Foto Friday – Ethiopia – Land of Wonders

The ties between the Land of Israel and Ethiopia are as old as the Bible itself from the marriage of Moses to a woman from the land of Cush (Numbers 12:1) to the Queen of Sheba’s visit to King Solomon (1 Kings 10:1-13).

Whether or not that visit resulted in a son named Menelik, as is the tradition of Ethiopian Jews, or whether Judaism arrived in Ethiopia later, what is certain is that this is the oldest Diaspora community practicing a Torah Judaism that pre-dates Rabbinic Judaism.

A new exhibit opening February 15, 2013at the Eretz Israel Museum, presents the story of the Beta Israel community – the Jews of Ethiopia – concentrating of their ties with Jerusalem up until the point at which the community emigrated to the modern State of Israel.

Men, women and children descending the mountain after the Sigd Prayers. Ambober, Gondar Region, Ethiopia 1956.
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Photo: Yehuda Sivan, Jerusalem (Jerusalem, Jewish Agency), Beit Hatfutsot Photo Archive

The synagogue in Wallaka, Gondar district, 1984.
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Photo: Doron Bacher, Beit Hatfutsot Photo Archive

Two women carrying water from the river, Ethiopia, 1984.
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Photograph: Joan Roth, New York / Beit Hatfutsot Photo Archive

Views of “Revolution Square” in Addis Ababa. Portraits of Marx, Engels and Lenin, 1984.
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Photo: Doron Bacher, Beit Hatfutsot Photo Archive

Curator Sara Turel writes, “For over two thousand years Ethiopia was ruled by dynasties and it is rare both in Africa and the world for there to be three monotheistic religions living side by side with mutual influences… the first Muslims in Ethiopia were refugees from Mecca, persecuted by the pagan Arabs… According to Ethiopian tradition, about half the population of [the norther city of Axum], before the arrival of Christianity, was Jewish.”

Life of St. George by Bishop Theodotus and The Miracles of St. George, manuscript, parchment, Ge’ez; 18th century
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Photo: Leonid Padrul, Roni Ferber collection, Tel Aviv.

The exhibition comprises selected work of art, ritualistic artifacts and costumes, illustrated manuscripts, music, musical instruments, cartography, photographs, ethnography, documentaries, etc.

Also featured are contemporary photographs by Aida Muluneh, chief curator of the Contemporary Art Museum in Addis Ababa.

Aida Muluneh, Boys and green wall, Gondar, 2008
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Photo: Aida Muluneh

For more information about Ethiopia, Land of Wonders exhibition visit the Eretz Israel Museum website.

Nostalgia Sunday – Holocaust archives online

holocaust-dayInternational Holocaust Remembrance Day is commemorated on January 27, the anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi concentration camps. It differs from Israel’s Holocaust Remembrance Day, which is marked eight days prior to Israel Independence Day, but it is no less important and there are a number of valuable collections and archives that have been made available to the public.

The Ghetto Fighters’ House archive holds over 2,500,000 objects, including letters, certificates, diaries and testimonies (written, audio and video), films, photographs and displays. To date, over 250,000 objects are available online, including albums of rescued children (the Coordinatsia Collection), as well as other Holocaust-related albums, the Holland archive, and the Adolf Berman Collection, which documents the underground rescue operation of Polish Jewry after the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.

The archive continues to collect objects from the Holocaust period, from Europe, Asia and North Africa that will contribute to Holocaust research: letters (in all languages), diaries and memoirs, certificates, forged identification certificates, medals, weaponry, ghetto currency, maps, tools and housewares, and all other objects.

The Ghetto Fighters’ House is also interested in archival material from all Jewish communities that existed during the period between the two world wars, as well as after WWII.

2013 is the 70th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. A week and a half ago, the Ghetto Fighters’ House launched the commemoration year with a special event at which President of the State of Israel Shimon Peres was presented with a specially produced copy of the diary of an unidentified young woman, a fighter of the Warsaw ghetto underground, writing in a bunker in the midst of the uprising.

The rare document, translated from Polish to Hebrew, “describes experiences of the shared fate in the bunker of fighters and ghetto inhabitants, the sense of anxiety and helplessness, and the desperate attempt to hold on to life despite everything”. Click to view a page from the diary or search the full archives.

The National Library of Israel, whose collection includes hundreds of personal and institutional archives, recently made public the archives of Nazi hunter Tuviah Friedman (1922-2011). “The archive contains a wealth of materials about Friedman’s anti-Nazi activities…Friedman’s contribution to the capture of Adolf Eichmann holds a special significance among his achievements.

Selected documents from Friedman’s collection can be seen here and the full archive search is also available.

The World Zionist Organization’s Central Zionist Archive holds millions of documents, photographs, maps, posters, announcements and other material that document the history of the Zionist Movement and Jewish settlement in Palestine before the founding of the State. The CZA’s main aims are to collect, preserve and make available to the general public, these historical treasures, that tell the story of the Jewish people on its way to an independent state.

This week, the CZA made available the documentation of Eva Michaelis-Stern, one of the founders of the Youth Aliya office in Berlin, who was interrogated by the Gestapo in 1937. “Apart from the interrogation itself, the document offers a glimpse into the reality lived by the Jews in Germany on the brink of the Holocaust. It shows how, despite immense efforts by Zionist activists to continue their daily lives, fear simmered beneath the surface, and the watchful eye of the Gestapo managed to slowly erode their sense of belonging to a country they had lived in for centuries.”

“The document, which reads like a short suspense story, also tells of the fickleness of human nature and of the thin line between friendship and animosity.” Both the document and its back-story can be viewed online.

Yad Vashem The Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Authority marked International Holocaust Remembrance Day with a new display, “Gathering the Fragments – Behind the Scenes of the Campaign to Rescue Personal Items from the Holocaust”. It displays the process of collection, research, registration and digitization performed in the framework of the nationwide project to rescue personal Holocaust-related items. Since launching two years ago, the project — which Yad Vashem calls “an 11th-hour rescue campaign to collect both the items as well as their stories, so that they will preserved forever” — has received some 71,000 donated items.

Click for information about Gathering the Fragments or to search Yad Vashen’s Digital Collections.

The Steve Spielberg Jewish Film Archive has a large number of films about the Holocaust available for viewing on its YouTube channel. “Many of the films deal with the fate of survivors in the post-war period. An important exception, which provides testimony from the war years, is the trial of Adolf Eichmann”.

Spend a few moments taking advantage of this wealth of resources – and if you have documents or artifacts to donate or contribute, contact the relevant organization. They are always on the lookout for more.

Foto Friday – Instagrammed Elections

The revolution may not be televised but Israeli elections 2013 were definitely Instagrammed. Whereas four years ago, election coverage was still the province of professionals, this year the most creative coverage was taking place behind the light blue partition before the smorgasbord of little paper chits imprinted with big black letters that is our voting system.

The polls opened. Civilians and soldiers lined up (perhaps the only time one sees an orderly queue in Israel)…

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Google Israel celebrated the day with a special Google Doodle of a behind-the-scenes look at a polling station, although in fact the secret ballot process with its bright blue envelopes ensures that what happens behind the partition, stays behind the partition… (That’s diplomat #DavidSaranga putting in his vote).

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Unless, of course, you decide to take a photo and share your decision with the world! Embellished with special effects, of course.

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Election day was declared a national holiday. The weather was beautifully balmy and there was a sense of excitement in the air because after voting, everyone headed for the beach, the park, the nature reserves and of course the mall. Given the spirit of the day, its no wonder that dogs on their morning constitutional figured prominently as voting booth companions…

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Although I’m at a loss as to what Mister Potato Head was doing there.

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Some voters took advantage of the privacy, the electoral alphabet soup laid out before them and their camera-phones to make statements. The one on the right reads: “We’ll only get d**ick here”. On the left, a Zen-like tribute to the word “poh”, which means “here”. (It was also the chit for the Yesh Atid party).

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In fact, Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party — initially criticized and now widely praised for its intensive use of Facebook to get the vote out — also made the best use of Instagram with a personal Yair Lapid photostream. Other politicians were photographed but didn’t post in their own names.

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Along with hashtags in Hebrew (most popular), photos were posted under the English-language hashtags #israelelections, #israelelections2013, #israelielections, #israelielections2013, #israelvotes and #israelvotes2013 — where at present there is only one photo but it’s one that has GOT to be seen.

Polls showed that a large percentage of voters were undecided until the last minute — perfectly exemplified by the photo on the right (courtesy of #hananirapoport of Jerusalem Capital Studios) as it turns between Likud-Beitenu’s Benjamin Netanyahu and Hatnua’s Tsipi Livni. At 10:00 PM, the polls closed with the highest voter turnout in years (excluding the Arab sector, where turnout was at a historic low). The results showed that we are not indecisive… we’re just decisive on two fronts.

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Here’s to the next round of elections. For the sake of our national stability and sanity, may they only happen in another four years! And Happy Tu b’Shvat!

Photo credits: #stateofisrael, #davidsaranga, #yairlapid, #hananirapoport, #yarondeja, #shar1z, #hadassb, #oferws, #naftali85, #johnny252, #galamit

Nostalgia Sunday – Election Chronicles

V298190005In time for this week’s elections, Israel’s National Library has launched Election Chronicles, an online exhibit of archived historical election propaganda, news media and ephemera.

The exhibition organizers write, “For the most part, elections are not recorded in the annals of higher culture such as literature or art, but in ephemera that attest to the mainstream nature of the event. These manifestations take the form of print, radio and television propaganda, and in more recent years, Internet propaganda.”

“They constitute an authentic reflection of the zeitgeist: the conflicts of opinion, the emotional intensity, modes of expression and even changing linguistic trends and current slang. They revitalize the past, eliciting nostalgia from the older generation and curiosity from the young.”

The exhibition focuses on four issues: the Arab-Israeli conflict, including wars and peace agreements; economic policy, from Socialism to free enterprise; the internal tension inherent in Israel’s status as a Jewish state; and various social issues that have arisen at different times, including ethnic, nationalist and class-based conflicts.

It also includes some facts about key elections illustrated by campaign posters. For example, the first elections to take place in Israel in 1949, which were for the Constituent Assembly (the Knesset). It was also the first in which a women’s party took part.
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The hot-button topics for the 1959 elections: Mapai (Labor) party infighting and the question of “Who is a Jew?”. The Herut party (today’s Likud) portrayed Mapai as being divorced from reality and the problems of the poor.

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1961 saw a dramatic improvement in graphics as in this poster where the National-Religious Front accuses Mapai of suffering from a Napoleon complex.

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1977 was the year of Menachem Begin and Likud’s upset victory over Labor.

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Meretz, the citizens’ rights party, has always lobbied for personal freedoms, as in this Pop art inspired poster from 1996 highlighting the wage gap between men and women.

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Election Chronicles also contains materials pertaining to political issues predating the establishment of the state that are carried through to the election campaigns presented here: disputes between the old and new Zionist establishments, between civil groups and the Labor party, between Jews and Arabs, between the various underground movements during the British mandate period, and so on. Alongside these are publications related to elections for other bodies: community councils, the National Council in the Mandate period, local councils, the Histadrut and workers’ council, etc.

The National Library collection also contains invaluable documentation about daily life in Israel. After voting on Tuesday, take a look. It’s well worth the time.

Foto Friday – Shai Ginott’s Motherhood Album

A new exhibition, Motherhood Album, opened this week. Curated by photographer Shai Ginott, it presents snapshots of mothers and their children who — like Ginott’s own daughter — are autistic.

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Ginott’s photographic series, Going your Way, my Way, is part of the exhibition. She calls it “a glimpse into the world of an autistic girl, through her mother’s eyes”.

Ginott started her career as a successful nature photographer, author and lecturer. In her own words, “I pursued photography as a way of raising awareness to nature and the environment.” But it was in 1997 that Ginott’s life took an unexpected turn when her daughter, Noa, was diagnosed with autism. She writes, “For over 15 years now, autism has been leaving its mark on my life.”

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Over time, Ginott’s subject matter also changed. “My professional shift in focus, from nature and landscape photography to employing photography as a mean of raising awareness to autism as well, reflects my own changing priorities.”

“Current statistics reveal that one in 88 children born today is diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder. According to these statistics, Israel sees at least a thousand children a year.”

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“Like many in my community of families of autistic children, I have experienced misguided perceptions, intolerance and social isolation. Luckily, I have also met some people who reached out, if only for a moment.”

Ginott, too, reached out. Driven by her belief in using photography as a powerful tool for raising awareness, she organized a workshop for mothers of autistic children. The initial goal of the group was to share photographs, and with them stories of living with autism. But unlike conventional family photos of good times and happy memories, for these women, the photos raised other emotions. A video on Ginott’s YouTube channel presents the group in depth (Hebrew-language only).

“Pain emerged right at our initial leafing through our family albums. It made us go back to the moment of receiving the diagnosis and the grueling therapeutic journey that ensued, as well as to the family, which either stayed or drew away. Our albums feature few, if any, friends and social relations of our children at any age. The body language in the photos, as in life, is not communicative.”

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Ginott’s vision is “to use exhibitions, information and lectures to unite friends and bring about a change in the government policy regarding the needs and rights of autistic people and their families,” and the group’s ultimate goal was a photo exhibition. During the course of the workshop, the mothers discussed, selected and re-selected those images that were significant to her and each woman created her own “motherhood album”. The hundreds of photographs became the raw material for the Motherhood Album exhibition.

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With the notable exception of Ginott’s work, most of the exhibition photographs are not professionally done. But what they lack in technique is made up in emotional force. “Can autism really be kept out of the family album?” Ginott asks on behalf of the group. “Do we really want to have memories deleted from our lives as well as our children’s, to cover up evidence of our complicated motherhood?”

“Excited, fearful, bravely and with a sense of mission, we invite you to get a glimpse of our lives, observe all that is visible and respect the invisible.”

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The Mothers on Motherhood exhibition is on display in the lobby of the Bank Mizrahi Tefahot Building, 7 Jabotinsky St., Ramat Gan through March 31, 2013. Shai Ginott conducts workshops for parents of children on the autism spectrum and delivers lectures on a variety of subjects, including talks on autism designed for parents, teachers, care professionals, special education students and schools with special needs classrooms. For more information, visit shaiginott.com

All photographs are copyright of Shai Ginott and are presented courtesy of the photographer.

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