Bei Mir Bistu Shein

Kovi Konowiecki

2016 - Ongoing

Bei Mir Bistu Shein portrays an Orthodox Jewish family represented in three different parts of the world: United States, England and Israel. The subjects are displayed in a light and setting that emphasizes their distinct way of life, which can be perceived as strange and archaic, yet intriguing to outsiders. The colors and floral background cause the photographs to take on a painting-like quality, highlighting the mysticism of the subjects and their association with a history and tradition that many may find unfamiliar. Simultaneously, the connection amongst the various family members helps establish a sense of warmth and familiarity for the viewer, illustrating how the values of family and togetherness serve as the cornerstone of Jewish tradition, much like they do for the lives of many who live in today's society.

The subjects of these portraits exist in a liminal space between history and modernity. This dichotomy--the old and the new, modernity and tradition--captures the essence of the subjects--people who define their lives by an idea that embodies the physical and the mystical world perhaps more than any other:


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  • Shmuley, Long Beach, California: Shmuley was the first image I took as part of this series. He had just had his Bar Mitzvah at the time the portrait was taken, such an important period in the life of an Orthodox Jewish boy. In a sense, this image exemplifies his transition from boyhood to manhood. There is such depth and maturity behind his expression, which is quite unique for a boy his age. He is also at an age where he is starting to realize where he comes from and the traditions of his people.

  • Shimi, Beitar Illit, Israel: Shimi's home, Beitar Illit, is an Israeli settlement about ten kilometers south of Jerusalem. It is a very strict community and they have little connection to the outside world. Shimi however, is a Klezmer violinist and very much enjoys the arts.

  • Goldie, Long Beach, California: Goldie lives across the street from her parents, Aba and Chani. She is married with three children and teaches at the Hebrew Academy, a Jewish day school.

  • Tilly and Itty, Beitar Illit, Israel: Tilly and Itty are inseparable. Tilly is the oldest of five siblings and Itty is the youngest. They love learning and represent the growing female strength of the Orthodox Jewish tradition.

  • Mendi, Long Beach, California: Mendi, although a year away from his Bar Mitzvah, recites his Torah portion every day with his father. He very much looks up to his older brother Shmuley.

  • Nechama, Golders Green, London: Nechama grew up in Golders Green and has lived there her entire life. She is scared that she will miss her eldest son when he leaves for Yeshiva (to study Torah) in Toronto next year.

  • Aba, Long Beach, California: Aba is the Rabbi of the Jewish congregation in Long Beach, California. He is originally from Montreal, Canada, and moved to California to get married and set up a synagogue.

  • Duddy, Beitar Illit, Israel: Duddy speaks Yiddish with his parents every day and plays the violin, following in the footsteps of his father.

  • Boruch, Long Beach, California: Boruch is the chazan, or cantor, of the local synagogue in Long Beach. He moved to the United States from England (Golders Green) to marry his wife Chaya Leah. He extremely passionate about singing and enjoys teaching his children the Torah every day.

  • Shimshon, Long Beach, California: Shimshon has never been out of the United States, and dreams of the day he will get to meet his cousin Ezy in London. He, like his brother Dovid, is a huge sports fan.

  • Moshe, Jerusalem, Israel: Moshe is an avid learner of the Torah. He opened up a dry cleaning business in Jerusalem and hopes to be the rabbi of his own Jewish congregation one day. He looks forward to the day he can put on tefilin (leather straps) with his boy.

  • Ezy, Golders Green, London: Ezy is the youngest of six siblings. He helps prepare apply crumble with his mother every Shabbat.

  • Morechai Tzvi, Golders Green, London: This portrait of Mordechai Tzvi, Boruch's father, is definitely an image that will stay with me for a long time. He was a very gentle man, and his sense of humour made photographing him a special experience. Mordechai passed away about a month ago in London, and hearing the news made me feel as if someone from my own family had passed away. I think that’s one of the biggest powers of photography, it allows you to connect with people on so many levels. It was probably the last picture that was ever taken of him.

  • Brachi, Beitar Illit, Israel: Brachi's parents come from Eastern Europe, and se speaks Yiddish with her husband and kids as their first language. Before I took her portrait she said, "Please make me look pretty".

  • Soro, Golders Green, London: Soro is an extremely kind and gentle person. Initially she was too shy to let me take her portrait, but after she saw the photograph of her husband Aviel, she asked me if I could take her portrait too.

  • Dovid, Long Beach, California: Dovid is the youngest of three boys. he very much looks up to his oldest brother Shmuley and hopes to attend Yeshiva one day. He is also an avid fan of the New England Patriots (American football team).

  • Aviel, Golders Green, London: Aviel grew up in Golders Green, London, and recently moved to Stamford Hill to marry his wife Soro. Like his cousin Moshe, he is an avid learner of the Torah.

  • Shira and Natan, Jerusalem, Israel: Shira hopes to move to California one day with her kids and her husband Moshe. She has lived in Jerusalem her entire life. Natan is her third child.

  • Rose, Jerusalem, Israel: Rose says that her best friend is her mother Shira. Shabbat is her favorite day of the week because she gets to wear a flower in her hair.

  • Yosef Chaim, Golders Green, London: Yosef Chaim is moving to Toronto next year to study Torah at Yeshiva. He has mixed feelings about leaving, as he has never been away from his twin brother, Efrayim Dovid, for more than two weeks.

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