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Since the inventi on of the camera, the relati onship between ch asidic Rebbes and the people w ho try to photograph th em h as been complicate d. Both the Lubavitcher and Satmar Rebbes, zt”l, stru ggled to keep the camera s off—but for very different reasons.
Photos: Trainer St and Lubavitch Ar udios chives
Mr. Harry Trainer with the only photo the Satmar Rebbe posed for
The Lubavitcher Rebbe covers his face with his siddur as a photographer tries to take a picture. 56 A M I M A G A Z I N E / / F E B R U A R Y 5 , 2 0 1 4 / / 5 A D A R I 5 7 7 4
hile nowadays pictures of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, zt”l, are ubiquitous, it may come as a surprise to some that there was a time when such photos were rare, even in Chabad circles, at the Rebbe’s clear behest. In fact, the Rebbe would deliberately cover his face whenever photographer Harry Trainer tried to take a picture of the Rebbe being mesader kiddushin at a wedding—a fact he found exasperating. Sitting in his home last week, Mr. Trainer discussed how he played an integral role in making pictures of chasidic Rebbes available to the public. It all began with the difficulties he was having taking wedding photos that anyone would want to buy. Harry Trainer’s career as a photographer began in 1940, when as a student at Yeshiva Torah Vodaath in Brooklyn he won a camera in a raffle. “I would go around the yeshivah taking pictures,” he said. “It was a relatively new thing and no one minded.” Two years later he began doing it professionally. In fact, he basically cornered the market for frum weddings in the 1940s and ’50s. “In those days you had to use a lot of artificial light in order to take a picture indoors. They didn’t even invent a camera with a flash mounted on it until the early 1940s, so in those years there were no pictures of indoor weddings. For chasan and kallah pictures, if you were more ‘modern’ you went with your fiancée and took pictures in a studio before the chuppah. The frummer ones would go to the studio right after the yichud and then come back to the wedding hall and get on with the show.” When the first flash camera was invented, Mr. Trainer bought one for five and a half dollars. Shortly thereafter, he realized that he could make things a lot easier for the chasan and kallah and their families because there was no longer a need to rush out to a studio for pictures. His name gradually spread, and pretty soon he was working almost every night.
In the beginning, Trainer would just show up and take pictures; if the photos came out good he would sell them “for eight cents apiece.” If they weren’t good, it was his loss. It was an iffy way to do business. It also placed him at the mercy of the chasidic Rebbes who were officiating or attending as guests and didn’t want their pictures taken. “This was very detrimental to my livelihood. The Satmar Rebbe had prohibited me from taking his picture and the Lubavitcher Rebbe covered his face. Who would want to buy such pictures?” Mr. Trainer tells the story of his interaction with the Satmar Rebbe, Rabbi Yoel Teitelbaum, zt”l, this way: “Soon after the Satmar Rav came to America he officiated at a Lubavitch wedding. As one of the few photographers at frum weddings I saw him occasionally. It was clear even before he said anything to me that he wasn’t happy about being photographed.” [In fact, if you look at pictures of this wedding you can see that his hat is tilted to cover his face.] As Trainer tells it, he learned to be creative. “I would have to snap the picture quickly, when he wasn’t looking, so he wouldn’t have a chance to cover up. I had a lot of tricks up my sleeve. And after the picture was taken I would run, not just because I knew the Rebbe was against it but because his chasidim would always jump on me in protest. They weren’t about to stand idly by and let me do that.” It was a constant clash. “Everyone was conflicted. The chasan would want me to take pictures even though it was his Rebbe, and he knew that the Rebbe didn’t want it. They would tell me, ‘Take the photos no matter what. How can I not have a picture of the Rebbe at my own wedding?’” Trainer would often make a verbal agreement with his customers. “‘Listen,’ I’d tell them. ‘I get paid to take pictures, not to fight. If you want me to fight you have to pay me extra.’ So whenever the chasidim would come to me and complain I’d shift the responsibility to the chasan himself.” A year after the Satmar Rebbe’s arrival in the United States, Trainer was taking his picture several times a week. “I would take one or two pictures, so as not to bother
him too much. But at one point he decided that even that had to stop.” The Rebbe informed anyone who asked him to officiate at a wedding that he had to guarantee there would be no photographers. As it turned out, no Satmar chasid was willing to forego the Rebbe’s participation—with devastating results to Trainer’s livelihood. “It almost put me completely out of business. For several months I hardly had any work.” Trainer went to speak with the Satmar Rebbe. The Rebbe explained his stance “for the standard reasons the gedolim in Poland didn’t want their pictures taken. He also
strongly believed that it was not a good thing for spiritual reasons. He told me that it explains in the sefer Yaaros Devash that if you have your picture taken, you are leaving over in this world the outer layers of your neshamah, which you aren’t supposed to do.” However, the Satmar Rebbe revealed that his greatest issue with photography was that “it was something that his grandparents and great-grandparents hadn’t done, and you’re supposed to do what your avos did.” That is why he had made his edict. “When I told him that my livelihood was being adversely affected he offered to make
The Satmar Rebbe covers his face to avoid being photographed.
a compromise. ‘Okay,’ he relented. ‘You can come to the weddings. I’ll retract my issur on that. But not by the chuppah.’” Trainer tried that out but it didn’t work. “Nowadays,” he explains, “people don’t want pictures taken during the chuppah at the very chasidish weddings in Satmar, probably because you’re supposed to have the right train of thought and it’s an intrusion. But they do want pictures of the wedding itself. In those days, it was the opposite. If people couldn’t have pictures of the chuppah, they weren’t interested in having pictures taken altogether.” After a few months during which Mr. Trainer still wasn’t receiving any requests he went back to the Satmar Rebbe. “I had a long talk with the Rebbe and told him that my parnasah was still being greatly compromised. So the Rebbe agreed to make one more consession.” The Satmar Rebbe would permit him to take pictures under the chuppah, but not when he was actually pronouncing the brachah. The signal to begin taking photographs would be when the Rebbe walked away. One time there was a high-profile bar mitzvah of an orphan who had miraculously survived a plane crash in which both of his parents had been killed. The bar mitzvah was being held on a Motzaei Shabbos. The Satmar Rebbetzin had asked the Rebbe not to attend the event, saying that she thought it was better for him to stay home and rest, but he wanted to go in deference to the orphan. When the Rebbe arrived he was subjected to a barrage of flash bulbs, which he did not appreciate. At one point he complained to the photographer, “Everyone else is sitting here peacefully. Why can’t I be given the same respect as every other guest?” As the Munkatcher Rebbe, shlita, who witnessed this incident, related the story to this magazine's editor Rabbi Yitzchok Frankfurter, the Satmar Rebbe “picked himself up and began to walk out. Then I saw Reb Yossel Ashkenazi, the Rebbe’s gabbai, whisper something into the Rebbe’s ear. He then sat back down as if nothing
The Lubavitcher Rebbe covers his face as a photographer tries to capture his photo
I was intent, he wanted me to do it right.” Rabbi Hertz Frankel, longtime dean of the Satmar Bais Rochel girls' school and a close confident of the Satmar Rebbe, says that while “the Satmar Rebbe strongly objected to photos in the beginning, , but later on would only put his hand over his eyes if you stuck a camera right in his face.” In Lubavitch According to Mr. Trainer, the Lubavitcher Rebbe was also not appreciative of being photographed and would cover his face at weddings. In fact, it was only after he complained that it was hurting his livelihood that the Lubavitcher Rebbe stopped, although he clearly did not enjoy having his picture taken. “One time I was at a Lubavitcher wedding at the Gold Manor. I got up and took a picture, but the chasidim kept egging me on to keep going. I snapped another one or two and was about to take a fourth when the Rebbe paused in the middle of his talk and said directly to me, ‘Dacht zich mir az drei iz shoyn genug—I think that three is enough.’ From then on I learned not take more than three pictures.” At a certain point the Rebbe stopped going to weddings in other locations and would only attend chuppahs in front of 770 Eastern Parkway. “The Rebbe’s secretariat then conveyed to me that one picture taken by the chuppah was enough. It was crucial that I get it right, because if I didn’t it was a great loss to the chasan and kallah. “This incident is a classic,” he continues with a smile. “One time it was very crowded and someone was standing in the exact place I needed to position myself to be able to get everyone in the photograph. It was jam-packed, and the person refused to move. I told the guy, ‘I have to be in this spot in order to get the picture.’ He wouldn’t budge. So I told him, ‘I have about eight seconds left. If you don’t get out of my way I’m going to have to force myself in.’ He didn’t move so I shoved myself in and he fell down. ‘You paskunyak [troublemaker]!’ he yelled at me. ‘I can tell you one thing: When my daughter gets married, I
"I have about eight seconds left. If you don’t get out of my way I’m going to have to force myself in."
had happened.” The Munkatcher Rebbe later found out that Reb Yossel had reminded the Rebbe that the bar mitzvah boy was an orphan. When he realized that the boy might be hurt if the Rebbe left, “he forgot all about his personal discomfort.” According to Trainer, many chasidim were torn, as they really wanted a picture of the Rebbe even though it was against his wishes. “There was one wedding where the Satmar and Klausenberg Rebbes both attended. I was about to snap a photo when one of the prominent people in Satmar came over to me and said, ‘Don’t you dare take that picture! If you do, I can guarantee your camera will be broken and thrown out the window.’” After issuing his threat, he then asked Trainer what he planned on doing. The photographer replied that he was going to take the picture—and his chances. “In that case,” the man said, “could you wait a minute? I also want to get in the picture.” The chasid then ran behind the Satmar Rebbe and assumed a pose. “I think he was trying to make the point that he had made an effort to stop me. But once he saw that
58 A M I M A G A Z I N E / / F E B R U A R Y 5 , 2 0 1 4 / / 5 A D A R I 5 7 7 4
want you to be the photographer!’” Later, when Trainer complained to the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s aide that one picture wasn’t enough, he was permitted to take three pictures under the chuppah. Rabbi Gershon Mendel Garelik, the Chabad representative in Milan, Italy, says that back in the 1950s when he was learning in Lubavitch World Headquarters, even if you wanted a picture of the Rebbe they were impossible to find. “No one dared to photograph him because everyone knew it wasn’t what the Rebbe wanted. So what did we do? We got a little kid and propped him up to take a picture for us!” He says that when the Rebbe saw the boy take the picture he asked him for the camera. While Trainer did have photos of the Rebbe, he gave them to the families of the chasan and kallah and didn’t sell them until many years later. However, according to Rabbi Garelik there was another source of photographs in later years, a Russian Jew who had been a photographer in the Soviet Union and con-
tinued in that line of work when he came to the United States. “The Rebbe permitted him to take pictures for his livelihood.” As a child, Rabbi Gershon Schusterman of Los Angeles also took pictures of the Rebbe, but always from a distance. One time he decided to get closer. He waited for the Rebbe to return from a chuppah in the courtyard of 770, planning to snap his picture as he came up the stairs. He figured that the Rebbe would make a right turn into his study, and he would scurry off to the left and disappear. However, he was caught in the act and the Rebbe followed him into the shul. “I forgot that my little Brownie camera was hanging around my neck.” The Rebbe asked him, “Is your teacher happy with you? Is that what chasidus means to you, collecting photographs and taking pictures?” The Rebbe then asked Rabbi Tenenbaum, the boy’s principal who had also attended the chuppah, to have him tested. If he did well, that was fine and good; if not, the school should take away
Edible Cardboard... Kosher?
“Do you suppose I can buy one of those rolls that they steam and sell on every corner? I can eat pas palter, no?” David asked me. We had just met, two Westerners, religious Jews, most incongruous to the scenery of the little backwooded town, deep in China. That fortuitous camaraderie led to a warm relationship. David was referring to the Halachah that bread baked in a bakery, albeit by a non-Jew, but for business purposes, was permissible to eat in extenuating circumstances. Nevertheless, I answered, “I’m not sure that the product could be classified as bread. And even if it is bread, the allowance of pas palter in this case wouldn’t be relevant today, since it is almost universally acceptable to add various ingredients to bread. Even a Chinese villager might enhance the flavor of her bread with unkosher additives. In general, don’t eat anything that doesn’t carry a clear kashrus certification, since halachic questions arise regarding almost every product.” David wasn’t necessarily convinced, but he accepted. We continued to meet –airborne, and my now, good friend never failed to remind me that he hadn’t forgotten about that roll I had denied him. Until Providence arranged an answer in the form of an article… It was months later and I was seated (while flying, of course) next to a young gentleman, and naturally, we engaged in conversation at some point during the long trip. Later, the fellow tapped me on the shoulder and showed me something he thought would be of interest in The Marker (a newspaper he was reading). Shredded cardboard softened by chemicals and enhanced by pork flavoring – the main ingredient in the steamed rolls sold by street vendors in Beijing, according to Chinese findings. More next time…
The Satmar Rebbe covers his face as a photographer tries to take a picture.
Rabbi David Moskowitz
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his camera. The Rebbe then went into his room and the principal asked Shusterman for his camera. The next day Rabbi Tenenbaum called him into his office. “He tested me on Gemara for 15 minutes and gave me back the camera.” Another time, when a Lubavitcher photographer was taking pictures of kos shel brachah, the distribution of wine after Yom Tov from the cup of Havdalah, the Rebbe paused and asked him if he had learned that day. Israeli photojournalist Levi Yitzchak Freidin, who for many years documented the happenings in the Rebbe’s court during the month of Tishrei, interjected and said, “Rebbe, he’s all right.” The Rebbe replied, “I saw myself that he was talking in the middle of kriyas ha’Torah.” Harav Yoel Kahn, the venerable Lubavitch scholar, recalls a similar incident. “One time there was a bachur, whom I didn’t recognize, taking pictures of the Rebbe on Chai  Elul, the birthday of the Alter Rebbe [the Baal Hatanya]. The Rebbe asked him if he had learned Tanya that day. The bachur was shaken and did not respond. “The Rebbe then turned around and asked me if he had learned Tanya; if the answer was no, I should learn with him. I started looking for a Tanya but couldn’t find one. In those days they were publishing parts of the Tanya in small booklet format. The Rebbe had one in his siddur and gave it to me so I could learn with him.” Sitting in his office at a table piled high with sefarim, Harav Kahn explained that pictures are extraneous to what Chabad really has to offer, which is why the Rebbe didn’t want Lubavitchers, and especially yeshivah bachurim, to be preoccupied with them. “The Alter Rebbe said that by his Rebbe, the Maggid of Mezritch, ‘miracles rolled under the table, but no one bent down to pick them up.’” In other words, they were too involved in the Maggid’s teachings to bother with such things. Similarly, “In Chabad the study of chasidus—the
Eliezer Zaklikovsky, the Lubavitcher Rebbe keenly understood the importance of photography and how it could be utilized to reach out to Jews and for other positive purposes. Harav Yoel Kahn In fact, years before, when he was still known as the Rebbe’s discourses and how a chasidishe Yid Ramash, the Rebbe had arranged for his should conduct himself—is of paramount father-in-law, the sixth Chabad Rebbe, to importance. The Rebbe didn’t want people be photographed on at least one occasion. to feel they were chasidim by virtue of the “The Rebbe Rayatz [Rav Yosef Yitzchok number of pictures they owned. That’s not Schneersohn] became a citizen of the what Chabad is about.” United States in 1949,” says the author of Shalom Ber Goldstein, who for many several books. “It was an historic event, years took pictures and videos of the as a special law had been passed so that Rebbe, says that he learned a lesson from the ceremony could be held at Lubavitch those who preceded him. “I always stood World Headquarters rather than in a courtto the side very discreetly. I don’t think the room, to accommodate the Rebbe’s frailty. Rebbe ever noticed me.” The Ramash had two photographers record Mr. Trainer makes an important distinc- the entire event, a Mr. Wasser and Alexantion: “The Satmar Rebbe said that taking der Archer. The Rebbe showed them the pictures was assur [prohibited], whereas room ahead of time and instructed them the Lubavitcher Rebbe did not. I think he to stand on either side of the desk to capjust didn’t want to have a fuss made over ture the historic moment from both sides.” him. He only said something in protest When Zaklikovsky spoke to Archer some when the flash bulbs were a distraction 40 years later, the photographer asked, under the chuppah or in the middle of a “So how is the young Rabbi Schneerson doing?” He recalled the respect and sendiscourse.” sitivity that the Ramash had for the Rebbe Photographers Wanted and vividly recalled how he specifically When Israeli Prime Minister Menachem asked him to make sure the flash wasn’t Begin came to the Lubavitcher Rebbe in too high, to avoid “going off in the rabbi’s July 1977, dozens of photographers were eyes.” crowded around 770 to record the historiAccording to Zaklikovsky, the Rebbe cal event. Shutters began to click as soon was open to media coverage at Chabad as the Rebbe stepped outside. events from the very beginning of his offiThe Rebbe recognized that in order cial leadership in 1951. “The journalist to create a sanctification of G-d’s Name, had a mission: to cover the story and bring reporters and photographers would have the Rebbe’s message of Yiddishkeit to the to be tolerated if not accommodated. The world. Part of doing that is by conveying filming and picture-taking continued as the images through photography.” the two sat down in the Rebbe’s study. While the Satmar Rebbe was not in the The Israeli leader began the conversation public spotlight as much, according to by paraphrasing the Mishnah, saying that Rabbi Hertz Frankel, he did not object to photographers “are one of the things for photographers at public events, such as which there is no measure.” The Rebbe the time then-Mayor John Lindsay showed responded that regardless of whether the up at his tish or during his visits to Eretz press is good or bad, "This is what democ- Yisrael. Trainer likes to tell the story of how what racy is all about.” According to Chabad historian Rabbi is probably the most famous photograph
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of the Satmar Rebbe came about. “The only time the Satmar Rebbe specifically told me to come take his picture was at a gathering to protest the drafting of women into the Israeli army, ‘giyyus habanos.’ The Rebbe was very much against it and wanted his opposition to be publicized.” The only condition was that he would be permitted to take only one picture. “I got up there and my heart was pounding. I had only a single chance. What if the picture didn’t come out well?” Meantime, the chasidim were poised at the bottom of the ladder ready to pull him off if he tried to sneak in another one. “So I stood on the rungs and waited. Then the Rebbe looked straight at me and I captured a great moment.” Was the Rebbe Pleased? Even as photographers flocked to 770, the Lubavitcher Rebbe was still uncomfortable with the way they were occasionally used distastefully, especially in some Lubavitch publications. In fact, when the Rebbe’s secretariat was asked, they responded that there was only one official picture of the Rebbe that should be used. In 1970, when Mr. Bentzion Rader of London was working on a photo book of Chabad emissaries around the world, he had a private audience with the
Lubavitcher Rebbe. He brought a bound galley proof of the book, entitled Challenge: An Encounter with Lubavitch for the Rebbe’s final approval. Right before entering the Rebbe’s study, Rabbi Yehuda Krinsky, one of the Rebbe’s chief aides, showed Mr. Rader some of the photographs that had been taken at a hachnasas sefer Torah attended by the Rebbe two days earlier. One photo showed the Rebbe placing the crown on the new Torah scroll. Mr. Rader felt that the picture would be the perfect way to conclude the volume. A moment later he entered the Rebbe’s room and handed him the book. Apologizing for the delay in its completion he said, “We were waiting for the final photograph, which wasn’t available until a few minutes ago.” The Rebbe turned to the last page and saw the newly-affixed photo. Smiling, the Rebbe said, “I know there is a photograph of me at the beginning and I assume there are some in the middle. Now there is one of me at the end of the book. [Isn’t it] too much?” Mr. Rader replied, “I thought the Rebbe was the beginning, the middle and the end of Chabad!” At that the Rebbe became serious. “Chabad is over 200 years old and I am only 68,” he said, insinuating that that’s not what Chabad is about.
Rabbi Aaron Dov Halperin, editor-inchief of the Hebrew-language Kfar Chabad weekly since the early 1980s, has a similar story to tell. “Of our first 12 issues, nine had the Rebbe’s picture on the cover. The next time I was in New York the Rebbe gave me several directives. One of them was that ‘there shouldn’t be a picture of ploni almoni [referring to himself] on every cover.’” Photos Today Sitting in his Williamsburg home at a table piled high with photographs, Mr. Moshe Gombo, a famed photo collector of chasidic Rebbes, explains that these photographs are more than just pictures, “They’re a link to our illustrious past. It was an entirely different world. It’s not just the depiction of individuals, it’s what they stood for.” In his opinion, the current proliferation of photos of gedolim has cheapened our sensitivities. Rabbi Frankel concurs. “In my opinion it borders on the theatrical. Having so many pictures is overdone; there’s no need for it. The whole thing becomes meaningless and loses its value.” It is a sentiment echoed by many. “Putting up pictures of the Lubavitcher Rebbe on every street corner is wrong,” says Rabbi Halperin. “That’s not what the Rebbe wanted.”
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