I can’t say Bulgaria has been high on my list of places to visit, but I might have to revise the ranking now that New Rochelle’s own Eric Rubin is the new American ambassador to Sofia.
Here’s a great article about Eric in today’s Journal News, in which he credits his New Rochelle upbringing with fostering an international perspective. Plus, he cites Model Congress as an influence. And one of his friends and high school classmates mentioned in the article is my brother Oren – he probably played poker at our house at some point. How can I not love this guy?
You can link to the article or the text follows below.
Answer: Eric Rubin.
Question: Who is the U.S. Ambassador to Bulgaria?
In a roundabout way, the original Jeopardy television game show is partly responsible for the New Rochelle native’s career as a diplomat. His father, Robert Rubin, was the show’s producer and used to take August off every year for family vacations.
“My parents traveled with us every summer, to Europe, Canada and across the U.S.,” the 54-year-old Rubin said. “I guess I got the travel bug then. I know it sounds like a cliche, but growing up in New Rochelle, with its diversity and the experiences I had, really did form the person I’ve become. I made lifelong friends there. In fact, four friends from New Rochelle attended my swearing in ceremony in Washington.”
Among those longtime friends is Oren Bramson, brother of current New Rochelle Mayor Noam Bramson.
A 1979 graduate of New Rochelle High School, Rubin was nominated by President Barack Obama last year and took the oath of office in January. He arrived in the Bulgarian capital of Sofia in February. Earlier posts include deputy assistant secretary in the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs and deputy chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow. He’s also served in Honduras, Thailand and in numerous capacities in Washington, D.C.
Rubin started kindergarten just a few years after a landmark 1962 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that resulted in New Rochelle becoming the first northern city ordered to desegregate its schools. Rubin said his hometown “exposed me to many different races and cultures.” He said the city became home to a number of diplomats from African nations.
“I was friends with their children. So I literally got to know people from around the globe,” he said.
He also became exposed to news events at an early age, which led to his original plan to become a journalist.
“I was 10 years old in 1968, when New Rochelle high school was gutted by an arson fire,” he said. “I remember that vividly.”
By the time he was in fifth grade, he and a friend launched a mimeograph newspaper. He later became editor of the junior high and high school papers and worked as an intern at Gannett Westchester Newspapers, the forerunner of The Journal News, and as a news clerk at The New York Times while he was studying at Yale.
Rubin also became interested in politics, working for a member of the City Council, participating in a Model Congress program that sent him to Washington and volunteering at the polls.
“It really was a great time to grow up, and looking back, I have to say I had a great childhood,” Rubin said.
By the mid-1980s he was no longer enamored with journalism. Having taken the foreign service exam in college, Rubin was offered a job by the state department in 1985. A year later, he was working as political and human rights officer in Honduras and never looked back.
He married his wife, Nicole Simmons, in 1988. She manages public health programs in Africa and is telecommuting from the Bulgarian capital of Sofia. Their two daughters, Rachel, 18, and Liana, 16, are also there.
Rubin heads an embassy with 85 Americans, including representatives from the Commerce and Agriculture departments, the Department of Defense, Drug Enforcement Agency FBI, and other federal agencies. There are also 300 Bulgarian workers. Rubin, who speaks five languages, first visited Bulgaria in 1991, when he was regional and security affairs officer for Eastern Europe and Bulgaria was emerging from the shadow of the former Soviet Union.
The country is now a member of NATO and the European Union. Sharing borders with Turkey, Greece, Macedonia, Romania and Serbia, its proximity to the Middle East makes it strategically important. Bulgarian Air Force bases are used by the U.S. Air Force, and the country has lent military equipment and manpower to U.S.-led efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Bulgaria has doubled its imports from the U.S. over the past five years, which Rubin said means profits for American companies and jobs for American workers.
As ambassador, he serves as the public face of the U.S. and the main link between senior levels of the American and Bulgarian governments. He’s also there to help American businessmen and tourists if they experience problems. The embassy also helps those who want to get married or adopt children in Bulgaria.
Rubin said Bulgarians know much about Americans, if not the other way around.
“The level of English is very high and most school children speak it very well. Pretty much every school kid can tell you who the president is and they’re very interested in the election,” he said. “The people here suffered a lot under communism and now they’re very focused on integrating with the West. They still face a number of issues, and we’re here to advise them, and help them in any way we can.”