Full circle, a son of Haifa returns home
• By SUSAN DE LA FUENTE
Israel Rubin, 82
From Manalapan, New Jersey,To Beit Shemesh, 2005
Jerusalem Post Magazine- December 4, 2014
WITH A family history of trial and tribulation, Israel Rubin surmounted all to achieve a high-class education, stay dedicated to his Jewish learning and finally return to Israel after nearly seven decades living abroad.
Though Israel Rubin made aliya to Beit Shemesh in 2005 with his wife, Blossom, he was actually born in Haifa and spent the first seven years of his life in Kiryat Haim.
In this “dusty, isolated Jewish outpost” of eight families, he attended a one-room schoolhouse in an abandoned cowshed. Night music was “the howling of coyotes, jackals and an occasional wolf.” The pioneers were plagued with malaria and besieged by marauding bands, especially after dark, but forged valiantly on. Their situation took a turn for the worse during the Arab revolt of 1936. On his father’s side, Rubin is part of a 2,000-yearold community of Crimean Jews or Krymchaks, who spoke Judeo-Crimean Tatar, a Turkish dialect originally written in Hebrew characters. In 1920 some 120 Krymchaks, mostly linked by family ties, left the Soviet Union to make aliya. In Haifa Rubin’s paternal grandfather changed the family name from Rabeinu to Rubin, to avoid discrimination from the Ashkenazi elite. Rubin’s father, Eliyahu, met his wife, Rebecca, in Haifa when she rented a room in his family’s home. Rebecca was a concert pianist from Kishinev (in what is now Moldova), a graduate of the prestigious St. Petersburg Conservatory of Music who had been an active Zionist leader in Hashomer Hatza’ir. She was summarily expelled from her native land after a harsh imprisonment in Siberia. After a spell on kibbutzim, she left to play piano at a Haifa silent-movie cinema.
In summer 1939, while the Rubins were visiting Europe, the outbreak of World War II stranded seven year-old Israel, his parents and sister in a precarious situation. “In Paris we were notified that all alien men between 18 and 60 would be mobilized, and had 48 hours to leave the country. Despite our British Mandate passports, we were refused permission to return to Palestine.” As his father had brothers in the US, the small family managed to leave Cherbourg on the last ship out, and started life from scratch in New York. Because Eliyahu refused to work on Shabbat, he endured frequent job changes, and their situation was stressful. However, from the time he was accepted to Brooklyn Technical High School, Israel received a quality education. After obtaining an engineering degree from Cooper Union College, Rubin did a master’s in MIT in financial and industrial management, supported by a National Science Foundation fellowship. “Following graduation from MIT, I was recruited by a prestigious management consulting firm, which eventually led to a senior managerial position at a 400-man firm engaged in manufacturing steel tubing and electric fittings,” he says. A long and busy career in the business world followed.
As far as Torah learning was concerned, Israel studied seriously from age 13 on, though his heavy schedule left some gaps. “My higher Jewish education was at Mesivta Chaim Berlin.” There, Israel was greatly impressed by rosh yeshiva Rabbi Yitzhak Hutner, “a true tzaddik [righteous man],” and inspired by the learning program. “When college and graduate school prevented continuing there, I studied privately with excellent rabbis in Brooklyn and later, New Jersey.” He also taught returnees to Judaism before this became normative. “My work with ba’alei teshuva was self-initiated and started in my college years. I started on a one-to-one basis, which later grew to small group sessions. Being able to speak Hebrew and Russian proved very helpful in my kiruv work with young Russian and Israeli Jewish men.”
After Rubin’s marriage to Blossom, the couple lived in the Mill Basin section of Brooklyn for over 36 years until his retirement in 1995, whereupon they moved to rural Manalapan, New Jersey. The Rubin’s oldest daughter, Sharon, came to Israel in 1990 with her family, followed by daughter Eileen and family in 2003. After that, aliya was inevitable. “I was 73 years old when we decided to join our daughters, both of whom were already living in Israel. Blossom and I have been blessed with a number of grandchildren and great-grandchildren, all of whom live in Israel and many of whom have served in the IDF or done national service.” Upon arrival at their home in Beit Shemesh in spring 2005, the couple rushed to connect with the land. “One of the first things we did was to plant fruit trees… a spine-tingling experience,” Rubin says. Ten years later, the trees are flourishing. “My main hobby nowadays is writing and continued Torah learning,” Rubin states. Since arriving here, he has authored a number of books. The How & Why of Jewish Prayer was the first, while a second book, A Stone Speaks – The Voice of the Kotel, has now come out.
He is thankful to have come full circle. “We want to be in Israel when Hashem [God], in His mercy, returns and rebuilds His city of Jerusalem. We are very happy with our lives here in Israel. Nefesh B’Nefesh smoothed our adjustment. “We would rather be living in Israel these days, despite the tension, than anywhere else in the world. This is our land; these are our people. This is where our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren live. My wife and I want to share the difficulties and privileges of Klal Yisrael [the Nation of Israel] in our national home.”
The following NEWS PROFILE appeared in the Jewish Telegraph UK (Dec. 2, 2011)
Doreen Wachman chats with a remarkable writer with a fascination for prayer, inherited from his father.
A lifetime's ambition is achieved as Israel gets book published… At 79
As he approaches 80 and has been diagnosed with a life threatening illness, Israel Rubin has finally fulfilled a lifetime's ambition and published his first book. The How & Why of Jewish Prayer evolved from Israel's teaching notes during the many years he worked with Ba’alei Teshuva (returnees to Judaism) in New York and New Jersey.
He inherited his interest in prayer, the subject of his book, from his father. Recalling his childhood days, Israel recalled: "For Papa, the concept of time always revolved around his obligations to Hashem. “His biological clock prodded him out of bed and into shul by 5 A.M. every weekday morning – about an hour before others would start coming in for morning prayers. "He would unlock the door, knock three times to alert the angels that were within the shul, and then enter. “At the door he would pause, bow and recite a prayer. Papa would explain that you just don't barge into a shul and begin asking Hashem to grant your wishes. "You first have to ask Hashem for permission to enter His holy abode. Papa held firm to the belief that a shul is truly a miniature holy temple."
Israel's religious outreach work began at university in the USA where his family had immigrated at the start of World War Two. He joined a Jewish fraternity, but found it was completely devoid of any religious content. He said: "Friday evenings were supposedly big events at the fraternity house. It troubled me that a Jewish fraternity would schedule events on a Friday night. "Much as I tried to bring about some Judaic element, I was voted down. Only later did I realize that this was a microcosm of what was happening to the American Jewish community." He explained: "Many of the early Jewish immigrants who came to America shed their religiosity. Their children & grandchildren distanced themselves even further from any meaningful connection to religious observance. "The more open American society meant that being Jewish was no longer an all-embracing way of life. This was especially evident at colleges and universities." He continued: "What attracted me to the fraternity was its emphasis on helping other Jewish students cope with stresses, both personal and academic.
"While other fraternities would go to the local bar for drinks, the boys at Alpha Mu Sigma would trudge up three long flights of stairs to help others with their homework. Close friendships were made. "Two of the boys came from religious homes, but had dropped their observance. “We had long talks and I was persuasive in convincing them that they could balance religious observance with the strenuous academic workload."
An engineer by profession, Israel always loved writing. After editing a university student magazine, he was approached in the early 1950s by American poet and psychiatrist Dr Merrill Moore, who was dying of cancer and wanted his book of sonnets, The Dance of Death, published quickly before his imminent death. Israel published the sonnets, together with a recording of its author reading them.
His contact with Dr Moore led him to be approached by someone from Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Centre for Soviet Studies to translate and publish a secret document detailing the horrors of the Siberian gulag forced labor camps nearly 20 years before they were revealed by dissident author Alexander Solzhenitsyn. Israel had been chosen by his mysterious contacts because they knew that, as the son of two Russian born parents, he spoke Russian. They also knew that Israel's mother, the late Rebecca Z., had been imprisoned by the Bolsheviks soon after the Revolution. A gifted pianist born into a wealthy Kishinev Jewish family, Rebecca had been both the first Jew and the first woman to be admitted to the St Petersburg Conservatory of Music.
But her very promising concert career was cut short by the Russian Revolution which objected to her Zionist activities. As one of the first madrichot of Hashomer Hatzair, Rebecca was the only political prisoner then sent to Siberia along with prostitutes and criminals. After attempts to brainwash her against the evils of Zionism failed, Rebecca was given ten days to leave the country, from where she made Aliyah. After receiving the secret manuscript at MIT, Israel showed it to his mother. He recalls: "As she read page after page, she began to tremble. “I had never seen my mother so troubled. Suddenly, with an unsteady hand, she frantically put down the manuscript.
Obviously disturbed by what she read, she was even more alarmed about the danger of possessing such a document. "Her composure uncharacteristically disturbed, Mama began to explain how the tentacles of the Soviet Police could reach anywhere in the world. Mama was very frightened. Her parents and brother were still living in the Soviet Union."
She met her more religious husband Eliyahu Rabeinu (Rubin) when, after living on a kibbutz, she wanted to return to her musical career. The only work available was as a pianist at a Haifa silent-movie cinema. She rented a room with Eliyahu's Crimean-born family – and the rest is history.
The Rubin’s left Palestine in 1939 because of the Arab uprising which had disturbed the previous good relations between Arabs and Jews in the Haifa area. En route to the USA, where Eliyahu's brothers lived, the family toured Europe and miraculously were able to leave Cherbourg for the USA on the day World War Two broke out.
Later, in a voluntary capacity, Israel was president of a network of religious schools for underprivileged Israel youth and president of the Crimean Brotherhood of American Jews, as well as being active in the International League for the Repatriation of Russian Jews in the early 1960s, a cofounder of the Tel Chai chapter of Red Magen David and of the Religious Zionists of America.
On his retirement, Israel and his wife followed their two daughters in making Aliyah. In Bet Shemesh, he threw himself into writing, mainly media defense of Israel. He also embarked on writing books, the first of which has now seen the light of day.
Just a few days before Yom Kippur this year, Israel was hospitalized with a blood clot in his lungs to add to his existing kidney condition. I asked him how his book on prayer had formed his response to his condition. He said: "As I lay in Hadassah Hospital on the days before and after Yom Kippur, I had much time to reflect on my life. “My immediate concern was for my wife of 52 years. How would she, our daughters and their families cope?" But he continued: "I was determined not to yield to feelings of anguish and gloom. For the first time in my life I missed the haunting tunes of Kol Nidrei. My task was to cleanse my personal slate. "It is not for us to criticize the judgments of Hashem. As Yom Kippur was coming to a close, I prayed Ne'ilah in the hospital room I shared with two Arab patients. I felt good about the outcome."