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February 28, 1986 - Image 34

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1986-02-28

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34 Friday, February 28, 1986


taken him from a mild curiosity about Judaism to a
devoutness that would have surprised him just a
decade ago.


ron was raised in north Philadelphia by
fairly secular parents. "They identified as Jews,"
Aron said. "But they identified as much — if not
more — as Americans. They worked to attain the
American Dream. And if they couldn't attain it, then
they hoped that I would."
Visual images were always important to Aron. As
a teenager, a photo lab was his neighborhood
hangout. But he never thought about having
photography as a career. "I was raised," he said, "to
believe that photography was not a legitimate
Aron earned a Ph.D. in sociology. While working
on a post-doctoral fellowship in drug addiction
research on New York's Lower East Side, he
extensively photographed the streets and people of
the Lower East Side and the rituals and members of
the Upper West Side chavurah to which he be-
longed. He tried photographing the cityscapes of
New York. "But that," said Aron, "wasn't
as meaningful to me as shooting photos of
my heritage."
"As I got to the point," he said, "where I realized
that I could do whatever I wanted to with my life,
which may have been later than most people come
to such realizations, I knew that I was more
interested in taking pictures than doing
anything. else."
About 10 years ago, Aron left sociology for photo-
graphy. He was advised by the owners of several
photo galleries and by more experienced
photographers to succeed first in more general, more
secular photography before specializing in Judaica. "I
thought hard about that," said Aron. "Everyone told
me that there was no money in photographing
Jewish subjects. But I thought that if I was going
to leave one profession for another, it should have
some emotional kick for me. Other people advised
me to stay away from a subject that was as close to
me as Judaism because my own passions would
`bias' the photograph. That was nonsense."
As Aron roamed through different Jewish
communities, he discovered that he was using his
camera "as a kind of diary of my own experiences
with Judaism. It helped give me a, meaningful .way
to look, at the significant components of my heritage
and to hold on to them."
Almost paradoxically, the distance between Aron
and the Jewish rituals that he photographed "made
me somehow feel that I was more of a part of them.
I'm not sure how that works. When I recognize that
something is visually moving, I'm able to be more of
a part of it by giving that image some permanence."
Of all his travels, Aron's trip to Cuba in 1978
most influenced his own religious observance. "I had
never before met Jews who had to struggle to be

Yom Kippur Torah reading, Leningrad.

Sukkot, Minsk.

Sukkot, Minsk: "When this man chanted the Hillel
prayers, every eye in the room was riveted on him.
The emotion in his voice, the sincerity and strength of

its sound, caused each note to last forever...Not until
the last few verses was I able to raise my camera and

take a picture." — Bill Aron

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