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Photo exhibit offers new way to look at tikkun olam

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Photo exhibit offers new way to look at tikkun olam

TORONTO — Judi Angel, a Vancouver photographer who, with her husband, has participated in three “tikkun olam” missions in the developing world for the American Jewish World Service, is the driving force behind Tikkun Olam, a photography exhibition that opens this week at the Beth Tzedec Reuben and Helene Dennis Museum in Toronto.

Tikkun olam is a Hebrew phrase that means “healing the world,” something Angel was clearly involved in last year in Cambodia, where she helped a local HIV/AIDS organization develop fundraising techniques and build an organizational structure.

Many of her Cambodian photographs show poor but contented people living simple but spiritually fulfilling lives amidst a backdrop of squalor, with many draped in colourful costumes as though to counterbalance the drabness of their environment. Although the tikkun olam theme does not seem evident in the photos, Angel says it is present nonetheless.

“When I came back from Uganda after our first placement [in 2004], I was sort of angry all the time,” she said in a telephone interview. “All the people I had met were so poor and had so little, yet they seemed really happy and content and generous of spirit. And people here have so much, yet they’re grumpy and seem to complain about such little things. The images are partly meant to show that difference and to help bridge that gap.”

Angel took about 20,000 digital photographs in Cambodia, only about 20 of which – blown up to about 20 by 28 inches in size – were chosen for the exhibition.

At curator Dorion Liebgott’s suggestion, Angel also included several striking black and white images that she took of the Abayudaya Jewish community in Uganda, including exterior and interior views of the synagogue. While Angel’s Cambodian photographs were previously on view in the Sidney and Gertrude Zack Gallery in Vancouver, her Ugandan photos have never been publicly exhibited before.

“I was very impressed with the photographs I saw in Vancouver and I really wanted to bring them here,” Liebgott said. “In a way, it’s a very different sort of exhibit than we’ve ever done before because a good number of the photographs are really not of Jewish content.”

But, she added, the photos seem to reflect the artist’s “Jewish imperative” of tikkun olam.

The mission of the American Jewish World Service “is healing the world,” Angel said. “It’s a Jewish organization that does work all over the developing world in a ‘colour-blind’ way. They go wherever they are needed and do things that are different than what any other organization does.” A representative of the AJWS will attend the exhibition’s opening, she said.

An opening reception for Tikkun Olam takes place at Beth Tzedec Congregation, 1700 Bathurst St., Tuesday, Oct. 30, 7:30 p.m. The reception is free and open to the public. Please RSVP to Avital at info@beth-tzedec.org or 416-781-3511. The exhibition continues to Jan. 30, 2013.

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