A Chanukah Story

pakistani muslim and pakistani jew shaking hands at chanukah party, the four seasons denver, the edge bar

The photo above is one of my favorites that I’ve captured recently. Not because of the image itself, which is nothing special to look at, but because of its content. Here is the story behind the image:

It’s the first night of Chanukah 2016. I am photographing the 2nd annual Drinks & Dreidels party at the Edge Bar located in the Four Seasons Hotel Denver. The party is hosted by the Young Jewish Connection in association with the Western Center for Russian Jewry. All male guests are invited to wear the yarmulkas with YJC imprinted on them. On the side of our section of the room is a table with the word LATKE, a large silver menorah, Chanukah gelt, a tray of homemade latkes and various other decor.

Many of our group arrived together on the Chanukah party bus, but more guests are beginning to arrive and join in the festivities. Keep in mind the first night coincided with Christmas Eve so the bar is full of a wide variety of people, both locals and travelers. A young man walks up to our group and begins to talk in a fairly loud voice. Or maybe it was a regular voice, but it seemed to pierce the air and we certainly all took notice.

“Are you celebrating Chanukah? Can I take a photo of you guys?”

Silence…

“I’ve never seen anyone celebrate Chanukah before. In my country there aren’t really any people that celebrate it.”

As you can imagine, our group is fairly on edge at this point. Be it the current political and social climate in the U.S., or perhaps just because a random person is treating us like we are something in a zoo, to be viewed, pointed at, photographed. Finally one of the guys responds.

“What country are you from?”

“Pakistan. So there aren’t people there celebrating…” The guy from our group interrupts him.

“I’m from Pakistan.”

“Wait, really? No way!” (Followed by a few sentences in another language to confirm they were, in fact, from the same country.)

At this point we begin to turn from wary strangers to comrades. As the conversation continues, and they discuss various locations from back home, you can feel the fear in the room subside. More people start to join the conversation.

I walked away then, convinced that the situation was under control, to continue photographing the event. I came back later though to listen a little more and grab a few more photos. I could hear our foreign friend commenting that he wished all Muslims and Jews could get to know one another in that way, and that he wishes in his country people would speak openly about their differences and similarities.

muslims and jews celebrating side by side, first night of chanukah, edge bar, the four seasons hotel denver

This event has stuck with me since then. I keep replaying it in my mind. I’ve had a lot of mixed emotions, as many of us have, since the days surrounding the presidential election. I’ve felt fear, as a Jewish person, for possibly the first time in my life. I’ve been worried about our country moving backwards. I’ve been worried about the way other countries view us now. I’ve been frustrated, saddened, angry and alarmed. But truthfully, I’ve also been hopeful, heart-warmed, curious and connected to people in ways I never would have expected. This was one of those times I felt positive about humanity, about our country and it’s relationship with the world. It was also a reminder of why I am a photographer. To capture these moments in our history as humans. To tell these stories of love and light. To elicit or remind people of an emotion, of the way a moment felt. I hope as the country changes and aches and learns I will have many more times to be a part of capturing the humanity that is still there, if you look and listen.

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