Solstice Magic

Solstice magic. That was the surprise I experienced in December 2004, as I toured Israel with a group sponsored by Germantown Jewish Centre, of Philadelphia. Rabbi Leonard Gordon led the tour along with Yitchak Sokoloff of Keshet Educational Tours.

It was the week after winter solstice. I planned to celebrate the sharp, bright seasonal light, and long, dark shadows. To my initial disappointment, Jerusalem was in the rainy season. When I developed my film, I discovered reflections and rain.

During three days, I broke free from the tour and did urban photography of Jerusalem. Time being limited, I spent two mornings in Mea Shearim and the Bukharian Market.

December 26, 2004

On Sunday, December 26, I walked from the King Solomon Hotel on King George Street, crossed Jaffa Road, where it became Nathan Strauss Street, until Mea Shearim and the Bukharian Market.


Friends near King George Street, 7 a.m.

From Nathan Strauss Street looking into Mea Shearim, 26 December 2004, 7:15 a.m.

Imagine a village in pre-war Poland. You are in Mea Shearim. The ultra-Orthodox men have long beards and wear long black coats and handsome black hats. The residents do not like to be photographed, recalling the prohibition in the Ten Commandments against graven images. I saw a lot of new construction in Mea Shearim, mostly yeshivas (religous schools), all built with classic Jerusalem stone.

Next to Mea Shearim is the Bukharian Market. The shopkeepers are members of families who migrated from the Caspian sea region. The shop keepers wear contemporary clothes. Most of them are clean-shaven. Their features are swarthier than the residents of Mea Shearim. Many of the Bukharian Market people do not like to be photographed. Many Mea Shearim residents shop in the Bukharian Market.

Bukharian Market, 7:30 a.m.

December 26, was cloudy and rainy. I left the hotel just after sunrise, about 7 a.m. I missed most of the foot traffic of people going to work. I returned to the hotel by 9 a.m.

Nathan Strauss Street, 8 a.m.

December 31, 2004

I returned on Friday, December 31. I hit the peak time for people going to work. The streets were crowded. I photographed people on King George Street, going to work.
December 31 was sunny. Being just before the beginning of the Sabbath, this Friday was hopping. Lots of people on the streets. Lots of shopping. It was prime market day. People lined up for bread at a bakery and bread stand in the Bukharian Market. About noon, the tempo changed. People were on their way home to prepare for the Sabbath. A shopkeeper of religious gear said he closes at 2 p.m. I sensed a rush.

Bukharian Market, 9 a.m.

Mea Shearim, 10 a.m.

Mea Shearim, 11 a.m.

Mea Shearim, 11 a.m.

Mea Shearim, 11 a.m.

Bukharian Market, 11:30 a.m.

Mea Shearim, 1 p.m.

Between Western Wall plaza and excavation museum, 3 p.m.

January 2, 2005

On Sunday, January 2, I broke from the tour and explored the Old City. January 2 was the day of the monsoon. Twenty-five years ago, I visited Jerusalem and found the shouk (traditional Arab shopping mall) booming with shops, stalls and stands. However, in January 2005, business was bad. Many shops were vacant. Shopkeepers complained of the poor economy.

Inside Jaffa Gate, 2 p.m.

Despite the monsoon, it was a rich day for photography. We photographed rain pouring off roofs. I walked the ramparts from the Jaffa Gate to the Western Wall. At the Jaffa gate I witnessed three near-auto accidents, blowing umbrellas, and excitement from a heavy rain. I stood under a ledge next to the Citadel of David, trying to avoid the rain. Suddenly, a crowd poured out of the post office across the street. Police were everywhere. I never learned what had happened. Minutes before, I had been in that post office.

Post office inside Jaffa Gate, 2 p.m.



On January 2, 2005, I explored the Shouk, the traditional Arab shopping mall inside the walled City of Jerusalem. After passing textile stands, butcher shops, pharmacies and jewelry stores, we saw three T-shirt stalls, almost next to each other. In these stores, I saw only two personality shirts---Jesus and Che. No rock stars. No Arafat. Nobody else. Nearly 40 years after his death, Che endures.

Che is an omen. I used a 1960 Leica M-2 rangefinder camera. A pure camera---no batteries, no electronics, no computers. Korda used a Leica M-2 to shoot his iconic picture of Che---the most published photograph ever taken.

Forty years from now, black and white photography will still be here, proclaiming in the words of Che, "Hasta la victoria siempre." (Forever onward to victory!)

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