The work is inspired by the story of Amnon and Tamar written by the great Yiddish writer Shalom Aleichem, based on the biblical story of Amnon and Tamar (The Second Book of Samuel, chapter 13).
Shalom Aleichem takes the story of Amnon and Tamar and turns it into a dramatic love story, written with the richness of the author’s Yiddish language. The story is presented as a scene in a play, with a short dialogue between Amnon and Tamar. In the play Tamar wakes up one morning and, through her window, sees a leaf falling from a tree. Witnessing this brings her the awareness that all things must end and that death exists in the world. Amnon sees the sadness in her face and asks what brought about this sadness. Tamar, frightened, explains that she understands that their love will one day come to an end, and that it is only now that she understands the presence of death in all of creation. Amnon attempts to comfort Tamar and explains that endings are part of the movement of life, but he fails in his attempts to alleviate her sadness. Tamar tells him that in understanding the inevitability of endings, life then becomes unbearable. Amnon, in attempting to offer a solution, suggests that they die together, assuming that eternal life awaits them both after their death. But Amnon warns her that only a belief in eternal life can guarantee the believer a life without end. Despite her doubts about eternal life, Tamar in the end agrees. They both take their lives and fall down, one on the other. Immediately after their death the ray of Eternal light penetrates Amnon and his believing heart comes to life again. But he finds the hand of a dead woman resting on his beating heart, because her heart was full of doubt, and therefore Amnon dies a second death.
Shalom Aleichem’s short stories often touch on man’s faith and how Judaism views reward and punishment. In 2001, I explored the relationship between photography, art and Yiddish culture. I became familiar with Yiddish culture by means of its literary, poetic and theatrical presence in cultural life. This is where I read the works of Y.L. Peretz and Shalom Aleichem. Little by little, I began to incorporate the experiences I learned about in their works into my personal creations, my photographs.
I worked as a photography counselor in Ilanot (school) with a group of boys and girls with cerebral palsy. “Amnon and Tamar” in the photograph are a boy from the group and a visitor. The boy – “Amnon” – one of the few group members who is not in a wheelchair – was insatiably curious about photography. When people came to observe or help, he asked to be photographed with the girls. He would pose in front of the camera, focus the lighting on himself, look straight ahead and ask to be photographed
In the photograph, Amnon and Tamar symbolize the connection and the contrast between light and dark, life and death, sanctity and sin, reward and punishment, purity and impurity – concepts examined by Judaism in general and Yiddish literature in particular.
The contrast in the photography between black and white, and the absolute separation of the figures from the background, highlights the figures, transforming the photographed couple into Amnon and Tamar. In a large series of photographs, this was a key photograph. The series explores the connection between Yiddish culture which brings the flavor of Judaism of the galut (Diaspora), the didactic Yiddish writing which relates to life with allegorical simplicity, and contemporary Israeli photography and art which is seemingly searching for its roots while closing an eye to its glorious Jewish and cultural heritage – unknown to most.