Saturday, June 7, 2014

A Walk On The West Side

Manhattan's Upper West Side stretches from 59th street up to 125th street. It's bounded on the west by 11th avenue up to 72nd street and then Riverside Drive, and on the east by Central Park West. Within that area there are many different neighborhoods, beginning with Lincoln Center and ending with Columbia University and the Jewish Theological Seminary. The main artery through the center of the area is Broadway. I've known the area well for many years - all of my violin teachers lived in the area, my graduate school (Manhattan School of Music) was at the upper end, and I performed and rehearsed countless times at Lincoln Center. It's a pulsating area for street photography, especially in the ten blocks from 72nd street up to 82nd street were Fairway Market, Citarella's, and Zabars are located. And there are many used book vendors lining the sidewalk.

I've never really spent time there with a camera in hand, but yesterday evening I had the opportunity. As well as I know the area, it felt totally new to me when I was looking for images. Friday evening is a prime time to walk the streets. Broadway, Columbus avenue, and Amsterdam avenue are lined with restaurants with al fresco dining, and the bars are just beginning their weekend jangle. And the women, fuggedaboudit! It's a subject I plan to explore exhaustively.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

A New Torah

This past Saturday I took a walk in the Bushwick section of Brooklyn. It's an area of old warehouses and worn down residence buildings. Perfect for an artists' community with reasonably priced space to live and large open industrial areas for studios. So the artists in New York have made it home, for now. But this is the beginning of an established pattern in the city. Artist colony encourages art gallery owners to open branches which brings crowds of people who want to have a bite to eat so restaurants open which is then followed by real estate developers who buy up the land and build residential buildings in which artists can't afford to live or create. Gentrification.

Back to my camera. I changed the battery in my Fuji X-T1 and when I turned the camera on, all my settings were gone. I reset them and went not-so-merrily on my way. A while later I turned the camera off to save battery power, and when I turned it on - no settings again. I tested this out a few more times after I got home. And it continued.

Not good, I had an important event to shoot on Sunday (the finishing of a new Torah, hence the title of the blog). I used my Fuji X-Pro1 body which has become my backup camera. It worked fine, and I was happy to have it in hand again, but definitely a bit slower than the XT1. I called Fuji on Monday and brought the camera to the repair facility in NJ. Tuesday afternoon they called to have me pick it up, all fixed. The backup battery was failing and since it's a permanent part of the camera's mother board, that had to be replaced. As a consolation prize (the camera is only five months old) they gave me a new battery. Can never have enough batteries for the Fuji X series cameras.

I've said it before and I'll say it again. Fuji support is exemplary.

Now about the new Torah. The story I was told is this: A gentleman named Morris Brenner (87 years old) was a young boy in the Warsaw Ghetto when the Nazis broke through the resistance. They came to his house and rounded up his family to be shipped to Auchwitz for extermination. Morris hid in a closet and wasn't found, but he saw the Nazis empty all the books and the family Torah into a bin and set them on fire. For many years he wanted to make up for the destruction of the holy scrolls, so he purchased a Torah that was made in Israel, had it brought to NYC, and donated it to his local synagogue on the Lower East Side, which just happens to be the synagogue with which I've been involved to make pictures for the past year.

The actual installation of the Torah in the synagogue happened today, the first day of Shavuot. It's the Jewish holiday that commemorates Moses going up on Mt. Sinai to receive the Ten Commandments - 50 days after the exodus from Egypt began (which is celebrated on Pesach). Because it was a significant Jewish Holiday I wasn't allowed to take pictures - it's considered work - yet. Next week another Torah is being installed in the last surviving Yeshiva on the Lower East Side, and I've been promised access to that event. It's a joyous occasions, I'm sure there will be many photos.

More about Sunday: The Torah doesn't become a holy (Kosher) document until it's complete. So the last few lines of the last piece of parchment in the scroll is only sketched in by the original scribe (called a Sofer in hebrew) and the final writing is left to the local Sofer in the community and the congregants to finish.

Here's what the last few lines look like:

It's upside down because the scroll was facing away from me, but you can see the last few lines are just sketched in. This is Morris Brenner, the donor of the Torah, and Rabbi Spiegel's son Yankele.

Rabbi Spiegel with a quill pen writing one of the letters of the last line while being supervised by the sofer, Rabbi Eisenbach.