Kids framed in Jerusalem

Forty children tell their families’ stories in a book and photo exhibition at the Ben-Zvi Institute.

Child sits on carpet [illustrative] 521 (photo credit: Ma’ayan Ben-Artzi)
Child sits on carpet [illustrative] 521
(photo credit: Ma’ayan Ben-Artzi)
Jerusalem is almost universally considered to be one of the most important places in the world in historical, religious and cultural terms. But what of the city’s younger crowd? What do Jerusalemite kids think of their hometown, and how do they connect with the capital’s long and eventful past?
Some of that will come through loud and clear at an exhibition of photographs which opened at the Ben- Zvi Institute in Rehavia last week, and will run for several months. The show incorporates 15 prints of local children, aged five to 14, whose families have a deep-rooted bond with Jerusalem.
“There are all sorts of stories in there,” says Dr. Asaf Selzer, a historiographer who has over 20 years of research on Jerusalem behind him, and teaches at the institute. “This is a very exciting and special project, both for me and for Ma’ayan.”
The latter is Israeli-born California-resident photographer Ma’ayan Ben-Artzi, who took all the pictures on display at the institute, along with 25 other photos that didn’t make it into the exhibition.
“There simply wasn’t room for all the pictures,” explains Selzer, “but all the photos will be included in the book, which we hope will be out by Hanukka.”
The book in question is called, in English, Jerusalem Children, although it has the cleverly crafted Hebrew title of Yeladi-m, whereby the last two letters in Hebrew – yod and mem – are hyphenated like the Hebrew abbreviation of Yerushalayim.
“I research Jerusalem, and I guide people in the city and teach people about the place, but I have never considered Jerusalem from the children’s angle,” notes Selzer.
“Ma’ayan specializes in taking children’s photographs, and listening to the stories of children and their families, but she comes from somewhere else. This project offers her an opportunity to connect with the city, too.”
Ben-Artzi certainly heard some moving stories on the Yeladi-m adventure.
“Ma’ayan spent time with the children at the various sites and we made sure the parents weren’t with the kids the whole time, otherwise we might have gotten cheesy pictures of children smiling to their parents, and that sort of thing,” Selzer continues. “We wanted the photographs to be as natural and as evocative and meaningful as possible.”
When the decision was made to implement the children’s photograph project the institute placed ads in the press, on its website and various other sites, asking for families and children to come forward with their personal Jerusalem stories. Selzer and his colleagues had their work cut out for them sifting through all the material.
“It was pretty tough whittling down the long list to just 40 children,” recalls Selzer. “Of course we wanted to have a representative cross-section of the Jerusalem children, which meant having children from different communities and religious and social backgrounds.”
Selzer says he was keen to spread his net as wide as possible, so as to arrive at as “typical” a junior cross-section of Jerusalem as possible. “We steered clear of schools and other official bodies because we didn’t want to end up with the usual suspects, the same kids who are considered to be ‘typical Jerusalemites.’” The project is limited to local Jewish children.
“We knew we wouldn’t get the cooperation of Christian and Muslim families,” Selzer continues. “For the Jewish families involved this was an opportunity for them to tell their story, and how they ended up in Jerusalem, which, to a great extent, is the history of the Jewish people.”
Naturally that also meant that the kids became more aware of their own history, to some degree or other.
“The smaller children weren’t so verbal, so they understood what was going on on their level. The older kids really got a lot of out it all.”
All the photographs were taken “on location,” at sites that had a connection with the children’s families.
“We didn’t want to take the photos in a studio, or at the Ben-Zvi Institute,” Selzer says. “There is one kid whose great-grandfather moved to the Old City after 1967, so we went to the building, which has a great view of the Jewish Quarter, so that was a good location.
And there is a girl whose great-grandfather was killed in a terrorist attack at Mahaneh Yehuda Market in 1969. So we took a picture of her near where his stall was. That was very moving. It’s a sort of closure, that despite what happened [to her great-grandfather] the girl is still here in Jerusalem.”
There is another child whose great-grandmother gave her all for the country.
“She had 12 children and, at the time, she was rewarded with a certificate of appreciation by David Ben- Gurion,” Selzer adds. “This project is very much about generations of families, and their roots. We were looking for the connection, for continuity.”
Selzer also says the project has a biblical context.
“We went for the prophesy of Zechariah, which talks about the redemption of Jerusalem, when boys and girls will play in its streets. That was a sort of motif for us, as if to say: the redemption may not be here yet but there are children playing in the streets of Jerusalem. So we set off to look for the children.”
There may be more where Yeladi-m came from.
“Don’t forget that the children in the exhibition and book are only a very small percentage of the kids in Jerusalem,” notes Selzer. “There are around 260,000 children in Jerusalem, so there is obviously a lot more work to be done here.”
• For more information about the Yeladi-m exhibition: (02) 539-8888 and