Ofir Berman offers a portal into one of Jerusalem’s oldest Jewish neighbourhoods, the Mea Shearim

Deciding to persevere amongst the stares – largely from the adult men and women – she found herself drawn to documenting the youth, or what she describes as “old” children or “young” adults, “as if adults were trapped in the bodies of children”. Her reasons for doing so are more than an aesthetic and conceptual decision, for it seemed that the children were far less interested in her presence and tended to avoid her camera more than anything; she was able to capture them in their day-to-day with less hassle. This is why you’ll find a lack of subject over the age of teen, but when you do, they’ll often be oblivious to Ofir’s lens. The children have a certain naivety and playfulness about them, where even if they dress the part of an adult (and act like one too), you’re still very much aware of their childish nature.
For the Mea Shearim, it’s commonplace to spend a lifetime devoted to prayers, sacred texts, Jewish laws, traditions and Torah studies. To such lengths that, every year, the usually grey streets are brought to life as the neighbourhood celebrates the Jewish holidays. Ofir describes the feeling of walking through the area during this time as being similar to marching in a parade, “with each holiday displayed in all its glory and colour”. An example of which is Purim, where the children dress in traditional gear, colourful costumes and disguise themselves as figures from the Torah, like King David or the High Priest; the kosher alternatives to Dora, Mickey Mouse or Anna and Elsa. “Some play spinning tops, eat sweets or sing holiday songs,” adds Ofir. “And while I’m documenting everything that’s going on around me, suddenly a smell of smoke emerges beneath.” This is the moment she saw a group of children each puffing from a cigarette, a tradition that expectedly receives a lot of criticism. “Just like the ‘atonement’ custom (a practice in which a chicken is waved over a person’s head and the chicken is slaughtered in accordance with halachic rules).” The latter of which continues to exist in the neighbourhood each year, despite it being banned by the Israeli law.
While out shooting, Ofir would catch the eye of her subjects – the children – and she would notice the “curiosity and fear” entrenched in their inner being. She’s more than just a stranger to them, and if she were to ask, “Who are you?” then she’s pretty sure they’d respond with something along the lines of: “We are what we believe”. She adds: “God is first and foremost, God is omnipotent. ‘Baruch Ata Adonai Eloheinu, Melekh Ha’olam (Blessed are you, O Lord, our God, King of the universe)’.”

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