Too Much of a Great Thing

OSAKA, Japan — Ambition is a great motivator, but it’s sometimes bigger than time allows for. Here’s ambition for you: Jewish Africa: A Cultural and Historical Photographic Survey.

Aron Hakodesh, Sephardi Hebrew Congregation. HARARE, Zimbabwe

I embarked upon my project with great ambitions, and expectations, of taking a whole lot of photographs, but also of writing a blog along the way. I soon confirmed what I really already knew: It’s tough to be both a writer and a photographer, and to do both of them justice concurrently. In lieu of prolix texts, I’ve conveyed much of my travel story in daily updates on Facebook in the guise of my “JEWISH AFRICA, Photo of the Day” posts. I’ve tried to let the photos speak a thousand words, ironically, more than I would actually write for a blog post. I’ve enjoyed the virtual interaction, feedback, and commentary.

Jewish Africa came at me in hyper speed and I was never quite able to slow it down enough to catch up. This was a good thing. Every single day of this 50 day journey has brought adventure — literally, figuratively, emotionally, sometimes even physically. In other words, I’ve been on sensory overload ever since I touched down in Johannesburg on August 1st. I have the remarkably warm, welcoming, and enthusiastic Jewish communities of South Africa and Zimbabwe to thank for this remarkable odyssey. I usually find specific individuals on these trips who do amazing things for me, and I call them my Heroes and Heroines. But here, on the bottom of Africa, I must put those monikers to the entire communities at large, for the sense of support somehow stretches beyond those people whom I met personally. The Jewish communities here exude a spirit like no other. They are proud, but not boastful. They are generous, but not high-handed. They are friendly, but not demanding.

Tefillin, Chabad of Norwood. JOHANNESBURG, South Africa

And largely due to their collective support, I am carrying home 8,273 Jewish Africa images: 2 countries, 6 weeks, 85 unique photo locations, including dozens of synagogues, cemeteries, life cycle and social events, community services, and loads of portraits of the people who make up these remarkable communities.  But I am also carrying with me dozens of unique memories. In a word, this journey has been perfect. Better in fact because it exceeded, by far, my expectations, expectations that were at the outset pretty big.

Now, I need to decompress, gain some perspective, and actually write down some stuff. But I also need to dream it up all over again, and set in motion leg #2 of this Jewish Africa photo quest. I am aiming to spend February and March once again in the southern African region, a trip whose logistics will be a considerably greater challenge than ensconcing myself in, mainly, two locations as on this trip (i.e. Johannesburg and Cape Town; my side trip to Zimbabwe being the exception). I’m looking at travel further afield to Jewish settlements in neighboring Namibia, Mozambique, Botswana, Zambia, perhaps even the Congo and Uganda, plus a cross-country drive from Johannesburg to Cape Town to photograph as many of the “country communities” as possible.

Mehitzah, Ohr Somayach. CAPE TOWN, South Africa

Now that’s an ambitious plan, perhaps too much so, but it’s a great thing, and that’s why I am here. “Africa” does not define the continent it refers to. The word is merely a geographical reference, but it is how most non-Africans use the word (as if all Africans and all Africa are one and the same). Africa is a tapestry of life, culture, nature, economics, music, and, yes, ambition. It is a great land of great opportunity from the capitalist to the adventurist. Reaching its potential is, sadly, in many cases, stunted by poorly managed governments (to put it mildly). But for all of those reasons and situations, that’s why I want to go back there. Midst it all, Jews play (and have long played) their part in their respective societies. They have contributed disproportionately to economic, commercial, and political development and have inscribed a proud history and continue to forge their tomorrow. Jewish Africa is a largely unknown world that is just waiting to be photographed, revealed, shared, and celebrated.

I can’t wait to return.



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