Veterans: Full circle, a son of Haifa returns home

Israel Rubin, 82 From Manalapan, New Jersey, To Beit Shemesh, 2005.

Israel Rubin, who made aliya from New Jersey to Beit Shemesh (photo credit: POLLY NEMOY)
Israel Rubin, who made aliya from New Jersey to Beit Shemesh
(photo credit: POLLY NEMOY)
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-year-old 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 sevenyear- 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 1995, 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. Nine 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.”