Barbara Grau died a few weeks ago. I photographed her last year for the official Temple Anshei Shalom’s President’s Wall. She had just gotten over her latest chemo/poisoning. We talked as we shot. She said she was satisfied with what she had done with her life. More importantly, she thanked me for making her feel beautiful again.
So, I was going to shoot older members of Temple Anshei Shalom, people who no longer could make it to pray, but were instrumental in the building of the congregation. No much of an interest from anyone.
I pursued Anita for a couple of months. She was ill. She didn’t feel well. She had a therapy appointment. Her hairdresser was away. Then I got my chance.
We talked. She liked my new camera, telling me her husband had a Leica. We shot for five minutes after she finished breakfast. She couldn’t decide if she wanted to sleep or do the crossword puzzle.
I asked her how it felt to be 99? “You can be too old,” she said.
Two weeks later, she died. Two days short of her 99th birthday.
I made this image as a prayer aid, something to take the minyanim to a higher level. My talit, worn at my Bar Mitzvah, given to me by my father. My kappa, swiped from a box somewhere, bearing the name of some people whom I don’t know who gave it to people who attended their wedding. Tefillin from Sholem Lipskar who presides in Bal Harbor, whom I have not seen for years. He thought we were related and deserted me during my assassination. The prayer book is from a Rabbi I knew in MA. It belonged to his grandfather. It is open to the page we all read when we put on the boxes. Today, they hung it in the little sanctuary at Anshei Sholem where we belong.
I made all the light in the image in a studio. It’s artificial. Only God makes light. He did that first so we could observe the wonder of his creation.
May we all, this shabbos, use that light to see clearly, focused on human rights and justice, loving our families and communities and making the best of our short time hear on earth.
I delivered a lecture on Preserving Memories – Jews and Photography at Anshei Shalom’s Lifelong learning program. We talked about the origins of the craft, some of the practicioners of the art and capability of images to document, inform and entertain. Haven’t been in front of a group in years, especially when not wearing a suit or robes. I was shakey. About 50 attended and seemed engaged. Nice to talk about art instead of sociopaths.
What would photography be without Jews? Vanity Fair wouldn’t be the same without Annie Liebowitz. No Iwo Jima Memorial without Joe Rosenthal. No VJ day without Eisenstadt. Jews gave photography by Richard Avadon, Jay Maisel, Stieglitz, Diane Arbus, Bruce Gilden, Arthur Felig a/k/a Weegee, Joel Meyerwitz, Lisette Modal, Bruce Davidson, Arnold Newman, August Sander, Elliot Erwitt, Mary Ellen Mark and on and on and on. We wouldn’t see a lot of what we see or know what we know were it not for Jewish photographers.
Where did our camera sight come from? God gave us light and dark so we could see. God called it day and night. Photographers call it contrast. God created us in God’s image, telling us to create, make images we can see, which we can look at (not worship) giving people vision to make the world a better place. Jewish photography is genetic, hot-wired from God, a tool for the mission to do good deeds and leave the world better than what we found when we got here.
So, at his funeral service, which I didn’t attend because Sharon and I were out of town and didn’t know about it, the presiding Rabbi said God didn’t take Cantor Sapir, he took himself.
Why? I don’t know. I wish I knew before he did it. Many wish they did, too. Could we have helped him? Who knows? Everyone must make their own decision when to live and when to die. Some may need to be told how much they are loved.
I didn’t know him well or for so long. We were the same age, almost. I envisioned growing old with him, learning more about all the things he knew: music, humor, talmud and the meaning of life. I don’t have many friends; he could have been one.
Cantor’s voices connect prayers with God. Efrain loved to sing in Temple, using melodies to rid the congregants of self-consciousness, elevating their thoughts and minds to holy places. He’d pause between some phrases to look out into the audience, listening for proof he had connected, him to them and them to the angels. He once told me that he had observed me banging my prayer book on a pew during a prayer and that I had used an alternative beat. I sit in the last row; how observant.
We did a photo shoot in my studio, a formal shot for the hallway and the Temple Anshei Shalom bulletin. It took two hours. He was dressed perfectly, hair groomed, suit/shirt/tie selected for the occasion. We exchanged stories, listened to cantorial music and played with the lights. During one song by a noted Cantor, he explained the guy was just singing nonsense words, because the music was so beautiful and he wanted to sing along. I told him, after the shoot, how handsome he was and what a joy it was to photograph him. He said he never saw himself as being so good looking and that my images made him very happy.
The shot of him holding the Torah after the reading was the last shot of him. Taken two weeks before his death at Morning Minyan, it is not my usual kind of photograph. He isn’t looking at the camera and really doesn’t know or care I am in front of him. I usually go for the head, but I was drawn to his hands and the words on the Torah cover. You can see the joy in his heart, his love of Torah and feelings for humanity.
The Photo Gods helped me shoot this image. I wish God had helped me with fix his self image. He was a beautiful man, a significant man. My life will be less without him. You see, sometimes it isn’t how long you know someone but how well.