“It was in Israel that I discovered photography. I had discovered aspects of it at age 13 back in the US, acquiring a Super 8 movie camera with some of my bar mitzvah money, but during my year abroad I experienced a new place. I had brought with me a Yashica 5-Star, a point-and-shoot camera with a fixed wide-angle lens, maybe 10 rolls of film, and also my curiosity. Combine innate curiosity with a new experience and it’s a good mix. I explored many places in Israel during the year, Jerusalem on an almost bi-weekly basis, but other locations with organized trips, or some I’d take on my own.
“Towards the end of the year, I decided to share some of my photographs that I had taken over the months with the larger yeshiva community where I was studying (Yeshivat Kerem B’Yavneh, a half hour south of Tel Aviv and an hour by bus from Jerusalem). I chose 50 prints from about 200 images that I had photographed and had processed at a Jerusalem photo shop and placed the 4x6s on a large sheet of oak tag (do they even make small sheets?). I assembled the photographs and labeled alongside them with corresponding numbers, and I stated the price hoping that people would order prints. Off I went to the Chader Ochel, the Dining Hall one day to post my photos on the inside wall right near the entrance, facing in so that people would see them once they were in the main room. Lunchtime came and there was activity, something new and different was on display. For 15 minutes people skipped their lunch to look at the photos, crowding around to see what this fellow on the American program had posted.
“Well, in the end, no one ordered any of the prints, as affordable as I had priced them, and the distinguished Rosh Yeshiva (Head of the Yeshiva) mentioned to me a few days later, succinctly and in his deep voice, that “It’s asur, prohibited, to do this without permission.” I must have responded with an apology and something along the lines of “that I wouldn’t,” but probably then explained why I did. He must have been surprised that someone was having a miniature photography exhibit right there in the yeshiva dining hall and I know on another occasion, when I was leading the Sabbath Musaf service, he had stopped me when I began to sing the Anim Zemiros song to “Erev Shel Shoshanim, Evening of Roses” a lovely Hebrew tune, but discernable in Israel as the always popular love song that it is. Not a religious tune, but a secular song, composed in 1957 and sung by numerous artists, and not only Israeli or Jewish ones.
“Future exhibits of mine would take place in galleries or museums, and later on the web, all venues more attuned to presenting the arts. But I did come to realize more fully during my year in Israel that I had this real curiosity about people, about experiencing different places – and a visual ability, which has developed over the years into something much bigger.”
View the full photo essay “Judah S. Harris: Israel Photographs 1983-2008” in Judah’s Yom Haatzmaut Newsletter: www.judahsharris.com/israel-projects
Judah S. Harris is a photographer, filmmaker, speaker, and writer. His work has appeared in museum exhibits, on the Op-Ed Pages of the NY Times, on the covers of more than 40 novels, and in advertising all over the world. Sign up for Judah’s email newsletter to receive updates on new essays and visual projects. www.judahsharris.com/visit
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.