Relatively speaking - Ilya Melnikov - April 12, 2012
David and Ami Rubinger Photo by Ilya Melnikov
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Relatively speaking - April 12, 2012
Ami and David, 1962.

Birth:
David was born in 1924, in Vienna; Ami (Amnon) in 1953, in Jerusalem.

Home:
David lives in a house in Jerusalem, Ami in an apartment in Tel Aviv.

Extended family:
David’s daughter, Tamar ‏(Har-Zahav‏), 64, is the founder of Kadita, a winery and B&B in Upper Galilee. Ami’s sons, Yotam, 25, and Itamar, 23, are rock musicians who live in London. David has five grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

Staying behind:
At the beginning of the 20th century, David’s parents moved from Galicia to Vienna, where his father, Karol-Kalman, bought and sold old metals. In 1938, when Austria was annexed to the German Reich, his father was sent with other Jews to Dachau and then to Buchenwald. He was released in January 1939, thanks to an entry visa to England sent by his sister, who lived in London. “He was released within 36 hours after my mother presented the permit to the Gestapo, but on condition that he leave Germany immediately,” Rubinger says. “My mother and I were not allowed to accompany him.” David joined Hashomer Hatza’ir, the left-wing Zionist youth movement, and got to Kibbutz Zera with the Youth Aliyah organization. His mother, Anna, remained in Europe and perished.

Not a day at the opera:
When he was 18, David enlisted in the British Army’s Jewish Brigade and served in a transportation unit. He reached Montecatini, in Italy, and helped smuggle out Jews. “At one point we were stationed on the border with Austria and smuggled Jews out of DP camps there,” David relates. “When the British found out, they gave us the boot. We were transferred to Germany, where a small group of soldiers carried out acts of terror and murdered Germans. Then we were sent to Belgium and Holland.” In May 1945, the soldiers of the Jewish Brigade were given leave and free tickets to the opera in Paris. David and a friend arrived a few minutes late and were denied entry until the intermission. That turned out to be a sign for him, he says: “We went into a small bar and found [two women named] Jeanette and Claudette, and never did get to the opera that day. Claudette and I remained friends. I was confined to quarters for eight days because I ran off to her one day. And there was one time when I came to her and she accompanied me to the train station and gave me a small gift: a 35mm Archos camera. I went back to Israel and started to take pictures in the kibbutz, and said this is what I want to be: a press photographer.”

Forgetting to get divorced:
After returning from Europe, David was mobilized for a secret mission. He was told that a girl in a Jewish family in Germany that had survived the war wanted to immigrate to Israel. He immediately volunteered to help out. “I went there and married the girl. It was a fictitious marriage, but for 54 years we forgot to get a divorce: It was Annie ‏(Hanna‏), who became my wife. She died in 2000. On that trip I also bought my first Leica, in exchange for a kilo of coffee and 200 cigarettes.”

Three soldiers:
Rubinger gained fame in Israel and worldwide thanks to one photograph, which he almost threw out. It shows three soldiers awed by the sight of the Western Wall in the 1967 Six-Day War. The shot was wrongly dubbed “the weeping paratroopers.” “No one in the picture is crying,” David explains. In his “pre-glory” years, he was a freelancer who motorcycled from his home in Jerusalem to the offices of the newspapers in Tel Aviv, to offer his wares. He did a little work for the Jewish National Fund and for Keren Hayesod; was the house photographer for the muckraking (now defunct) weekly Haolam Hazeh and for The Jerusalem Post, for the weekly magazine of Davar, the Histadrut newspaper, for the women’s magazine La’isha, and others. Concurrently, he forged ties with Life magazine, and in 1970 became a member of the magazine’s editorial board.

“I came home that day from the Western Wall, developed the film and said to my wife, ‘Look at this great shot: Rabbi Goren on the shoulders of soldiers with the shofar and the Western Wall behind him.’ She looked at it, and then remarked, about a different shot, ‘This is an interesting picture.’ And I said, ‘That’s nothing, just three soldiers.’

“The photograph first appeared in Life magazine and then went from the Israel Defense Forces Spokesman ‏(I gave it to them as a gift‏) to the Government Press Office, and from there it was stolen and used all over the world. Today I have to say thank you to all the thieves. A photographer never knows that he is capturing an iconic moment.”

Thrill and embarrassment:
The most thrilling moment for David, professionally speaking, was when the door of the plane carrying Anwar Sadat to Israel opened. The most embarrassing moment occurred five weeks later. “There was a meeting scheduled between Prime Minister Begin and Sadat in Ismailia,” he recalls, “and there were hundreds of photographers and journalists there. Suddenly the door opened and Sadat came out and got into his car with the driver, and said, ‘Menachem, come in,’ and Begin got into the car and they drove off. The security people went wild. Yehuda Avner, who was Begin’s speechwriter, rushed to his car and said, ‘Come on David!’ We drove behind them for eight kilometers along the Suez Canal. At one point they stop and I run over with the camera, there are no security people, and I get close to the window of the car and hear Sadat explaining to Begin how he crossed the canal, and I am shooting away all the time. Sadat finished and they left. I rewind the film and it moves too easily.” David was in despair but believed in miracles: That night his wife flew the film to Time in New York, but it was blank.

Not the same Rubinger:
Rubinger was a Time photographer until two years ago, though he had gradually reduced the pace of his work. “I didn’t really cover the second intifada,” he says. “I understood what not to do: not to run after ambulances and not to compete with the young photographers. If I’m not there, no one will say ‘Rubinger isn’t what he used to be.’” He received the Israel Prize in 1997 and there is a permanent exhibition of his work in the Knesset.

Ami’s birth:
“I have a photograph of him at seven minutes old. I was not at the birth. He was born on a Sunday morning, and the night before my car had been set afire after I photographed a demonstration in Mea She’arim” − an ultra-Orthodox section of Jerusalem.

Ami in school:
David has a folder with his son’s name written on it, containing all the report cards and letters ever sent to him from primary and secondary school. “You don’t see things like this anymore,” Ami says, “13 failures, 14 failures. The only thing I remember is that I didn’t understand a thing and all the comments were, ‘Capable but doesn’t want to make an effort,’ ‘Can do better,’ ‘At this rate he will not be promoted to the next grade.’ It was a nightmare, the worst period I went through in terms of pressure in my life. I hated school, the framework, the teachers who I was stuck with. I don’t get along with people who impose things on me. I call myself a graduate of 12 years of painting, because that’s what I did. When my parents got home from a parents’ meeting and called me ‘Amnon,’ I knew there was trouble. It was such a powerful trauma that I never returned to studies anywhere afterward.”

Rebel with a cause:
“I wasn’t a good student,” Ami says, “and I hung out with the guys, but there were no confrontations.”

Army:
David fought in the Jerusalem Brigade in the War of Independence; Ami was a photographer in the Armored Corps.

Not flashy:
The Rubinger family had a second embarrassing encounter with President Sadat. Ami: “During his visit to Jerusalem, the manager of the King David Hotel called my father. He wanted him to take an exclusive photo of Begin and Sadat in the hotel. Dad wasn’t home, so I went in his place. This was after I had completed my army service ... I borrowed an old Leica, which I wasn’t familiar with. I found myself in a room with them alone, as hundreds of photographers clustered below. I take a shot and there’s no flash; a second shot, and again no flash. Then they said thank you and closed the door, and there was no photo. Maybe that’s another reason I didn’t become a photographer.”

Recipe for success:
Ami moved to Tel Aviv, rented a place by the sea, married and had two sons who live in London and play in rock bands; later he divorced and started to paint in oils and acrylic. The cafe where he hung out suggested that he illustrate the menu, “and my whole career opened up,” he says. “Media people used to come there. I got commissions from newspapers − from Haaretz and from Yedioth Ahronoth, where I did illustrations and cartoons for a few years, until I got tired of the press. I started to write and illustrate children’s books and I continue to paint for myself alone, but I’m not doing anything with it.”

Nerves:
“Even if something about him [David] bugs me, I say that at his age it’s rare for anyone to be so lucid and able to keep up with the times,” Ami says. “But sometimes I had the feeling that he was taking work too seriously. He would go crazy if he didn’t have a cover in Time.”

Reflections in the mirror:
They are alike in their commitment to work, they both say, and in not having used elbows to make their way professionally.

I will never be like my father:
“There are times when he’s not focused,” Ami says. “There was one time when I caught him in a funny situation. He called one day and asked how I was. ‘Fine,’ I replied, ‘Yotam was arrested.’ My son was around 15 at the time and there had been some issues at school. My father said, ‘Fine, great, everything is all right.’ He didn’t hear a word I said.”

Regrets:
“That I was a very bad parent,” David says. “I didn’t pay attention to the children; I left that to my wife when they were little. We were a generation of career people, and work came first: ‘If I don’t get this shot the sun won’t come up tomorrow, Time will not appear.’”

Fantasies:
David wanted to be a tram driver in Vienna. Ami knew he would be an illustrator, though deep down he dreamed of playing in a rock band − “but I couldn’t even afford an electric guitar.”