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A Devout Interest

March 29, 1998|TANYA LOH

Upon his return from a lengthy vacation in Israel, Long Beach advertising executive Lewis Groner did as anyone would do after a long trip: He developed his film. What he found inspired him to fly back to Jerusalem five more times over the next 10 years, devoting many hours to the art of photography while compiling an unusual portfolio.

While strolling through the ultra-Orthodox neighborhood of Mea Sharim, Groner had snapped various shots of its inhabitants. The results: stark images that seem as if they would have been black-and-white even if Groner had used color film. Mea Sharim features one of the largest clusters of Hasidim, the most traditional of all followers of Judaism. Intrigued by the austerity and insular seriousness of this environment, Groner felt compelled to share these images with friends and strangers halfway across the world.

Hasidim are known for their formal clothing, wide-brimmed hats and smaller yarmulkes, and by their untrimmed beards and long locks of sideburns. They adhere as closely as possible to the most stringent rules of the Jewish faith, forbidding men and women from unnecessary social interaction and enforcing a code of reserved behavior. Studying the Torah and raising children are crucial to the lives of Hasidic Jews, who shun the secularism and moral decay of modern life.

Groner illustrates this in "Chassidim in Black and White: Fifty Images of Jerusalem's Mea Sharim Neighborhood," his collection of 50 photographs on display at the Westside Jewish Community Center.

Forming the collection was no easy task, for the Hasidim are known for their aversion to being captured on film, believing that the replication of human images is unholy. As a result, the presentation is mostly full of photos of covered faces, perplexed expressions and the shy, big-eyed smiles of curious children not yet aware of the rules.

The exhibit is on display until May 3 at the center, 5870 Olympic Blvd., Los Angeles. Call (213) 938-2531, Ext. 2210, for viewing times.

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