David Rub­inger’s photo of Is­raeli para­troop­ers at the Western Wall epit­o­mized the spirit of the na­tion.


The Washington Post Sunday - - METRO - BY EMILY LANGER emily.langer@wash­post.com

David Rub­inger, a pho­to­jour­nal­ist whose im­age of Is­raeli para­troop­ers at the freshly cap­tured Western Wall in 1967 came to rep­re­sent, for many of his coun­try­men, the spirit of mod­ern Is­rael, died March 2 in Jerusalem. He was 92.

His death was re­ported by the Agence France-Presse. No other de­tails were im­me­di­ately avail­able, but Is­raeli Pres­i­dent Reu­ven Rivlin eu­lo­gized Mr. Rub­inger in a state­ment: “There are those who write the pages of his­tory, and there are those who il­lus­trate them through their cam­era’s lens. Through his photography, David eter­nal­ized his­tory as it will be for­ever etched in our me­mories.”

Born to a Jewish fam­ily in Vi­enna, Mr. Rub­inger fled to what was then the Bri­tish man­date of Pales­tine in 1939, the year af­ter Nazi Ger­many an­nexed Aus­tria in the event known as the An­schluss.

He went on to doc­u­ment nearly seven decades of Is­raeli his­tory, from the found­ing of the Jewish state in 1948, through wars and peace ac­cords, to the mod­ern day. Shi­mon Peres, the late Is­raeli states­man and prime min­is­ter, once wrote that Mr. Rub­inger was “the pho­tog­ra­pher of the na­tion in the mak­ing.”

Mr. Rub­inger be­gan his ca­reer with Is­raeli pub­li­ca­tions but was best known for his photography pub­lished over five decades in Time mag­a­zine, where he was chief Mid­dle East pho­tog­ra­pher.

Trusted among the coun­try’s po­lit­i­cal es­tab­lish­ment, he pho­tographed Is­rael’s prime min­is­ters in mo­ments of pri­vate poignancy. In one pic­ture, he showed Golda Meir lov­ingly feed­ing her grand­son; in an­other, he caught Me­nachem Be­gin, no less lov­ingly, help­ing his wife, Al­iza, put on her shoes.

Mr. Rub­inger dis­tin­guished him­self par­tic­u­larly for his wartime work, pho­tograph­ing young men and women on the bat­tle­field and the lead­ers who sent them there. He could be seen amid sol­diers, a cam­era in his hands, guns in theirs.

“The Is­rael that pho­tog­ra­pher David Rub­inger shows us is not quite the proud and feisty na­tion­state we think we know. It is a drier, harder, stonier, less promis­ing land. Many of its peo­ple look dusty and weary and its lead­ers of­ten ap­pear bewil­dered. Its war­riors seem vul­ner­a­ble even in vic­tory,” jour­nal­ist Hank Bur­chard wrote in his Wash­ing­ton Post re­view of a 1990 ex­hi­bi­tion of Mr. Rub­inger’s work at the B’nai B’rith Klutznick Mu­seum. He “takes pho­to­graphs that are not so much well-timed as time­less.”

Mr. Rub­inger’s most fa­mous im­age dated to the 1967 war, also known as the Six-Day War. In that con­flict — a mo­men­tous Is­raeli vic­tory — Is­rael took ter­ri­to­ries in­clud­ing the Gaza Strip, the Golan Heights, the West Bank and East Jerusalem from Arab neigh­bors.

“When I got to Jerusalem, I heard gun­shots, so I ran to the Western Wall, maybe 20 min­utes af­ter it was taken,” Mr. Rub­inger told the Is­raeli news­pa­per Haaretz. “I laid down on the ground and th­ese three sol­diers just passed by. I didn’t think much of the photo at the time.”

Most of the para­troop­ers are hel­meted, but the cen­tral fig­ure holds his hel­met in his hands. The Western Wall — a rem­nant of the Sec­ond Tem­ple, one of the most sa­cred sites in Ju­daism — tow­ers above them. Mr. Rub­inger said that he ex­pected an­other im­age, show­ing a rabbi blow­ing a sho­far, to emerge as the iconic pho­to­graph of the scene. He did not re­gard the pho­to­graph of the para­troop­ers as an artis­tic suc­cess.

“Part of the face is cut off on the right [side],” he said, “and on the left there’s only half a face . . . . Pho­to­graph­i­cally speak­ing, this isn’t a good photo.”

And yet, the pho­to­graph en­cap­su­lated the fa­tigue, ex­ul­ta­tion, hope and per­haps lin­ger­ing trep­i­da­tion of the sol­diers and the na­tion they rep­re­sented. Dis­trib­uted by the Is­raeli gov­ern­ment, the pho­to­graph be­came one of the most rec­og­niz­able im­ages of its era — an Is­raeli ver­sion, it has been noted, of Amer­i­can pho­tog­ra­pher Joe Rosen­thal’s pic­ture of U.S. ser­vice­men lift­ing the Stars and Stripes at Iwo Jima in 1945.

Mr. Rub­inger was born in Vi­enna in June 1924, with the birth name of Di­et­rich, the Times of Is­rael re­ported. His fa­ther, who sold scrap metal, was briefly in­terned in con­cen­tra­tion camps be­fore be­ing re­leased. His mother died in the Holo­caust.

Dur­ing World War II, Mr. Rub­inger served in Europe with the Jewish Bri­gade Group of the Bri­tish army. A girl­friend in France gave him his first cam­era.

Af­ter the state of Is­rael was cre­ated, Mr. Rub­inger said, “I laid down my gun and took up the cam­era.” He be­gan his jour­nal­ism ca­reer in the 1950s with the Is­raeli pub­li­ca­tions Hao­lam Hazeh and Ye­dioth Ahronoth. He at­tracted no­tice out­side Is­rael with the pub­li­ca­tion of his work in Life and then Time mag­a­zines.

Shortly af­ter World War II, Mr. Rub­inger mar­ried a cousin in Europe, Anni Reisler, who had sur­vived the Holo­caust. The mar­riage — an ef­fort to help bring her to Pales­tine — lasted 54 years be­fore her death in 2000. They had a daugh­ter, Ta­mar, and a son, Ami, and sev­eral grand­chil­dren and great-grand­chil­dren.

Mr. Rub­inger spent a pe­riod as pic­ture editor at the Jerusalem Post and as of­fi­cial pho­tog­ra­pher of the Knes­set, the Is­raeli par­lia­ment. In 1997, he re­ceived the Is­rael Prize, his na­tion’s most pres­ti­gious honor. He was the au­thor, with Ruth Cor­man, of “Is­rael Through My Lens: Sixty Years As a Pho­to­jour­nal­ist” (2007).

Mr. Rub­inger’s im­age of the para­troop­ers at the Western Wall found wide cir­cu­la­tion in Is­rael, where, over his stren­u­ous ob­jec­tions, it was used at times in po­lit­i­cal ma­te­ri­als and even a cig­a­rette ad­ver­tise­ment. He rue­fully ac­knowl­edged, how­ever, that such uses had helped the im­age at­tain its renown.

“Icons are not made by the pho­tog­ra­pher,” he told the Jerusalem Post. “They’re made by the pub­lic.”



TOP: David Rub­inger’s most fa­mous photo shows Is­raeli para­troop­ers at the Western Wall in 1967. Dis­trib­uted by the gov­ern­ment, it be­came one of the most rec­og­niz­able im­ages of its era and at times was used in ways that dis­pleased the pho­tog­ra­pher. ABOVE: Rub­inger in Jerusalem in 2012.

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