For many people, the black-and-white photograph of three young Israeli soldiers standing in front of the Western Wall shortly after Israel recaptured the Old City of Jerusalem in June 1967 was the defining image of the Six-Day War.
For the photographer who took that picture, it evoked another memory.
“I never made a groschen [penny] out of it,” David Rubinger would ruefully tell Arnold Drapkin.
Mr. Rubinger, a native of Vienna who immigrated to Palestine as a teen and became the photographic chronicler of Israel’s first seven decades, died on March 2 at 92. Drapkin is the retired photography editor of Time magazine, for which Mr. Rubinger worked for many decades. Drapkin, a Brooklyn native who now lives near Boca Raton, was a close friend of Mr. Rubinger.
Mr. Rubinger, arguably Israel’s most accomplished and most prolific photographer, would lament that he earned fame but not riches from the often-reproduced photo.
“I never made a groschen [penny] out of it
In return for front-line access to Israel’s war, he turned one of the iconic Western Wall negatives over to the army’s Press Office, which gave it to the Government Press Office, which in turn distributed it to newspapers and magazines and books that reproduced it for a token payment.
“It appeared all over the world,” with Mr. Rubinger receiving no credit, Drapkin told The Jewish Week this week in a telephone interview. Whenever Drapkin, who was based at Time’s New York headquarters, noticed the omission, he would contact the publication or publisher and ask them to give Mr. Rubinger due credit in the future.
Drapkin remembered his old friend — who came to be almost as much of a celebrity as the political leaders and other prominent Israelis he photographed — as “a very warm person” and “a great raconteur.”
“He not only recorded the famous, he was equally at ease with ordinary Israeli citizens,” Drapkin said. “His extraordinary photographic talents were combined with a remarkable journalistic sensibility.”
And a knack for cultivating friendships.
Mr. Rubinger, who served in the Jewish Brigade of the British Army during World War II, received an Argus 33-millimeter camera from a French girlfriend during a leave in Paris in 1945. On the boat back to Palestine, he started to snap pictures and discovered his life’s calling, later buying a Leica camera.
Soon, working for Yediot Achronot, then for Time-Life, he was all over Israel — in the Knesset, at markets, on the streets, at army bases, on the front lines. “He grew up with the state,” Drapkin said. One soldier Mr. Rubinger photographed eventually became army chief-of-staff. “He knew all the people who became leaders of the country.”
A self-described “dove,” Mr. Rubinger spent time among people across the political spectrum. “I trust Rubinger even though I know he doesn’t vote for me,” Ariel Sharon famously said.
What was Mr. Rubinger’s favorite photograph?
“He liked them all,” Drapkin said. “He once told me that he approached each assignment, no matter how mundane, as an opportunity to document the history of Israel.”
In 1997, Mr. Rubinger received the Israel Prize. And he received another prize — the copyright for his 1967 photograph of the three soldiers at the Western Wall.
View some of his works below.