Friday, April 29, 2016

Pesach - Part 3, A Day In The Sun

The holiday is both sad and joyous. We eat the traditional matzah to remind us of the hardships of Egyptian slavery and the journey through the desert. But it's the defining celebration of the Jewish nation - our spiritual coming of age in the experience of the parting of the Red Sea and the delivery of the Ten Commandments and Torah at Mount Sinai some 50 days later. It's a weeklong celebration (as is the fall festival of Sukkoth) of eating festive meals and studying the Torah. And many Jews take the time off from work to spend (spiritually and materially) with their families and friends. Out and about for a stroll or shopping on Fifth Avenue and Herald Square.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Pesach - Part 2, More Shmurah Matzoh

Pesach is a holiday that is centered around home and family. Recounting the story of the Hebrew exodus from Egypt and the establishment of the nation of Israel at Mount Sinai with the giving and receiving of the Torah as the defining story of Judaism is passed on from generation to generation through the Seder service and holiday meal. Nothing symbolizes the Pesach holiday more symbolically than matzoh. And despite what Governor Kasich had to say, matzoh has nothing to do with anybody's blood.

How better to impress kids with the meaning of the holiday and the significance of matzoh than to have them mix, roll out, and bake the dough.

Mixing the water and flour:

Breaking up the dough and rolling into flat wafers:

The final stage: baking the dough to end the 18 minute process:

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Pesach - Part 1, Shmurah Matzoh

The festival of Pesach (Passover) follows on the heals of Purim. Because of the dietary restrictions of Pesach carefully observed ritual preparation begins weeks before the holiday. The preparation of matzoh must be done in a controlled environment so that there is no contamination with leavening and to guarantee that the baking process doesn't result in any rising of the dough. Here's a complete explanation of the the procedures and their meaning. In all, the process must not exceed eighteen minutes - it's a number with deep mystical significance. The water must be at a proscribed temperature, the dough must not have any moisture in it, the sticks that roll the dough flat must be fresh wood with no contamination of previously rolled dough, and the final matzoh must not have any burn imperfections.

Because a shmurah bakery is used only for a few weeks a year, it's usually an extremely confined space with many people moving around doing various tasks, and many rabbis observing the entire process to insure that their batch of matzoh is done to perfection. Many of the people working in the bakery are Russian Jews who have a hearty distrust of photographers. The whole process is a real challenge to photograph.

Saying the afternoon mincha prayer before beginning a new batch of matzoh:

Hands must be washed and completely dried before handling a new batch of flour for the matzoh dough:

The rabbis getting ready to supervise the new preparations and baking:

Ninja warrior matzoh helpers:

Each of the matzoh discs must be perforated with holes so that there is absolutely no rising of the dough:

A hot job:

Inspecting each piece of matzoh before packing to make sure there's no rising and no burn spots:

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Purim 2016 - Part 1

The holiday of Purim (story here) would seem to be a mix of Halloween - with it's costumes, and New Year - with it's noise makers. But it's neither. It's a very Jewish story of assimilation, chosenness, and liberation. The Jews were in exile in Babylon. Separated from their homeland which defined them, they eventually begin to lose touch with their rich history and culture and begin to assume that of their host country. A madman (in this case, Haman - a descendent of the Amalakites) decides to annihilate them. Esther, a beautiful Jewish maiden, is chosen to become the king's new queen and finds her mission in life by approaching the king to uncover Haman's nefarious plot to exterminate her people. The king hangs Haman, and the Jews, being liberated from the threat, become reinvested in their beliefs and live happily every after (well, as much as it's ever possible for us to do so anyway).

It's a joyous holiday. We're commanded to eat, drink, and be merry. Tonight was the start. The noisemakers are groggers and are used to drown out the name of the evil Haman when it's read. It's important to have the right grogger so testing for sound volume before the reading of the Megillah is essential.

The rabbi prepares the  pages of the Megillah before beginning.

Yes, the rabbi gets to have fun too.

 Along with everyone else.

Well, almost everyone else.

The girls get to be queens for a day.

 But it's still a serious story.

After the story is read, everyone works at having a good time.

And occasionally someone gets stupid drunk.

Monday, March 14, 2016

From A Boy To A Young Man

Judaism's rite of passage from childhood to adulthood happens for boys at the age of 13 (bar mitzvah) and for girls at the age of 12 (bat mitzvah). What we have come to recognize as the ritual - sometimes simple, but often opulent - is not necessary for the rite to take place. The obligations of adulthood  are automatic.

Young men are permitted and expected to wear tefillin daily. The first time the young man puts them on is usually two months before his bar mitzvah date. That ritual is documented here, here, and here. There is an intricate yiddish text that very observant Jews require the young man learn and say from memory, called the ma'amar, which is a chassidic discourse on the deep mystical meaning of tefillin. It's recited during the celebration dinner which can occur before or after the actual bar mitzvah service usually held on shabbat, and on the occasion of the young man being called to the torah for an aliyah a day or two before the service.

Eli Moshe reciting the ma'amar and being guided by his father Sholom:

Receiving the priestly kohanim blessing from his maternal grandfather:

Leading the late afternoon mincha prayer service with his paternal grandfather:

 Congregants joining the family in the celebration:

Preparing to read the torah at Chabad World Headquarters in Brooklyn, NY:

 Eli Moshe being called to the torah for his first aliyah:

The proud father and uncle:

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Dynamic Range of the X-Pro2

Shooting yesterday in NYC was a challenge because of the brilliant sunlight. I wanted to test the dynamic range of the camera. This is what I got when doing my usual conversion to b/w in Silver Efex Pro. Very manageable highlights and detail in the deep shadow. The guy on the right kind of looks like Arnold Palmer.

I plan to play a bit with the ACROS film simulation in the camera. But just as a test, I applied the Lightroom preset for ACROS to the color image:

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

First Day on the Street With My X-Pro2

A stunningly sunny early spring day in NYC and a new camera: the perfect combination for happiness. Even being quite familiar with the layout of buttons and dials on the X-Pro1 and X-T1, the new camera took some getting used to. I have more with which to experiment, but for now just a couple of shots to push the camera to its limits.

I wanted to test the dynamic range and see how much latitude I had to play with in my processing, so the bright sunlight coming from the left and falling on this woman's very gray hair were just at the edge of being blown out, but the dark shadows still kept some detail:

With the X-T1 the noise level at ISO 6400 was manageable and produced acceptable images after using some noise reduction. But the X-Pro2 at 6400 proved to be outstanding.