Visu­al Arts

A Time­less Peo­ple: Pho­to Album of Amer­i­can Jew­ish Life

Saul H. Landa
  • Review
By – November 1, 2011
In his lov­ing­ly pre­pared book, A Time­less Peo­ple: Pho­to Album of Amer­i­can Jew­ish Life, Saul Lan­da presents a pho­to­graph­ic paean to the vital­i­ty and rich­ness of tra­di­tion­al Amer­i­can Jew­ish life. It is the sto­ry of his four year jour­ney of over tens of thou­sands of miles to pho­to­graph and com­pile the socio­cul­tur­al his­to­ry of obser­vant Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ties in eigh­teen major cities of the Amer­i­can North­east, South, Mid­west, and the West. 

The pho­tographs and archival mate­r­i­al trace the his­to­ry of the Jew­ish pres­ence from the ear­li­est Jew­ish set­tle­ments to con­tem­po­rary times. Syn­a­gogues, reli­gious items, rit­u­al prac­tices, old and new, are beau­ti­ful­ly shown in archival pho­tographs, illus­tra­tions, and draw­ings. How­ev­er, the read­er must be fore­warned that the book’s title is mis­lead­ing. It is not a pho­to­graph­ic study of all streams of Jew­ish obser­vance in Amer­i­ca. Pho­tographs and archival mate­r­i­al about Con­ser­v­a­tive, Reform, or Recon­struc­tion­ist syn­a­gogues and lead­ers are notice­ably absent from the local his­to­ry and pho­tographs pre­sent­ed by Lan­da. The book empha­sizes the role of tra­di­tion­al or Ortho­dox Jew­ish prac­tices, (both Ashke­naz­im and Sephardic) in the com­mu­ni­ties he vis­its. Nonethe­less, the book is beau­ti­ful­ly done and well worth read­ing. It is an infor­ma­tive trav­el and his­to­ry guide that reveals an impor­tant dimen­sion in the devel­op­ment of Amer­i­can Jew­ish city life.

Car­ol Poll, Ph.D., is the retired Chair of the Social Sci­ences Depart­ment and Pro­fes­sor of Soci­ol­o­gy at the Fash­ion Insti­tute of Tech­nol­o­gy of the State Uni­ver­si­ty of New York. Her areas of inter­est include the soci­ol­o­gy of race and eth­nic rela­tions, the soci­ol­o­gy of mar­riage, fam­i­ly and gen­der roles and the soci­ol­o­gy of Jews.

Discussion Questions