At home with Israel’s ultra-Orthodox
By Ronen Zvulun
As a native of Jerusalem, an Orthodox Jews’ appearance is not alien to me. The thought which often comes to mind when thinking about the ultra-Orthodox community is “so close yet so far”.
How does my life as a secular person differ from the life of a Haredi man (Hebrew for “those who tremble (before God)?
How different are the lives of my daughters from that of a child growing up in an ultra-Orthodox neighborhood: the education, the atmosphere at home, the games, the books, the Western-based culture in which my family lives versus the sheltered lives of the Haredim. Nonetheless, despite all these differences, I find the common ground between us and am mostly welcomed when I cover their reality.
I photographed the Kreus family preparing for the Sabbath on a Friday evening. As a father of two, I was amazed to see how a family of 14 works in harmony like a well-oiled machine. One child peels potatoes while the eldest dresses her siblings as others go to help relatives nearby.
Their house is small, including a simple kitchen, two bedrooms and a front courtyard yet nothing feels missing. I can’t help feeling as if I went back in time while photographing the family.
The eldest daughter, 13-year-old Ester, opens a cabinet door and suddenly disappears, for a second I don’t understand where she disappeared to and then it dawned on me, there is another room in the house, a basement only accessible through the cabinet door, that the family uses as an additional bedroom.
At some stage the smell of food fills the house and an entirely different atmosphere starts to take over, the switch from a week day to a holy day is clearly felt.
At the end of the day and the shoot, I returned home before the Sabbath with a sweet, freshly baked traditional loaf of bread and with a feeling of connection to the family that had opened their home to me, despite the rather closed-off, tight-knit community to which they belong.