David Rub­inger

Pho­tog­ra­pher who cap­tured Is­rael’s heroic era

The Jewish Chronicle - - LIFE - David Rub­inger: Born June 29, 1924. Died March 2, 2017

HIS NEAR-MYS­TI­CAL im­age of Is­raeli para­troop­ers at Jerusalem’s Western Wall was a mo­ment of epiphany dur­ing the 1967 Six-Day War. For the man who took it, photo-jour­nal­ist David Rub­inger, who has died aged 92, it rep­re­sented a sin­gu­lar pe­riod in his coun­try’s life, when Is­rael was all too briefly seen as lit­tle David dis­patch­ing the mur­der­ous Go­liath.

In a sym­bolic way, it was also a re­sponse to an­other im­age im­printed on the Jewish con­scious­ness — a small boy in the War­saw Ghetto, hold­ing up his hands in ter­ror.

A pho­to­jour­nal­ist for Time-Life Magazine, Rub­inger’s work de­fined his na­tion’s his­tory more elo­quently than any words, from Is­rael’s wartime front-line and the po­lit­i­cal lead­ers who shaped her des­tiny, to the im­mi­grants who changed the de­mog­ra­phy of the Jewish state; from a ju­bi­lant crowd car­ry­ing a leader of the En­tebbe raid, to for­mer Prime Min­is­ter Me­nachem Be­gin, so­lic­i­tously help­ing his wife into her shoe.

David Rub­inger was de­scribed by Op­po­si­tion leader Yitzchak Her­zog as “the Marc Cha­gall of Is­raeli pho­tog­ra­phy.” But Rub­inger him­self did not con­sider the Western Wall photo his best work. “Part of the face is cut off on the right side. In the mid­dle the nose pro­trudes, and on the left there’s only half a face – this isn’t a good photo.”

But per­fect sym­me­try was not what sold it. To many, the photo epit­o­mised youth­ful ide­al­ism at a time of ex­is­ten­tial chal­lenge. Shot from a low an­gle, it cap­tured the be­atific ex­pres­sions of para­troop­ers Zion Kare­senti, now a di­rec­tor and chore­og­ra­pher, Yitzhak Yi­fat, an ob­stet­rics sur­geon and Haim Oshri, an em­i­grant from Ye­men .

Be­fore tak­ing the photo, later pro­claimed by the Is­raeli Supreme Court in 2001 to be “the prop­erty of the en­tire na­tion”, Rub­inger was at el-Ar­ish on the Si­nai Penin­sula when he learned some­thing “big was go­ing to hap­pen in Jerusalem.” He climbed into a he­li­copter tak­ing wounded sol­diers to Beer­sheba, be­fore reach­ing the Old City Wall. The space was so nar­row that he had to lie down to shoot the im­age when the para­troop­ers walked by.

In his 2007 au­to­bi­og­ra­phy, Rub­inger asked how he could have been so lucky.

“I went through the wars un­scathed, and sur­vived count­less other high-risk sit­u­a­tions, and I have reached the peak of the pho­to­graphic pro­fes­sion.” Rub­inger is de­scribed as the last of his era of Aus­trian-Jewish celebri­ties who made a name for them­selves in Is­rael. He won the Is­rael Prize, the coun­try’s high­est hon­our, in 1997.

Born in Vi­enna, he was the only child of Jewish Pol­ish em­i­grants, Kal­man a scrap dealer, and Anna neé Ka­hane. After the An­schluss of 1938, his fa­ther was sent to Dachau but, through a rel­a­tive in Lon­don, he gained a per­mit en­abling him to es­cape to the UK one year later. David was in high school at the time of the Nazi An­schluss, but with the help of Youth Aliyah he man­aged to es­cape to Manda­tory Pales­tine at the age of 15. His mother was less for­tu­nate. She was de­ported to a Be­larus ex­ter­mi­na­tion camp where she was mur­dered.

In Pales­tine, Rub­inger joined a so­cial­ist kib­butz and served with the Bri­tish Army’s Jewish Brigade in North Africa and Europe. On leave in Paris, in 1942 he was given a cam­era by a French girl­friend — and he dis­cov­ered his true love, pho­tog­ra­phy.

His first pro­fes­sional photo was of a Jewish young peo­ple climb­ing a Bri­tish tank to cel­e­brate the UN Par­ti­tion plan. After the war, he vis­ited his fa­ther in Eng­land and met other sur­viv­ing rel­a­tives, in­clud­ing a cousin, Anni Reisler. They mar­ried in 1946, in or­der to se­cure her fu­ture in Is­rael. This mar­riage of con­ve­nience — although turbulent — lasted 54 years. In Is­rael, Rub­inger opened a pho­tog­ra­phy busi­ness and was then of­fered a job on the Is­raeli daily Ha’Olam Hazeh, in 1951. Two years later, he joined the staff of Ye­diot Ahronot and later the Jerusalem Post.

He was in­vited to join Time Life in 1954, which proved to be a ca­reer move last­ing 60 years. His first as­sign­ment two years later was the Suez Cri­sis. De­spite his so­cial­ist lean­ings, his work as a war photo-correspondent for the weekly won the re­spect of the coun­try’s lead­ers of all po­lit­i­cal shades.

Rub­inger was the only pho­tog­ra­pher to be given a per­ma­nent Knes­set ex­hi­bi­tion and he used his sta­tus widely. His mem­o­rable shots in­cluded a quiet mo­ment be­tween Marc Cha­gall and Golda Meir, dur­ing the un­veil­ing of the artist’s work in the Knes­set; Moshe Dayan and Yitzhak Rabin sleep­ing in an air­craft at the end of the Six-Day War, Jor­da­nian and Is­raeli sol­diers shak­ing hands, and the dead hand of an Egyp­tian soldier ris­ing re­proach­fully sky­wards out of a sand dune, his hel­met be­side him.

One of Rub­inger’s ear­li­est as­sign­ments

was pho­tograph­ing David Ben Gu­rion in 1957. In 1994, HarperCollins com­mis­sioned him to spend a day with Yitzhak Rabin for a pho­to­graphic book A Day in the Life of Is­rael. One year later, he pho­tographed the blood­stained words of Shir Lashalom (Song of Peace) found in the pocket of the mur­dered prime min­is­ter on that fate­ful day in Tel Aviv.

For younger Is­raelis, Rub­inger’s images form a link be­tween Zion­ism’s in­no­cent, for­ma­tive days and the present, per­haps their only knowl­edge of the coun­try’s long dead he­roes. His wife Anni helped him main­tain con­trol over his grow­ing cat­a­logue of images, en­sur­ing re­mu­ner­a­tion for his life work, com­piled in his book Is­rael Through My Lens.

While ad­mit­ting to nu­mer­ous af­fairs, he faith­fully took care of his wife dur­ing her fi­nal, can­cer-stricken years. Their el­e­gantly dec­o­rated Jerusalem home, which some de­scribed as a film set, proved, after his wife’s death in 2000 to be a scene of vi­o­lent tragedy, as Rub­inger’s new part­ner Ziona Spi­vak, a Ye­menite im­mi­grant, was mur­dered there in 2004 by her for­mer Pales­tinian gar­dener.

David Rub­inger is sur­vived by his son Am­non, daugh­ter Ta­mar, five grand­chil­dren, and five great-grand­chil­dren. GLORIA TESSLER

David Rub­inger

Top: Is­raeli para­troop­ers at the Western Wall. Above: Arik Sharon with Ben-Gu­rion in Si­nai. Left: Ben-Gu­rion “seemed carved out of gran­ite. A sculpted prophet” -– David Rub­inger


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