Dec 15 2010

Behind the mehitza

I was on a whirlwind tour of Israel last month. It was an amazing trip, but so jam-packed there was little time for thoughtful photography. Most of the photos I brought back were snapshots.

There is an idea I’ve been mulling about, though, since I visited the old Orthodox synagogue in Pitigliano, Italy, this summer. Up in the women’s section behind the mehitza (the screen that separates the men’s section from the women’s) it’s almost impossible to see the ark – or anything else at the front of the sanctuary.

I felt very isolated up there, disconnected from everything that would be happening during services. And it got me thinking about doing a series of images in various synagogues of what it’s like behind the mehitza.

Of course Israel seemed to present the ideal opportunity to get a lot of these images, but given the demands of the tour itinerary it wasn’t to be. One place we spent lots of time was the Kotel (the Western Wall of the Temple) in Jerusalem. There the men’s and women’s sections are side by side – the women’s much smaller – and the mehitza is almost solid, so trying to take a picture through it would be futile.

At the back of the prayer area there is another, more porous screen. Looking through this gave much the same feeling of exclusion that I experienced behind the mehitza.

So I feel like I’ve at least made a start on this project. Where it will lead I have no idea. In the meantime, if you are interested in reading about our exploits in search of gender equality at the Kotel, you can find our group blog here.

What'cha think?

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