18.02.2018 - 31.08.2018 ǀ Neighbours 2018


Dan Zollmann is a Jewish photographer who has succeeded in doing something that nobody before him has done and which is unlikely to be repeated very soon, namely obtaining access to the closed world of the Hasidic Jews of Antwerp and recording the intimate details of their traditional daily lives. It is precisely because Zollman is so deeply imbued with Jewish culture that he is able to make these pictures. He knows the ins and outs of Jewish law. He is fully aware of what is appropriate and what is not on the various high days of the Jewish calendar. He is familiar with the rules of conduct, and like the Hasids, has his roots in Eastern Europe, specifically in Russia and Hungary.
 
For over ten years Zollmann navigated the waters of ultra-religious Jewish life. He attended weddings as the sole non-Hasidic Jew. He waited for that single moment in the Jewish year, when the matzot were baked in the backrooms of the synagogue at Pesach and taking photographs was also allowed. He was admitted to homes, shops, synagogues and shuls. The Hasidic men let him in, although he was not admitted to the women’s activities. Zollman knows the Shtetl, as this town in a town is known in Yiddish, like the back of his hand. Shtetl is also the title of the album of photographs he published in 2017 and which contains over a hundred pictures. Zollman is not one for seeking out the spectacular, rather, with a remarkable feeling for form and composition, he looks for contradictions. He often strikes gold, flecked with a subtle glints of humour.
 
Like Margot Vanderstraeten in her book, Mazzel tov, he records, from a distance and with respect, an identity that is not his own, but which both fascinates and amazes him.

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In her book Mazzel tov Margot Vanderstraeten, who as a non-Jewish student helped the children of the Schneider family with their homework in order to pay for her studies, brings a unique and insightful examination of the closed Orthodox community. She introduces the members of the Schneider family and their religious laws, customs and habits to her readers. She also reveals herself to us, her doubts, her questions, and her thoughts about an orthodox life in the modern world. She shows surprise, admiration, and even a little jealousy. Despite the enormous cultural and religious differences a close friendship grows between the author and the eldest daughter.
 
Readers of Mazzel tov quickly learn that the Jewish community is by no means a uniform whole. Judaism is made up of numerous different elements, each characterized by differences in degree and interpretation. The Schneider family for example is Modern Orthodox, whereas the cover photo shows a Hasid, so typical of Antwerp. Indeed Antwerp is the home, together with New York, of the largest community of Hasidic Jews in the world outside Israel.  Even so this community – even in Antwerp - is small compared to the entirety of the Jewish world.
 
It is necessary to stress the diversity of the community and Mazzel tov certainly meets this requirement. Vanderstraeten holds up a subtle mirror up to both Jewish and non-Jewish readers, and indirectly alludes both critically and honestly to all the current social problems. For perhaps this reason all of Belgium’s political parties – from right to left – recommend the book and that both believers and non-believers regard it as worth reading. Queen Mathilda remarked that Mazzel tov was one of the books that has deeply influenced  her.
 
In 2017, Mazzel tov sold more than 32,000 copies. Translations are in the pipeline. 

 

 

Practical info 'Neighbours  2018'
Free entrance
4th floor museum