mea sharim - the streets
Mea Shearim was established in 1874 as the fifth settlement outside the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem. Its name is derived from a verse in the weekly Torah portion that was read the week the settlement was founded: "Isaac sowed in that land, and in that year he reaped a hundredfold (מאה שערים , Mea Shearim); God had blessed him" (Genesis 26:12). Today, Mea Shearim remains an insular neighborhood in the heart of Jerusalem. With its overwhelmingly Hasidic population, the streets retain the flavor of an Eastern European shtetl. Life revolves around strict adherence to Jewish law, prayer, and the study of Jewish religious texts.
I began documenting the area of Mea Shearim in late 2014.
The sights that I witnessed during my initial visits to this area were different from anything that I’d ever seen since the residents resembled one another so strongly. For men, traditions in dress code include black frock coats and black hats. Long, black beards cover their faces, and many grow side curls, called payots. Women and girls are urged to wear what is considered modest dress – knee-length or longer skirts, no plunging necklines or midriff tops, no sleeveless blouses or bare shoulders. Some women wear thick black stockings all year long, even in summer, and married women wear a variety of hair coverings, from wigs to head scarves. The residents speak Yiddish in their daily lives, as opposed to the Hebrew language spoken by the majority of Israel’s population. The only use of Hebrew for residents is in prayer and religious study, as they believe that Hebrew is a sacred language to be used only for religious purposes.
Documentary photography is always a complex art. As I frequented the streets of the settlement, I realized that I would have to appear less like an outsider in order to properly capture the lives of this dynamic community – I would have to blend in. I began to alter my appearance and dress accordingly. While visiting Mea Shearim, whether in the daytime or at night, I wore only black. I also grew a long beard, and even began to eat in the settlement on a regular basis.
In the project "blurred", I decided to eliminate the identities of the individuals. Photography as an art form helped me cancel out the most distinguishing part of each person – the human face. In this way, by eliminating the defining characteristics of individual identities, the residents undertake a new identity as a group. This newly-formed group lacks freedom of expression, but shares characteristics that are common to all: being led by the Jewish faith and wearing the same fundamental colors – black and white.
Today, after having been a frequent visitor to the settlement for over three years, I am witnessing the accomplishments of my photographic research. I am beginning to see the uniqueness and appeal of this place. When I am visiting, I feel the wonder , i have a feeling of belonging, a feeling of relevance.
Photography as an art form helps me document and chronicle the ongoing pursuit of the old versus the new, the past versus the present, the everyday life of a city within a city.