Sunday, May 1, 2016

The Unintended Journey

Mendush is the hatless one

Frankfurt, Germany - November, 2008

What I was about to do was a violation, I knew it. But the moment to act would never present again. I knew what I was about to do was wrong …. but I did it anyway. 

My father’s younger brother z”l, my favorite uncle Mendush (I always called him by the Yiddish name of his boyhood in Dabie, Poland) was standing on the bimah of Frankfurt’s main synagogue. Moments earlier prior to reading the week’s Torah portion, he was bestowed the honor of chanting the introductory blessings. Mendush was a survivor of the Holocaust. How could he be standing there, in Germany, now? Could this really be happening?

Almost eighty years earlier synagogues all across Germany were ablaze during Krystallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass, a massive pogrom targeting Jews and Jewish establishments. It was the night of terror considered the opening salvo of the Holocaust. Years later when the conflagration which scorched all of Europe finally ebbed to smoldering ashes, six million Jews had been consumed in Nazi Germany’s obsession of extermination. Somehow my uncle emerged from this greatest crime against all humanity. He was now an honored guest standing before the assembled worshippers in the country he never intended to set foot in. 

I sat in disbelief embraced by my father’s tallit (prayer shawl). Bringing the tallit with me  was my way of transporting him along for this surreal journey. Had my father lived to this day, he too would have been there with us. My thoughts raced in overdrive, my eyes moistened, and my body started to shake. I knew a truly decisive moment never to be repeated was playing out before me and I sensed an inescapable obligation to record the moment. But doing so was wrong, a violation of the Sabbath. I also knew I could never live with myself if I didn’t capture the image. Still trembling, I reached down to slip out a small pocket camera, the one I always had with me, and as surreptitiously as possible, composed and froze the moment for all time. 

Despite the stealth, I was outed and firmly berated by a congregation official. In response I acted apologetic, but  inwardly I was immune to his anger. In fact I felt a sense of accomplishment. As I said at the outset, ‘What I was about to do was a violation, I knew it. But the moment to act would never present again. I knew what I was about to do was wrong …. but I did it anyway. ’ Committing violations are not my typical MO. My actions in Frankfurt were guided in part by a lesson learned from a respected photography mentor and friend, Essdras Suarez, the Pulitzer Prize winning former Boston Globe photographer. He counseled that when the option of a decisive moment presents ….. click the camera’s shutter; ‘it is better to ask forgiveness than to request permission.’ That’s exactly what I did. 



 Mendush and me
Austria, 1948
photo - Joseph Greenfield

What were we doing in Germany anyway? The answer in my next photo-blog post. Visit my web site anytime to view Galleries, Photo-essays, and read previous blog-posts. 

z”l (zichrono livracha) - may his memory be a blessing.


Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Ryokan Revelry



© David Greenfield

…. a mysterious knock at my door later that night ….. Who could it be, and why was someone there in the shadows? That was the scenario at the close of my previous blog installment. Here’s how it played out.

With breathing temporarily on hold, I cracked the door open in measured increments staring straight ahead at all times. What, there was no one there! Actually not true, I only had to cast my gaze downward. Rather than facing the hulking sinister silhouette I envisioned, it was thankfully only the petite ryokan hostess, hardly an imposing figure at four feet something tall. She arrived repeating her one word message – geisha, geisha accompanied by a waving hand motion beckoning - follow me. Despite her zero command of English, meaning further explanation was not a possibility, in a flash I put two and two together. Here’s the theory: When first welcomed to the ryokan, my wife and I passed through a comfortable communal sitting room replete with tea and goodies. Aha, that’s it … a geisha musical performance was being offered to guests that night! It seemed quite plausible as we followed along towards the main entrance. Wait! Why is she now turning sharply to lead us up a darkened narrow flight of stairs? What now?

Our destination: a suite with private party already well in session. The revelers, none other than Otaro and my other hot pool friends, were lolling around on cushions, a table laden with assorted finger foods, bottles of Asahi beer, and sake was set before them. Two animated geishas were attentive to their every want. A third strummed on a shamisen, something akin to a distant guitar relative. Turns out the boys were enjoying a weekend company perk provided by the Boss, a smiling likable older gent who would not allow my glass of Asahi to remain only partially full.

We were invited as honored guests. Otaro picked up our hot pool ‘conversation’ where previously left off. With each mention of Boston, Uehara, Red Sox, or Tazawa, another round of sake was enthusiastically poured. As the strumming droned on and the geishas flitted about and the laughter and good cheer intensified, my wife and I sensed it was time to signal ‘nine innings, game over’, and gracefully work our way to the exit. Amid the raucous revelry, somehow we managed to slip out; everyone else partied on.

Looking back now to relive and relish that day, it seemed reminiscent of a favorite old Twilight Zone episode, certainly an encounter to remember. For sure, Otaro, the boys and geishas played ‘the game’ well into extra innings that night. I’m not sure how it all ended, or what any of them may have remembered the morning after.

Before saying sayonara, check out the upper right corner of this page to sign up and automatically receive these posts. Visit my web site anytime to view Galleries, Photo-essays, and read previous blog-posts. 



Seventh inning stretch - Otaro, geishas, Carol and me


Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Baring All and Our National Pastime

© David Greenfield


We were stark naked, lathered up, and clutching hand held shower heads, all while crouched on postage stamp sized foot stools. Awkward?… perhaps, but our condition was standard operating procedure in preparation for a healing soak in the ryokan’s (inn’s) hot mineral infused pool just outside. The other guys in the slippery line-up were Japanese; no surprise, we were in Japan. I sported the only Caucasian face. Aside from anatomical traits all men share, we had almost nothing in common, certainly not a common tongue. Well maybe not. With the pre-soak regimen completed and only our heads bobbing above steamy waters, a magical connection soon unfolded.

It started with a few back and forth darting glances …. then an audible from Otaro, the good friend I was about to make. Without minimizing his observational skills, it wasn’t a reach for Otaro to surmise I might be an Anglo. He broke the ice, figuratively, by offering up a greeting with his best but broken English. Since his ‘best’, while admirable, was on par with my meager Japanese, I promptly reciprocated with my ‘best’. And so a cross-cultural conversation was born. It quickly passed through infancy and adolescence reaching adulthood when I uttered the two words which in the year 2013 instantly transcended respective native languages and bound us together – RED SOX.

Boston’s nine was not only baseball’s reigning champs, but over the course of the past season the Sox accomplished nothing short of a miracle; they went from their league’s last place to first. But the boys weren’t done until completing another improbable feat, clinching a coveted World Series victory! And what was the Sox’ secret sauce …. UEHARA and TAZAWA, the two formidable Japanese pitchers on staff. Mere mention of their names, national heroes to my companions, and our hot tub crew seamlessly became family, and a tight knit one at that. But the best was yet to come.


It started with a mysterious knock at my door later that night when a veil of quiet and dimmed lights had already descended on the ryokan. Who could it be, and why was someone there in the shadows? ….. To find out, watch for my next post, Ryokan Revelry. Until then, why not use the sign up (upper right corner of this page) to automatically receive these periodic posts. Visit my web site anytime to view the Galleries, Photo-essays, and read previous blog posts. For now, sayonara.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Mother and Child Disunion

© David Greenfield 2015


On a side street in Old Havana our eyes locked. He was a boy in wondrous gaze clutching his mother’s hem. I was strolling with a few Americans. Unlike the boy’s awe, even a glimpse of mami’s face reflected something very different … deep concern. Their yin-yang of expressions formed a perfect photographic decisive moment. Click. For me the moment also recalled  memory of a mystery, a musical mystery.

Consider these lyrics from Paul Simon’s Mother and Child Reunion (1972).

I would not give you false hope
On this strange and mournful day
But the mother and child reunion
Is only a motion away, oh, little darling of mine

As soon as the song hit the charts fans searched for hidden meanings and pondered Paul’s inspiration for writing.

Did the reunion take place in the afterlife or was it a down on earth meeting of biological parent with a child previously put up for adoption; why a false hope; why sad and mournful, and what action could trigger a reunion that was only a motion away?


Back on the street, rather than union, I sensed a certain disunion. The boy appeared awestruck, perhaps imaging what magic the Americanos possess. The mother's demeanor suggested a discomforting uncertainty. Was it not knowing how Cuban life might change if the sought after rapprochement with the US ever occurs? Would outcomes be for the better, or not? 

Two weeks after I captured the image, Breaking News stunned us all with broadcast of renewed diplomatic relations between the US and Cuba. It came decades after La Revolución, Castro’s embrace of Communism, the Embargo, and severed ties. A reunion of sorts was now in the making. Would it be a false hope?

Spoiler alert: When Paul Simon was pressed to offer the ‘true’ inspiration for the song title, he admitted his creativity was drawn directly from a chicken and egg menu item on the NYC Chinese restaurant he frequented.

Go figure!


Return to the web site for viewing David's portfolio of Photo Galleries, Essays, and other Blog posts.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

One-A-Day: not your morning vitamin


© David Greenfield 2015


When your mouth drops open, click the shutter” advised Harold Feinstein (1931-2015), Coney Island’s native son and esteemed photographer/teacher/mentor. Overlay his principle on an axis composed of your head, eye & heart, and quality images are sure to flow from the camera. But to ‘click’ anytime anywhere at the drop of your jaw, you must have a camera at the ready.
Question: what’s the best camera for that?
Answer: the one you have with you!

Pulitzer Prize-winning former White House photographer David Hume Kennerly has taken note. After decades as an accomplished photojournalist, he recently stepped away from the regular grind of lugging a cache of heavy, bulky camera equipment and set aside a year of image making using only an iPhone, the camera he always had with him. The output, elegantly presented in his book ‘On the iPhone – secrets and tips’, was inspirational for me. The result: ‘One-A-Day: not your morning vitamin’, the newest Gallery to my web site.

Starting mid-August 2015 and through November I’ve composed, posted, dated, and titled one, sometimes two, image(s) a day. Almost all were made with an iPhone. I say ‘almost’ rather than ‘all’, because I still carry ‘my other camera’ around much of the time!

The photo above was recorded on September 3rd.  Click to open the full One-A-Day gallery and bookmark the site to come back regularly for a daily dose.


Return to the web site for viewing David's portfolio of Photo Galleries and Essays

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Real Possibilities

    © David Greenfield 2015


Baby Boomers strive for youthful aging with a focus on image, fitness, performance (of all sorts), and new experiences. It’s no surprise that ‘Sixty is the new forty’ is now part of our vernacular.

Sexagenarians, septuagenarians, octogenarians, and beyond, find new ways to ‘push the envelope’. The attempts are celebrated, certainly no longer raising eyebrows and, for the most part, feats are accomplished. When former Olympic decathlete, sixty-something Bruce Jenner, re-emerged as Caitlyn on the cover of Vanity Fair, the public paid scant attention to her coming-out image as a bathing suit clad twenty-something.

In another magazine, AARP, the traditionally stodgy organization, now seems to employ only youthful and fit models. The organization wants to keep its raison d’être relevant. That being the case, will it be long before Five is the new fifty? Is it a Real Possibility?

Return to the web site for viewing David's portfolio of Photo Galleries and Essays