How an antisemitic encounter brought one man to Israel

"I had planned to stay in Israel, but I had no money and no idea in what field I was going to work because my Hebrew was lacking."

 David Rubin, 64 from Brooklyn to Shiloh (photo credit: Courtesy)
David Rubin, 64 from Brooklyn to Shiloh
(photo credit: Courtesy)

If you had met David Rubin in the early 1980s, you would have seen a young Brooklyn public school teacher rather loosely connected to his Judaism. You would not have guessed that in 1999 he would be mayor of the Samarian town of Shiloh, an ancient city rich in biblical history.

Ironically, it was a painful encounter with antisemitism that set him on this unexpected path. The principal and black Muslim social worker at the inner-city school where he worked made life miserable for him after he started taking off for the Jewish holidays.

“As it says in Pirkei Avot, ‘Who is wise? He who learns from every person.’ The principal was very vocal about her African American identity, so paradoxically this adversity caused me to look inward,” he relates.

“Also, I had a Swedish girlfriend who was not Jewish. During the first Lebanon War [in 1982] we had a big argument about Arafat and Begin. That feeling of conflict, in addition to several other unexpected encounters, also added to my Jewish identity.”

From mid-1985 to January 1987, Rubin attended Machon Meir Yeshiva in Jerusalem. 

“I had planned to stay in Israel, but I had no money and no idea in what field I was going to work because my Hebrew was lacking. I went back to the US for a year and a half to do a doctorate in education at Columbia University. I almost completed it, but I didn’t want to sit in a library the next few years working on a dissertation,” he says. “It was clear my place was not in the halls of academia, but in the Land of Israel.”

Despite having no close relatives in Israel, Rubin made aliyah at age 35 in June 1992. Back at Machon Meir, he saw a brochure from the Shiloh community acceptance committee. 

“The brochure said, ‘Before there was Jerusalem there was Shiloh.’ There was a quote from the book of Joshua about the establishment of the capital in Shiloh, where it stood for 369 years. I was entranced. I was always fascinated by history. So I went for a Shabbat. I loved the rolling hills and the feeling of being here. I wanted a community with a basketball court and a yeshiva, and commuting distance to Jerusalem. That was it. After Sukkot, I moved to Shiloh.” 

Rubin became an English teacher. He met his wife, Lisa, through a matchmaker and they wed in August 1993. She came to the marriage with two children, and they had four more. 

Rubin founded a parents association in the local school and eventually ran for election to the municipal committee. “I ended up as its head, the equivalent of mayor, in 1999.”

IN DECEMBER 2001, Rubin was driving home from Jerusalem one night with his then-three-year-old son. Suddenly their car was hit by a spray of bullets shot from terrorists from the Fatah’s Tanzim militia. 

“The car went dead, and I felt a bullet crash into my left leg. My son’s eyes and mouth were wide open, but no sounds were coming out; I figured he was in shock. Finally, the car started and I hit the gas, driving 170 kilometers per hour to get help from the next community up the road,” Rubin recalls.

Hadassah Medical Center at Ein Kerem later told him that he was the 1,000th victim of the second intifada to be admitted. He and his son each endured two surgeries and long recoveries. The bullet that entered his son’s neck had missed his brain stem by one millimeter. 

“We were totally transformed by the experience,” Rubin says. “I was angry, especially about what the terrorists had done to my young son. Then I remembered that while we have an army to track down terrorists, we each have our own abilities to accomplish things. I had a vision of taking the evil and turning it into good.”

It didn’t take him long to find an appropriate project. “We were suffering from one terror attack after another at that time, and, to varying extents, the children were really traumatized. I had to do something. But I was just a teacher and had no idea how to get started. I just felt that God would show me the way.”

With the help of his father-in-law in America, as well as the overseas connections he had made as “the American mayor in Shiloh,” he raised money to establish what became the Shiloh Israel Children’s Fund. It adopted a small therapy center that offered physical and occupational therapy, and expanded it to serve the unique needs of child victims of terror.

Today, the nonprofit sustains Mifgash, which Rubin describes as “a magnificent center for psychological post-trauma therapy: music, art, and animal-assisted therapy, bibliotherapy, sports therapy, multisensory therapy – all under one roof except for the therapeutic horseback riding, which is a five-minute drive from here.”

Mifgash is housed on Shiloh’s educational campus, which includes a public girls’ and boys’ schools. 

“Most of the children don’t receive formal therapy but we have a lot of group therapies in both schools overseen by the therapy center. We do that in quite a few schools in the area, including the neighboring town of Eli, where we also have a small clinic,” says Rubin. “We’re spreading outward, integrating education and therapy.”

RUBIN BECAME an accomplished speaker and media pundit on American TV and radio shows. His first of seven books – God, Israel and Shiloh – was written at the urging of a Christian Zionist woman who heard him speak in Sacramento, California, in 2006.

“She said, ‘David when are you gong to write a book about the biblical heartland and the challenge of terrorism everyone is facing there?’ She insisted and I started writing. I didn’t even have a computer. But I’d just spoken in a church there, and the pastor gave me his computer to practice on. They had raised money for Shiloh Israel Children’s Fund and he added onto that, insisting that I buy a laptop to write the book,” says Rubin. 

Since then, he’s written seven books. The latest, Confronting Radicals: What America Can Learn from Israel, was published in April 2021.