back to World War II. “We all lived in pain and worry. Every single day. Friends were going to war. Classmates.” She says she was particularly concerned about the United States’ decision to drop atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

When she joined the board of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, she felt strongly that education was the key to peace. She feels it is imperative to inform people about “what war is, what damage it causes and what effect it has on people.”

Rubin served as a Navy Wave during the war, and the experience did have its light moments. Once enlisted, she started training in Norman, Okla., as an Aviation Machinist Mate. The area was surrounded with all the branches of the military services. There were 300 women in her class and 20,000 servicemen in the surrounding area.

“I averaged 14 to 16 dates over a weekend. It could be just for a Coke, or a walk in the park or visiting the museum,” she said. “A woman’s presence was desirable. It was just a chance to talk.”

Talking to Rubin is a treat. For all the serious work she has done – and still does – she has a lightness and a joy in conversation. She has the ability to savor life even as she works for change.

There is a voice within all of us that says: “Wouldn’t it feel good to help make things better?” Rubin’s life experience gives us an emphatic yes. Her advice: Don’t hesitate. Get started.

Steven Crandell is the director of development and public affairs for the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation.

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