One Family /
This is the story of one family. It is the entire Jewish-Israeli narrative embodied in a single family. This is my family. To the big question of Jewish-Israeli identity, the photographs of my family provide a kaleidoscope of answers.
The point of departure for the exhibition is the photograph of my mother, Rivka, and her two sisters, Leah and Esther. Consecutive serial numbers are scorched on their left arms: A-7760, A-7761, A-7762. Thus, in this order, they lined up in Auschwitz in the spring of 1944 to be tattooed. They didn’t know then whether they would live to see the next day. After the war the three came to Israel, they had 10 children, 50 grandchildren, and over 60 great grandchildren, a number that keeps on growing.
My mother, Rivka Kahana, nee Greenwald, emigrated from Czechoslovakia in 1947. Her parents and two of her seven siblings perished in the death camp. The survivors immigrated to Palestine. My father, Aharon Kahana, like some of his brothers, fled pre-war Europe in 1939, emigrating from Czechoslovakia to Palestine. His parents and three of his eleven siblings died in Auschwitz as well. Some of the survivors immigrated to Israel; others went to the United States of America.
Family cohesion was a sacred value to my parents and their siblings; a superior value, above all dispute over worldview, ideology, or religion. The family ties were close-knit and infused with the sense of an existential necessity. It was an affinity that stemmed from the oath which members of that generation pledged to one another – to meet after the war and set up their homes once again, close to each other. They arrived in Israel penniless, and everyone helped everyone. Those who immigrated first absorbed those who followed. At every opportunity my mother and her sisters recounted their stories to us, how they rescued one another during their stay in Auschwitz. This life-and-death connection continued to exist between them after they immigrated to Israel. We, the children, who absorbed this sense of deep kinship, spent long holidays together, during which we stayed with our cousins in Jerusalem, in Kibbutz Kfar Masaryk in the country’s north, in the Orthodox city of Bnei Brak, and in the Tel Aviv northern neighborhood Maoz Aviv, and hosted to full capacity many cousins in our small Tel Aviv apartment, above the family-owned grocery, in the spirit of that same existential mission bequeathed to us by our parents.
I started photographing my mother during my studies at the School of Art,
Over the years I expanded the documentary practice to photograph my extended family as well: uncles, aunts, cousins and their offspring. Four generations.
The more I advanced in the documentary process, the better I realized that my family represents the very essence of Jewish-Israeliness. Documenting my relatives’ lives sent me on long journeys the length and breadth of the country, as well as overseas. I crossed ideological and mental boundaries. I moved between Hashomer Hatzai’r leftist-Zionist kibbutzim in the country’s north to Jewish settlements in the West Bank. Between the settlement of Susya in the Southern Hebron Mountains to the affluent Tel Aviv suburb of Savyon, between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, Bnei Brak and Copenhagen, Petach Tikva and Caesarea. My journey oscillated from “left” to “right,” from ultra-Orthodox realms to completely Epicurean homes.
In my childhood we lived in Tel Aviv, very close to the beach. We spent long summer vacations with our cousins, playing childhood games on the warm sand. The same cousins, who in the meantime have raised a third and fourth generations, now live in settlements in northern Samaria, at the heart of Hebron, and in Judea. Not only have the ties between my cousins and me ceased to be an existential necessity, as were my parents’ ties with their siblings, but a political and religious gulf now divides us, often leading to an actual rift. Geography is metonymic of that ideological chasm separating the different family factions:
Today, when we are parents ourselves, the need for extended family intimacy has become dulled. I am certain that in the next generation this tie will further lose the little left of our parents’ pact ever-so-vivid during my own childhood. Is it the ideological gap that pushes us apart, eliminating any chance for common ground whatsoever? Probably.