Israelis You Should Know: David Rubinger

The Fellowship  |  March 10, 2017

David Rubinger, an Israeli photojournalist taking a picture.
Israelis You Should Know: David Rubinger

Lived: June 29, 1924 – March 1, 2017

Known for: His visual documentation of the history and people of the modern Jewish state earned David Rubinger the title of “Israel’s national photographer.”

Why you should know him: David Rubinger was born to a Jewish family in Vienna, Austria. When the Nazis annexed Austria, Rubinger made aliyah (immigrated) to then British-mandate Palestine, settling on a kibbutz in the Jordan Valley. David’s father was already in England, but his mother was murdered by the Nazis.

During World War II, Rubinger served with the Jewish Brigade in North Africa and Europe. In Paris on leave, he received a camera from a girlfriend and took up photography as a hobby. His first professional photograph showed young Jews climbing onto a British tank to celebrate the United Nations Partition Plan for Palestine, the plan that created the modern state of Israel.

After the war ended, Rubinger visited his father in England. There, he learned some of their relatives had survived the Holocaust in Germany. One cousin he met, Anni, he married in order to secure her own emigration to the Holy Land, but the marriage lasted more than 50 years until Anni’s death.

In Jerusalem, Rubinger opened a photography business. He also began work as a photojournalist, first for HaOlam HaZeh, then Yedioth Ahronoth, and finally The Jerusalem Post. In 1954, Time-Life asked Rubinger to shoot a story. This story was his big break, and he would continue to work for Time-Life for over five decades.

As the primary Time-Life photographer for the Middle East, Rubinger covered every war in Israel, as well as decades of Israeli politics.

His most famous photo is of paratroopers at the Western Wall, after the holy site’s capture by Israeli troops during 1967’s Six-Day War. On the Sinai Peninsula at the time, Rubinger heard a rumor of big news in the Holy City, and hitched a ride on an IDF helicopter airlifting wounded soldiers. Once in the Old City, Rubinger lay down on the ground in order to take the famed shot. Just 20 minutes later, IDF Rabbi Shlomo Goren arrived at the scene with a shofar and a Torah, and Rubinger also captured this scene, a photo he preferred to the more famous picture of the soldiers at the wall.

For his lifetime of work, Rubinger was given the Israel Prize in communications in 1997, the first year that category was awarded.

Rubinger and his wife had two children, five grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren.

David Rubinger passed away last week at the age of 92. Take a look at The Times of Israel’s feature of 12 of the most iconic photos of this man who Shimon Peres called “the photographer of the nation in the making.”