We know animals can’t speak in language, yet talking dogs are a perennial staple of the best seller lists. Animals are not like us, yet humans still desire to have a connection with them, to
communicate across species. Repeatedly, in the Bible, humans seem to need animals to express what might otherwise be unsaid.
I grew up as a vegetarian in India. However, after I came to the United States, my eating habits changed. As long as I could make a distinction between the meat, fish and fowl on my plate from the cow with a bolt shot through its head, or the fish gasping for breath on the boat deck or the bird with its head cut off and spurting blood, I was able to eat flesh and fish. Once I lost the ability to do this, though, I was drawn irresistibly back to the vegetarianism of my youth.
He was speaking English, but the words just weren’t registering. Here I was, in the inner sanctum, the book and artifact-lined Mount Scopus office of my academic idol, the man I hoped would be my mentor. And he was saying what? “Mr. Epstein, I have been studying Hebrew illuminated manuscripts for over 50 years, and I can assure you that no image of any animal in these works has any significance beyond the decorative.”
Where I come from, people don’t like dogs much. I grew up in Flatbush in the 1950s, in an Orthodox home. My parents were both from Crown Heights, a generation removed from the shtetl. I was raised to be terrified of dogs.
Old joke: A baptized Jew is lambasted by his former yeshiva pal for becoming a goy—“You, the Talmudic prodigy, how could you leave it all behind?!” Replies the apostate: “Moish, relax, I’m still afraid of dogs.”
One day in the fall of 1939, llamas, camels, ostriches, antelopes and foxes scrambled down the alleyways and cobblestone streets of Warsaw’s Old Town. These animals were fleeing, after Nazi bombs devastated the Warsaw Zoo.
No alternate text on picture! - define alternate text in image propertiesThe Lower East Side, renowned as the preeminent Jewish immigrant neighborhood in the United States, has also acquired a well-deserved reputation as an incubator of American Jewish culture in theater, music, art and literature. Less known is the role the neighborhood played, starting in the late 1930s, as a source of inspiration for a group of American Jewish photographers.
“Let us now praise famous men, and our fathers that begat us.” So begins the 44th chapter of Ecclesiasticus, an ancient Jewish book also known as the Proverbs of Ben Sira. The photographer Walker Evans and the writer James Agee took the first half of this verse to name their American classic of 1941, which documents the hard lives of three “tenant families” — cotton sharecroppers — in Alabama during the Great Depression.
She was nicknamed La Pequeña Rubia (“the little blond”) by Spanish soldiers and described by Life magazine as “pretty little Gerda Taro.” Yet Taro, a photographer whose life was cut short at the age of 26 during the Spanish Civil War, was far from dainty.
In Hebrew, the word for photographer, tzalam, is drawn from the word for image, tzelem, as used in the Bible in Genesis, referring to humans being created in the image of God. But the connection is more than about words and their roots. Photography encompasses the art of noticing, of seeing deeply, being present and alive to the moment. In capturing light in stunning ways, or the essence and spirit of people, there’s holiness too. For the viewer, the images have many layers of meaning, mysteries to uncode.