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Lyrical Parasol 1970


Jerusalem

the Sacred Hub

THE PHOTOGRAPHY OF

AVI ROTH

SELECTED WORKS

1967-1979

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FOREWORD

My Jerusalem...

Many years have passed since I left Jerusalem, but my love for her was never

lost. I am not a native of Jerusalem, but my mother and grandmother were

born in the Old City. From them I inherited my affinity for this city.

In the years I studied in Jerusalem, I versed myself with all her alleys and

institutions, and became acquainted with her veteran residents - rabbis on

the one hand, clerics on the other, businessmen of the Muslim community

alongside members of the Jewish, Armenian, and other communities, young

men and women, students, artisans, and more.

Such is my past, and therefore it is no wonder that the images Avi Roth

photographed between the years 1967-1979 in Jerusalem moved me.

Among the many photographs portrayed in this book, we see… two rabbis

wrapped in prayer shawls arguing among themselves, perhaps about some

Talmudic issue, as they walk behind an Arab man adorned by a kafia headdress.

On one hand, two men wearing shtreimel (Hasidic hats) lead a third rabbi in

support, and on the other hand, Arab women are sitting unassumingly next

to their sparse merchandise in the market. We also see many interesting portraits

of children. Additionally, some beautiful landscapes of the Old City and vicinity

have been included.

This book is an addition to a large collection of books already published about

Jerusalem that can be found in bookcases and libraries. What distinguishes this

book from the others, are the special angles in which these photographs were

captured, and the great interest they arouse in those who view them.

It should be stated that this photographic essay speaks louder than thousands

of words. Blessed be Avi Roth who has presented us with such a beautiful

and important gift.

Dr. Eliyahu Winograd

Former Acting Judge of Israel Supreme Court and President of the Tel Aviv District Court

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AS I REMEMBER THEE O JERUSALEM:

AVI ROTH AND THE HOLY CITY, 1967-79

By Peter Frank

Jerusalem, a city whose history goes back three thousand years, has

been frequently attacked, captured, recaptured, besieged, sacked, and

destroyed. But the city endures, as a locus for human civilization as

well as a node of spiritual energy. The city, holy to the three great

monotheistic religions and all their subsets, remains an urban

environment strongly identified with both the historical tradition

and the obligations of the Jewish faith upon which it was founded.

But it is also the very birthplace of the Christian faith, and the third

most important geographic pillar of Islam.

Reflecting on the contemporary realities of this seemingly eternal

metropolis, one sees an evolution in progress, with historical buildings

preserved and restored to ensure Jerusalem’s identity as a sacred site

and archeological digs continuing to evidence historical realities.

Beyond those reflections on ancient Jerusalem, however, a political

reality persists. This reality dates back seventy years, to the declaration

of Israeli statehood and the partition of Jerusalem into Old City and

New City, Arab city and Jewish city.

The division endures regionally. But Jerusalem itself has been

reunited. The single most remarkable consequence of the 1967 Six

Day War was Israel’s conquest – unintended conquest – of East

Jerusalem. Within days of the war’s end, Israeli forces had turned

control of all holy sites back to their previous administrators,

whether Muslim or Christian. It was the Old City itself that Israel

retained, and reunited with its west side.

Avi Roth, whose family had emigrated from Transylvania to Israel

early in the ‘60s, came to Jerusalem before the Six-Day War and

served in the local armed forces. Roth readily participated in the

War, recognizing the existential threat to the Jewish state that had

absorbed him and his kin and protected them from persecution.

After the war, what he saw – and was among the earliest to see –

was the entirety of Jerusalem. The Old City, wrested along with

the rest of the West Bank from Jordan, was no longer cut off from

the new city that had grown up at its side. The two halves became

one before his eyes.

As he stayed on after discharge, Roth’s nationalistic response to

Israel’s victory quickly gave way to a much more nuanced regard

for the newly united and reconceived city. Its layers of ancient and

modern life, its revelations dug from the ground, and above all

the variety of people and customs and beliefs that now clustered

cheek by jowl all fascinated the budding street photographer. The

picturesque and the profound occurred side by side; cultural memories

and quotidian realities superimposed on one another. Roth found

Jerusalem at once socially dynamic and artfully glorious, and set

about capturing such a special place in special ways. Half a century

later Roth’s luminous black and white images, enhanced by printing

techniques not available at the time the images were captured,

inhere the photographer’s persistent awe at the monumental and

the mundane alike.

For Roth Jerusalem was not simply a battleground of competing

shrines and beliefs, but – conversely – a place where humanity clusters

and people interact despite their differences, a continual bustle of

energy framed by ancient walls and windows. For Roth Jerusalem is

a theater of human animation, people at work and prayer, children

at play, interactions between the young and the old, and between the

traditional and the modern.

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Jerusalem, Roth insists, is ultimately about its people. And they constitute

the subject and impetus of the book Jerusalem: The Sacred Hub.

Can Roth claim neutrality while crisscrossing the freshly mended

and still-visible fault line of Jerusalem? No: this book, inevitably,

does take a position. But it is a position few recognize anymore, a

position that emphasizes humanity’s humble nobility rather than its

sectarian tribalism. The Jerusalem you see here is the Jerusalem of

peacemakers and promulgators of co-existence. It is the Jerusalem

of its beloved longtime mayor Teddy Kollek, a place where an ideal

of existential equality could maintain despite often-bitter political

and social realities. It was an ideal increasingly hard to maintain in

the face of those realities; but for a while, at least to and through

the eyes of a young man who had served as a soldier and stayed as

a photographer, Jerusalem seemed as much a melting pot as any

great metropolitan center on the face of the earth.

In these pictures, Roth celebrates the ebb and flow of Jerusalem, as

a city of people, not just peoples, and of poetry, not just positions.

Gradually, as this book infers, the photographer, originally enchanted

with the notion of the “other,” came to regard everyone as brethren.

His pictures of weathered Arabs and black-bedecked Hasidim,

florid hippies and comfortably attired tourists do not assemble

into a catalog of types but, finally, dissolve into a flow of people

distinguished as much by their shared features as by their differing

clothes. Roth reveals himself to be not a journalist or travel documentarian

so much as a street photographer, one related more to Cartier-Bresson

and Helen Levitt than to 19th century Orientalism. (This is made clearest

in his many pictures of children gamboling and pausing in the alleys of

the Old City and the walkways of the new.) Again, Roth recognized early

on that a unified Jerusalem was a modern city with ancient roots rather

than merely an inhabited museum, and what made it modern was

its people, in all their variety, all their individuality, and all their

commonality.

that seems framed not by the political or religious geography of

Jerusalem but by its own humanness. In this way, Roth allows,

even prompts, the city to speak for itself. From time to time he

breaks away from the buzz of the market to capture landscapes

without people – landscapes layered with significance, religious

and genealogical and ethnic and tactical. These silent vistas attest

to the presence of nature as well as our species, but bookmark the

story of that species as if they were pages from the Bible or Qur’an.

Roth captured Jerusalem at a point in its long life that now seems

remote. Contemporary world politics – Israel’s not least – are even

more fractious, and far more complicated, than they were during

the 1970s. But the mix of peoples and their industrious hubbub

has always characterized Jerusalem, no matter who rules it. In its

splendid complexity, Jerusalem was indeed an exotic site for the

small-town Crusader or British colonial conscript, but it was

familiar enough to the man from Constantinople or even from

London: a big city, a bazaar, a vast hive of human energy. And

it is that familiarity Roth wishes to re-propose in this visual

record of a city for once at peace.

According to Avi Roth, the unification of Jerusalem allowed it

to bustle once more in its unique way, the Jerusalemites of the

late-modern world treading on the strata of history, aware of

where they tread but paying more attention to the present than

to the past. For one brief and glorious moment, however,

Jerusalem was more than that, having achieved a fragile spiritual

equilibrium. Jerusalem was again Nizar Qabbani’s “town of peace

and olives,” and Avi Roth’s camera was fortunate enough to pay

that town witness.

Los Angeles

July 2017

How to ignore the nimbus of meaning around Jerusalem and let

the city speak for itself? Time and time again, among these pictures

Roth took of the Holy City, an image arrests our attention, one

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PERSONAL NOTE

At the age of 12, my childhood curiosity was begging for an answer:

what happens when unrelated objects are clustered with each other?

Do they retain their individuality or become a new object with new

characteristics? When I look at this today, my attempt to express some

dignified distinction is self-evident. What though? And why with a

camera? Why not sketch, draw, write poetry, or compose music? My

limited talents in all other forms of expression directed me to where I

should start naturally – with the camera.

From my early years in my birthplace, Transylvania, to my young

adulthood in Israel in the 1960s and studies at the Tel Aviv Polytechnic

Institute, followed by the London Film School and graduation with

honors in 1974, I cultivated a global persona, shuttering my lenses

throughout Europe, the Americas, and the Middle East.

As a photographer, I was not merely an observer, but the one responsible,

“privileged,” for capturing the moment for all eternity with its host of

possibilities. My deep love for the community of man is discernible from

the visual narratives I present, especially those that are evoked by moments

of pure and heartfelt emotion when facing human anguish or solace.

My inanimate soulmate and I walked boundlessly, without considering time

or space, only the mania and the excitement of hunting like a puma for the

soul of the city through the urban streets of Jerusalem. It was the only

way that I could make sense of the entire genesis around me. I did not

realize then, but today I understand that my creation of coherent realities

at the time, was similar to what I discovered 40 years later: faces and places

in the stains of my coffeegraphs®.

Wherever I went, I celebrated ordinary everyday people as well as

renowned public figures by telling their stories and making them appear

to the world as not just a face, but a “metabolism between mankind and

my camera,” a living entity, that elicits strong but also nuanced and subtle

responses from the viewer that are as complex as life itself.

Sisterhood, 1968

Avi Roth, Los Angeles, 2017

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“The stranger who sojourns with you shall

be as a native from among you, and you

shall love him as yourself...”

Leviticus 19:34

Revival 1968

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“He who first built it, was a potent man

among the Canaanites, and is in our own

tongue called [Melchizedek], the Righteous

King, for such he really was; on which

account he was [there] the first priest of

God, and first built a temple [there], and

called the city Jerusalem, which was formerly

called Salem.”

“It had been taken five times before.

Shishak, the king of Egypt, and after him

Antiochus, and after him Pompey, and

after them Sosius and Herod, took the city,

but still preserved it.”

“David, the king of the Jews, ejected the

Canaanites, and set-tied his own people

therein. It was demolished entirely by the

Babylonians, four hundred and seventy-seven

years and six months after him. And from

king David, who was the first of the Jews who

reigned therein, to this destruction under

Titus, were one thousand one hundred and

seventy-nine years.”

Josephus: Jewish War

The Six-Day War ended on June 11, 1967.

After very intense fighting, an awed silence

fell over the city as though at full peace...

The barbed wire fences separating East

from West came down. Thus, two cities

fused into one holy city of Jerusalem. Tongues of War 1967

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“Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that

the city shall be built to the Lord from the

tower of Hananel unto the gate of the corner.

And the measuring line shall yet go out

straight forward unto the hill Gareb, and shall

turn about unto Goah.

And the whole valley of the dead bodies,

and of the ashes, and all the fields unto the

brook Kidron, unto the corner of the horse

gate toward the east, shall be holy unto the

Lord; it shall not be plucked up, nor thrown

down any more forever.”

Jeremiah 31:37-39

Vista No. II 1968

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Sixth century Mar Elias Greek Orthodox

monastery in southeast Jerusalem, situated

on a hill overlooking Bethlehem, was

erected on the site Elijah sought rest as he

fled the vengeance of Queen Jezebel.

During the 1967 Six-Day War, on their

way to Bethlehem and Hebron, IDF forces

overran Jordanian defenses around this

monastery.

Elijah’s Grove 1979

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June 1967. Paratroop commander Mordechai

Gur declared in his field radio, “The Temple

Mount is in our hands!”

Within hours, Defense Minister Moshe

Dayan stated, “We have returned to the

holiest of our places, never to be parted

from them again… We did not come to

conquer the sacred sites of others or to

restrict their religious rights, but rather

to ensure the integrity of the city and to

live in it with others in fraternity.”

Days later, Dayan relinquished the Mount

administration to the Waqf and the heads

of the Supreme Muslim Council.

Temple Mount 1967

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“And Isaac entreated the Lord for his wife, because she

was barren; and the Lord let Himself be entreated of

him, and Rebekah his wife conceived.

And the children struggled together within her; and she

said: ‘If it be so, wherefore do I live?' And she went to

inquire of the Lord.

And the Lord said unto her: Two nations are in thy

womb, and two peoples shall be separated from thy

bowels; and the one people shall be stronger than the

other people; and the elder shall serve the younger.”

Genesis 25:21-23

Sons of Abraham 1967

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“My heart has become capable

of every form: It is a pasture

for gazelles And a monastery

for Christian monks, And the

pilgrim's Ka'ba, And the

tablets of the Torah, And the

book of the Koran.

I follow the religion of Love:

Whatever way love's camel

takes, That is my religion,

my faith.”

Ibn Arabi

In Guise of Man 1976

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Meditation 1968


EPILOGUE

I would like to conclude this book commemorating the

50th anniversary of Jerusalem’s unification with a story

from Heinrich Heine’s Life Told in His Own Words.

‘O blessed, yearned-for Messiah!

Where is he now? Where tarries he? Is he yet unborn, or

has he lain hidden for these thousand years, waiting for the

great hour of deliverance? Is it old Barbarossa, who sits

slumbering in the Kyffhauser in his stone chair, and has

slept so long that his white beard has grown down through

the stone table? Even in his sleep he often shakes his head

and gazes out of his half-opened eyes, and fumbles for his

sword in his dreams, and then nods again in his sleep of a

thousand years.

No, it is not King Redbeard who shall free Germany, as

the people believe – the German people, the drowsy,

dreaming people, who can find its Messiah only in the

form of an old sleeper.

The Jews have a far better conception of their Messiah; and

years ago, when I was in Poland, and knew the great Rabbi

Manassa Ben Naphtali at Cracow, I loved to listen to him

when from his full heart he spoke of the Messiah. I forget

in which book of the Talmud you may read the details that

the great rabbi truly related to me, and only the outlines of

his description yet linger in my memory. The Messiah, he

said, was born on the day when Jerusalem was destroyed

by the wretch Titus Vespasian, and ever since he has dwelt

in the fairest palace in heaven in splendor and joy, wearing

on his head a crown like a king – but his hands are bound

with golden chains.

“What mean golden chains?” asked I, wondering.

“They are needful,” answered the great rabbi, with a sly look

and a deep sigh. “But for these chains, when the Messiah

ofttimes loses patience, he would hasten down, and too

soon, at an unmeet hour, would attempt the deliverance.

He is no lazy dreamer. He is handsome and slender, but

terribly strong – and in the bloom of youth. The life he

leads is always the same. He spends most of the morning

in needful prayer or in laughter and jest with his servants,

angels in flowing robes who can sing sweetly and play on

the flute. Then they comb his long hair and anoint him with

yellow nard, and put on him his princely robe of purple.

All the afternoon he studies the Cabbala. Toward evening

he sends for his chancellor, who is an angel in a flowing

robe, and the four strong state counselors who are with him

are angels in flowing robes. From a great book the chancellor

reads to his lord all that has happened that day. Sometimes

there are things at which the Messiah smiles well pleased, or

shakes his head in anger. But when he hears how his people

are oppressed here bellow he bursts forth in a mighty rage

and roars till all heaven trembles. Then the four strong state

counselors must hold him fast lest he should hasten down

to earth; and they could not master him if his hands were

not bound with golden chains. They sooth him with gentle

words, that the time has not yet come, the true hour of

deliverance, and at last he sinks on his couch and hides his

face and weeps”

Somewhat in these words did Manassa Ben Naphtali speak

to me in Cracow, quoting the Talmud to the truth of his

belief. During his talks I often, especially at first, thought

of the July revolution. Yes; in the worst days, I often

thought I heard with my own ears the clank of the golden

chains, and sobs of despair!

Oh, despair not, sweet Messiah, for thou shalt free, not Israel

only, as the Jews believe, but all suffering mankind!

Pluck not of thy golden chains! Oh, hold him yet awhile

enchained, lest he come too soon, the delivering king of

the world!’

Heinrich Heine

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