ARRIVALS: An oleh worth a thousand words

Judah S. Harris, 53, From Kew Gardens Hills (Queens), New York, to Jerusalem, 2017.

JUDAH S. HARRIS (photo credit: YITZ WOOLF)
(photo credit: YITZ WOOLF)
For someone who observes his surroundings with an eye for compelling images and stories, Jerusalem is a dream location.
“I like exploring the cacophony of people and even starting conversations,” says professional photographer and filmmaker Judah S. Harris, 53.
“I’ve always been interested in observing people and different cultures. To be a good people photographer, you have to like people, be interested in them. I’m a very curious person, and I try to share that with others,” he says.
Over the years, Harris’s photos have been published in newspapers and periodicals such as The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, Country Living magazine, Mishpacha, The Forward and the Jewish Week. 
His work has been featured in advertisements and on the covers of 43 novels; exhibited at Hebrew Union College Museum, the Museum of Jewish Heritage and the Jewish Museum in New York; Klutznick National Museum in Washington, DC; Beit Hatfutsot – The Museum of the Jewish People, in Tel Aviv; Bloomingdale’s department stores; and recently in Jerusalem’s Harmony Cultural Center.
Harris has been chosen to photograph epic events such as the March of the Living and World Maccabiah Games. His photo projects include “Six Days at The United Nations” (2004) “Morning Prayers on 185th Street (1990), “The Bridges of Madison County” (1994), “The NYC Subway Experience” (2003) and “Judah S. Harris Israel Photographs: 1983-2008,” soon to be rereleased in an enhanced online presentation. 
“I look forward to creating new images over the upcoming summer months and beyond, now that I am living here,” says Harris. “I feel the need to walk some more of the land and meet more of the people.”
Although he arrived only last September from Queens, New York, Harris has spent considerable time traveling and photographing in Israel since his first gap-year sojourn after high school. In fact, he traces his career choice back to that year in Israel. He had brought along a Yashica 35-mm. camera to record the sights of a stimulating new place. Later in the year, he displayed 50 of his images on the dining room wall at the yeshiva. 
It was also during that formative year that he decided he wanted to live in Israel someday.
“I probably should have made aliya 15 years ago, but I was committed to my craft, learning skills and pursuing creative opportunities and assignments. I’ve been to Israel more than 25 times, so I came with a certain familiarity, and I speak Hebrew fluently,” says Harris. “Fortunately, I’m good with languages, and plan to soon start learning Arabic so I can interact with more people.”
Sometimes the Israelis with whom he strikes up conversations – like a cab driver who was a wounded in the Second Lebanon War and a couple from Ramat Gan he met at the International YMCA in Jerusalem – are curious to understand an immigrant’s decision to move to Israel.
“With a lot of Israelis leaving the country for more opportunities abroad, it seems affirming to those Israelis who stay that there are Americans, and others, who leave relatively good lives to come live here, even with all the challenges,” says Harris.
“They understand it’s not for trivial reasons, rather the arachim, core values. My coming here – and I’ve wanted to for many years – was in order to be able to have a better chance of fulfilling some of my goals as a person and as a Jew.”
Harris was raised in a strongly Zionist home in New Jersey, the oldest of three siblings. His brother made aliya many years ago, and his sister lived here for several years as well. His widowed mother, a retired Jewish day-school teacher, lives in Jerusalem, too.
Harris made aliya solo and hopes to get married, now that he is settled here.
“Coming on aliya as a single is harder in certain ways, as one has to go it on their own, make decisions on their own, and can’t share the fun and the frustration with another person as a team. Still, I feel that arrival in Israel offers a chance to accelerate life goals and to connect with new people,” he says.
Aside from photography, Harris has other interests and talents. He earned a bachelor’s degree in speech and drama at Yeshiva University in 1987 and completed coursework toward a master’s in Jewish education and administration. He’s written and spoken on Jewish and Torah-related themes, photography, visual communication and marketing, and has taught business at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City. Recently, he was invited to speak to an English class at Bar-Ilan University about filmmaking.
He writes a photo critique column on Janglo, Israel’s largest online community for English-speakers, and offers Walk Jerusalem Photo Tours and other photo classes for groups and individuals. This summer he plans a photo class series for youth in Jerusalem, and he is designing workshops for adults in Jerusalem, Safed, Masada, the Ramle fruit market and Lake Kinneret, as well as Lightstreaks, a nighttime class in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv to produce abstract shapes and light designs using ambient light and long exposures. 
“I’m not draining swamps or driving an armored truck, but I hope to contribute to Israeli society and also to gain,” he says. “I brought a lot of talent with me, and want to introduce Judah S. Harris Photography and Film to families, organizations and companies that are appreciative of good visual storytelling.” 
An explorer by nature, Harris does a lot of walking in Jerusalem and especially enjoys visiting various synagogues around town on Shabbat. He often lends his baritone voice to leading services and has also volunteered, for many years, to sing for seniors at their homes or in residences. 
Another longtime interest is healthful cooking, piqued in Israel by visits to the Mahaneh Yehuda market. 
“When I was younger, I thought of going to Cornell University School of Hotel Administration,” reveals this son of two Cornell graduates, who’s written on restaurant marketing and also reviewed restaurants. “Maybe someday I’ll have a bed-and-breakfast in the Galilee. It’s about creating an experience for people.”