Through Devorah’s eyes

Through Devorah’s eyes

Black and white, in living color "“ Devorah Goldman's view of Israel

At left, shoppers at a shuk in Jerusalem. All photos by Devorah Goldman

Devorah Rosen Goldman’s living room is green.

Not neon, not lime, not bilious, not any headache-making green, but the green of the crisp, tart little apples we can get this time of year, the ones that taste of autumn.

An oversized clock hangs on the wall, on that green. It is round, and somehow that shape against that green makes more sense than a shape really should make against a color.

Goldman’s photographs line the walls of her house in Teaneck; vibrant colors and exuberant shapes, taken in the food markets of Jerusalem, making you almost forget that they’re two-dimensional; instead, they make you want to touch and smell them.

Her art, a blending of her own esthetic and Jerusalem’s, is a result of her deep love for both the camera and the country and comes from deep knowledge of both.

Her exhibit of photography from Israel will hang at the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades in Tenafly during October. She has never shown these photos before, but she has been photographing the country for 40 years.

“I went to Israel first in 1972, when I was 12,” Goldman said. “It was a heady time; Israel was young, and so was I.”

Goldman is the youngest of three siblings from Long Island. “My sister went just after the Yom Kippur War broke out,” she said. “All the kibbutzniks realized that they had no one to milk the cows. She was 19, and told our parents, ‘Sorry, I have to go to Israel now.’ I remember her saying that the only other thing that landed at the airport when she got there was bombers.”

So by the time it got to Goldman’s turn, it was easy.

“When I got to Israel, I remember all of us running around. It was like the line in the benching” – in the Grace after Meals – “hayinu k’cholmim.” We were like dreamers. “Everyone was speaking Hebrew, everyone looked like your bubbe. We got to Ein Gedi, and we thought that we were in Gan Eden.” It felt to them as if it were the Garden of Eden. Paradise.

“It wasn’t only the visuals,” she continued. “It was the smells. If I close my eyes, I can remember them.”

Her program was for observant Zionists. “For 10 weeks, we lived in the dorm of an agricultural college with kids our age, from about 12 to 15,” she said. “It was full immersion. When they wanted to take us around, we didn’t go on coach buses. There weren’t any. It was two wooden benches, one on either side, and it went bumpity bumpity bumpity. There were no highways. We drove through orange groves, and I remember the smell of the oranges, the diesel coming out of the truck, and the cow dung. A girl from New York doesn’t usually smell these things. We were in an alternate universe.

“Israel wasn’t a high-tech place then, and the camera I had was an Instamatic. Now people use Instagram. That’s what we were doing back then. Even then, to me the whole thing had the feeling of something unfolding.

“And every time I went back to Israel, it was with a different camera.”

Back in New York, Goldman took a summer course in the School of Visual Arts when she was 16. Ironically, for someone as attuned to color as she, her training was in classical photography’s black and white, and her teachers were some of the period’s legendary photographers. “I didn’t really know that when I was a kid, but I did know that the darkroom was exactly where I was supposed to be,” she said.

Goldman went to NYU as an undergraduate, where she studied art history, photography, and filmmaking. Next, she went to the California Institute of the Arts for a graduate degree in graphic design and photography; she used that degree in her work as a graphic designer and art director. She also is interested in typography, and in everything related to it, from the often elegant beauty of the letters themselves, to the mechanical beauty of the old machines that once produced them, to the simple tactile beauty of the wooden blocks used by early typesetters. In fact, in 1985, she won a Fulbright scholarship to study typography in Switzerland.

For some time, Goldman shot mainly in black and white, using film and working in a darkroom. “You’re in there with these chemicals, and you put a blank piece of paper in the bath, and slowly the image develops before your eyes. It’s pure magic. You’re in the image laboratory; you’re Harry Potter, making magic.”

She is no Luddite, though, and eventually, like most other photographers, she went digital.

“Israel is an incredibly high-tech place, so I thought to myself, ‘Now I need to shoot digitally,'” she said. “Now my iPad is my darkroom.”

And then black and white went too, at least most of the time. “You don’t get into color – color picks you,” she said. “From the time I was a little kid, I was driving everyone crazy because I see everything in pictures, and in color.

“I remember when I was in kindergarten, I had to have a cerulean blue crayon. I just had to have that crayon. The teacher was not so happy. We had a big box of crayons, and I was like, ‘Honey, you have to get out of my way. I need that crayon.’

“She called my mother, and I had to explain that I just really needed that color.”

Still, she is torn between the classicism of black and white, and the truth of color. “There is a documentarian in me,” she said. “If I could, I would have two cameras at once.

“Black and white is not part of the everyday continuum. Black and white is for when you tell a story for the ages.”

One of Goldman’s most moving experiences as an artist was her work on a poster for the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades in Tenafly. It happened in 2008, when she was art director there, and the JCC was given the honor of hosting works by David Rubinger, the Israeli photographer who has taken some of the most iconic images of the nascent state, including the photo of the three paratroopers at the Kotel (the Western Wall) in 1967, soon after it was retaken, staring up at it with awe so powerful that to look at it is to be shaken by it.

“Oprah” – that was Oprah Listoken, who until her recent retirement was the director of marketing and membership at the JCC – “said that she wanted me to make a special commemorative poster for Israel’s 60th birthday. We got permission to do what had never been done – to overlay Rubinger’s image with words, so here I am, working with the image of my youth, sitting here on my large screen. I opened up the image, and there it was, staring up at me.”

Goldman now owns her own creative services agency, Ten Four Design Group; her clients include Yeshiva University and Ma’ayanot School for Girls. She sees herself as an artist and a photographer, as an unorthodox Orthodox Jew, as a fervent Zionist, as a mother and wife, and perhaps most of all, because it is the most encompassing definition of all, as a storyteller. All her work, in every sphere, she says, “is an opportunity for me to weave my storytelling and image-making into the larger Jewish story.”

Men at prayer in the ancient Hurva synagogue in Jerusalem’s Old City.
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