If you live or work in Kew Gardens Hills, you may remember Robert the Watchmaker, 71. The man with a smile, the Main Street staple is gone but never forgotten. Look at the photo of the short man with a goatee and a kind smile, sometimes with a loupe in one of his eyes as he tinkers with a watch in his small shop nestled between the Main Sweet candy shop and the Men’s Famous barbershop, on the same block as Main Street Cinemas.
This past Motzaei Shabbos, Robert Reuben ben Hana Rubinov z”l passed away, surrounded by family, including his children and beloved wife.
Robert was born in Osh, Kyrgyzstan, on October 2, 1950, the firstborn child of Rafael and Hana. He was followed by his sisters Rita and Zoya.
In the 1960s, the family moved to Tashkent, the largest city in Central Asia, which offered more opportunities for the three children. After completing school, Robert was drafted into the army, serving in the Soviet Far East. Unfortunately, he was unable to finish his service due to the terminal illness of his mother. She passed at an early age without seeing her future sons and daughters-in-law.
On March 11, 1977, Robert married Svetlana Ibragimova, a native of Tashkent with Kokand roots. In 1979, his first son, Eliezer (Igor), was born. Igor did not see his third birthday; after an intense illness, he gave his soul to Hashem. Pain and grief over the loss of their son did not stop Robert and Sveta; within five years, their sons Michael, Eddie, and Alex were born.
Michael Rubinov is known to many Bukharian Jews by the online name Michael Vostok, the administrator of Buharskie Toje Plachut (Bukharians Also Cry), a community announcement forum, and
BTP Necrology, where funeral information is shared. “While we are here, he lives eternally. While we remember him, he is alive until the last one of us is here,” he said at the funeral.
In the early 1980s, Robert, while working as a mathematics teacher at a vocational school, received training as a watchmaker. His specialty was making crystal glass covers for high-end watches, achieving tremendous popularity in Tashkent as being one of the few that could replace the crystal glass on a watch. Many remember Robert from the Rossiya Hotel, where he worked before immigrating to New York in 1993.
With his coworkers Ariel the shatnez inspector, Yosef the shoemaker, and Mordecai the tailor, From Hat to Toe opened on Main Street, where he dedicated his time to the community. “We have been in business together for 28 years,” said Ariel Ben Mordechai, who does shatnez testing. “At the time I was not yet observant and was working at a store in Astoria.”
He sought to add a watchmaker to his shop and was introduced to Rubinov. “As I became observant, I closed on Shabbat, relocated to Kew Gardens Hills, and he went with me,” he said. He initially assumed that American consumers throw out their watches when the hands stop moving and when batteries run out. “So many came here to have him repair their watches, and this is a one-stop shop where they can also have their clothing altered, checked for shatnez, have their hats cleaned, and their shoes repaired.”
At the end of last year, there was turnover at the store, with shoemaker Yosef Tamarov retiring and Rubinov stepping away from his cubicle after his cancer diagnosis. “He worked daily, until three months to his death,” said Ben Mordechai.
A seven-day commemoration will take place on Thursday, March 31 at the Versailles Restaurant, 63-34 Austin St, Rego Park at 7 p.m.
By Shabsie Saphirstein
and Sergey Kadinsky