Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Japanese photographer showcases ‘Hasidim of Crown Heights’ 

Hasidic Jews in Crown Heights opened their lives to Japanese photographer Chie Nishio during much of the 1990s.

SHE WENT from being a stranger with a camera to a household staple.

Japanese photojournalist Chie Nishio, 84, spent much of the 1990s visiting Hasidic Jews in Crown Heights, snapping intimate shots from the tight-knit community’s weddings, family dinners and parties.

“They are very friendly and open,” she said, “and I think I was very lucky.”

Nishio’s photographs captured the Hasidim during the pivotal last years of the powerful Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, whose influence is still felt 20 years after his death.

Her work is now on display through February at the Brooklyn Public Library. The “Hasidim of Crown Heights” exhibit is the first showing of the personal snapshots in the U.S.

“I really loved the photos of the children,” said Barbara Wing, the library’s exhibitions manager. “I think there was something magical about how she was able to photograph them so naturally.”

A pair of kids playing in the yard first caught Nishio’s eye in the late 1980s or early 1990s as she visited the Brooklyn neighborhood.

By chance, the children’s grandfather happened to be one of about 6,000 Jewish refugees who fled Nazi forces to Japan during World War II, thanks to the kindness of a rebellious Japanese vice-consul in Lithuania.

“He was the first person I interviewed in Crown Heights,” said Nishio, who lives in Manhattan’s Central Park South. “That was my beginning.”

The shutterbug soon found herself invited into homes throughout the neighborhood.

“Chie was a fixture in my home throughout my childhood,” said Chabad Lubavitch Rabbi Motti Seligson, 32.

“She was regularly in our home throughout almost a decade,” he said. “She was at my bar mitzvah, and it just felt natural for her to be there.”


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