A photo of Orthodox Jewish pilgrims praying at the tomb of a Chasidic rabbi in Poland has been nominated as a finalist in the 2019 British Journal of Photography’s Open Walls competition.
The entry by freelance photographer Grégory Michenaud, based in Krakow, is one of three up for the prestigious award, set to be announced at a ceremony in a 17th century mansion and gallery in the French town of Arles on 4 July.
The photo was taken in Leżajsk in south-east Poland, where each year thousands of Chasidic Jews descend on the town to visit the tomb of Rabbi Elimelech Weisblum, one of the founders of the Chasidic movement, on the anniversary of his death.
“The barrack in the photo was installed on a parking lot facing the cemetery,” said Michenaud, speaking to Jewish News on Tuesday, hours after the finalists had been announced.
“It was made especially for Kohen who are not permitted to enter cemeteries because they cannot have ‘contact’ with death. Thanks to this barrack they can pray while seeing the grave of Rabbi Elimelech in a warm and dry place.”
He said the photo was part of an ongoing project about Jewish identity, focusing on an old Jewish tradition called Yibbum and follows the story of a grandson of a ‘Yibbum child,’ which refers to a child of levirate marriage.
Yibbum (the Hebrew word for levirate marriage) is a type of marriage which obliges the oldest surviving brother of a man who dies childless to marry the widow of his childless deceased brother, with the firstborn child being treated as that of the deceased brother.
“It is a search for his identity,” says Michenaud. “It touches on religion, family values, history and a sense of attachment to the land, all aspects that help to define what it means for him to be Jewish.”