Lyrical Parasol 1970
the Sacred Hub
THE PHOTOGRAPHY OF
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.
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
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.
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
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.
Avi Roth, Los Angeles, 2017
“The stranger who sojourns with you shall
be as a native from among you, and you
shall love him as yourself...”
“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
“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
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
“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.”
Vista No. II 1968
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
Elijah’s Grove 1979
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
“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.”
Sons of Abraham 1967
“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,
In Guise of Man 1976
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
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