Photo exhibit salutes Bulletin 100th year

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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. But all provide an equally truthful vision of Bay Area Jewish life.

They are 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 Monday, May 6 through July 25.

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

Their 50 photos document 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 "displays 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 are poignant.

Take Phil Head's shot of Hebrew Academy student Svetlana Sogolova, a Soviet emigre who was 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, captures Sogolova sitting on an empty sofa, her brown eyes brimming with sorrow.

In another exhibit photo, Eli Bishop captures 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 last week, 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," are 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 photos are those that capture local Jewish personalities.

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

Meanwhile, four photos by Marcus Hanschen, the only pictures in the exhibit not taken by Bulletin photographers, offer an unusual look at local rabbis. Viewers will see Rabbi Jacob Traub of San Francisco's Congregation Adath Israel blowing moody smoke rings, and Rabbi Alan Lew of the city's Beth Sholom, a former Buddhist, striking a lotus position.

Hanschen's dramatic photos first appeared in Davka, a new alternative Jewish magazine edited by San Francisco poet Alan Kaufman. The pictures also appeared in the San Francisco Examiner's Sunday magazine.

Taken together, said Mall, the exhibit offers 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 are planned. A concert featuring the work of Jewish lyricist E.Y. "Yip" Harburg will be held Saturday, May 18 at the Marin Jewish Community Center. June 9 will bring a Walk for Water to benefit the Jewish National Fund. The year of festivities will culminate 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.

Selecting the winning photos was not easy, the judges agree.

"Because the submissions covered almost every aspect of Jewish life, it was difficult to hone the entries into a cohesive exhibit," Weingarten said.

But ultimately, he said, "the sampling does in fact reflect the breadth of Bay Area Jewishness."

Leslie Katz
Leslie Katz

Leslie Katz is the former culture editor at CNET and a former J. staff writer. Follow her on Twitter @lesatnews.