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Photographs from Israel by Gil Cohen-Magen
As a photojournalist for the Reuters news agency, Gil Cohen-Magen was assigned in 2001 to take pictures of
Jewish new year’s customs in Mea Shearim, one of the oldest neighborhoods in Jerusalem and a longtime enclave for the Haredi or ultra-Orthodox Jewish community. The experience grew into a decade-long project, during which Cohen-Magen built personal bonds that allowed him unprecedented access to some of Israel’s most cloistered and conservative groups. As doors began to open up for him, he documented rituals, holiday celebrations, weddings, and scenes of everyday life.
A series of these photographs are on view on the 7th floor of Spertus and can be seen as part of a free self-guided tour. Stop in the Spertus Shop in the lobby and ask for your complimentary copy of the tour brochure.
As Israel’s Haredi sector grows in size and prominence, some argue that the very future of Israeli society hinges on how the mainstream understands and approaches this increasingly vocal and visible minority. Cohen-Magen, a secular Israeli who today works as a freelance photojournalist for Haaretz and international newspapers and magazines, approaches his ultra-Orthodox subjects with genuine curiosity and sensitivity.
About his work, Gil Cohen-Magen says:
All my life I was accustomed to view the ultra-Orthodox as egotistic and fanatic, but the continuous work of documentation
exposed me to other aspects. I was astonished to discover that just a few hundred meters away from my childhood
neighborhood was an entire way of life that I knew nothing about, and couldn’t believe that despite my love for the camera, I had never thought to break through the virtual iron wall between us and to photograph. This encounter with the ultra-Orthodox street sharpened by Jewish identity and for that
I am grateful.
Through these photographs and the stories they tell, I hope to bring both worlds closer, the secular and the ultra-Orthodox.
If I lower the wall between them even slightly, then I will have fulfilled my wish.