Laura Ben-David
Sharing Israel with the world through my lens
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Early mornings, pandemics and Sukkot

If musical instruments and singing were a regular part of Orthodox services, as they were today, I would probably become a regular

As a photographer I sometimes live from photographic moment to photographic moment. Of course, as an artsy-type, just about anything from a cup of coffee to a blade of grass can be a “photographic moment.” But such moments are a dime a dozen. I can seek out and capture them almost any day. But the unique moments… the ones that are rare, fleeting, meaningful, exciting…unique. Those are the moments I live for as a photographer. The ones I’ll do almost anything to capture.

Holidays almost always offer such moments. This holiday of Sukkot was no exception. From the first day of chol hamoed (the intermediate days) when I caught a glimpse of a man in a tallit go to the arava (willow) bush — that I’d never noticed before! — behind my house to replenish his lulav, I’ve been determined to photograph someone doing just that.

So I dutifully set my alarm each day, went outside with a cup of coffee and my phone, and waited. And waited. Nobody came…

I even sent a WhatsApp message to a minyan group at a nearby synagogue. No one even related to it…

After several days I gave up and drank my coffee inside. I was alerted by my dog barking. I glanced out the window, and yes!!!! (Good boy, Chewie!)

I dashed outside and started snapping away, feeling like I’d won the lottery.

Picking willow branches on Sukkot. (Laura Ben-David)

The fact that he was in pajamas wasn’t lost on anyone who saw the photo… “Classic 2020” was what everyone was saying. And they’re right. There’s nothing normal about this year, and the pictures of the holidays reflect the bizarre ‘normal’ that we’re all experiencing.

I decided I needed more… Even though “more” would mean actually getting dressed since I planned on finding some of the lockdown-friendly services on Hoshana Rabbah morning and figured showing up in pajamas might be inappropriate. But it was worth it.

(Laura Ben-David)

The energy, the music, the singing, the dancing… no pandemic or small group or mask could put a damper on the religious fervor felt throughout. It was electric!

I’ll admit I’m not much of a shul-goer or “davener” (one who prays). But from my experience at this “Carlebach minyan” in my community of Tekoa, I can say that if musical instruments and singing were a regular part of Orthodox services, I would probably become a regular.

(Laura Ben-David)
The tallit whipping around gives a hint to the extraordinary energy and dancing that you might otherwise miss in a static photo. (Laura Ben-David)
[Laura Ben-David]
(Laura Ben-David)
The women took part as well, although the women’s section was much more subdued this year. (Laura Ben-David)
The pile of ‘aravot’ (willow branches) are resting on the table along with a siddur and a clarinet. All are important parts of this extraordinary service. (Laura Ben-David)
The energy in this photo says it all! (Laura Ben-David)
About the Author
Laura Ben-David is a photographer, public speaker and Israel advocate. Inspired by her Aliyah experience, Laura began writing and never stopped. She is the author of the book, MOVING UP: An Aliyah Journal, a memoir of her move to Israel. She has spoken all over the world about Israel, Aliyah and other topics, often with beautiful photographic presentations. Formerly the head of social media at Nefesh B'Nefesh, Laura is the director of marketing at Shavei Israel as well as a marketing consultant.
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