Can you talk about each of the six photos in the series?
Abir Sultan: Mitzvah Dance was taken in 2018 in Bnei Brak during the wedding of Rivka Zirel, the granddaughter of the Vizhnitz Rebbe. The Vizhnitz Hasidic dynasty is named after Vyzhnytsia, a town in present-day Ukraine. The customary Hasidic Mitzvah Dance allows for close male relatives to celebrate the bride on the eve of her wedding by dancing for her in front of thousands of onlookers.
Wedding was taken in 2012 in Bnei Brak. The bride in the photo is part of the Nadvorna Hasidic dynasty which originated in Nadvorna, Ukraine. She sits with her mother and mother-in-law watching her new husband dance with his friends and family.
Pidyon HaBen (Redemption of the Son) was shot in 2016 in a Lelov Hasidic community in Mea Shearim. Pidyon HaBen is an ancient ceremony performed at the birth of a first-born male child. The ritual act, uses a coin as a type of barter to exempt their son from having to serve in the Temple as a priest, as was customary for first born males during the Temple periods. Nowadays, coins are symbolically given to redeem the child of the obligation.
Tu B’Shevat was shot in 2016. The holiday is celebrated by eating the new fruits that are blooming in Israel during the time period. The photo shows a group of Belz Hasidim reaching for oranges that have been blessed by their Rabbi.
Burqa Sect was taken in 2017 in Mea She’arim. The extreme-fringe group follows a strict code of modesty that has no basis in Jewish scripture or Halachic law.
Diving was shot in 2018 in the Nahal Prat nature reserve during Bein haZmanim (between the times), which refers to the summer vacation of the Ultra-Orthodox community. This particular photo is a metaphor for the whole body of work. The man in the photo is depicted in the water, which can be considered as “another world”. He is submerged, fully dressed and looks as though he’s drowning, but in reality, he is exuberant, jumping into the water unphased about getting his clothing wet. The series considers perception and what it means to look in from the outside and feel like an explorer in a foreign land.
Wave was taken in 2014 during a protest held by the Ultra-Orthodox against the draft into the Israeli Defense Forces. The March of the Million is said to have drawn nearly one million Ultra-Orthodox individuals from all over the country. The onslaught of peaceful protestors claiming the Israeli government’s requirement to serve in the army (currently Ultra-Orthodox Jews are exempt), will impede their desire to live like their Biblical forefathers, devoting themselves to a life of Torah study. They don’t want their children to be affected by modern Israeli society, and believe a Jewish military presence can occur only in Messianic times.
Many Israelis believe there should be one law which requires all citizens to serve in the Israeli Defense Forces. On the one hand, that makes a lot of sense. But on the other hand, a community such as this one, wholeheartedly committed to living just as their ancestors did are entitled to make their own choices. I think as a society, we have to respect their choices and practices. I do believe that if the Ultra-Orthodox did serve, Israel would have the best army in the world! The Ultra-Orthodox are masters at problem solving. The community living in Mea Shearim functions seamlessly. They take care of their own, give tremendous amounts of charity, have their own school systems and institutions. They have created a self-made society that thrives.
Was there any particular moment that had a lasting affect on you?
Abir Sultan: Shooting the Burqa image was very difficult for me to wrap my head around. I went home that evening feeling uneasy. I think I was in shock. Seeing little girls wearing burqas was very disturbing for me. The concept of covering up at such a young age is hard for me to understand. The group believes that completely covering their bodies will lead to salvation, and think matriarchs of Judaism dressed in this manner. The women, following the teachings of Rabbi Moshe Ben Maimon (referred to as the Rambam) claim the 12th century great sage said to adhere to modesty, Jewish women should cover their bodies when in the street. Modern Jewish Rabbinic leaders argue the Rambam absolutely was not referring to this type of dress.