Diversity of Jewish life captured in photos

A survivor bowing his head before a San Francisco Holocaust memorial. U.C. Berkeley students hoisting signs during a pro-Israel rally. A steaming bowl of matzah ball soup. Two Palo Alto men in tallitot and tefillin leaning over a Megillah at Purim.

Those images diverge dramatically, revealing an equally truthful vision of Bay Area Jewish life.

They were among the photographs included in "Reflections of Jewish Life in the Bay Area," a collection of photos on display at the Jewish Museum San Francisco this spring and summer.

The exhibit — assembled to help mark the Jewish Bulletin of Northern California's centennial year — presented work that has either appeared in the Bulletin or was snapped by photographers who have worked for the paper. In all, 13 photographers were presented.

Their 50 photos documented everything from the religious and spiritual to the personal and political, saluting the rich diversity of Bay Area Jewish life and the paper's role in recording it.

The exhibit "displayed some of the best images captured by Bulletin photographers in the past 10 years," said Susan Mall, project coordinator for the various events marking the yearlong centennial celebration.

Some of the images were poignant.

Take Phil Head's shot of Hebrew Academy student Svetlana Sogolova, a Soviet emigre orphaned last year after her older brother and caretaker was shot dead in a robbery attempt in San Francisco. Head, whose photos have landed him a Simon Rockower award for excellence in Jewish journalism, snapped Sogolova sitting on an empty sofa, her eyes brimming with sorrow.

In another exhibit photo, Eli Bishop captured local Holocaust survivor Tauba Weiss draped in the tattered garment she wore in a concentration camp. The powerful shot, which appeared in the Bulletin's arts calendar in April, was snapped in 1993 at a special screening of the movie "Schindler's List."

Other photos, such as Bram Goodwin's shot of the matzah ball soup, or Head's picture of a Hebrew Academy student wearing a kippah that reads "Los Angeles Rams," were more offbeat.

The diversity of tone in the exhibit, however, was unplanned, Mall said. "When the photos were chosen, they were chosen on artistic merit alone, not content," she said. "But it turned out that they reflect the serious and the funny."

Some of the most compelling exhibit photos captured local Jewish personalities.

In a 1989 photo by Tom Wachs, for example, former Shenson's co-owner Harry Golden is pictured in his natural habitat — amid shelves of Goodman's egg noodles and kosher wine. Other portraits, such as Goodwin's shot of a woman bald from chemotherapy or Cathleen Maclearie's close-up of writer and editor Florence Mischel, are more stark but equally affecting.

Meanwhile, viewers got an unusual glimpse of local rabbis in four photos by Marcus Hanschen, the only pictures in the exhibit not taken by Bulletin photographers. In one, Rabbi Jacob Traub of San Francisco's Congregation Adath Israel blows moody smoke rings. In another, Rabbi Alan Lew of the city's Beth Sholom, a former Buddhist, strikes a lotus position.

Hanschen's dramatic photos first appeared in Davka, a new alternative Jewish magazine. The pictures later appeared in the San Francisco Examiner's Sunday magazine.

Taken together, said Mall, the photos presented a comprehensive picture of the community whose stories are told in the pages of the Bulletin every week. "We wanted to publicize the importance of the weekly Jewish newspaper in unifying the community and informing people of local, national and international news," she said.

The Bulletin's yearlong centennial celebration kicked off in January with a concert by Israeli violinist Yitzhak Perlman. In February, the paper co-sponsored a havdallah service with the Bureau of Jewish Education.

More events were planned. A concert featuring the work of Jewish lyricist E.Y. "Yip" Harburg was held in May at the Marin Jewish Community Center. In early June, a Walk for Water in San Francisco benefited the Jewish National Fund. The year of festivities will culminate in December with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee's annual luncheon saluting Jewish journalism.

"We feel that reaching this landmark is cause for communal celebration," said Marc S. Klein, Bulletin editor and publisher.

For the juried photo exhibit, participating photographers were asked to submit up to 35 black-and-white photographs with Jewish content.

Judging the submissions were Andy Grundberg, director of Friends of Photography, an S.F.-based photography forum that mounts exhibitions and offers a range of educational programs; Eliot Holtzman of Eliot Holtzman Photography in San Rafael; Joan Perlman, curator at the Jewish Museum San Francisco; and Sherwood L. Weingarten, Jewish Bulletin managing editor.