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Picturing Community: 25 Years of Life at BJ

By Denise Waxman | Issue Date: January 2012

25th Anniversary at BJ. Photo: Denise Waxman

“I have a story about that day …” Can you believe how long his hair was?” “I just love that picture of them.” “Remember the joy of that moment?” “Right before that happened …” See that bit of hair behind Roly, that’s me.” “Who is the person on the right? … left? … middle?” [Overheard remarks from people looking at the show.]

A selection of photos old and new from the Frankel Hall exhibit and BJ Archives.The person in the picture may be you; it is after all a show about the BJ community. The exhibit of BJ photographs and artifacts, Picturing Community: 25 Years of Life at BJ, opened in Frankel Hall on Sept. 10, 2011, right after the kiddush in celebration of Rabbi Matalon’s
25 years as a rabbi at BJ. It is intended to complement this celebration and to reflect the vibrant life of the BJ community during this period.

Roly reading the book of member messages and archival photos presented to him at the kiddush celebrating his 25th anniversary at BJ. Photo: Denise WaxmanRetreats, trips, celebrations, plays, s’mahot, marches, lobbying days, meetings, and prayer—all of these activities and more are represented. Document and artifacts, some from the past 25 years, including a fragment of the original ceiling with “before” and “after” photographs, and some from the 19th and early 20th centuries are in the display cases also.

Desserts for the Sept. 10 kiddush were arrayed in the middle of the room, many members made the descent to Frankel Hall and enjoyed a trip back in time while enjoying refreshments. Meanwhile, as co- curator of the show, I had the immense pleasure of observing and
eavesdropping on the visitors who were enjoying it.

Roly, Marcelo, and Felicia circa 1997 at the first BJ Meditation Retreat; Marshall talking to children at 88th Street; a handsome couple dancing at a simha; a bar mitzvah student laying tefillin under Roly’s guidance; teens praying with their feet at the AIDS walk; good friends beaming arm in arm; a volunteer cooking for the Judith Bernstein Lunch program; a child leaping in delight—these are just a few of the images in the show.

A selection of photos old and new from the Frankel Hall exhibit and BJ Archives.The photos proved to be a great conversation starter as members recalled or asked someone else about that time, or place, or person. Occasionally I stepped in to chat and in the process learned much more about the people of BJ and past events. It was personally very satisfying to see so many people so very engaged.

While working on the exhibit with Myriam Abramowicz, Norman Bleckner, and several BJ staff members, I thought we were just creating a show about the BJ community. After the opening of the exhibit, and at severalA selection of photos old and new from the Frankel Hall exhibit and BJ Archives. events since then, I realized we were also helping to create community.

My conversations with members often ended with a request that the member write an article about their story for the Kol Hadash so the community conversation can continue. I hope they all do.

New photographs will be rotated in periodically between now and the ultimate move to the 89th Street Community House, by which time we hope to have a permanent display of archival materials reaching back to the very beginning of BJ’s history. This is a necessity. BJ never stands still.