Heroes and Heroines
Support | Heroes & Heroines
HEROES and HEROINES: Supporters, Sidekicks, Teammates, and Aides Behind the Scenes
No Jewish photo tour is complete nor possible without the help of numerous generous souls who assist me in myriad ways, including giving their time, sharing enthusiasm, welcoming me warmly, providing information, treating me to the occasional meal, driving me around, and unwittingly giving me some of the greatest and most unique travel experiences anyone could have. I call these great people my heroes and heroines. Here are some of their stories (listed by order of travel dates from most recent to past).
POSTED: Wednesday, September 21, 2011:
JAPAN, RUSSIA, FINLAND, ESTONIA, LATVIA, LITHUANIA, POLAND Jewish photo tour (July 29 ~ September 16, 2011): As usual, no Jewish photo tour is complete nor possible without the help of numerous generous souls. There are so many people that have made the last 7 weeks not only possible, but memorable, extraordinary, exciting, productive, but most of all, fun! I have so enjoyed meeting the contacts I had made by email months before I showed up, and I was, as usual, amazed by the openness and enthusiasm of those people who had no idea about me or my work before the moment we actually met. Their time and assistance is no less a valuable asset to my Jewish photo library than the actual photos because without their help, there would be few photos. This list is not comprehensive, but reflective of the assistance I received.
Before the thank yous, the statistics:
11,913 photographs added to the archives
145 new web galleries
38 cities, towns, and villages
34 Holocaust-related sites and memorials
39 other miscellaneous sites and topics
In TOKYO, JAPAN:
ARIE, at the Jewish Community of Japan (Tokyo) Synagogue, opened the doors for me on a quiet Sunday morning. I first met Arie 4 years earlier when I photographed the old synagogue. Opened in 2009, I was impressed by the new facility’s simple, modern beauty and the rooms which support a clearly active ex-pat community.
In MOSCOW, RUSSIA:
NURI KATZ, an old American-Israeli-Canadian friend, welcomed me into his ideally situated apartment on Tverskaya Street, the city’s main boulevard, where I was made to feel right at home midst the raucous of the big city. The location made for easy access to Jewish sights saving me both time and energy. Though his busy schedule didn’t allow for much time to hang out, it was terrific catching up after some 20 years.
VICTOR SHAPIRO from the IMBC (Israeli-Moscow Business Club) and the ISRAELI COMMUNITY IN MOSCOW was introduced to me by Nuri Katz. When we met at the Jewish Moscow Community Center (MJCC), a.k.a. Beit Chabad Maryina Roshcha, Victor enthusiastically chatted about the dynamics of the community before laying out a schedule of photo appointments for me. Without his help, I simply would not have been able to get the photos I did, nor in some cases, even know about some of the locations. Victor remained accessible to me for the entire week I was in Moscow, making some calls and supplying necessary information. He was generous both with his time and enthusiasm.
RABBI YAAKOV KLEIN of Chabad at the Maryina Roshcha Synagogue and Community Center was my first contact in the Moscow Jewish community. Nuri Katz was also responsible for connecting us. Rabbi Klein patiently corresponded with me via email from several months in advance of my arrival. Unfortunately, I missed making his acquaintance as he was out of town during my visit, but he left me in the capable hands of Victor Shapiro.
ZHENYA EVGENI IVANOVICH BABAOV is the father of my friend ELLA ISAKOV whom I know from her years living in Osaka. Zhenya does not speak English, nor do I speak a word of Russian, but we managed to connect via email (with the aid of his daughters). One of those emails from Ella contained a photo of her father, which I had seen a few months prior to my arrival. Zhenya and I decided that we would, if necessary, make a plan to meet for him to assist me after my arrival in Moscow. Then, a funny thing happened: I was at the information desk at the Marina Roshcha community center waiting to meet Victor Shapiro when I spotted a man that somehow looked vaguely familiar. I thought to myself, “I don’t believe it. But I am sure that is Ella’s dad.” So I tentatively approached him and said, “Ella Isakov father?” And he replied, “Da.” I couldn’t believe it. For once, my memory actually worked. Well, the timing could not have been better. With Victor Shapiro’s translation, we arranged a time and meeting point for two days later, and Zhenya would drive me 90 minutes southeast of Moscow to Malakhovka to photograph the Jewish cemetery and newly built synagogue, the latter being his first visit (the old synagogue had recently burned down). We spent a remarkable day together making (very) small talk with limited English words and stretching our non-verbal communication skills. But it worked. Upon our return to Moscow, Zhenya welcomed me into his home, cooked me some dumplings, and served me an instant coffee made in Japan. Without Zhenya’s help, a visit to Malakhovka would simply never have been possible. Thanks, Ella, for connecting me with your dad.
In ST. PETERSBURG, RUSSIA:
DIMA MUSOLIN, whom I had known from his time in Japan, welcomed me into his home and was quite simply the perfect host. Prior to my arrival, he took the time to find out about visa requirements (which, in the end, proved a non-issue), then looked after my every need while staying with him. He served me morning coffee and breakfast, and supper too. He provided me with a cell phone (which I couldn’t quite figure out how to use), and instructions how to negotiate the city, taking me to the Grand Choral Synagogue personally the first time I went there.
ANNA BRODOTSKAIA from the information department at the Grand Choral Synagogue fielded my many emails with grace. Unfortunately, she was out of town during my visit. Still, she connected me with all the right people in the community.
RABBI DANI ASH of Chabad at the Grand Choral Synagogue became my main assistant when I realized Anna was going to be out of town. Under the dome of the magnificent sanctuary, we sat and discussed an overview of the synagogue and all facilities that are incorporated into the compound, which is to say, a lot. I had no idea there are two other synagogues on the compound, including the Small Synagogue which actually pre-dates the Grand Choral Synagogue by some five years. Rabbi Ash was not merely helpful in terms of information, but he exuded a friendliness that put me at ease. He remained available to me for the next two days as I came and went working in and around the main synagogue.
ELENA FRIDMAN, head of tourism at the Grand Choral Synagogue, took time out of her busy day to sit and talk to me about both past and present aspects of the Jewish community. She provided me with a number of printed information sheets and directed me to several Jewish buildings from earlier times of the community. I would never have found such buildings had she not brought them to my attention. Perhaps the most surprising and thrilling place she led me to was the genizah, or old book repository, in the upper level of the synagogue, atop a spiral staircase that leads to a dark, creaky, messy but magical place of history and magical photo opportunities. I felt privileged to be granted such unique access. But more than that, she left me all on my own in the spooky rafters of the remarkable synagogue. Elena’s office door was literally open and she graciously accommodated my questions as I crept back to her door about four times. Elena was also responsible for arranging appointments for me at YESOD and the JCC (see below).
YAEL GERCHIKOV, PR Manager of YESOD Jewish Community Home, was very happy to show me around this lovely modern facility that houses a number of Jewish organizations under one roof, and which also hosts a day-care and a theater among other things. She spent a full hour just showing me around before I took a single photo, then left me on my own to wander around.
ALEXANDER FRENKEL, executive director of the JCC of St. Petersburg, is a colorful character who speaks energetically about the good and the bad and the controversial within the Jewish community. We first met by a stroke of good timing: I was on the street searching for the entrance to the place. I had the right address, but could not find the entrance. That’s when I stopped a passerby and asked if he spoke English. It was Alex. Once inside, he proudly showed off this modest facility, the ground floor in an old apartment complex. “This is the real Jewish community center of St. Petersburg,” he explained. I had no reason to doubt him.
In HELSINKI, FINLAND:
DAN KANTOR, Executive Director of the Helsinki Synagogue, graciously welcomed me into the synagogue, gave me tour of the compound, and granted me free rein to photograph. He took time out of his busy morning to chat with me about the community and to help sort out a few details, such as information about Hameenlinna Jewish cemetery, an hour train ride north of Helsinki.
RAULI, an office assistant at the Helsinki Synagogue and an all-round friendly man, took time to personally guide me to the nearby old Jewish cemetery, and a few mornings later, he met me at the new Jewish cemetery so I could photograph the interior of the Chevrah Kadishah building. Rauli also answered several of my questions concerning the community in regards to my photo work.
RABBI BENYAMIN WOLFF of Chabad Lubavitch of Finland turned up at the Helsinki Synagogue. As I had not expected to meet him there, I didn’t even recognize his name when he introduced himself, this despite several emails over the previous few months. Later that same day, he warmly welcomed me into the large and homey Chabad House.
In TURKU, FINLAND:
TOMER HUHTAMAKI, chairman of the board of the Turku Synagogue, managed to squeeze me into his hectic morning schedule, greeted me at the synagogue with alacrity, and gave me a quick but thorough 75 minute photo-shoot window. Between clicks of the shutter, we chatted about the community as he guided me from room to room pointing out various interesting details in the wall photos and ornaments. And just like that, he was off to his next appointment.
FELIX MANELL, office director, took time from his busy day to drive me a few kilometers out of town to the cemetery where he left me in the rain, then came to fetch me a couple of hours later, and dropped me at the train station for my return to Helsinki. He even scrounged around for the keys to the Chevrah Kadishah building so I could photo inside.
In TALLINN, ESTONIA:
RABBI SHMUEL KOT, Chief Rabbi of Estonia, is a busy man. Despite his heavy schedule, he supplied with me with key information such as names and email addresses for communities around Estonia. When we finally met in the restaurant at the Tallinn Synagogue (the only kosher restaurant in Estonia), he seemed no less busy, but warm and calm nonetheless. Though our encounter was brief, his help was large.
MAREK ABEL, supply manager of the JCC, is one of those people I meet along the way who always amaze me. He was not a prior contact, but he quickly became an indispensable assistant both in and out of the JCC. Not only did he show me round the JCC and the Estonian Jewish Museum, he drove me to a couple of nearby sites, including an old prison, a former cemetery (now a parking lot and a mess), he also drove me to the current Jewish cemetery located out of the center of town. Most remarkably, Marek drove me the 30 kilometers to Klooga, site of Nazi mass killings where today there are mass grave sites and memorial markers. That side trip alone took his entire morning.
VADIM ROVLIN, executive director of the Jewish Community of Estonia, sat behind a pile of papers and ringing cell phones as he welcomed me to the JCC. He, too, made some calls for me and all around made me feel welcome. He also alerted me to the fact that a story about me appeared in the Russian version of an Estonia newspaper (I would otherwise have had no idea).
SHIMON BEN-SHOSHAN, consul, embassy of Israel in Helsinki, whom I met only by chance while meeting with Rabbi Kot, granted me permission to photograph at the farewell concert event for the Israeli Ambassador to Finland/Estonia, Avi Granot.
In RAKVERE, ESTONIA:
SAMUEL GOLOMB and I had been in contact for 3 months prior to my arrival. With his limited English, he graciously negotiated his way through my many emails, saying on August 13, “I am surprised, how you manage to organize on such distance the trip (sic)! Be assured that for my part you will have full help.” Per the former comment, well, it takes months of advanced planning. Per the latter comment, Samuel did not let me down. He spent 2 full days with me: the first day, I arrived to Rakvere by bus from Tallinn and was greeted by him and MYLES, one of his students, who acted as a translator. On that day, in Myles’ car, we visited the local cemetery and Kivioli, site of a concentration camp. From there, we spent the latter part of the afternoon at the home of his girlfriend where we celebrated the 18th birthday of her daughter. The garden party was full of food and fun, and Chinese balloon lanterns as dusk fell. The next day, sans Myles, Samuel drove me to Kohtla-Jarve, and chauffeured me around the Ida-Virumaa (eastern) region of the country (see KOHTLA-JARVE below). Little did I know that Samuel himself is a well-known Estonian figure. He’s a sort of jack-of-all-trades, appearing in TV commercials and advertisements; he writes a news column; he hosts a Russian radio show; and emcees weddings and even funerals.
In KOHTLA-JARVE, ESTONIA:
ALEKSANDR DUSMAN, chairman of the Ida-Virumaa (eastern) Jewish Community of Estonia, took a day out of his extraordinarily busy schedule to guide me around the region, including a warm welcome by members of the community at the local JCC. He even arranged a meeting with the local mayor who, to my surprise, personally made and served us coffee in his very comfortable office at the town hall. Aside from Jewish community duties, Aleksandr is the director of the Committee for External Relations of St. Petersburg, an organization representing businesses between Estonia, Finland, and St. Petersburg, Russia. The very next day, we met again in Tallinn at a farewell concert event for Avi Granot, the departing Israeli ambassador to both Finland and Estonia.
EVGENY KAPOV, a freelance journalist/photographer and member of the Ida-Virumaa Jewish community, spent the day trailing me with his camera and voice recorder. It was an interesting feeling to be in front of the camera all day while I went about my business. The very next day, his story about me appeared in the Estonian/Russian news. So what if he changed my name to “Jona”, moved me to Tokyo, and changed my job to a scientist and philologist? Press is press!
In VALGA, ESTONIA:
SERGEI SELEZNJOV, a local police officer, was not born a Jew but has become deeply interested in Jewish religion and life over the years. He and his wife drove me to the Jewish cemetery in Valka, on the Latvian side of the border (the city was divided in 1991 and the old but now freely open border post between the Estonian-Latvian line still stands as a reminder of the former Soviet era), then dropped me at the bus station where I continued on to Riga. My short visit was bookended by two 4-hour bus rides: Tallinn-Valga and Valka-Riga. It was an exhausting effort to photograph a cemetery, but well worth it.
In RIGA, LATVIA:
RABBI MORDEDCHAI GLAZMAN arrived in Riga in 1992. His commitment, and that of his wife too, is inspirational. He has a few more grey hairs in his beard since I met him in 1997, but he hasn’t lost a step in his verve. I found him just as I had remembered him: standing at the front of the beit midrash mid-prayer. When he saw me from across the room, he came over and welcomed me warmly. After a chat, I got down to work, photographing the beautifully restored synagogue. Rabbi Glazman welcomed me back to photograph morning services and invited me to his home for a lively Shabbat meal around a large dining table with his family and a few other out-of-town guests.
VICTORIA GUBATOVA, director of the Jewish Centre Alef at the Jewish Community Center, was enthusiastically forthcoming with various bits of Riga information. She even took time to help secure my meeting with Rabbi Glazman. She was instrumental in connecting me with Simonas from Sugihara House in Kaunas (see below), someone I might not have otherwise even known about. A last minute appointment meant that we would not be able to meet. But, to both our delight, we bumped into one another at the Riga JCC as she hustled between meetings.
RABBI MENACHAM BARKAHAN, director of Shamir Jewish Association at the former Zeilen Shul, and VICTORIA SHALDOVA, also of Shamir, greeted me very warmly even though I had shown up unannounced. In fact, I had no idea whatsoever that their offices were inside the former Zeilen Shul. As it turned out, I had already unwittingly photographed Rabbi Barkahan at the Peitav Synagogue when I photographed there earlier that morning. With a sense of who I was, the rabbi was remarkably engaging. “Would you like to meet the Israeli ambassador?” he asked.”I know him personally.” And practically before I could respond, he handed me his phone with the Israeli Ambassador to Latvia on the other end (alas, he was leaving town within hours of that chat and would not return till after I left town). Rabbi Barkahan also directed me to the new Riga Ghetto and Latvian Holocaust Museum (in the ghetto), a project he practically undertook himself.
ALON KILIM, director of the Jewish school, interrupted a meeting to speak with me and instruct a delightful staffer to guide me round the school (which was still on summer holidays).
In KAUNAS, LITHUANIA:
SIMONAS DOVIDAVICIUS, executive director of Sugihara House (a museum to the memory and story of Japanese diplomat, Chiune Sugihara, who, as Japanese consul in the consulate of Japan in Kaunas, issued visas which saved some 6,000 Jews), is a gentle soul with a passion for Jewish history. He was my only contact in Kaunas and he really made every effort to assist, from taking time to speak with me about the community, to organizing an encounter with ladies of the Jewish women’s club, to making numerous calls for me, to driving me round the old ghetto (Viliampole) and out to IX Fortas, to lending me a cell phone, and finally giving me a lift to Vilnius (door-to-door service from hostel to hostel). Simonas quite simply made Kaunas possible. I must also thank RAMUNAS GARBARAVICIUS of Sugihara House for his warm welcome too.
In PLUNGE, LITHUANIA:
EUGENIJUS BUNKA, a local journalist and Jewish historical enthusiast, gave me a huge surprise, more than one, actually. First off, I thought he was from Plunge because that was where we had intended to meet (he actually lives in a town nearby). Instead, we met in Rietavas, 20 kilometers from Plunge, and 3 hours by bus from Kaunas (I had only come for the day). His first surprise was that we would be taking a whirlwind tour round seven towns and villages (I had no idea this was the plan until we met and started the day over a quick coffee). I was impressed not just by the fact that he seemed to know every nook and cranny of the driving routes, but for his zest for the history of each town. At the end of the day, with just minutes to go before boarding my return bus, he handed me my second surprise: a little tiny shopping bag. On it, was a an artist’s vision of the Great Plunge Synagogue (no longer in existence). Inside, was a piece of brick, a fragment of the synagogue. I told him that I would keep that for the rest of my life. Outside Plunge, is the Kaushenai mass grave site and monument to Lithuanians who helped save Jews. The memorial was built with 1,800 bricks from the Great Plunge Synagogue, one for each person in the mass grave.
In VILNIUS, LITHUANIA:
IRINA CERNECKAITE, coordinator of the Vilna Gaon State Jewish Museum (VGSJM), was super patient and professional in dealing with my request to photograph in the various museums of the VGSJM. The only thing is, once I finally got to Vilnius, I realized how short my time was and I was unable to visit and photograph the museums. After all the effort and time, I felt I owed it to IRINA to thank her in person, which I did, and she was delightful and understanding. She said she admired my work and mission, which I greatly appreciated. She graciously spent 45 minutes guiding me round the Tolerance Musuem, housed in a beautifully restored building from pre-war Jewish Vilnius.
SIMON GUREVICHIUS, executive director of the Jewish Community of Lithuania, fielded my emails in a timely fashion despite his very busy schedule (things appeared quite hectic when we met in his office). Despite phone calls and people stopping into his office, he spent an hour with me speaking virtually non-stop about the JCC itself and the community at large. He gave me a booklet featuring 100 memorable Jewish places in Vilnius, complete with a numbered map and short descriptions for each site. I then spent the next two days on a self-guided photo tour around town until I was exhausted (well, until the rain shut me down, anyway). Simon also confirmed permission for me to photograph the Choral Synagogue, the only surviving working synagogue in the city.
In BIALYSTOK, POLAND:
TOMEK WISNIEWSKI, a self-described journalist though I take liberty to add the word historian, patiently and generously responded to my many emails and uncertainties about making a stopover in Bialystok. I simply couldn’t make contact with anyone else, so I was really counting on Tomek to come through for me, and he most certainly did not let me down. I arrived the evening before from Vilnius, Lithuania, and budgeted for a single day of work, then on the train to Warsaw, my final stop. The next morning at 9:00 a.m. sharp, Tomek picked me up in his shiny new and comfortable KIA Landrover-like vehicle. Over the ensuing 8 hours, he drove me to some of the most outstanding synagogues and cemeteries I have had the fortune to photograph, namely, the Bialystok cemetery, and the two Great Synagogues of Orla and Tykocin. There was even time to drop in on his mom for lunch. Tomek filled my day with expert knowledge of Jewish history and life in the region, much of which he contributes to an interesting website. Tomek even gave me one of his several books.
In WARSAW, POLAND:
KRZYSZTOF BIELAWSKI, a researcher at the Museum of the History of Polish Jews and “Virtual Shtetl” project administrator of the Cemeteries and Places of Martyrology Section, it is fair to say, did and offered more than I asked, plying me with information, photo ideas, and plans. In my thank you email, I told him that I really did not have the words express my gratitude for all he had done for me, which is to say, everything. “That is no exaggeration,” I wrote. “From your wealth of information and great reserves of energy, to your time and friendship, you are hugely instrumental in making my 8 days in Poland remarkable.” Krzysztof also connected me with other people who assisted me in Bialystok, Lublin, Treblinka, Bedzin, and Sosnowiec. “I’ve taken 7,000 photographs this week (during my week in Poland),” I wrote. “Remarkable. I would never have taken that many images without your help…Do not underestimate what you have done for me.” To top it all off, he welcomed me into his home for a short but perfect supper with his wife after our long and intensive day-trip to Lublin.
LUKASZ KOPERA, neighbor of KRZYSZTOF (above), drove me to Treblinka extermination camp site, one of Poland’s most important World War II memorials. As it was his first visit there too, we were able to share this important experience together. Despite that fact that I don’t speak a word of Polish and that he has limited English skills, we managed to chat and share a few laughs despite the heaviness of our destination.
AGATA STRZELECKA was the gatekeeper of sorts for the Brodno cemetery in Praga, Warsaw. She obtained the key for research she is doing, and somehow (I am really not too sure, actually), KRYZSZTOF (see above) had arranged to meet her on a bright Sunday morning. What was supposed to be an hour in the cemetery, turned into a nearly full day outing and she and her husband ANTOINE MISONNE were both interested in joining Kryzsztof and me in our walk around old Jewish Praga and visits to the Otwock and Karczew cemeteries, some 40 minutes drive south of town. Not only was the day made easier by being carted around in their car (as opposed to using public transportation), it was just a lot more fun being in a small group of people who each had a specific interest in the Jewish sites of the day. I also learned that Antoine’s great-grandfather, LEONARD MISONNE, was a master pictorialist photographer who took some of the most revealing and historical landscape and cityscape photographs of his time. Pretty cool.
In LUBLIN, POLAND:
DR. LUBA MATRASZEK and her son PAWEL MATRASZEK were obliging and welcoming to the 19th century Chewa Nosim Synagogue neatly tucked away on the second floor of an unassuming row house in the center of town. They opened the synagogue especially for me. Pawel was particularly loquacious and determined to talk his way through my 45-minute visit. I confess that I felt a bit bad for having to rush things and not having a chance to talk, but time was just not on my side (I still had a Yeshiva and the old Jewish cemetery to photograph in about 2 remaining hours before the bus ride back to Warsaw). But at least Kryzsztof (see above), who arranged the visit, chatted with them over a cup of tea.
In BEDZIN, POLAND:
KAROLINA JAKOWENKO, founder of Fundacja Brama Cukermana, a foundation for the preservation of historical buildings in the area with a particular focus on bygone Jewish buildings, met me at the Sosnowiec train station (some 2.5 hours from Warsaw) at 10 a.m. with another local expert historian who also accompanied us to Czeladz cemetery. The day was long, eventful, and tiring. One of the most interesting places Karolina took me to was her foundation’s offices, housed in a 19th century former prayer house whose walls boast beautiful Jewish-themed murals that are simply remarkable. There is little left to the imagination of the rooms once filled with local Jews (there are none today). Not far away, the Mizrachi Synagogue, another 19th century prayer hall, is being restored and also has walls covered with bits and pieces of murals. Karolina’s delightful manner made for not only an interesting and productive day, but a friendly one.
Thank you all.
POSTED: Wednesday, September 15, 2010:
AUSTRALIA (AU) and NEW ZEALAND (NZ) PHOTO TOUR — Up Over Down Under!!! Jewish AU and NZ proved more remarkable than I had anticipated. Photo opportunities alone never comprise the essence of what is a Jewish photo tour. Inevitably, that certain something comes from the people and the communities I encounter along the way. As ever, I am the guy behind the lens but I am by no means the only person behind the scenes. Indeed, “it takes a village” to take 20,000 photographs in six weeks. Here’s the final filed photo count — AU: 5,169; NZ: 2,793 for a grand total of 7,962 new images for my Jewish photo library. Those numbers break down as follows: 6 weeks, 2 countries, 11 cities, 73 unique locations (40 in AU, 33 in NZ), 33 synagogues (23 in AU, 10 in NZ), 18 cemeteries (11 in AU, 7 in NZ), plus various Chevra Kadisha, Holocaust memorials, people, Chabad Houses, and a few miscellaneous Jewish buildings and homes from both bygone and present-day eras. In all, 77 new web galleries.
VIEWING AU and NZ PHOTOS: STILL IMAGES: Please see ALPHABETICAL INDEX for each individual sight. For a quick overview, please see AU HIGHLIGHTS (88 photos), and NZ HIGHLIGHTS (60 photos). VIDEOS: Both AU and NZ highlights can be enjoyed as streaming videos either on YouTube or VIDEOS (on this website) (each video runs approximately 5 minutes): Jewish Australia and Jewish Aotearoa:New Zealand
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: There is a entire cast of heroes I would like to thank (in order of the trip). I begin with thanks to all the members of Community Services Group (CSG) whose job it is to oversee the security of the Australian Jewish community at large. After overcoming the security concerns that postponed my photo tour last year, I am grateful to CSG for their commitment not only to the community, but to working with me within a framework that everyone was comfortable with. The New South Wales Jewish Board of Deputies (NSWJBD) also played a key role in negotiating terms and conditions of photos. Those individuals with whom I directly negotiated permission shall remain unnamed here for security reasons, but you know who you are. Further, those people I met personally once on the ground in Sydney and Melbourne were gracious and welcoming, and granted me far greater freedom to photograph than I had anticipated. For that, I am grateful because the wider the scope of the images, the more complete the photo record for each respective sight.
In CANBERRA, AU, my deepest thanks go out to SALLY McDONALD and her husband, ERIC, for their warm hospitality. Sally already felt like an old friend by the time we finally met. We had been exchanging emails for three years, first establishing contact when I was in search of information about Jewish Penang, Malaysia (Sally’s uncle is the last remaining permanent Jewish resident on the island). They put me up for two delightful days and nights, drove me around to the capital’s Jewish sights, and otherwise took great care of me from arrival to departure.
In HOBART, TASMANIA, AU, I am grateful to DAVID CLARK for showing me one of my newest favorite synagogues, the remarkable Egyptian Revival style Hobart Synagogue, the oldest synagogue in Australia, consecrated 1845. Its warm interior is rich in detail and history, and the sanctuary even boasts “convict” benches, to which Jewish convicts were shackled during services. I also thank his wife, PNINA, for her gentle smile and home cooking. In edition 68 (September 2010) of the Tasmanian Jewish Times newsletter, David wrote, “A recent highlight, just last Sunday [August 8th], was spending the whole morning [at the synagogue] with Jono David, who has devoted years of his life to photographing as many shules, and other places of Jewish interest, as possible, in fact, I suspect he dreams of recording all of them.” For good measure, he included my “customary self-portrait” that I take at most synagogues I photograph. Thanks for that, David!
In LAUNCESTON, TASMANIA, AU, my thanks go out to GEORGE GERSHON GOLDSTEEN for his patience as I photographed the Launceston Hebrew Congregation Synagogue (in two visits due to difficult lighting), also in Egyptian Revival style. He also drove me out to the small Jewish cemetery. George, too, welcomed me into his home for lunch.
In MELBOURNE, AU, my thanks go out to RAELENE COELHO, executive assistant to the CEO, Springvale Botanical Cemetery, for not merely securing permission to photograph at virtually all the major cemeteries in that city, but for fielding so many emails from me — both initially from last year, and once again this year. Between clarifying for me my confusion over the cemeteries and what is where and sorting out a written agreement, I kept Raelene busy beyond the call of duty, yet she responded to each of my emails in a timely fashion, professionally, and courteously.
Also in MELBOURNE, AU, I thank the entire congregation of the BLAKE STREET HEBREW CONGREGATION for providing me the opportunity to give my first-ever presentation. I so thoroughly enjoyed talking about my work that my 30~45 minute presentation waffled on for an hour and a quarter. Thankfully, the 40 or so individuals who turned up stayed awake (most of them, LOL) and their enthusiastic feedback afterwards further affirmed my commitment to my work.
In MELBOURNE, AU, I extend a truly from-the-heart thank you to ophthalmologist DR. MARK CHERNY (pictured at Monarch Cakes, his great-grandparents’ store) for his utterly overwhelming show of support and enthusiasm. Just a day after the Australian Jewish News featured a story about my pending Jewish photo tour in their July 9 edition, I received this email: “Saw you in the Australian Jewish News. Love your work and mission. Would love to meet you and show you some interesting photography in 3D. Could also drive you around some of the Jewish sites in Melbourne or have you for a meal. Hope we can catch up.” Well, that just about sums up what Mark did for me, which is to say, everything. Even before my arrival, Mark worked indefatigably on my behalf to arrange certain photo appointments, potential contacts for financial backing, and was solely responsible for arranging my speaking engagement at the Blake Street Hebrew Congregation. Upon my arrival in Melbourne, Mark whisked me off to my first-ever Aussie Rules Football match and fed me sushi rolls while we watched, dare I quote him, “the almost real religion in the Jewish community of Melbourne.” As enthusiastic as he was for my work, it paled in comparison to his love of his St. Kilda Saints (everything does!). In short, Mark made utter good on his initial email: he made the week mine, and was available to me at every moment of the day (should I have required such assistance). About the only request I actually made was a road trip to Ballarat, about 90 minutes from Melbourne, sight of the oldest synagogue on the mainland. At first rub, Mark sent me an email suggesting it might just be too ambitious but he sent me a change-of-heart message quite literally a few minutes later. We didn’t even leave Melbourne till 6:30 p.m. But it was well worth the effort for the synagogue itself is remarkable and Mark reminisced about events he had attended there as a boy. Mark and his lovely wife, Ruth, and their kids, also welcomed me into their beautiful home on more than one occasion. From an email from a stranger to a friend — thank you, Mark!
In BALLARAT, AU, I thank JOHN ABRAHAM, community president, for accommodating my last-minute photo request (via Mark Cherny) to photo Ballarat Synagogue, the oldest synagogue on the Australian mainland, and for coming out relatively late on a cold night.
In CHRISTCHURCH, NZ, I am grateful to BETTINA WALLACE, president of the Canterbury Hebrew Congregation, for keeping her promise of finding time to make my photo appointment possible. With a small community and everyone working, the synagogue does not keep the office staffed daily. Bettina also kindly drove me out to the cemetery, left me while I did my work, then came back to fetch me and return me to town. I visited the synagogue just 10 days before the massive earthquake struck. In response to my concerns for her own safety and that of the synagogue, she wrote, “The Shul has a few cracks, but fine. The repair works have helped — otherwise I believe we would have lost the Ark.” When I arrived at the synagogue, it looked like an earthquake had already hit. Workmen were everywhere and the synagogue was in a bit of a mess. I was, honestly, crestfallen to find the synagogue in such a state. I had, after all, traveled a long way to get there. But, in the end, I managed to work around the goings on and came away with some nice images. In fact, Bettina so loved the image of the Ner Tamid (eternal lamp) above the Ark that I emailed her in my thank you note, that she used it for the community’s official Rosh Hashanah greeting to its members. What a great gesture of flattery. Funny how things play out.
In DUNEDIN, NZ, I thank VICTORIA TIMPANY, owner and resident of the TEMPLE GALLERY, the world’s southern-most synagogue and the oldest synagogue (closed) in New Zealand. She and her husband purchased it in 1992, fixed it up as an art gallery, and keep the former main sanctuary for their bedroom and living area. When I turned up unannounced, I explained who I was and what I was doing and Victoria did not hesitate for a moment in inviting me in to what is in effect her bedroom. I certainly would not wish to have a stranger taking photos in my most private quarters. But Victoria recognizes the historical significance of the building and I sensed an obligation on her part to keep it accessible to people who make specific inquiries.
In WELLINGTON, NZ, thanks go to RAYMOND BENDA who assisted me with all three of that city’s Jewish cemeteries, two of them being quite far out of town (Makara, Karori, Bolton Street). Raymond patiently waited for me as I worked in unfavorable rainy conditions for most of the day. The rest of the time, he entertained me with tales of his remarkable life as a merchant seaman and all his travels.
Also in WELLINGTON, NZ, I am grateful to KELVIN RATNAM, Vice-President of Temple Sinai Progressive Jewish Congregation for not merely permitting me to photo the synagogue, but for his downtown tour of the parliament district and lunch back in his lovely old home with wife, CAROL, who served up a very tasty homemade pumpkin soup.
In AUCKLAND, I had the privilege of meeting a number of prominent members of the Jewish community. I met NEVILLE BAKER, member of Chevra Kadisha (Jewish Burial Society), by happenstance when I showed up at the Symonds Street Jewish Cemetery on my first afternoon in town. He happened to be there with a group of kids from Habonim Dror Youth Group (based at the Beth Shalom Congregation) fixing up the old Taharah (funeral house). When I mentioned who I was, Neville said he had heard of me and he took an immediate and enthusiastic interest in my Auckland stay, much in the way Mark Cherny had done in Melbourne. Neville was responsible for arranging meetings with a few people and drove me way out of town to Oratia (to photo a refurbished Taharah House) and Waikumete to visit the Jewish cemeteries (Beit Olam sector; Beth Shalom sector; Orthodox sector). He also welcomed me into his home for a giggle-filled Saturday evening meal with his family. I am very grateful to Neville for his time and energy.
Also in Auckland, I met DAME LESLEY MAX, CEO of Great Potentials, whose “vision is for well-nurtured children within well functioning families, contributing to safe communities and a prosperous nation (from the website).” She carved out time from her packed schedule for a chat about her work (and a few nibbles of my own).
A personally thrilling meeting with MARTI FRIEDLANDER, arguably New Zealand’s most prominent and important photographer (see her website), and husband GERRARD, was a warm and friendly affair at their lovely home in the cozy Parnell neighborhood of Auckland. She thrilled me when she turned her camera on me, yet I was nervous when I photographed her. In attendance was LEONARD BELL, art historian at Auckland University and author of several books, including Marti Friedlander, a fantastic biographical retrospective about Marti’s photo life and contributions. I proudly have both Leonard’s and Marti’s signatures in my copy!
And lastly, but certainly not least, I thank RABBI DEAN SHAPIRO of the Beth Shalom Progressive Jewish Congregation of Auckland. He and I had been sharing emails for well over a year, having been introduced by a mutual friend in Los Angeles. Funny, I imagined Rabbi Shapiro to be a man in his 60s with a Kiwi accent. Nope, Rabbi Shapiro is somewhat younger and hails from L.A. (he is in Auckland on a three-year post, his first since finishing rabbinical school). Long before my arrival, he invited me to give a talk. I hesitated at first, having never done such a thing. But then I changed my mind, seeing the invitation as a great opportunity to expand my Jewish photo tour experiences and to spread my personal message about my work and the importance of photographic documentation. Being prepared for a talk in Auckland allowed me to accept the invitation to speak in Melbourne, so I have Rabbi Shapiro to thank for unwittingly bringing me forward to a new dimension in my Jewish work experiences. There was a great turnout, some 60 members in attendance. And as in Melbourne, my presentation was well received and I was very pleased. Earlier that same day, I had photographed Beth Shalom and was able to squeak in a few images of their synagogue into a NZ highlights slideshow. Those images, and particularly a portrait of Rabbi Shapiro, elicited squeals of delight from the spectators. I also thank Rabbi Shapiro for taking me to a sanctified sight: No, not the synagogue, but One Tree Hill, just down the road. It may be a sacred Maori memorial ground, but for me it is hallowed by U2’s song of the same name in memory of their Kiwi friend. I stood on that hill admiring the sweeping vista, buffeted by the winds of an approaching storm, and listened to Bono belt out, “You run like a river, on to the sea.” I had quite literally reached the summit of the photo tour. Or had I? A few hours later at Shabbat services, Rabbi Shapiro honored me when he called me to the bimah to hold a Torah as it was dressed in white for Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish new year).
Naturally, there are other heroes but I simply cannot list them all here. “Thank you” is insufficient, but it’s all I’ve got.
POSTED: Thursday, April 8, 2010:
ISRAEL and USA: It has been a highly productive and busy spring season photographing in Israel and the USA. Photo numbers include: some 28,000 photographs taken; 7,000 new images filed in the library; 82 new pages on the website including 39 synagogues, 9 cemeteries, a number of yeshivot, Purim events, matzhoh bakeries, and street life. I was in Israel February 9 ~ March 6 and shot more than 20,000 photographs (of which some 5,000 have been uploaded to my website — please scroll down the page for a complete list of all newly added images). From Israel, I flew back to Osaka for a brief visit home, then on March 12 I took off for a few more weeks in Washington, D.C. and New York City and took another 6,000 or so images. I only photographed two synagogues in D.C. but I had a busy week in NYC photographing half a dozen synagogues in Manhattan and several sights in Borough Park, Brooklyn, including yeshivot and a matzoh bakery. The latter proved particularly exciting as I had never before experienced the rituals of matzoh making.
The main reason for returning to D.C. was to attend the reception (on Sunday, March 14th) for my first-ever Jewish photo show which was held at the JCC of Greater Washington in Rockville, Maryland (click here for a few glimpses of the show). In short, the entire event was a grand success. My images were well received and my commitment lauded. The reception itself had a terrific turnout. Some of the guests were people I had not seen in years while others were first-time acquaintances. It was an exciting and fun evening.
As usual, I have so many people to thank for all that has happened this February and March. I am the guy behind the lens, but I am not the only one behind the scenes. Many generous souls make this photo library possible. Also as usual, there are too many people to thank here so I provide a sampling of some of the players:
First, I extend a huge thank you to Phyllis Altman, director of the Goldman Art Gallery of the JCC of Greater Washington for all she has done to make my photo show a reality. She works indefatigably to organize each and every show — no simple task. It is no exaggeration to say that without her championing my work and for being there to set the show up that it simply would not have taken place. I send her a special expression of gratitude for she didn’t let me down despite some extraordinary times.
In Israel, I am indebted to Tamira Zidkiahu for her enthusiasm and great friendship. On January 2, 2010, just a month before my arrival in Israel, I received a wonderful email from this complete stranger: “I’m so excited,” she wrote. “I do not know how I did not discover your wonderful site before…I am sitting now with tears, you are doing exactly what I’d do if I were younger, and I am so happy that you do such a great project.” I responded with my appreciation, and from that, Tamira offered to help set up no end of appointments for me, including permission to photograph the synagogue inside the Knesset (the Israeli Parliament) in Jerusalem. We first met face-to-face over big bowls of humus and piles of freshly baked pita bread in Ra’anana on my first afternoon in the country. She quickly won me over with her charm, her verve, her enthusiasm for life. She and her husband, Shlomo, later welcomed me into their home in Netanya and treated me to a tasty home-cooked meal, and I even partook in Purim events with their daughter’s family in Tel Aviv. Tamira’s time and assistance resulted in photographs and memories that I treasure.
In Haifa, Joel Malkar, secretary of the Shaare Rahamim Prayer Hall, took a day off work to drive me around town to photograph several Indian synagogues and introduce me to several delightful members of the Indian Jewish community there.
In Ashdod, Shlomo Dighorkar, also took a day off work to guide me to Indian synagogues there too, plus a yeshiva and a cemetery. Both men were great partners and outstanding companions. They gave me great insight into the Indian community in Israel (comprised of some 80,000 souls in communities around the country).
In Jerusalem, I thank Diane Liff and her husband for welcoming so warmly into their home in the Har Nof neighborhood of Jerusalem to partake in and photograph Purim celebrations.
In Ra’anana, a particularly huge and heart-felt thank you goes out to Stephanie Robinson-Jonas, my dear friend since junior high school, her wonderful husband, Amnon, and their delightful children, Amit, Maya, and Yali, for welcoming me into their home for a total of 15 wonderful days and nights. They really made me feel like a member of the family and I felt very much at home. There is absolutely nothing they did not do for me: they took care of me, fed me, housed me, drove me around to numerous local sights of interest, and embarked on several farther-flung day trips to such locations as Tel Megiddo, Ceasarea, and Apollonia.
On Moshav Beit Gamliel, I thank Orli Robinson-Jacobs (Stephanie’s sister), her husband, Yaron, and their five lovely children, Moriah, Eylon, Eliya, Tehila, and Neriya, for over-feeding me (it would have been more had it not been for a kitchen mishap!) and taking care of me one Shabbat. I thoroughly enjoyed playing table tennis with 13-year-old Eylon despite the fact that he slaughtered me 6 games to 0 (I’ll be back for a rematch!).
In Brooklyn, New York, thanks go out to Judy Liff, director of the Boro Park Y senior center, for once again finding precious slivers of time to help organize a successful visit to Borough Park (she also put me in touch with her sister-in-law Diane in Jerusalem).
I am indebted to Joe Schindelheim, Judy’s colleague, for also once again taking time out of his busy day to assist me, guide me, and vouch for me to gain access to a number of yeshivot, synagogues, and even a matzoh bakery. For someone who lives in the midst of Jewish Brooklyn on a daily basis, even he was wowed by what we found behind the doors in the bakery. I am glad I got to share such a special opportunity with this affable man.
Last, and certainly not least, in Rockville, Maryland, I thank my mother and father for their instrumental assistance in organizing my photo show and for their steadfast love and support. I also thank my brother, Michael, and sister, Sharon, for coming in from Los Angeles and Chicago (respectively) to attend my photo show. It means a great deal to have had them share in a personal great event.
And to all those other unsung heroes who helped me these last few months, you know who you are. Thank you all so very much.
POSTED: Wednesday, September 23, 2009:
MY SUMMER US and MEXICO JEWISH PHOTO TOUR was a grand success. I am home in Osaka now with 3,000 new images, and, thanks to my new digital camera, no tedious scanning of slides to do! New additions include images from Chicago, Washington, D.C. and the Maryland suburbs, New York City, and Mexico City. New photo additions include 30 synagogues, a day care center, a school, a retirement home, and a huge cemetery. For a complete list of links, either see below or click on ALPHABETICAL INDEX or CENTRAL AMERICA incl. MEXICO.
Like all my Jewish photo tours, there are a number of kind souls who helped make the photographs possible. I am most grateful to all of them. They provided their time, interest, and assistance, and in some cases, food and transportation. In Mexico City, there are two wonderful women I would like to thank specifically:
MONICA UNIKEL-FASJA (www.jewishtours.com.mx) is a writer, a historian, a researcher, a tour guide, and a wonderful hostess. I was acquainted with her via email when I visited Mexico City in February 2008. But this time round, Monica responded not merely enthusiastically and warmly to my pleas for help, she also guided me personally to two wonderful synagogues in the heart of town. And more, she welcomed me to her lovely home for a delightful Shabbat meal with her family and friends. When I bumped into her the next day on the Zocalo, the city’s main square, she greeted me like a friend.
Dra. ILIANA CHMELNIK was president of the Ashkenazi community when I met her last year. In our brief encounter, she and her colleagues managed to make me feel more than welcome. I still laugh when I recall Profa. JUDITH BANK’s comment: “You’re famous.” On this visit, however, Iliana and I shared a relaxing two-hour dinner over which she told me about her incredible medical career and her involvement in the community. “When I was president of the community, I didn’t sleep,” she said. “I would go from the hospital to the community offices and eat something in the car.” I was tired just listening to that routine. Even now, with her busy schedule, she carved out time to respond to my numerous emails. She personally saw to it that my needs and requests were taken care of. “When you first contacted us last year,” she explained, “I thought ‘how can we as the Mexican Jewish community not be included in his library? We have to let this guy take pictures’.” Iliana is a true champion of my documentation endeavors. And she is just a lovely and remarkable lady. In response to a message of gratitude I sent her after my departure, Iliana wrote back, “I want you to know that here in Mexico you have in me a good friend.” One cannot ask for more than that.
Additionally, I would like to extend my thanks to JAIME VOLCOVICH. He is a member of the Maguen David community security team. Even though he was hobbled by a recent motorcycle accident, Jaime spent two half-days guiding me to three synagogues. He waited patiently for me while I did my work. After our first outing, he invited me to his home where I met his family, including his father, artist Jose “Pepe” Volcovich. And if that were not enough, Pepe surprised me with a gift of one of his wonderful works.
POSTED: Monday, April 27, 2009:
JEWISH INDIA photographs and are now ready for viewing on this website. I came home from my March photo tour with 5,500 images — the largest number from any one Jewish photo tour to date. In the end, I filed about 4,500 of them and have uploaded 3,347 of those to my website. They are divided into 67 photo galleries and includes images of 32 synagogues, 19 cemeteries, and 16 miscellaneous galleries taken in more than 20 locations around India. To view these images, please see the complete list of Jewish India images below. Alternatively, the images may be accessed by clicking on either of these links: ALPHABETICAL INDEX or ASIA: Central, incl. India.
I would like to express a heartfelt thank you to all of those people who helped me. No Jewish photo tour is an individual endeavor; it is a team effort (and there are some 50 people who helped with my Jewish India photo tour — some only via email but many of them on the ground in India). Without their help, their time, their enthusiasm, their warm welcomes, I would have few Jewish India photographs. Their help is a direct and integral contribution to my Jewish photo library. I am grateful to all of them for all they have done. “Thank you” is insufficient, but it’s all I can offer here. There are a few individuals I would like to thank specifically. Their efforts were well above and beyond the call of duty, enacted with grace, humility, and indefatigable enthusiasm.
- In Delhi and Mumbai, RALHPY JHIRAD patiently answered my many emails with invaluable details and contact information. I had expected to meet him in Mumbai but he instead showed up unexpectedly at Judah Hyam Hall Synagogue in Delhi. In the moment of my confused surprise, I didn’t even recognize his name when he introduced himself! “I am Ralphy, Ralphy Jhirad,” he repeated a few times before it finally clicked. We had a good laugh about that. I had the pleasure of meeting Ralphy, and his lovely wife Yael and their sons, again in Mumbai.
- In Mumbai, DANIEL DAVID PEZARKAR became my right-hand man. He spent hours sending me detailed information about Jewish India via email, and then once in Mumbai, he reserved fully 2 days to guide me literally all over the city, aiding access to synagogues and cemeteries and saving me hours of time. He proudly showed me the beautifully maintained Etz Haeem Prayer Hall which his family is so admirably committed to serving. More than that, he spoke so much not only about Jewish life, but what it means to live in Mumbai. Daniel, it is fair to say, you are my brother.
- Also in Mumbai, MENASH CHORDEKAR took time out of his busy schedule to guide me to Kurla and Thane in the northern parts of the city. His spirited chatter and friendly disposition kept me not only informed, but entertained for the entire day. I am ready to return the favor when he comes to Japan in November this year.
- In Atlanta, Georgia, USA, JAY WARONKER fed my already eager appetite for Jewish India by revealing details I would have likely missed otherwise, particularly in and around the Kochi/Ernakulam area. His precise accounts of synagogue details and contacts in the area were invaluable. When at last I reached all the synagogues he directed me to, I fully appreciated just how amazingly spot on his remarkable watercolor renditions of the synagogues are. He has a great artistic talent and a deep commitment to his work. I have not had the pleasure of meeting Jay personally as yet, but he might just be making a stop in Japan soon.
- In Kochi, THOUFEEK ZAKRIYA is a Muslim with a deep and honest interest in Judaism and a talented calligraphist. He is particularly skilled at writing Hebrew and has transcribed numerous portions of the Torah into handmade scrolls, such as the one he gave me. Thoufeek spent a very full day with me photographing in Mala, Chennamangalam, and Parur. His presence proved an invaluable time-saver as he was able to negotiate directions with our driver who spoke little English. His companionship that day was much appreciated.
- In Ernakulam, ELIAS BABU JOSEPHAI welcomed me like an old friend even though I showed up with only a single phone call two days in advance. He provided access to 2 synagogues and 2 cemeteries, plus took me along to an engagement party. When I met Babu, he was busy at his business Cochin Blossoms, a tropical fish store and gardening nursery in the heart of Jew Town, housed in the former yeshiva building of the Kadavumbagan Synagogue. Elias spoke very frankly about Jewish life today and shared his candid feelings about the challenges the community faces. But of all his words, I remember these most vividly: “The [old] cemetery will make you cry. It’s in terrible condition.” I have photographed many cemeteries in dire shape. But Babu was so right. I truly was choked up at the sight of fetid garbage and broken glass, fires (for clearing the brush), barking dogs, snakes (yes, snakes! — thanks for the warning, Jay!), and the dilapidated state of many graves. Despite the fires and the morning sun, I felt a real chill on my skin. I couldn’t wait to get out of there!
- In Pune, ADEN PENKAR graciously answered an inquiry letter I sent by post requesting permission to photograph Succath Shelomo Synagogue and the cemetery. Little did I know that he would feature as a cornerstone to my Konkan excurion. Aden provided not only key information about his community, but vital details about the surrounding area that is so rich in Jewish heritage. In Pune, his wife and family warmly welcomed me into their home and treated me to a tasty lunch.
- Last, but certainly not least, in Pune, MOSES PENKAR, father of Aden, deserves the biggest thanks of all. He spent 3 very full, very hectic, and very fruitful days and 2 nights guiding me around Konkan (south of Mumbai). And he did so for nothing more than the adventure of it all. Aden had, in a sense, volunteered his dad’s services to me. “My dad is a very down to earth person,” he wrote to me on March 4. “The time he spends with you is a learning experience for him, and I am sure he shall enjoy it.” I sure hope he did. For me, Moses felt like a long-lost dad, the kind of person with whom you share a thought only to be taught something in return. There is no one else I can think of that I would rather have with me on that journey again than Moses.
Again, thanks to all of you!