One of the best benefits for me personally of shooting weddings are the friends made. You come into a family’s life on a momentous day as a stranger and come out as a friend. I really love my clients, all of them. I hate even saying “clients” because they are all more. And since I began shooting Chabad weddings, frienships continue to blossom in some of the most unexpected ways. And in some cases, furthering the (insert whatever your own belief system would be here) ways in which I was meant to be on this path.
Stay with me, one of these friendships had a part in a life changing situation.
Leigh Hershkovich. I wish I had a way with words like she does to most accurately describe her. Leigh, Noi’s twin sister, is an author. Her words are simply magical. I always felt connected with Leigh, but it was reading her blog posts and writing on Facebook that drew me closer. She writes with so much honesty and candidness. Her published book Shattered Illusions is an incredible mystery novel! I highly recommend it. Watching her promote her book was very inspirational.
And Leigh truly broke any boundaries I felt about being an outsider. Yes, she would openly answer so many of my questions about the Chabad community and help me to understand even further, but I always just saw her as a friend. Not my “Chabad friend” but simply a friend. Maybe, artistic friend if anything!
And she was a model! Happily playing through knee high snow in the Botanical Gardens in a thin dress to take fun photos. Here is a personal composite image, an author’s portrait I created from our session:
Before this goes too long, let me just highlight a few of these moments in my life full of serendipity.
Returning from photographing a wedding in Mexico, a young woman changed her seat to an empty one next to ours. The man next to her previously had been coughing up a storm and she didn’t want to risk getting sick. Very randomly, we happened to speak to each other. Well, I found out that she is the wife of a videographer in Crown Heights that I was friends with (we had been scheduled to shoot a wedding together).
While photographing a wedding in California I met/befriended Batsheva. Batsheva, among many other talents, is an amazing masseuse. Batsheva has come to be the person who fixes me back up after my 10+ hour wedding days, but it’s more than that! Batsheva has created a home of artistic expression and healing that I have been invited into. Batsheva has been instrumental in my return to bellydance teaching and in becoming a photography teacher.
Raizy and her family (whom I also met at the CA wedding). What a gentle soul. What a marvelously happy and artistic family. I photographed Raizy’s wedding and then the couple moved to Israel. One day, maybe 6 months (?) later I was at the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens, I turn the corner and there is Raizy’s mother. The serendipity of it…. she had just returned the day before from visiting Raizy in Israel AND she was on the phone with Raizy at that precise moment I came upon her in the gardens. For what it’s worth. I do not visit the gardens on a regular basis.
Chanie Dubov. I met Chanie at my first Shabbos lunch and we’ve stayed fast friends. She makes a killer zatar challah bread!! She’s a nutritional, mind/body life coach and she feeds my tea addiction! haha. It was at one of her Shabbos dinners that I had been talking with two interesting individuals whom I then found out were two people that I knew about from following the artistic explosion in Crown Heights. Saul and Elke. Saul created Punk Jews – see the below photo to see my personal excitement on that subject! Not to mention I discovered Saul is a fellow alumni of Pratt! And Elke I remembered from a segment on the arts and she was extremely intriguing to me so it was very cool to meet her in person.
below photo: me in 1987:
I could go on and on.. but I need to bring up Rochel and the impact she had and continues to have on my life.
Rochel I met in that first year. She was the first intern/assistant I’ve ever brought in to Photomuse. I can’t even call it “intern” because it was more a “friendtern” lol. The first time we met in person was during a night of Chanukah. She graciously invited me into her home and life and between herself and her brother-in-law, gave me the most in-depth understanding of Chanukah. It’s taken me all of these years to get to this place to truly understand what that holiday is about. I was so humbled to have been included in their family that night.
Rochel is a beautiful young woman but her soul is way beyond her years. She sees deeply. Her eyes are lit with fire and compassion at the same time. She’s full of talent in so many areas. Rochel became a muse, an inspiration, a friend, a therapist, my teacher in (yes more) Chabad, my student, my companion.. and so much more.
And with Rochel I had my first experience at The Ohel.
The Ohel is located in a cemetery in Queens. The Ohel is where the the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, and his father-in-law Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Schneersohn are interred. People from around the world, both Jewish and n0n-Jewish visit throughout the year. The tradition is to write prayers on a small piece of paper which are then torn and tossed onto the graves. Newly engaged couples come here to offer up wedding prayers and subsequently “officially” announce their engagements. Women follow up with prayers at the gravesite of the Rebbe’s wife just outside.
It was a place of tradition and rules. We entered a visitor’s center wherein there were tables with people writing their prayers. It was quiet and studious, unless you are there after an engagement is announced. I felt so self-conscious being the only, noticeably, non-Jewish visitor. But as in everything I have been experiencing, it was okay. I was welcomed and often encouraged to learn and partake.
To enter the Ohel I had to remove my leather shoes (no leather allowed). Upon entering, there are two separate entries, one for women, one for men. You light a candle and enter….. silence. The Ohel opens into a square tomb that is open to the sky. The graves themselves are surrounded by a wall about waist high. The only thing that separates the men and women physically is a metal, chain-link curtain on one side.
The first thing I noticed was the mound of paper on top of the graves and how that represented the prayers, hopes, gratitude and dreams of soooo many people. Then I was aware of the how deep the silence filled the space. And as I began to adjust, the silence allowed other sounds to be readily apparent: sounds of ripping paper and the soft sounds of prayers being whispered. The shuffle of rubber crocs (borrowed from the visitor’s center to replace leather), the swoosh of fabric as a person would sway slightly in prayer. As someone who adores the tactile feel of old books, I immediately picked up on the sound of pages turning from prayer books and the sounds that come the heft of hard-covered, bound books being placed atop one another and/or being lifted away. And when the breeze blew, the rustle of papers on the gravesite.
It was very peaceful, but also very intense with the weight of serious communing.
And I did partake. And I will tell you about the one and only time I have done this at the Ohel.
Remember that trip to Morocco? When we returned home, before our bags were even down, I was on the phone after receiving several messages from my parents. It was within moments of arriving home that I received the news that my father was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
And while Rochel was there on her own personal mission to the Ohel she took the time to include me and guide me in how to be included for a very special reason. And on that day I was not an outsider but a daughter bringing my own kvitel to the Rebbe for her father.
2 years later: my dad is in remission. For. Pancreatic. Cancer.