Jim Rissman, RIP

I am very sorry to convey the sad news that long-time Antiwar.com contributor Jim Rissman has died. He was 68.

Jim was an early booster and research assistant for Antiwar.com, way back before 9/11/2001. Before we had a paid staff, Jim sent daily news research and links that helped me to update the site every day. Jim continued his daily news research for many years, with a few gaps to take care of his failing health. His work continued to assist us until just a few weeks ago. In addition, Jim wrote a number of articles for Antiwar.com.

Jim was one of the people who helped make Antiwar.com the valuable tool that it is. I thanked him on many occasions, but not nearly enough. I wish I could thank him in person right now. I will miss him, and I am sure that many others will as well. He was a sweet and dedicated man.

Following is the Obituary written by Jim’s sister, Leah:

James Louis Rissman died sooner than we expected, peacefully in his sleep at his home in Verona, Wisconsin (near Madison), on Dec. 13, 2015. He was 68 years old.

Jim was born March 25, 1947, in Chicago to Jack and Bernice (Caplan) Rissman and emerged – bloodied but unbowed – from a childhood marked by baseball when it was warm and basketball when it was not. He was a Little League shortstop in the suburbs and spent many an afternoon at in the stands at Wrigley and/or listening to the Cubs on the radio. He announced his own APBA baseball games in his room at night, his dice and APBA baseball cards arranged in a diamond on his bed, to the delight of kid sister "Bug." And all the while the turmoil of his "real" home life raged outside the firmly shut door.

The thread of his life remained interwoven with sports throughout the years. Bulls and Bears. Betting on the ponies at Arlington or Monmouth Park and Freehold Raceway, having a tooth knocked out (and never having it replaced) playing forward in Madison adult city-league basketball, hitting tennis balls with daughter Anna and, finally, fantasy leagues and March Madness pools and streaming those beloved Cubbies online.

He wrote satirical newsletters and parodies in junior high. He was a babysitter – he always had a knack for entering into a little kid’s world, a knack most recently put to brilliant use in charming his grand-nephew, Julian. At 16, Jim fell into a crevasse in Utah, smashing up his knee, an injury that would keep him out of the draft.

Always drawn to mathematics, Jim graduated high school in Red Bank, New Jersey, and got his B.A. from Rutgers, entering his hippie phase, during which he channeled his inner Zappa appearance-wise. During this period Jim was a vagabond, wearing the Air Force parka his brother gave him like a suitcase, hitching or riding the rails, walking or driving his Mom’s VW bug. He’d settle down for a while, living in an actual commune in California or taking an apartment along the El tracks in a Chicago tenement. He counted cards in Vegas; could tell if he’d win, lose or set a bridge contract after a trick or two; and went to court when he proved mathematically that the 1969 draft lottery was not random and hence not legal.

It was also during this period that Jim fell in love with Madison and became a peace activist. And although he eventually put aside the other trappings of the ’60s and ’70s, he never outgrew his dedication to the anti-establishment, and his passion for peace never dimmed.

Twice in 1977, he married Estelle Florence Katz – once with a justice of the peace officiating and again in a more formal Jewish ceremony with family on the Jersey shore. When Estelle would remind Jim on July 4 that it was time to observe their special day, Jim would point out that their real anniversary was Aug. 7. When Aug. 7 rolled around, he’d remind her they had celebrated it July 4, hadn’t they? This year, he played that old joke for the 38th year.

Jim and Estelle had three children, Anna Indigo, Yedida Zoe and Benjamin Jerome, as Jim ostensibly pursued a career programming tax burden studies for the state of Wisconsin by day. On his own time, he got himself thrown into an Israeli jail in Gaza – just one of several protests – and did what he could to support the Palestinian cause, in later years maintaining "The Rissman Report," a daily news summary full of links to relevant articles for the like-minded souls on his mailing list.

This past September, he drove back straight through from Helena to Madison, carrying with him the remains of his brother, Mike, who died in October 2014. The incredible blood moon that followed the lunar eclipse guided his eastward path to his beloved Teddy Roosevelt National Park and provided the light by which he scattered Mike’s ashes.

None of this is to make Jim Rissman seem like some sappy Pollyanna. Although silly to the core, he was a natural-born curmudgeon, even in his youth. That said, he died handsome and smiling, having found peace at last.

Jim is survived by his wife, Estelle Katz of Madison; children Anna and Ben of Madison and Didi of San Francisco; sister Leah Gilman, niece and nephew Aaron and Chloe, and grandnephew Julian of Helena; Chicago-area nieces and nephews, Scott, Paul, Nina and Daniel; Chicago-area cousins, Jon and Amy, Larry, Tommy and Michael; and uncle and aunt, Burton and Frances Rissman; parents-in-law Max and Bella Katz and sisters-in-law Shirley and Cynthia. He is preceded in death by his parents and brother.

Funeral arrangements are pending. Meanwhile, you can honor Jim’s spirit by rooting for a losing team, listening to opera or The Incredible String Band, watching the Marx Brothers or a Bruce Dern movie ("Drive, He Said" was a favorite), reading "Cat’s Cradle" or Henry Miller, hugging your favorite anarchist, betting on a closer and/or donating your time and effort to Voices for Creative Nonviolence or otherwise working for peace.

6 thoughts on “Jim Rissman, RIP”

  1. Beautifully written sentiments. He left a positive mark on the world, evidenced in your words. Peace to the family and much thanks for the dedication he maintained for peace.

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