Visit our archive

The following article was written by Patricia Kopstein of Flinders University for the TCMA Journal in 2006.

Preparing for the Jewish High Holy days:

A Photographic Exercise

Patricia Kopstein

Flinders University

The quest now is ours.  Help us … to see the wonder of being … the courage to search… teach us the path to a better life. [Shaarei Teshuvah]

This essay reveals my creative and spiritual preparations for the Jewish High Holy Days. The High Holy Days (Rosh Hashanah through Yom Kipper: Jewish New Year through the Day of Atonement) are a time of intense spiritual renewal and forgiveness. Jews prepare for the religiously rigorous worship services and penitential prayers through personal and deeply honest self-examination.

One must consider the errors made and seek forgiveness from those we have hurt, as well as self-forgiveness. It is then time to realign oneself to a path of repair and godliness. For this article I have utilized the process of midrash (hermeneutical treatment of Jewish themes and texts) and expressed it through digital photography and short reflections.
The month of Elul (usually beginning in August or September) heralds.the closing of one Jewish religious year and the approach of a new year.  Jewish meditations, reflections, and prayers at this time focus on the great love that exists in this world, a universe of blessings and potential.  The Universe, divinely created and blessed, is the backdrop for our personal introspection.  For the many ways we have acted wrongly or mistakenly, we seek ways to repair the damage we have done to others, to the world, to ourselves.
We attempt to make a fair and honest evaluation of ourselves.  We try to see both sides of our actions and feelings.  We try to place ourselves on the path of Shalom (wholeness and peace), where life, action and intentionality are unified.
We act in contrary ways sometimes without knowing why.  We seek understanding and the integration of godliness into our daily lives.  For these reasons, I have chosen to photograph in black and white, using light and shadow, hidden and revealed.  As we know, black absorbs all colours; white reflects them, as any physics book will testify.
This study was photographed using a digital camera.  The quickness, quality, and malleability of this medium allowed me to use the camera lens as my pen and the computer as my spiritual journal.
May the power that created us, absorb our actions and intentions.  May the power that created us reflect light upon us so we may see our appropriate path.  The process is profoundly black and white.

In silence, I wait for quiet

Where the inside and outside
The me and the not me
Become one.
In the glare and the deepening

Old and new dissolve

And there is only
Rabbi Isaac Luria taught:
The sould has many aspects.
It is not one petal,

but all,

That makes the flower.
In the beginning,
A universe was created:
A tumble of
Forms, functions, and life.

Assembling the parts
To function as planned,

We have no idea of the intricacies and complexities
Of the whole.
Can we write ourselves into
The Book of Life

For the coming year?

Our actions cannot easily be erased.
Like fortune cookies,

Each soul has  a message,
A hint,
Hidden inside,
That completest the universe.
The kabbalist teach us:

“As above… So below.”

Both the creator & the created call out:
“Justice, justice, you shall pursue…”


Now is the time to return home to your soul

While it is still light &
A door can still be seen.
Light, knowledge, and love

Spread and increase…

Whether we believe it or not.
I sense that Wholeness

Just beyond my fingertips…

Not far away…
But very, very near.

Where do we find inspiration?  It is all around us if we choose to see it and feel it.  Such images as the “star of David” in an old church window, and the foam on the top of a coffee latte catch my eye, my memory, and my inspiration.  For me, my camera becomes like a prayer book, and through the lens I see images and weave them into lessons long remembered.  All that process helps me to experience the holiness around me.
The photos for this article were taken as follows:
               In Silence I Wait:

               An old leaded window seen from the sidewalk in an Anglican church, Adelaide, South Australia.

In the Glare and the Deepening:

               These are details of the same window.

               The Soul has Many Aspects:

               Pikake blossom, Hawai’i.

               A Tumble of Forms:

               Old world globe.

               Can We Write Ourselves?

               Hebrew reading practice sheet, with erasers.

               Fortune Cookies:

               Copies from a Torah tikkun (reader’s guide)

               Above and below:

               Coffee latte, with foam.

               Time to return home:

               A house on Jeffcott Street, Adelaide, South Australia.

               Light, knowledge and Love:

               Havdallah ceremony (the ending of Shabbat) with sparklers and candles.

               Looking beyond:

               The sky

Article reproduced with the kind permission of Erich von Dietze and Patti Kopstein.