Berkeley womans photos capture infancy of Jewish state

From images of immigrant camps sprouting out of the desert to a sleek shot of the elegant Supreme Court building, Berkeley photographer Eva Korn has captured visions of Israel from its infancy to its almost-50-year-old adulthood.

Her exhibit of 28 photos is traveling throughout the East Bay as part of the "Israel at 50" celebration sponsored by the Jewish Federation of the Greater East Bay. "Envision Israel: The Land, The Heart, The People" features black-and-white shots Korn took on a 1951 trip and color photos from a return visit last year.

"Some of the black-and-white pictures are really depicting Israel as it no longer is," said Korn, a Holocaust survivor from Czechoslovakia. "It's really historic."

The exhibit, which recently had its first showing at the Contra Costa Jewish Community Center, re-opens Tuesday, Dec. 2 at Jewish Community Services of Oakland and Piedmont. From there, the exhibit travels monthly through next October to synagogues, community centers and college campuses in the East Bay.

Among Korn's shots is a staggering view of Ma'abara, a temporary city of hundreds of tin huts erected to house the huge wave of immigrants to Israel in the early 1950s. Korn's close-up of a blind Yemenite woman and a baby puts a face to the people who flooded in.

Korn was studying photography in Switzerland when her cousin, who'd supplied Korn with her first camera, invited her to visit Israel. There, she was reunited with her younger brother, an Israeli soldier. During her six-week stay, Korn traveled throughout the new country — and was amazed by what she saw and experienced.

"The people were on fire about their country," she said. "The country was dirt poor. But they were all involved in building. There was such excitement."

The energy was contagious. Korn had experienced an assimilated life in both her native Bratislava and later in Switzerland. Because she'd lost her parents and other family members in the Holocaust, she'd distanced herself from what Jewish identity she had. "I felt I didn't want to be Jewish, really," she recalled. "I felt being a Jew is suffering.

"Going to Israel changed all that. It was a very exciting and almost a miraculous trip for me."

Korn was astonished to find Jews everywhere in the new land, working all kinds of jobs. She snapped shots of "everything that had meaning to me…how this country was building itself up."

One of her pictures shows small children living on a kibbutz near Haifa as they played barefoot in a sandbox. Another photo shows Arab women carrying huge water jugs on their heads.

Shortly after Korn's trip, her photos were displayed at the World Exhibit of Photography in Switzerland.

Korn immigrated to the United States in 1953. She and her husband, Richard, have lived in Berkeley since 1965. She became a family therapist and currently works part-time for Jewish Family and Children's Services of the East Bay.

She's made many subsequent trips to Israel, though she's become increasingly troubled by tensions there.

Last year, Korn brought her camera along when she and her husband spent 10 weeks in Israel. "I got very turned on to photography," she said. "When I came back, I developed the pictures and saw that I had some real good ones."

She took her collection of photos from both trips to the East Bay federation, where Riva Gambert of the agency's Israel Center offered to sponsor a show as part of the 50th anniversary celebration of the state of Israel.

One of Korn's favorites of the newer pictures is the shot of the Supreme Court building. One wall is composed of old-style Jerusalem stone while the other is modern. The entrances to the building's five courtrooms are shaped like gates, reminiscent of how court was held at the gates of the city during biblical times.

"Anyone can come in and make a claim to the Supreme Court," she said.

Other photos selected for the show include some Israeli boys celebrating Sukkot, American teenagers visiting the country and a group of Ethiopian Jews. All photographs in the show are for sale.

"Envision Israel: The Land, The Heart, The People" is on display in December at Jewish Community Services of Oakland and Piedmont, 412 Monte Vista Avenue in Oakland.