New Jewish life through a lens

Photojournalist Judah Passow is about to unveil a portrait of Jewish life in the 21st century in his new exhibition. He’s braced for a varied reaction

Judah Passow has taken photographs all over the world. But his most recent series, a portrait of Jewish life in the 21st century, is quite a different project to anything he has done before.

“I wanted to explore the country in which I have been living for 30 years and not looked at as a photographer,” says Passow. He has enjoyed a highly praised career documenting life through the lens world-wide; he’s won no less than four World Press Photo awards and his 25 year-long stint documenting the Israel-Palestine conflict for newspapers and magazines worldwide resulted in a book called Shattered Dreams- nominated for the Deutsche Borse Photography Prize in 2008, its year of publication.

So why, after this career has Israel-born Passow decided to point his lens homewards? “The overarching reason was to take a look at this community that I’m a part of and try and understand what it means to be both British and Jewish in the 21st century. Originally, the Jewish community was an immigrant community, but that is both a mindset and a social anchor that belongs to the previous century, we are now a Jewish community entering a new century. What I wanted to understand was: what characterises our Jewishness, free from this immigrant baggage- as we head into our century. The overarching find of this journey was that Britain’s Jewish community now regards itself as an integral part of fabric of the larger British society.”

Some photographers with Passow’s experience might underestimate this challenge- after taking pictures in a warzone. Passow seems to have made a challenge out of his brief. He picked out 12 communities across the UK and in each place found a story he wanted to tell. This journey took him through the prism of Jewish life which, like most other life, has its various shades of grey. “Each one of those stories is a piece in a puzzle and when you put those pieces together what you have is a portrait of Britain’s Jewish community.”

Surprisingly- some of the pieces have a different shape to what you might expect; Passow spent time with a liberal synagogue with a gay Rabbi, in an Orthodox school in Birmingham that is now 55 per cent Muslim and in places as eclectic as prisons and airline lauch parties.

Consequently, the picture is a complicated one. One likely to produce a reaction. Passow seems excited by this, “We won’t know until the exhibition opens, but I’m pretty sure that a lot of people will be angered by it because it will present a face of the Jewish community that they are uncomfortable with and they are in denial about. It will present a portrait of a community that is much more diverse than they would like it to be. It is going to present an image of being Jewish that doesn’t conform to their conception of what being Jewish means.”

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