Turning a rekindled passion into a lucrative business

In addition to event photography, portraiture and fine-art photography, Rebecca Nathan Kowalsky , 55, teaches photography workshops for groups and one-on-one, to children and adults.

Rebecca Nathan Kowalsky (photo credit: RONI LOEB RICHTER)
Rebecca Nathan Kowalsky
(photo credit: RONI LOEB RICHTER)
Rebecca and Yossi Kowalsky were among the first 200 families in Efrat, a Gush Etzion community that now numbers more than 9,200 inhabitants.
They’ve made a tangible mark on Efrat, Yossi as a dentist in practice there since 1987 and Rebecca as a photographer whose works are displayed in the library, community center and clients’ homes.
She managed Yossi’s practice for many years, taking up photography professionally only in 2000. Kowalsky has self-published several fine-art and functional Judaica books. Her “Land of Israel Birkon,” a photo-illustrated Grace After Meals booklet, has sold more than 9,000 copies around the world. A new full-color book containing the Yom Ha’atzmaut liturgy will be ready in time for Independence Day.
She explains that her Images Through Time (www.imagesthroughtime.com) business grew from a voluntary task she undertook during the second intifada.
It all started when another local resident, Sharon Katz, established the Raise Your Spirits women’s theater company as a constructive response to the unrelenting terrorism of those difficult years – during which 40 Gush Etzion residents were killed.
“They asked women to volunteer, and I didn’t want to act or sing but I said I’d take the photographs,” recalls Kowalsky.
“It went really well, and here and there people started asking me to photograph a small bar mitzva or a brit mila as a favor. Photography was a passion of mine since childhood, and this was how it got rekindled.
“With God’s help, and with my family and friends’ support, it blossomed into a really successful business.”
In addition to event photography, portraiture and fine-art photography, Kowalsky teaches photography workshops for groups and one-on-one, to children and adults. She lectures on the subject and has taken master classes in Israel, Europe, China and the US; she has accepted assignments in the US and Israel, including capturing performances at the Suzanne Dellal Center for Dance and Theater in Tel Aviv.
“I love being with people and being at their simchas [festive occasions],” enthuses Kowalsky. She does pro-bono photography for Jerusalem’s Shaare Zedek Medical Center and others, because “I believe everyone has to do something to give back. I feel blessed that I love what I do.”
Running marathons
Raised in Chicago, Kowalsky (then Rebecca Nathan) came to Israel for the first time when she was 17, to learn at Michlala – Jerusalem College for Girls for one academic year before starting Barnard College. She says the concept of moving to Israel permanently was a sort of no-brainer for her.
“Coming as a religious-Zionist involved in Bnei Akiva, when I saw this land it was beyond belief to me that anyone with a similar outlook would live anywhere but here. It was so obvious to me that aliya was going to happen, although exactly when I didn’t know at that time.”
Through friends at Michlala, she met Yeshivat Shaalvim student Yossi Kowalsky toward the end of the year. When they returned to America for college they continued going out, getting married in 1980, right before Rebecca’s last year at Barnard.
Yossi’s parents had already made aliya to join his sister in Israel, and the newlyweds planned their path carefully.
“We moved back to my hometown so we could be near my family while Yossi went to dental school,” she relates. “During the first three years I worked in the hi-tech world to support us. Our first child, Yitzhak, was born in 1984, and he was a year old when we left on aliya.”
The couple had gone on a pilot trip through the organization Tehilla and decided that instead of starting Israeli life in Jerusalem’s Beit Canada immigrant absorption center, where many fellow Anglos were going at the time, they’d choose the more rural setting of Kfar Adumim. The “absorption center” there consisted of 10 caravans.
“It was fantastic,” she says. “We just loved it.”
Soon Yossi got an offer to practice in a dental office in Beersheba for a few years, so they moved south. During those two years, their daughter Rachel was born.
“Beersheba was really hard for me,” Kowalsky confides. “Yossi loved his job, but I wasn’t working and was very lonely. I never considered leaving Israel, but I wanted to leave Beersheba.”
On their frequent drives to visit Yossi’s sister and parents in Jerusalem, the couple took notice of Gush Etzion just south of the capital. “It was beautiful and more affordable than Jerusalem, and we thought maybe we could build a dental office and start our own business here.”
So in 1987, they rented a house in Efrat. Yossi continued commuting to work in Beersheba (and enduring frequent stonings of his car during the first intifada), while slowly growing his local practice into a full-time concern. Later, the Kowalskys bought a plot of land and built their own house.
Their son Chaim was born in 1989, followed by Tamar, Natie and Ayala. Today, Yitzhak is a real- estate agent in Jerusalem; Rachel and her family live in Tekoa; Chaim is a teacher and counselor at Mekor Chaim Yeshiva High School; Tamar is a teacher and graphic artist; newlywed Natie is in the army; and Ayala, now doing her national service, is on a professional track as a student and performer at the Jerusalem Ballet School.
In addition to her photography, Kowalsky likes to keep in shape through daily running, yoga and weight-resistance training. She has participated in many races and marathons.
If she could change anything about the Israeli reality, it would be raising the level of politeness and kindness in business situations.
“Customer service is getting better here, but is still generally lacking. I don’t ever long to go away, but when I do I feel I’m treated with a more service-oriented attitude, especially in the US,” she says.
However, even after three decades in Israel, she retains a deep gratitude for the opportunity to live here.
“There are very few days that go by that I don’t feel and walk and appreciate the miracle of being here almost 30 years,” she reveals. “I am moved to tears by almost anything that has to do with being a Zionist living in Israel.”
“I think living here in the era after 1948 is awe-inspiring.”