The uncrowned queen of Tel Aviv

Esther Rubin, wife of famous artist Reuven Rubin, passed away on Monday at 99.

Esther Rubin 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Esther Rubin 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Esther Rubin, the beautiful US-born writer who was married to the famous artist Reuven Rubin, passed away in Tel Aviv on Monday at the age of 99 and was laid to rest on Tuesday.
She was nearly as old as Tel Aviv, the city to which she had come as an 18-year-old from the Lower East Side of New York just over 80 years ago. She could not have known, when she won a Young Judea essay competition on what Palestine meant to her, that the country was going to become an integral part of her life.
The first prize was a threemonth trip to the Jewish homeland, and for young Esther Davis, as she was then, it was her first opportunity to leave America.
Not only was she a talented writer, but the young woman from the Bronx was also strikingly pretty and instantly attracted attention when she boarded the SS Mauritania.
She caught the eye of artist Reuven Rubin, who was returning home to Tel Aviv from New York, where he had been exhibiting. Though nearly twice her age, he was smitten at first sight and proposed to her within 10 minutes of having met her.
In those days, she knew very little about art, and her concept of artists was that they seduced gullible women and then left them. She declined the proposal, but he was persistent.
She was able to keep him at bay until she fell ill with typhus. Rubin nursed her back to health and was so attentive that she realized he really was sincere when he said he loved her, and she agreed to marry him.
The wedding took place on a Tel Aviv rooftop.
A prolific, prize-winning painter and sculptor, who was among the pioneers of the new school of Israeli art, Reuven Rubin also had a brief stint as a diplomat. In 1948, he was sent back to the land of his birth as Israel’s first ambassador to Romania, where he stayed for two years, painting whenever he could take time off from his diplomatic duties.
There were not enough national flags in the nascent State of Israel, and the Rubins arrived in Romania without a flag. The enterprising Esther sewed the first Israeli flag that went up in the embassy.
Throughout the years, she kept meticulous records of her husband’s artistic output, photographing every work and writing down details of sale or bequest. The photographs, numbering in excess of 2,000, were placed in albums, which in themselves have become illustrative encyclopedias of the life and times of Reuven Rubin, and through his art tell the story of the state’s history.
Their home in Tel Aviv was a meeting place for artists, art-lovers, people of culture and Tel Aviv’s social elite. On Saturdays, they held an open house, entertaining artists, musicians and writers who would arrive in the late morning and stay to lunch.
Among their good friends was Haim Nahman Bialik, whose neighbor they became when they purchased a stately house on what is today Rehov Bialik in Tel Aviv.
Many years later, they built a second home in Caesarea.
Reuven Rubin died in 1974 and bequeathed the house on Rehov Bialik and a corps collection of paintings to the city of Tel Aviv. The house subsequently became the Reuven Rubin Museum, and Esther Rubin was there not only at the grand opening, but also for the opening of every exhibition. In addition to art exhibitions, the museum has become a venue for cultural and charity events, many of which were also attended by Esther Rubin, who in the interim moved back to Tel Aviv.
She loved to socialize. Even when she could no longer walk and was confined to a wheelchair, she continued to travel all over the country to attend a dinner, a concert, a play premiere, a fashion show or the opening of an art exhibition.
Esther Rubin was still partying until just a few weeks before her death, her mind as clear as a bell, her memory razor-sharp.
She lived a wonderful life, witnessing the evolution of both a city and state, traveling extensively, meeting and befriending people who shaped history and making her own important contribution.
When she was growing up in the Bronx, and when she wrote her essay on what Palestine meant to her, she probably never dreamed that her final resting place would be among some of the most prominent founders and cultural figures of Tel Aviv.
She was buried on Tisha Be’av in Tel Aviv’s old and prestigious Trumpeldor Cemetery alongside her husband, whose paintings surrounded her in life and with whom she was reunited in death.
She is survived by her son and daughter-in-law, David and Carmella Rubin; her daughter and son-in-law, Ariella and Ami Giniger; and their families.