'Jews of New York': Controversial photographer snaps disturbing messages on Jewish faces

By Simone Weichselbaum (NY Daily News)
January 30, 2014

A California  photographer is stirring up tempers among New York’s Orthodox Jewish community — having dozens of young religious men and women pose for photos with disturbing messages displayed on their faces, hands and arms.

Shutterbug Steve Rosenfield snapped Yeshiva University student Dasha Sominski, 20, with the words “I was NOT sleeping” scrawled across her face for a photo titled “I am Not My Molestation.”

Rosenfield asks students from the uptown university, and other subjects for his “Jews of New York” series, to spend 45 minutes chatting about what makes them tick. He then writes a description of their emotions on their bodies and starts shooting.

The potentially inflammatory pejorative “Schvartze” — the Yiddish word likened to the N word — was scrawled across the forehead of another subject, Ben Faulding, a 30-year-old biracial Hasid from Crown Heights whose father is black.

“It’s about me expressing my insecurities. I am embarrassed how race is treated in the Jewish community,” said Faulding who is of one about 90 people in Crown Heights and Washington Heights snapped by Rosenfield this past week.

“It’s completely personal, he added. “I didn’t expect it to spread.”

Well, it’s spreading.

The picture graced the Israeli newsite Haaretz Wednesday morning in a report about Yeshiva University’s reversal of earlier plans to feature Rosenfield in an upcoming exhibit.

“After close review and much discussion of this event with the student organizers, and taking the sensitivities of all of our students into consideration, we determined that a YU venue would not be able to showcase the project in its entirety,” Dr. Chaim Nisell, Yeshiva University’s dean of students, said in a statement.

The orthodox institution, currently being sued by a group of former students in a $380 million sex abuse lawsuit, backed out of hosting Rosenfield’s work two weeks ago.

Members of the student art club had asked administrators to host Rosenfield’s “What I Be” show.

Princeton, Columbia and other universities have displayed photos from the exhibit, which features local students participating in the same message-writing technique employed in “Jews of New York.”

 “My goal is to make people uncomfortable,” Rosenfield said. “I want the viewer to look at the image and know people are struggling with their stuff.”

The “Jews of New York” campaign was sparked by the university’s diss, Rosenfield said.

Dasha Sominski, a senior at Yeshiva University Stern College for Women, helped pass the word on social media that Rosenfield’s pursuit to photograph Members of the Tribe was still alive. The exhibit will go up at Mister Rogers art space in Crown Heights on Feb. 22.

“We think this is important. This is why we are fighting so hard,” said Sominski who shared her history of sexual abuse with the camera. “It’s important for the Jewish community. The pictures show things, say things, that for an older generation, are inappropriate and shouldn’t be talked about.”