The Jewish Chicagoan Who Killed Lee Harvey Oswald

The Jewish Chicagoan Who Killed Lee Harvey Oswald

You no doubt know that today is the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President Kennedy in Dallas, Texas. You’ll hear and read a lot today about what America might be like had Kennedy not been killed.   Although the Warren Commission concluded that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone, shooting JFK from a window on the 6th floor of the Texas School Book Depository, you’ll also hear today about the many conspiracy theories which claim to explain why Oswald couldn’t have acted alone. Or why he wasn’t responsible at all. Or asking about the grassy knoll. Or questioning the “magic bullet” theory that was so important to the Warren Commission’s conclusion.

One of the reasons these conspiracy theories continue to proliferate is that the alleged assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, was killed two days later while being transferred from police headquarters to the county jail. There was no trial and therefore no testimony from Oswald (aside from his denials in the aftermath of the assassination).

Most people know that Oswald was killed by Jack Ruby – a moment captured live on TV and in photos like the one that accompanies this blog post. He was usually identified as a Dallas nightclub owner and was connected to gangsters, which fed the conspiracy theories that blamed organized crime for the assassination.

But you may not know that Jack Ruby was born in Chicago on March 25, 1911. His given name is Jacob Leon Rubenstein. That’s right – the killer of Lee Harvey Oswald was a Chicago Jew.

CBS News broadcast journalist Steve North has been reporting on the Kennedy assassination since 1976. In a recent article he remembers sharing a pastrami sandwich with Ruby’s sister in 1977 and writes about Jacob Rubenstein growing up in Chicago:

Ruby was born Jacob Rubenstein in 1911 to a family of Polish-Jewish immigrants. His parents, Joseph and Fannie, were a volatile couple. Joseph was a mean and abusive drunk. Fannie suffered from mental illness and at one point was committed to an Illinois state hospital.

Their eight children had their fair share of problems, both before and after the parents separated. Ruby and three of his siblings were made wards of Chicago’s Jewish Home Finding Society and placed in foster homes for periods of time during the 1920s.

Despite their dysfunctional world, the Rubensteins kept a kosher home, observed the holidays, sent their boys to Hebrew school and attended synagogue.

Ruby idolized Chicago Jewish boxing champion Barney Ross, who later described him as a “well-behaved” youth. But others recall Ruby’s hair-trigger temper and street brawls, especially when taunted by the non-Jews in his mixed Jewish-Italian neighborhood. Ruby’s biographer, Seth Kantor, relates that as an Air Force private, Ruby once beat up a sergeant who called him “a Jew bastard.”

North also tells us where Jack Ruby was on the night on November 22, 1963:

“The day of the assassination, we had our regular Friday night service, which became a memorial service for the president,” [Rabbi Hillel] Silverman [of Congregation Shearith Israel in Dallas] said. “Jack was there. People were either irate or in tears, and Jack was neither. He came over and said, ‘Good Shabbos, rabbi. Thank you for visiting my sister Eva in the hospital last week.’ I thought that was rather peculiar.”

And learns from one of Ruby’s nephew how Jack’s aunt reacted when she heard who had killed the man suspected of assassinating the President:

Like millions of Americans, Craig watched Oswald’s murder live on television. Soon afterward, he and his mother heard the name of the gunman.

“Did you ever hear the expression ‘The color drained from her face?’ I literally saw my mother’s face go from flesh to green,” he recalled. “At age 12, that was a little freaky to watch.”

Jack Ruby was sentenced to death for the Oswald murder, but was granted a new trial after appealing his conviction. Before a date was set for the retrial, he died of a pulmonary embolism due to lung cancer. Jack Ruby (nee Jacob Leon Rubenstein) is buried at Westlawn Cemetery in Norridge.

 

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