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Photographs from Israel by Gil Cohen-Magen
On display at Spertus through July 7, 2012
The ultra-orthodox Haredi community is usually brought to our attention only when political conflicts take place, modern and old-world outlooks collide, or media scandals reinforce religious extremist stereotypes.
As a photojournalist for the Reuters news agency, Gil Cohen-Magen was assigned in 2001 to take pictures of Jewish New Year 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.
A series of these photographs are on view through May 30, 2012, at Spertus, Chicago’s center for Jewish learning and culture. Cohen-Magen's unique photographic documentation crosses religious and political agendas, offering a rare glimpse into a society so "other" as to baffle even its own Jewish neighbors.
Cohen-Magen, a secular Israeli who works as a freelance photojournalist for Haaretz and international newspapers and magazines, approaches his ultra-Orthodox subjects with genuine curiosity and sensitivity. He examines the self-exiled anti-Zionists, steeped in controversy and asks who the people behind the religious ramparts really are.
"I found myself being drawn into a very different world, a world that I had kept at arm’s length and, at best, viewed with suspicion for most of my life," says Gil Cohn-Magen. "I connected specifically to the closed circles, where they despise cameras. I found a sense of family, a sense of community. Suddenly, I understood that Jewish tradition went far beyond eating sufganiyot on Hanukkah.”
This unique photographic collection ushers us into the private and public lives of the otherwise secluded community. Free from judgment or prejudice and with a richness of insight that few anthropologists can hope to achieve, Cohen-Magen brings us close, allowing us to linger for some intimate moments in a clandestine world.
Hassidic Courts: Photographs from Israel by Gil Cohen-Magen is on view at Spertus across from the 7th floor classrooms. These photos 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.