Breaking the Image

Even as negative depictions of ethnic groups have faded from the media, stereotypes of Jewish women run rampant in contemporary films, books and television shows- just think of Fran Drescher’s role in the “The Nanny.”

In 1996, photographer Lloyd Wolf and his life-partner, author Paula Ethel Wolfson, decided to create a work that would challenge and redeem these negative images. “The goal was to set the record straight,” Mr. Wolf told the Forward.

One snowy night, Ms. Wolfson happened upon the idea of photographing and interviewing Jewish mothers who, in the couple’s eyes, exemplified the true qualities of this oft-maligned group: kindness, warmth, intelligence and courage. Over the next four years, the couple photographed and interviewed countless women, including Phyllis Ocean Berman, the program director of Elat Chayyim: A Jewish Spiritual Retreat Center: the 82-year-old Fraydele Oysher, who performed Jewish cantorial and folk music on the convert to Judaism who helps plan the curriculum for Operation Understanding, a Washington based program that brings together black and Jewish teenagers.

The couple’s project resulted in the book “Jewish Mothers: Strength, Wisdom, Compassion” (2000). The volume has been broadened into a traveling exhibit featuring 50 photos and interviews, now on view at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion.

The project is “doing tikkun olam,” Ms. Wolfson said, “providing healing and affirmation for an ethnic group that has been bashed.”

Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, Brookdale Center, 1W. 4th Street.; through June 29, Mon-Thu. 9a.m.-6p.m., Fri. 9a.m.-3p.m., selected Sundays (May 6 and 20, June 3 and 10), 10 a.m.-2p.m.; free (212-824-2205).


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