Jewish in the Bi-Co
Jewishness is not an easily defined term. It surely has something to do with Judaism as a religion, but it also suggests a cultural identity and even an ethnicity. The experience of centuries of persecution, isolation and resilience by the Jewish people has contributed to a distinctive Jewish identity that remains intact today. There is great diversity in how Jewishness is defined and expressed, both everywhere and here in the Bi-Co. Using portrait photography, I wanted to use this microcosm to explore what it means to identify and express one’s Jewishness.
The Bi-College community of Bryn Mawr and Haverford is a complicated place to be Jewish. There is a long, troubled history at both schools of blatant and covert forms of antisemitism. From the quotas for Jewish students and the existence of Nazi sympathizer groups, to contemporary political discourse, the Bi-Co is not always a safe and welcoming place to be Jewish. Yet, students continue to form community with one another and maintain a proud Jewish identity.
This exhibition displays photographs that I created for a photography class. I reached out to Jewish individuals and groups on campus, asking for volunteers to sit for a portrait. The volunteers were encouraged to wear what made them feel both the most “Jewish” and like themselves. These subjects may or may not come from Jewish households or backgrounds. Some keep kosher, some are in the process of converting, and some are still figuring out what it means to be Jewish.
As you look at these portraits, ask yourself:
What does it mean to look Jewish? Do these photographs deconstruct or construct this appearance?
About The Author: Rachel Grand is a recent graduate at Bryn Mawr College majoring in Fine Arts and History. Class of 2021. To access additional articles by Rachel Grand, click here:https://tonywardstudio.com/blog/pandemic-passover/