In many ways, my project is a duality.
While I portray an understanding of all the elements of the Chasidic traditions in which I was raised, there is a distance. These photographs depict an insider/outsider perspective. I am both intimately aware of this way of life, but at the same time somewhat critical. Gender roles in particular play a large part in this project. In Fatherhood, I depict my father in a faithful manner; he is often at his desk distracted by a host of things. Moreover, the figures on his desk play a key role in the photograph. The silver statue of Apollo on the left represents his old life—he had an interest in the arts, it bears his “English” name Albie as opposed to the Hebrew name he now prefers “Malachi,” and most importantly belonged to his late father, a business mogul who did not subscribe to any religion. The wooden statue of the farmer on the right represents his new life of peaceful resignation—he took to raising goats and chickens, tending to his property while he practices religion. In contrast, Motherhood portrays my mother as the matriarch she represents. I often say my mother is the perfect image of maternity—her empathy has no bounds and she is the rock for so many people around her. Yet, although I revere my parents, it is hard to overlook my judgments of their chosen lifestyle—their willingness to pursue an antiquated way of life.
Finally, through the project I hoped to both dispel the stereotypical view of Chasidic Jews while also discovering who I am within that community. Often with sub-cultures, popular media paints broad strokes, hoping to capture the community as whole. A caricature of the Chasidic community was created as a coping mechanism for those not within its bounds—a way to make some sense of the mysterious customs. The stereotype of Chasidic Jews depicts them as disconnected and uncultured. Yet, my family clearly does not fit that mold in many ways. While my dad does have the obligatory beard, and my mother dresses modestly, so many aspects of my family life do no fall within the wide net cast by the stereotype. Like so many other Americans, they are connected to their smart phones and read People every week on the Sabbath. However, while I was trying to dismiss the typical view of Chasidic Jews in my photographs, I was also finding my place within my family and my community. In many ways, I am an outcast—I chose to go to a secular college, I chose to wear jeans and I chose to date a non-Jew. Nevertheless, through this process I have come to learn that although I do not fit the picture of a Chasidic Jew, it will always be the community that shaped me.