A photograph from my childhood surfaced in my memories vividly today. I’m sitting at the very center of a long sofa, surrounded by relatives. I’m about 4 and the next oldest person is my 17-year-old brother, Martin. The rest of the cast, all looking at me, include parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles. (It was a very long sofa.) That photo remains, both in my album and in my mind, as an icon of the family dynamics, a visual representation of the family structure and a vivid documentation of the fact that I was a) the youngest and b) under observation.
When I was an adult, my mother often added as a coda to a conversation about family simchas— “and make sure you take pictures.” She herself regretted having only one or two formal portraits of marker events. And, now that I think of it, that photograph on the sofa may be the only one of my parents, grandparents, Martin and me all together—this despite the fact that we lived only a block away from Bobbe and Zayde and saw them every day.
That photo, and my mother’s belated longing for photographic documentation, came to mind as we were editing this issue of LILITH. The article about sacred spaces began with the story of a women’s prayer group. We call the author, Shelly Fredman, to ask if there are photos of the women from any activities during the now almost 20-year history of the group. We want to see them in their flowered dresses. We want to see the little girls running around in the basement space while their mothers davened. There are, she tells us, no photos. We understand that photography is not permitted on Shabbat, but how about a baby-naming ceremony? Rosh Hodesh? Reading the megilah at Purim? Nothing? Nothing.
I call women active in other women’s prayer groups around the country—some meeting for a decade or more—and get the same answer. Ruth Shulman, in Princeton, says, “It’s amazing to realize this, but we just don’t have any. Maybe we should start taking pictures now. All those years and no evidence!” Hence this plea. Very few are the visual images we possess to document the dramatic changes in Jewish women’s lives over the past 20 years. The few stand out in my mind the way that sofa photo does, capturing a moment that tells us some things we need to know, retrospectively. The startle I still recollect and sometimes still feel when I see the late Gail Rubin’s photograph of a woman praying wearing tfillin, which appeared in LILITH’s premier issue. A photograph Marilynne Herbert took at an early LILITH editorial meeting, gleeful faces in a sun-drenched living room. Bill Aron’s images of outdoor services with a woman and man wound in the same big tallit. These are icons of their times—and ours.
We need more. We need to document the work that we do (and the fun, too). We send children off to camp or on an Israel trip with a camera. We pay hefty sums to videotape weddings and other large-scale events. But we only infrequently remember that valuing our own activities should include photographing them, too.
As LILITH begins its third decade (the magazine starts twentieth anniversary celebrations in the Fall issue, and we’ll be bringing you anniversary essays for a full year), please remember that we are all making history —even if we don’t know it at the time. Comb your own files, and send us photographs of occasions that represent to you some of the changes women have made in Jewish life—and in our own lives—over the past 20 years, so that we can publish some of them here and remind ourselves (while demonstrating to others) that the world looked different before.