Keeping the faith

A professor of dentistry and an avid photographer has documented the concepts of Judaism and freedom in the US through picture and word

timeless people_521 (photo credit: Courtesy of Gefen)
timeless people_521
(photo credit: Courtesy of Gefen)
“Where in the world but in America – as an Orthodox Jew – can you sing to freedom’s song?”
These were lines, with a little emendation, that I was proudly taught as a little boy in Atlanta, Georgia. Now Dr. Saul H. Landa, a professor of dentistry and an avid photographer, has poignantly documented the concepts of Judaism and freedom in the USA through picture and word in his new coffee-table book A Timeless People.

In designing this volume, Landa intended to show photographically, in the 18 communities he researched most carefully, every aspect of Orthodox Jewish life – the joys of the holidays, bar/bat mitzva ceremonies and weddings – as they occur in the United States. He also focused on the grief and emotion of the Holocaust, of funerals, of earthquakes, hurricanes and other natural phenomena.
Pictorially he examined the diversity of Jewish customs and traditions as observed in America. His book, in full color, captures almost “anything Jewish,“ as he puts it.
Landa was motivated by an overriding question: After 350 years on American soil, immersed in the great blessings of freedom but faced with the trials Jews have experienced throughout the world, how does a people ensure that its faith remains intact? How does it persevere in a non-Jewish country, in spite of the obstacles, to create continuity and keep the links in the chain strong? Through the 1,000 photographs in the book, all of which he took or copied himself, the author attempts to answer this question.
“One of the techniques I use to demonstrate continuity is that of juxtaposition of archival material with present day images dealing with the same subject,” he explains. “An illustration of a Union seder in the Civil War with a brick as charoset and a photo of a US military seder in both World War One and Two, next to a photo of a children’s seder in Cincinnati today certainly offers inspiration.”
He was also privileged to interview the elders of the communities, as well as rabbis and historians who challenged him with ideas and helped him broaden his perspective.
“When I take these photographs of my people (something I’ve done for over forty years), I see their eyes, their faces, their expressions, their emotions and I can’t but be inspired,” notes Landa.
The residents of Bangor, Maine; Baltimore, Washington, DC; the Lower East Side of New York, Oakland/San Francisco, Seattle, Denver, Newport/Providence, Rhode Island; Milwaukee, St. Louis, Minneapolis/ St. Paul, Phoenix, Dallas, Philadelphia, Charleston, South Carolina; New Orleans and and Memphis can take pride in the way the author has explored their communities.
Landa intends to continue his “odyssey in inspiration” in further volumes. He will spread the net of his search over many more American cities, stressing again and again the timelessness of Am Yisrael.