Hasidic Jews, always considered ‘invisible’, on view in new exhibition

Hasidic Jews, always considered ‘invisible’, on view in new exhibition

When I first saw The Chosen, the film by Jeremy Kagan, based on the bestselling book of the same name by Chaim Potok, I had never come across Hasidic Jews. I was young at the time, about 12, so probably can be forgiven for that. Years later, I was seated next to a member of the New York Hasidic Jewish community on a flight from New York to Amsterdam and I got to know a bit more about these people. 

Jews once formed an important part of the Amsterdam population, but there is an especially large Hasidic contingent of Jewish people in Antwerp. The community is virtually invisible, but the photographic exhibition Sjtetl in de stad. Antwerpen door de lens van Dan Zollmann (Sjtetl in the city. Antwerp through the lens of Dan Zollmann) shows you their world inside out. 

The photographer himself grew up as an orthodox Jew in Antwerp – with close ties to the stereotypical  diamond trade. He started to document life in the Jewish neighbourhood of Antwerp in 2006. He has since won various prestigious prizes with these photo’s and was appointed official city photographer by the city of Antwerp between 2009 and 2011 as a result. During these years, Zollmann visited his roots frequently and even though he has extricated himself from the bonds of orthodoxy, he was welcome in many Hasidic homes to shoot portraits and document the way of life of these fascinating families. 

Hasidic Jews are largely withdrawn from the world because they strictly adhere to the laws of the Old Testament in a deeply mystical way which for outsiders will be difficult to understand at a glance. 

When modern life clashes with the commandments of their holy scriptures the Hasidim (the plural of Hasidic) will rely on their own provisions and social structures. The Hasidic Jews speak Jiddish among each other, that wonderful mixture of German, Dutch and Hebrew you sometimes catch in the movies. 

Zollman’s photos are definitely worth seeing as you do not often get the chance to find out what goes on in this community. He not only photographed domestic scenes and life on the streets in the Hasidic district of the diamond capital of Europe but also had access to the prayer houses and religious feasts. His photos are testimony to strong wit, respect and engaged interpellation.  

The show is on until May 5th (opened earlier this January) at the Joods Historisch Museum (Jewish Historic Museum) which is located near the Waterlooplein in central Amsterdam. Amsterdam Apartment rentals abound in this area. Guided tours for groups up to 20 persons are available if you arrange beforehand by phoning 020-5310380.