Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Who was 770’s First Official Photographer and How Did the Rebbe Relate To Him?

“On one occasion, the Rebbe mentioned photographer Yitzchak Berez while in conversation with Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin. The Prime Minister turned to the Rebbe and said, "He takes pictures of me in Israel all the time!"

-From a Students diary

Who was the first official photographer in 770? How did find his way to 770? I would like to present the first photographer in 770 and how the Rebbe related to him. Also included is an interesting picture of the Rebbe (Part 46 in the series)

In the later years, photographers snapping shots of the Rebbe became a routine fixture in 770. In fact, however, there was initially much opposition to the practice, as related below.

Yitzchak Berez, the first individual to regularly photograph the Rebbe, was born in Poland, and then made “aliya” (immigrated) to Israel in 1947. His photographs are well known, with a portfolio including a famous photograph of Ben Gurion announcing the founding of the State of Israel, and several photos of the Adolf Eichmann trial.

Mr. Berez relates:

In 1971, Rabbi Krinsky invited my son and me to a farbrengen (Chassidic gathering) with the Rebbe in 770. When I arrived at 770, the room was filled to capacity with hundreds of Chassidim, waiting for the Rebbe to arrive. One of the Chassidim told me that the Rebbe normally entered the shul from the door located at the rear of the room. I immediately proceeded there to wait for the Rebbe.

After a short while, I heard a great commotion. The Chassidim were saying, “Der Rebbe gayt (the Rebbe is coming),” and 770 became silent. I prepared my camera and took my first picture of the Rebbe as soon as he came in.

Some people in 770 were upset by my brazenness and began to scream, “Who gave you permission to take a picture of the Rebbe?" Several bachurim attempted to take my camera away! I was nervous, as I did not know anybody in the room, and I searched for the easiest route to leave

In the middle of this episode, it grew still around me. I looked up and saw the Rebbe calling me up to his place to make a l’chaim (Chassidic toast). The audience made room for me to clamber to the Rebbe’s place. When I got to the Rebbe, he asked in Yiddish, “Where is this person from?”

“He is from Israel,” someone answered.

The Rebbe then said to me in Hebrew, “Nu, if a Jew comes from Eretz Yisroel he must say l'chaim!” The Rebbe poured for me a glass and instructed me to make a blessing.

“Perhaps we can speak in Yiddish?” asked the Rebbe. “This way, everyone will understand?”

“Yes,” I replied.

"What happened over there?" he asked, referring to the pushing by the door.

“The Chassidim were upset that I took pictures of the Rebbe.”

“Nu, and then what happened?” As if to say, that was no big deal.

Then the Rebbe told me, “Beginning today, you can take pictures of me from all sides, whenever you want and however you want!”

“Thank you very much!” I exclaimed.

After everyone heard this, no one bothered me any more regarding my photography of the Rebbe. I used this opportunity to take as many pictures of the Rebbe as I could, because I was unsure whether the Rebbe’s grant applied to all occasions or only to this farbrengen. I took altogether 170 pictures at the farbrengen!

At one point, the Rebbe turned to me with a big smile and said, “I think it is enough for today. Come another time and you'll have a chance to take more pictures!”

From then on, I often came to 770 and photographed the Rebbe. I normally gave the best photographs to the Rebbe’s secretaries, to pass on to the Rebbe, and sold the rest of the pictures.

Good Shabbos.


Copyright © Menachem Kirschenbaum 2007

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