From the Desk of Erna Rubin (1927-2014)
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The Heroes and Antiheroes of my Childhood
Julian T. Rubin
BA, Social Sciences and Humanities, Open University of Israel

I enjoyed my childhood in the 50s, 60s and 70s of the last century, till age 8, in the communist Romania (the first five items belong to this period) and the rest in Israel where our family moved to in 1962. It is easy to realize the shift of interest between those periods and according to age. The following 28 items reflect my childhood (age 4-18) interests and the ethos of the surrounding society, sorted by age.

Cutica (age 4)
Ulysses and the Cyclops (age 5)
Laika the Space Dog (age 6)
Yuri Gagarin (age 7)
Stefan the Great (age 8)

Kofiko (age 10)
Danidin (age 10)
Winnetou & Old Shatterhand (age 11)
Pietje Bell (age 11)
Tarzan (age 11)
Hasamba (age 11)
Jules Verne (age 11)
Sitting Bull (age 12)
Jennings & Darbishire (age 12)
Famous Five & Secret Seven (age 12)
James Bond (age 13)
Josephus Flavius (age 13)
Perry Mason (age 13)
Alexander Dubcek (age 14)
Bob Beamon (age 14)
The Beatles (age 14)
General Vo Nguyen Giap (age 15)
Nikolai Ivanovich Lobachevsky (age 15)
Emmanuel Scheffer (age 16)
Pele (age 16)
Bobby Fischer (age 16)
William L. Shirer (age 17)
Sigmund Freud (age 18)
Brian Clough & Peter Taylor (age 18)


When I was four years old, in Romania, my father, Israel Rubin, used to tell me once and again a story, which I liked very much, about a puppy named Cutica that was not allowed to board the tram because there was no place, or something like this – regretfully I do not remember more. In any case, Cutica was my first remembered hero. Years later (2014) I adopted a puppy and called him…Cutica - which is seen above.

Ulysses and the Cyclops

Ulysses (Odysseus) was a mythological Greek king and a protagonist of Homer's (850 BC) epic poem the Odyssey. The poem narrates Ulysses' journey home after the ten-year Trojan War (12th century BC). On the way home Ulysses and his twelve ships were driven off course by storms and captured by the Cyclops (mythological giant with a single eye in the middle of his forehead) Polyphemus on his island. Because Polyphemus was eating Ulysses' men he brought a barrel of wine which the Cyclops drank, falling asleep. Ulysses and his men took a wooden stake, igniting it with the remaining wine, and burned his only eye, blinding him.

The story of Ulysses and Cyclops was introduced into the Romanian folklore and probably I heard it at the Kindergarten there but what I remembered for sure is that my mother encouraged me to be injected with a needle saying "Do you think that Ulysses is afraid of injections?" and her strategy proved successful.

Here is the place to mention that in Romania is used the Roman name Ulysses rather than the Greek Odysseus, since Romanian is a Latin based language.

Laika the Space Dog

Laika was a female dog, the first animal to orbit the Earth; launched into space by the Soviet Union on November 3, 1957 carried on Sputnik 2. She died on mission at age 3.

Yuri Gagarin

Yuri Gagarin (1934-1968) was a Soviet cosmonaut - the first man to be in space and also the first one that orbited the Earth.

On 12 April 1961 the spacecraft Vostok 1 completed a full orbit around the Earth and returned Gagarin safely. By that Gagarin became a hero in his country and around the world.

Yuri Gagarin and Laika featured on the communist state propaganda and among others on Romanian stamps which I had collected as a kid.

Stefan the Great

Stefan the Great (Romanian: Stefan cel Mare; 1433-1504) was Prince of Moldavia (a constituent of modern Romanian) between 1457 and 1504 and a big Romanian hero; canonized by the Romanian Orthodox Church in 1992.

Stephen achieved fame in Europe for his long resistance against the Ottomans which tried to subdue Moldavia and to invade Europe. After gaining a decisive victory over the Ottomans at the Battle of Vaslui, Pope Sixtus IV named him as the "true Champion of Christian Faith".

In 1476, after an unsuccessful battle against the Ottomans, Stefan the Great retreated to the Cetatea Neamtului citadel.

Acccording to a legend, his mother refused to let him enter the stronghold, and instead prompted him to go north, gather a new army till victory, as it happened.

This patriotic legend was part of my Romanian 1st and 2nd grades curriculum in form of a poem written by the Romanian poet Dimitrie Bolintineanu (1825-1872).


Kofiko (little ape in Hebrew) is a series of children's books by the Israeli writer Tamar Borenstein-Lazar (born 1911) about a monkey named Kofiko which lives with an Israeli urban family. Kofiko is cheeky, playful and is playing pranks. The first novel in this series was published in 1957 and holds the record for the longest-lasting series of all time in Hebrew, about 50 years.

Kofiko was the first fiction novel I read in Hebrew for pleasure in grade 4.


Danidin Series were published by On Sarig (Shraga Gafni; 1926-2012), beginning in 1961. The protagonist, a kid by the name of Dani becomes invisible after drinking a purple liquid - an interesting setting for adventure. In many cases he fights against Arab enemies, and always wins.

Show me one kid that does not want to be invisible, at least for a while.

Winnetou & Old Shatterhand

Karl May (1842 - 1912) was a popular German writer, noted mainly for adventure novels set in the American West - best known for the fictional characters of the Apache Native American Winnetou and his German friend and blood brother Old Shatterhand.

According to Karl May's story, Old Shatterhand encounters Winnetou and after initial hostile dramatic events, a true friendship between the two arises; on many occasions they demonstrate great fighting skills but also of compassion for other human beings.

Winnetou & Old Shatterhand were my childhood heroes because of their fighting skills and their true friendship.

Pietje Bell

The Pietje Bell children's books were written by the Dutch writer Chris van Abkoude (1880-1960).

Pietje Bell was the son of a shoemaker and a Rotterdam street naughty boy engaging in street adventures, mischief and pranks. Pietjes biggest enemy is Geelman the pharmacist and his super behaved spectacled son Joseph.


The jungle hero Tarzan is a fictional character created by the American author Edgar Rice Burroughs (1875-1950). A child raised in the African jungles by the Mangani - the great apes. He later experiences civilization only to reject it and returns to the wild as an heroic adventurer. Tarzan first appeared in the novel Tarzan of the Apes in 1914 and then in twenty-five sequels.

Tarzan is the son of a British lord and lady who were marooned on the Atlantic coast of Africa by mutineers. When Tarzan was an infant his mother died and his father was killed by Kerchak, leader of the ape tribe by whom Tarzan was adopted. Tarzan's tribe of apes is known as the Mangani, Great Apes of a species unknown to science according to their description. Kala is his ape mother. Tarzan is his ape name; his real English name is John Clayton, Earl Greystoke.

As a young adult, Tarzan meets a young American woman, Jane Porter because she and her father are also marooned. When Jane returns to America, Tarzan leaves the jungle in search of her, his only love and they marry.

Tarzan's jungle upbringing gives him abilities far beyond those of ordinary humans. These include climbing, clinging, and leaping as well as any great ape. He uses branches and hanging vines to swing at great speed, a skill acquired among apes.

His strength, speed, and swimming are extraordinary in comparison to normal men. He wrestles gorillas, lions, rhinos, crocodiles, pythons, sharks, tigers, and even dinosaurs and he also communicates with many species of jungle animals.

Olympic swimmer Johnny Weissmuller played Tarzan in twelve films from 1932 to 1948.


HASAMBA are the initials of "The Absolute Secret Group" in Hebrew. Hasamba is a series of children's adventure novels, written by the Israeli writer Yigal Mossinson (1917-1994) about a heroic group of children from Tel-Aviv as they assist the underground Haganah in its struggle for Israel independence against the British and later help the Israeli security forces against Israel's enemies - especially Arabs.

Hasamba became an integral part of the Israeli culture and it is the most popular series of pocket books ever written by an Israeli author - over one million copies sold.

The Hasamba children were my childhood heroes because they fought their country's enemies, an Israeli daily experience, and the thrilling adventures involved.

Jules Verne

Jules Verne (1828-1905) was a French author who pioneered the science fiction genre. He is best known for his novels Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea (1870), Journey to the Center of the Earth (1864), and Around the World in Eighty Days (1873). Many of his novels involve elements of technology that were fantastic for the day, but later became commonplace. Verne is one of the most translated authors in the world.

Sitting Bull

Sitting Bull (1831-1890, Indian name: Tatanka Iyotake) was a Dakota Indian chief under whom the Sioux tribes united in their struggle for survival against the US government with Crazy Horse as vice-chief. All his life he distrusted white men and was determined to resist their domination.

Best known for the Battle of the Little Bighorn.

In 1868 the Sioux accepted peace with the U.S. government which guaranteed the Sioux a reservation in what is now southwestern South Dakota. But when gold was discovered there in the 1870s, white people invaded lands guaranteed to the Indians by the treaty. Then the Sioux began resisting the whites' incursions and as a result they were considered as hostile by the United States government.

A US army punishment mission was sent against the "hostiles" and Sitting Bull reacted by summoning the Sioux into the valley of the Little Bighorn River in the eastern Montana Territory. At this point Sitting Bull performed the Sun Dance (a religious ceremony practiced by Native American) and when he emerged from the trance self-tortured, he visioned that he had seen soldiers falling into his camp like grasshoppers from the sky.

His prophecy was fulfilled on June 25 and 26, 1876 when Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer rode into the valley heading the 7th Cavalry Regiment of the United States Army and as a result Custer's regiment suffered a severe defeat - five of the 7th Cavalry's companies were annihilated, Custer himself was killed and the total U.S. casualty count was 268 dead and 55 injured.

Sitting Bull was my childhood hero because Indians with exotic names (Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse) riding horses acrobatically on the large prairies of North America to fight for their freedom and defeat the mighty army of the US ignited my young imagination. For me personally, as an Israeli kid who grew up in a new state that had fought for a long time for its independence, was only natural to identify with Sitting Bull's agenda.

Jennings & Darbishire

The Jennings series, written by Anthony Buckeridge (1912–2004), is a collection of humorous novels of children's literature concerning the escapades of Jennings and his best friend Darbishire (Darby) at a preparatory boarding school in England. There are 25 novels in total while the first one, Jennings Goes to School, was published in 1950 in the UK.

Besides the two protagonists I remember Venables, the classmate of Jennings & Darbishire; Old Wilkie, the impatient form master; Mr Carter the housemaster, a man of great patience (opposite to Old Wilkie); General Sir Melville Bart, the school's most distinguished alumnus.

Jennings & Darbishire were my childhood heroes because they learnt at a boarding school which meant to me the desired independence by most kids in the growing up process. These boys were the main drive behind my decision to join a boarding school myself.

Famous Five & Secret Seven

Famous Five & The Secret Seven are fictional groups of children detectives who solve cases, created by the British Enid Blyton (1897-1968).

The Secret Seven consists of Peter (the society's leader), Janet (Peter's sister), Jack, Barbara, George, Pam and Colin. Jack's sister Susie and her best friend Binkie often are featured - they hate the Secret Seven and are delighted in playing tricks on them out of their desire to join the society.

There ia also Scamper - Janet and Peter's pet dog (a golden English Cocker Spaniel) and beloved companion. He is not a member of the Secret Seven but they regard him as one due to his contribution to their adventures.

The Famous Five novels feature the adventures of another group of children – Julian (the leader), Dick, Anne and Georgina (George) – and their dog Timothy.

The Famous Five adventures always take place in school holidays when they return from their respective boarding schools. Whenever they meet, they get involved in exciting adventures.

James Bond

James Bond (007) is a fictional British Secret Service (MI6) agent created in 1953 by English writer Ian Fleming (1908-1964) who was a naval intelligence officer himself.

The main theme of the series: James Bond fights the bad guys and wins.

The Bond films are renowned for their music, with the theme songs having received Academy Award nominations. Other important elements include Bond's cars, his guns, and the gadgets he is supplied with by Q Branch.

Fleming wrote 12 Bond novels and among them Casino Royale, Goldfinger, Diamonds Are Forever and Dr. No.

Josephus Flavius

Josephus Flavius (37-100 AD; also called Joseph ben Matityahu in Hebrew) was a 1st-century Jewish historian who was born in Jerusalem - then part of Roman Judea - to a father of priestly descent.

He initially fought against the Romans during the Jewish-Roman War as the head of the Jewish forces in Galilee, until surrendering in 67 to Roman forces led by Vespasian.

According to Josephus, he was trapped in a cave with forty of his comrades in July 67. The Romans asked the group to surrender, but they refused. Josephus suggested a method of collective suicide: they drew lots, counting every third person, and killed each other, one by one. The sole survivors of this process were Josephus and another soldier who surrendered to the Roman forces. (This method of drawing lots as a mathematical problem is referred to as the Josephus problem.)

According to Josephus himself (maybe a legend he fostered), he prophesied that Vespasian would become Emperor of Rome and out of gratitude, after Vespasian indeed had become Emperor in 69, he granted Josephus his freedom, Roman citizenship and the emperor's family name of Flavius.

His most important works were The Jewish War (c.75) which describes the Jewish revolt against Roman occupation (66–70) and Antiquities of the Jews (c.94) which describes the history of the world from a Jewish perspective for a Roman audience. These works provide a valuable insight into 1st century Judaism, the background of Early Christianity and the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Many regard Josephus as a traitor because he failed to commit suicide like his fellow soldiers and accepted the patronage of the Romans.

Perry Mason

Perry Mason is a fictional defense attorney who was created by the American detective fiction author Erle Stanley Gardner (1889-1970).

The Perry Mason plot involves a client's murder trial. Typically, Mason is able to establish his client's innocence by incriminating another character, who then confesses.

Gardner is one of the best-selling authors of all time.

Perry Mason was portrayed on a long-running radio series followed by film and television - the most successful lawyer series on TV ever.

Alexander Dubcek

Alexander Dubcek (1921-1992) was the Slovak leader of Czechoslovakia (1968–1969), famous for his attempt to reform the communist regime of his country during the Prague Spring.

The Prague Spring was a period of political liberalization in Czechoslovakia during the domination by the Soviet Union after World War II. It began on 5 January 1968, when reformist Alexander Dubcek was elected the First Secretary of Communist Party of Czechoslovakia, and continued until 21 August when the Soviet Union and all members of the Warsaw Pact, with the notable exception of Romania, invaded the country to halt the reforms.

Alexander Dubcek was my childhood hero because Dubcek's and his fellows (president: Ludvík Svoboda; Prime minister: Oldrich Cernik) struggle for freedom against the mighty tyrannical Soviet Union symbolized to my generation the possible defeat of the bad by the good especially in the light of the negative attitude that was adopted by the Soviet Union against the State of Israel after the Six Day War.

Bob Beamon

Robert Beamon (born 1946) is an African American track and field athlete, best known for his world record in the long jump (8.90 m) at the Mexico Olympics in 1968, which remained the world record for 22 years and 316 days, until it was broken in 1991 by Mike Powell (8.95 m; the record still stands).

The Beatles

The Beatles were an English rock band formed in Liverpool in 1960. They became the most commercially successful band in the history of popular music. The group consisted of John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr. In the early 1960s, their enormous popularity first emerged as Beatlemania, but as their songwriting grew in sophistication, they came to be perceived by many as an embodiment of the ideals of the counterculture of the 1960s.

Among their best songs: Ticket to Ride, Eleanor Rigby, Penny Lane, Hey Jude, Strawberry Fields Forever, Let It Be, A Hard Day's Night, Come Together, Here Comes the Sun.

After the break-up in 1970, they each enjoyed successful musical careers. Lennon created Imagine and died in 1980 after having been shot; Harrison died of lung cancer in 2001. Starr and McCartney remained active.

A personal view: My first slow dance was at the age of 15 swaying to the music of the Beatles' 7 minutes Hey Jude.

General Vo Nguyen Giap

General Vo Nguyen Giap (1911-2013) was a Vietnamese general in the Vietnam People’s Army. He was the most prominent military commander, beside Ho Chi Minh, during the First Indochina War (1946–1954) and the Vietnam War (1960–1975). He participated in the historically significant battle of Dien Bien Phu (1954) and was the commander of the Vietnam People’s Army, and defense minister.

In his book People's War, People's Army (1961) Nguyen Giap describes his war ideology and among others he describes also the atrocities committed, by the French occupation and its American allies, on the Vietnamese people, presenting a totally different narrative from that of the west.

General Vo Nguyen Giap was my childhood hero because for me, as a young adult, his narrative exemplified an important principle of life - that the truth has many faces.

Nikolai Ivanovich Lobachevsky

Nikolai Ivanovich Lobachevsky (1792-1856) was a Russian mathematician and geometer, renowned primarily for his pioneering works on hyperbolic geometry (Lobachevskian geometry) - a non-Euclidean geometry.

One of Euclid’s early results about the geometry of a plane, or flat surface, was that three angles of a triangle add up to 180 degree. But, for any triangle drawn on a sphere the angles always add up to more than 180 degrees. The smaller the triangle the closer you get to 180 degrees. On a small part of the earth’s surface it is easy to believe that it is flat. This type of geometry is called spherical geometry. But, in hyperbolic geometry (like Lobachevsky's) the inside angles of a triangle add up to less than 180 degrees (see image above).


Pele - Edison Arantes do Nascimento (born 1940) is a Brazilian footballer regarded by many as the best player of all time. In total Pele scored 1281 goals in 1363 games, for the football national team of Brazil, Santos and the New York Cosmos.

Pele began playing for Santos at 15 and his national team at 16, and won his first World Cup at 17 in 1958 in Sweden; two more world cups followed - 1962 in Chile and 1970 in Mexico.

During his career, he became known as "The Black Pearl"

Emmanuel Scheffer

Emmanuel Scheffer (1924-2012) was an Israeli, Germany-born, football player and coach. Regarded, by many, as the most prominent football coach in Israel ever.

He was twice the manager of the Israeli national football team (1968–70, 1978–79) and led it to the 1968 Mexico Summer Olympics and to the only appearance in the World Cup, in Mexico 1970.

He was a high level determined professional and his training methods (with the help of Amos Bar Hama, the physical fitness instructor) at thin air locations were grueling and not all the players were able to stand them and survive Scheffer's toughness.

His achievements at Mexico 1970 were notable and his humble team drew 1:1 with Sweden and 0:0 with Italy, the tournament finalist.

Bobby Fischer

Robert Fischer (1943 - 2008) was an American chess Grandmaster and the 11th World Chess Champion. He is widely considered the greatest chess player of all time.

In 1972, he won the World Championship from Boris Spassky (12˝–8˝) of the USSR in a match widely regarded as a Cold War confrontation. The match, held in Reykjavik, Iceland, attracted more worldwide interest than any other chess match ever.

The Cold War era made the match a media sensation. It was called "The Match of the Century" and received front-page media coverage in the United States and around the world. Fischer's win was an American victory in a field that Soviet players, subsidized by the communist state, had dominated for many years. Dutch grandmaster Jan Timman called Fischer's victory "the story of a lonely hero who overcomes an entire empire". And it was completely true since Spasky was aided by an army of Soviet strong chess masters whereas Fischer struggled for victory almost alone.

The eccentric Fisher died symbolically at age 64 and a few months.

William L. Shirer

The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich is a book by the American author William L. Shirer about the life and background of Adolf Hitler and the history of Nazi Germany from 1933 to 1945. It was first published in 1960, by Simon & Schuster in the United States and it was a bestseller in both the U.S. and Europe.

Rise and Fall is based on Third Reich documents; the diaries of Joseph Goebbels, General Franz Halder, and those of the Italian Foreign Minister Galeazzo Ciano; the Nuremberg trials protocols, and the author's experience of six years reporting on the Third Reich for newspapers and radio.

The book was widely praised but most scholars condemned it - especially Shirer's concept "Luther to Hitler" that posited a direct line of anti-Jewish development from the sixteenth century reformer Martin Luther to Adolf Hitler.

Sigmund Freud

Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) was an Austrian neurologist who became known as the founding father of psychoanalysis.

The basic principles of psychoanalysis:

1. a person's mental development is determined by repressed unconscious events from early childhood;

2. conflicts between those unconscious (repressed) and conscious experiences can result in mental disturbances such as neurosis and depression;

3. the healing process by free association (a technique invented by Freud) is achieved by bringing the repressed material into the conscious mind.

Brian Clough & Peter Taylor

In 1972 Derby County were crowned football (soccer) champions of England for the first time in the club's history under manager Brian Clough and his instrumental assistant Peter Taylor.

Charismatic, outspoken and often controversial, Clough is considered one of the great managers of the English game. His achievements with Derby and Forest, two struggling provincial clubs with little prior history of success, are rated amongst the greatest in football history. His teams were also noted for playing attractive football and for their good sportsmanship. Clough has been dubbed the "greatest manager England never had".

Much of his success he owes his talented assistant Peter Taylor.

More about Erna Rubin

Ella Rubin Art Gallery - The Holocaust Mood

More about Ella Rubin and Her Art (Art-3000)
Erna Rubin's story from The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM)
The Ella Rubin Odyssey (Flickr)
More about My Jewish Family History and Genealogy

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