On the Morning of Sunday June 29th 2014, Gimmel Tammuz, The Jewish Learning Institute was hosting an event at Queens College. Several Rabbinical figures of stature spoke in memory of the Lubavitcher Rebbe OBM.
My goal was to take a portrait of as many Rabbis as I could. The method was to approach them each between their lectures and ask them to accompany me to a small studio set that I had built into a hallway under the main auditorium. The hallway was 8ft wide, 8ft tall, and very long, with lockers lining the sides.
The last portrait of the day, a day which officially went from 10am-10pm, was the portrait of Rabbi Steinsaltz. His Talk went long as a good centerpiece talk should, at 10:30pm it wrapped. I went through the crowd of people still gathered around the stage. Several audience members had stayed to ask the rabbi questions; some personal, some general. The rabbi's assistant was near me. I approached him and asked if the Rabbi would be willing to come around the back of the auditorium for a portrait. He readily agreed.
I knew, just before asking, that the stage exit that we would use to get to the studio was a direct approach to the rear of my studio set. The Backdrop of the set was as wide as the hallway, and totally blocking our way into set. I rolled it up like a window shade in anticipation, switched everything on, and went to the auditorium.
Rabbi Steinsaltz came down from Stage, introductions were made. The Rabbi gave a kind smile as he asked where we need to go for the portrait. Exited the auditorium, walked under the rolled backdrop, pulled down the backdrop, picked up the camera, hooked the tether wire to capture, and immediately started.
The Rabbi asked," I suppose you'll tell me how to move my head and hands, stand so and so?"
I responded," I'd prefer if I could take your picture as you are, without my interference." Rabbi countered," you know that photographers are the most powerful people on the planet?", " How's that?", "Well it doesn't matter who you are...a president, and emperor, a famous person..as soon as any one of them is in front of the camera, the photographer tells them what to do."
At this point, I turned my computer screen to face us both as we took a few pictures. The rabbi turned to look at the screen as the pictures flashed on," You know, the best time to take my picture was when I was three years old.", "why?" ,"As a three year old, I had a full head long blond curly hair." "would you settle if I capture you as a wizened sage?" The Rabbi Laughed, and glanced over at the computer screen to his right:
The moment of this portrait stays with me for many reasons. The most compelling is this. At the time, Rabbi Steinsaltz, and everyone else for that matter, were saying tehilim (Psalms), with the hopes of the safe return of Yaacov, Gilad, and Eyal, the three young yeshiva students who were reported missing from Mekor Chaim Yeshiva, Rabbi Steinsaltz's school. Their bodies were found the very next day, Daled Tammuz, victims of terrorists. Rabbi Steinsaltz flew back to Israel to be with his students.