Visu­al Arts

Israel Though My Lens: Six­ty Years as a Photojournalist

David Rub­inger with Ruth Corman
  • Review
By – April 24, 2012
Israel Through My Lens pro­vides a birds eye view of the entire his­to­ry of the State of Israel. If you’re expect­ing a dry account­ing of facts and fig­ures, think again. This is a fan­tas­tic tale of adven­ture, courage, and tal­ent all wrapped up in the life of one amaz­ing man.

Pho­to­jour­nal­ist David Rub­inger was born in Vien­na on June 29, 1924. After the Ger­man annex­a­tion of Aus­tria took place and his fam­i­ly was torn apart, fif­teen-yearold David sailed for Pales­tine. By age eigh­teen, he was already enrolled in the British Army, even­tu­al­ly serv­ing in the Jew­ish Brigade. While still serv­ing in the army, David became aware that his aunt Bertha and cousin Anni had sur­vived the Holo­caust and returned to Ger­many. It appeared that the only way to get Anni out of Ger­many was to mar­ry her and they said their vows in Sep­tem­ber of 1946. David bare­ly knew Anni at the time of their mar­riage and their rela­tion­ship was to be long lived, but difficult.

David and Anni set up house­keep­ing in Jerusalem and only eleven days after the birth of their first child, the Unit­ed Nations approved divid­ing Pales­tine into a Jew­ish and an Arab state. David was right in the midst of both cel­e­bra­tions and riots with cam­era in hand. In 1947, David was induct­ed into the Haganah and the fol­low­ing year he was trans­ferred to the Army Map and Pho­tog­ra­phy Ser­vices. As David put it, Since then I have been through sev­en more wars. I have always con­tin­ued to shoot, but only through a lens.”

David Rubinger’s long career as a pho­to­jour­nal­ist took a num­ber of twists and turns as he opened a pho­tog­ra­phy shop and worked for var­i­ous Israeli pub­li­ca­tions, always doc­u­ment­ing the momen­tous events and larg­er than life per­son­al­i­ties that mold­ed Israel’s his­to­ry. His career moved to the inter­na­tion­al stage when Time mag­a­zine asked David to cov­er the 1956 Sinai War. He was there when Ben-Guri­on was injured in a grenade attack, he shot pho­tos of Gol­da Meir when she was for­eign min­is­ter, cov­ered the Pope’s vis­it to Israel, and doc­u­ment­ed the 1967 Six Day War and the 1973 Yom Kip­pur War. David took pho­tos of Begin and Sadat as they were award­ed the Nobel Peace Prize and the treaty sign­ing on the White House lawn. These are only a few exam­ples of the depth and breadth of David Rubinger’s body of work. Israel Through My Lens, which includes many of David’s pho­tos, is riv­et­ing from begin­ning to end.

I was priv­i­leged to have the oppor­tu­ni­ty to ask David Rub­inger a few ques­tions about his life and career and fol­low­ing are his responses:

Nao­mi Tropp: Do you believe that your work has led you to devel­op a dif­fer­ent per­spec­tive on Israeli his­to­ry and cul­ture than most Israelis?
David Rub­inger: Obvi­ous­ly jour­nal­ists — and pho­to­jour­nal­ists— enjoy a grand­stand view of events, a view that the aver­age cit­i­zen does not have. This gives him a bet­ter per­spec­tive. It is there­fore no won­der that the media, to a large extent, is more lib­er­al, more to the left, let us say, than the street. I for my part, there­fore view what hap­pened to my coun­try after 1967 as a dis­as­ter. The vic­to­ry in the Six Day War was a cat­a­stro­phe — only one thing could have been worse: not to win.

NT: Hav­ing been a wit­ness to the his­to­ry of Israel, from pri­or to state­hood to the present day, how are you cur­rent­ly feel­ing about Israel’s chance to con­tin­ue to thrive in such a hos­tile envi­ron­ment?
DRIsrael is very strong and no out­side force can hope to over­come it by force. Despite the hos­tile envi­ron­ment — hos­tile for the last hun­dred years, not only since 1948 — Israel can and did thrive. To turn 600,000 peo­ple, which con­sti­tut­ed the State of Israel on May 15, 1948, into a nation of 7 mil­lion, lead­ing in sci­ences, in agri­cul­ture, in hi-tech, in med­i­cine, all this in 60 years, is unprece­dent­ed in history.

NT: Most peo­ple save for and dream about retire­ment, yet here you are still going strong at age 83. Why haven’t you stopped?
DRTo stop work­ing is to die. True, I can­not run with nine­teen-year-old pho­tog­ra­phers to cov­er hot news, bomb­ings, riots or the like, but I can be busy. I only feel the aches of an old body on days when I have absolute­ly noth­ing to do. For­tu­nate­ly they are few.
Nao­mi Tropp recent­ly retired after a long career in non­prof­it man­age­ment. She worked on the Ann Katz Fes­ti­val of Books at the Indi­anapo­lis JCC for 9 of its twelve years and direct­ed the fes­ti­val for three of those years.

Discussion Questions