Colors in the black and white Israeli photographer

Israeli photographer Yonatan Sindel puts haredi life in focus

Ultra-Orthodox Jews dance with Torah scrolls during the celebrations of Simchat Torah in a synagogue in the Mea Shearim neighborhood of Jerusalem (photo credit: REUTERS)
Ultra-Orthodox Jews dance with Torah scrolls during the celebrations of Simchat Torah in a synagogue in the Mea Shearim neighborhood of Jerusalem
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Israeli photographer Yonatan Sindel prefers to look at life through a lens. Ever since he was 15 and received his first camera as a gift, he became particularly enthralled with photographing the ultra-Orthodox or haredi community, finding unity and inspiration through the pictures. Yonatan is now part of the multi-artist project the Rafael Collection, organized by Rafael Rosenfeld. In the beginning of June, the online visual gallery will launch at
Can you talk about yourself? How did you first get into photography?
I was born in Jerusalem about 30 years ago. I grew up in Nachlaot [neighborhood] and then later moved to Baka. I went to the Democratic School in Jerusalem. I started getting into photography when I was about 15 because that’s when I got my first camera from my parents.
Today, it’s all digital, but it was film back then.
I started to take pictures, and then when I went to the army, I was taking pictures in the army. I was in a combat unit, but I was taking pictures for myself and I realized how much I loved it. When I finished the army, I went to Australia, where my dad is from, and lived there for three years.
I did photography there as well, on a more artistic level. I started working for some local Jewish newspapers there, which was my first time actually working as a photojournalist. When I came back, I enrolled at Bezalel. That’s where I focused myself. I started taking pictures of ultra-Orthodox life, which I had done when I was 15. So I returned to what I find most interesting.
What interests you about photographing the ultra-Orthodox?
They are exactly the same as us; they are part of us. They’re Jewish, a lot of them were born here in Israel. As a young boy, I used to walk into certain neighborhoods and see all these guys in black hats and black suits. I got curious about what their lives were like; their family life, their ceremonies that look like they’re taking place hundreds of years ago.
How did you get involved with the Rafael Collection Project?
Rafael contacted me after my Bezalel graduation exhibition, “Haredim,” which was on the ultra-Orthodox in Mea She’arim. This was about seven months ago. So we met and he told me about the project. I thought it sounded interesting and I told him that I would like to be involved.
Rafael aims to expose talented Israeli artists by promoting them through exhibitions.
How is that playing out for you?
It’s a great opportunity. I’ve been doing photojournalism, but to have the chance to show myself as an artist is a totally different point of view.
Although I love to work as a photojournalist, it doesn’t always satisfy my artistic side. To show my haredi pictures and all the other things that interest me as a photographer for the sake of the art is much deeper and closer to my heart.
Is your family religious?
They’re traditional; they keep Shabbat and the hagim [holidays]. We are a good Jewish family. My mom is Yemenite and my dad is Australian. It’s an interesting mix.
When you go to places like Mea She’arim to take pictures, what kind of reception do you get?
Everyone knows me already because I’ve been photographing there since I was a teenager. They’re all so used to me that they are completely natural and let me do whatever I want. They can just be themselves, which is the most beautiful thing.
Do you ever give your photographs titles?
I prefer not to because I think the pictures are so strong on their own that they don’t need to be given a name. When I take pictures, I’m capturing daily life. I don’t stage anything or direct people; I’m photographing their real lives. I think that you don’t need to give that a title. I leave that up to the viewer. If I do a series of pictures, then I like to choose a title, but only then.
It seems that you’re always photographing people, not landscapes or architecture. Is that true?
Yeah, I photograph people because landscapes and buildings don’t interest me. Humans are the most interesting; to see their reactions and their faces. With my pictures of the ultra-Orthodox community, if I make them black and white, it looks like they were taken a hundred years ago! I really like connecting with people. I don’t get that from photographing the land; it’s kind of boring for me.
Who inspires you?
When I first started taking pictures of the haredi community, I followed an Israeli photographer named Menahem Cahana. He’s amazing. He has whole books about the haredi community; I think he was the first one to devote entire photo projects to that subject. He photographed them in a lot of varying situations. He is my number one inspiration, especially when I started my graduation exhibition for Bezalel. He is also a good friend of mine and now we work together quite often. We are interested in similar subject