JERUSALEM — If there is one photograph to define Israel’s short history, it is most likely the black and white shot of Israeli paratroopers standing before Judaism’s holy Western Wall after it was captured from Jordan in 1967.
That moment and many others since Israel’s creation in 1948 were chronicled by legendary Israeli photographer David Rubinger. He died Thursday in Jerusalem, at age 92.
Rubinger, a photojournalist for Time magazine, among others, became a visual record keeper of Israeli history, capturing scenes from many of its wars and portraits of its founding leaders. He shot more than 500,000 photographs over his 60-plus-year career; many of them still adorn the walls of Israel’s parliament and other official buildings.
Of his most famous shot at the Western Wall in Jerusalem's Old City, Rubinger seemed to not think much of it.
“Part of the face is cut off, ... in the middle the nose protrudes, and on the left there's only half a face. … Photographically speaking, this isn’t a good photo,” he said, according to a report in Israeli newspaper Haaretz.
Rubinger was born in Austria in 1924. After witnessing the arrival of the Nazi regime and its treatment of Jews, he left for Palestine in his early teens. During World War II, he served in the British army’s Jewish Brigade and later, when he returned to Jerusalem, he opened a photography business.
He became a photojournalist in 1951, and worked for Israeli papers Yediot Aharonot and the Jerusalem Post, as well as Time. He donated many of his photographs to Israel’s National Photo Collection.
The Foreign Press Association, which Rubinger helped found, released an obituary for the photographer on Thursday saying he passed away “peacefully,” with his family around him, in Jerusalem Thursday morning.
“There was enough tragedy in David Rubinger’s life that you could have forgiven him any amount of bitterness or anger. From the murder of his mother by the Nazis to the murder of his beloved partner in her own home in Jerusalem’s Greek Colony when David was 80. But you will not find a single person who can remember a truly bitter word from his lips, and the only anger he expressed was a righteous impatience for those who seemed to wish for more conflict where he saw the possibility of peace,” wrote the association.
It highlighted a quote by Rubinger from his 2008 biography, “Israel Through My Lens. Sixty Years as a Photojournalist:”
“Frequently these days, when looking back over the years, I find myself asking how I could have been so lucky. I went through ten wars unscathed and survived countless other high-risk situations, and I have reached the peak of the photographic profession, with worldwide recognition for my work, being the oldest person on the masthead of TIME, one of the world's most prestigious magazines. I have had personal access to many of the world's leaders and other fascinating personalities, as well as the support of a wonderful family — my two children, five grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren,” said Rubinger.
“After all this, what would I say to those who ask me the secret of a fulfilled life? Mine is really quite a simple philosophy — try to live every day as if it is your last, but plan your future as though there were endless tomorrows.”
Here are some more of Rubinger's photographs: