HOW I GOT THE SHOT:Of course, it goes without saying, that Israel’s preeminent beauty is found in the faces of Am Yisrael. Over the past 25 years, many new faces have arrived in Israel as the country absorbed two large waves of immigration from the Former Soviet Union and Ethiopia. This week, 237 new Ethiopian immigrants arrived in Tel Aviv from Addis Ababa during operation Wings of the Dove, in perhaps the final evacuation of Ethiopian Jews to Israel. Their arrival was timed perfectly to coincide with the celebration of Sigd, one of the holiest days of the year for the Ethiopian Jewish community.
Sigd, an Amharic word meaning “worship” or “prostration,” marks the date God first revealed himself to Moses, according to Ethiopian tradition. It is celebrated annually on the 29th of Cheshvan, exactly 50 days after Yom Kippur, which also happens to be today. During the celebration, members of the community fast, recite Psalms, and gather in Jerusalem for readings from the Orit, the Ethiopian Torah. It is an official holiday in Israel, given recognition by the Knesset in 2008. The celebration itself is a photographer’s paradise, with lots of color, ritual, and hundreds of friendly and willing subjects. I’ve posted a gallery of some of my favorite shots here.
I have had the opportunity to photograph the Ethiopian Jewish community on numerous assignments for the Jewish Agency. What is always striking is the stark difference between the generations. Older immigrants hold on to much of their traditional customs and style of dress while the younger generation quickly adopts a more western appearance. This image was taken during a Sigd festival in Jerusalem several years ago. In addition to dealing with large crowds and dozens of hungry photographers, this shot required a little sechel (wisdom) to understand how to balance the bright background with the skin tones of the subject. I used a fill-flash to bump up the exposure after closing down the aperture to accommodate the background light.
Living in a religious community, I have learned that photographing people while they are praying requires an ample dose of both respect and distance. Both serve the photographer well by allowing the subject to remain candid and composed.
TECHNICAL DATA: Camera: Nikon D300, handheld, manual exposure, center-weighted metering mode, f18 at 1/200th sec., ISO 200. Raw file converted to Jpeg. Lens: Nikon 70-200mm zoom at 90. Date: Nov. 27, 2008, 11:05 a.m. Location: Haas Promenade, Talpiot, Jerusalem.