The Trans-Canadian Highway: The Far West to Calgary, Alberta

The Trans-Canadian Highway: The Far West to Calgary, Alberta


We left Vancouver early the morning in the pouring rain and gridlocked traffic. Although I really liked Vancouver, it felt good to get beyond the city and start east on the Trans-Canadian Highway. We drove on to the Stó: lõ Research and Resource Management Centre in Chilliwack, British Colombia. This community center contained a small but important library and archive. It was also a positive expression of Native culture that is in the process of reinventing itself. This Library and Centre was part of the effort for the local Indigenous people to connect with their past and to build a better future. Our friend Dionne from Vancouver works with this group on fisheries issues.

Stó:lō Research and Resource Centre, Chilliwack, BC

Stó:lō Research and Resource Centre, Chilliwack, BC

Stó:lō Research and Resource Centre, Chilliwack, BC

Stó:lō Research and Resource Centre, Chilliwack, BC

Stó:lō Research and Resource Centre, Chilliwack, BC

Stó:lō Research and Resource Centre, Chilliwack, BC

Stó:lō Research and Resource Centre, Chilliwack, BC

Stó:lō Research and Resource Centre, Chilliwack, BC

The sky was low and dark as we drove east into the Kamloops Mountains. Ellen and I had never driven all the way through the Canadian Rockies and we found them to be stunning. We stopped briefly to photograph the small South Schuwap Branch Library. While sitting in the car a wild-eyed man came running out of a store, noticed our California license plate and demanded to know if we supported President Trump. I explained to him that we hated Trump and he pretended to shout back to the store that it was safe to come out because we weren’t Trumpers. We found the same reaction to our president in Europe and it is safe to say that he is the most unpopular man in the world. Four hours after leaving Chilliwack we arrived in the year-round resort town of Revelstoke.


The next day we began our drive through the High Rockies and we finally entered Baniff National Park. All the rivers had been flowing west but as we crossed the Continental Divide everything shifted and the waters of the Canadian West headed east. As we were crossing the Divide we were listening to the sublime CD “Bad Lego Man” by our friend and contractor George Crampton. The hours and kilometers slipped by as Ellen and I both exclaimed a lot of “Wows” and Look at thats”. We finally came out of the mountains and into the great Canadian prairie. We will remain in this vast landform until we reach the boreal forests of Ontario.

Calgary, Alberta is like the Houston of Canada. Cowboys and oil money mix here in a vibrant and exciting city. The Central Library is world-class and has recently been listed as one of the best libraries in the world by Time Magazine and the New York Times. I photographed the outside at dusk as the lights came on and a gathering storm grew darker and darker. The rain finally came crashing down in a flood just as I jumped back into the car. But I think the photos that I made were worth it.



We went back to the Calgary Central Library and were given a first-class tour of this exceptional place. This is one of the most intelligently put together libraries I have ever seen. They certainly have learned from what works and doesn’t work in libraries from all over. It is an exceptional community center that responds to the needs of this city. And it was, of course, filled with people – young parents with excited kids, scholars, students, homeless, tourists and people walking through studying the library itself.

Central Library, Calgary, AB

Central Library, Calgary, AB

Central Library, Calgary, AB

Central Library, Calgary, AB

Central Library, Calgary, AB

Central Library, Calgary, AB

Central Library, Calgary, AB

Central Library, Calgary, AB


Central Library, Calgary, AB

Central Library, Calgary, AB

Central Library, Calgary, AB

Central Library, Calgary, AB

Central Library, Calgary, AB

Central Library, Calgary, AB

Central Library, Calgary, AB

Central Library, Calgary, AB

After spending most of the day here I felt happy like a kid in a candy store. We headed over to the Memorial Park Library as the sky was darkening again with another storm. This was the oldest library in Alberta and was one of the libraries built by Andrew Carnegie. This beautiful building contained a Pride display, several Indigenous language books and an interesting musical instrument lending library. The deluge came as I hurriedly photographed the exterior of the library. We grabbed a dinner at a wonderful Calgary Mexican restaurant and sat at the window and watched the rain fall. I really enjoyed my Canadian tacos! Back at our hotel as I was later downloading my images from this productive day, I fell asleep. We have been running pretty non-stop since we left San Francisco and I guess it finally caught up with me.

Memorial Park Branch Library, Calgary, AB

Memorial Park Branch Library, Calgary, AB



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North to Vancouver, and then East…

My apologies for not posting this earlier. It turns out I could drive, photograph, edit the images and write the blog during our two-week journey across Canada. But at the end of many long days I wasn’t able to put it all together and post it. I now have the time to assemble the pieces and I will begin to send these out on a regular basis.


North to Vancouver, and then East…


Ellen and I started our Canadian Library Road Trip by driving nine hours straight to the edge of Eugene, OR in our new Prius. Northern California was absolutely beautiful despite the 104-degree temperature outside. Mt. Shasta was stunning against the brilliant blue sky. Even in August, the higher reaches were still blanketed with snow after our heavy snowfall winter. California was able to dodge the bullet of drought this year as the slow Sierrian snow melt keeps our rivers full. Even the mighty Sacramento River was brimming with water as we crossed over it near Redding.

One of the great benefits of living in the digital era is the invention of the podcast. Some of our favorites include The Daily, FiveThirtyEight Politics, The NPR Politics Podcast, Pod Save America, The Argument and Up First. I think you can see a theme developing here. Our son Walker helped develop some of this list. Please send us your suggestions as well. We are all ears.



After a quick visit with our friends Kenny and Margo Helfhand, we had to make a stop at one-of-the-greatest-bookstores in the world – Powell’s Books in Portland, OR.  We continued on and finally arrived in Seattle to stay with our friends Peter de Lory and Kay Kirkpatrick. Peter is an old friend and great photographer. Kay is a public librarian by day and a wonderful public artist the rest of the time. Their wonderful house was filled with books and photographs. Of course, we felt instantly at home in their cozy house.


Our trek continued north to that wonderful country with great healthcare called Canada. We just made it in time to our first appointment at the Central Library of Vancouver. This is considered one of the great libraries in Canada and is featured in many books as one of the great libraries of the world. We were given a fascinating tour by a young librarian who showed us every part of the library. We were exhausted at the end because there was so much to see and absorb.

Central Library, Vancouver, BC

Central Library, Vancouver, BCCentral Library, Vancouver, BC

IMG_1562Lightroom (DSC_4789.NEF and 1 other)

We ended our day by staying with one of my former Stanford students Dionne who lives in West Vancouver. An added treat and a great birthday present was meeting her parents again who were visiting from India. Bunny and Vickti live in Mumbai and he is a retired pilot for Air India.


The next morning, we made a beeline back to Vancouver. Our destination was the néća?mat.ct Strathcona Branch Library. It was located in the East Hastings area of East Vancouver which has been called one of the poorest postal codes in all of Canada. Like our home of San Francisco, as Vancouver has boomed the widening income gap has displaced many people and swelled the ranks of the homeless. Even coming from San Francisco, we were astonished by the number of people living on the sidewalk. The area felt very chaotic and we found out later that it was considered a very dangerous place. Fortunately, we found a parking spot right in front of the library. The librarian explained that the neighborhood desperately needed a library and it opened two years ago. It was obvious that it was well used and well loved. The Native American name of the library was an effort to provide hope and pride to the Native population. Tragically, a large percentage of Vancouver’s homeless population are First Nation people. This place is an example of a library as healing.

Strathcone Branch Library, Vancouver, BCStrathcone Branch Library, Vancouver, BC

We spent the rest of the afternoon at the University of British Colombia’s Museum of Anthropology. This contains one of the world’s finest collection of Native American art and artifacts. Ellen and I had recently spent some time during our Fulbright in Greece, Italy and Israel going to see extraordinary museums and collections. But we were entranced by the collections at this museum. I began to see the importance of the Indigenous culture to our understanding of Canada. We hoped to see more of it as we visit libraries across Canada.






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A New Library Road Trip!

A New Library Road Trip!


Welcome back to a new Library Road Trip. We decided to visit that exotic country to the north with good health care called Canada. Coming off our 2018-2019 Fulbright Library Road Trip to Greece, Italy and Israel we now want to explore the libraries of a foreign country in the Western Hemisphere. We will start on August 17 by driving up to Vancouver, BC and then make the long trek east across the Canadian Rockies and prairies to Montreal. We will examine libraries in such beautifully named places such as Swift Current, Moose Jaw, Thunder Bay and Blind River. We look forward to seeing how Canadians do libraries in their vast, multi-cultural, multi-lingual country. We will then stay in our little cabin in the woods in Vermont for a month and hopefully make a drive up to Quebec City to photograph their amazing libraries as well. Finally, we will drive back through the South and arrive in California at the beginning of November.

Since my last blog in March Ellen and I have been taking care of all the things that didn’t get done during our six-month Fulbright Fellowship. I also have been trying to edit the 21,000+ images made during the Fulbright. In conjunction with Marquand Editions we produced 15 limited-edition, hand-made books from my earlier American Public Library project called Public Library: An American Commons. It contains 50 original prints with letter-press text and post-binding so the prints can also be taken out and displayed. The album is inspired by the earlier work of Lee Friedlander and the great 19th Century American Western survey project albums. It is a new version of the project drawn from that vast well of images that I made of American public libraries over 18 years. It is nice to finally see this idea in a finished form. Please contact us if you have any questions or would like to purchase the album.

Limited-edition book by Robert Dawson

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L|M book


Ellen, Walker and I schlepped the album down to southern California where I gave a lecture for the Book Club of California and showed the album and prints to the Huntington Museum, the Getty Museum and the Center for Photographic Art in San Diego. After that, our son Walker gave us a tour of Tijuana where he had spent a lot of time working on his graduate thesis film Credible Fear. This included going to where the Border Wall goes into the sea.

By the way, Walker graduated from the Graduate School of Journalism at UC Berkeley in May on a very wet day. We are very proud of him!

The present and future of journalism, UC Berkeley

As the bullets continue to fly across our nation it seems like a good time to go somewhere else. Like our European Library Road Trip, we will periodically send you notes and photographs from the field. The best part of our 2018-2019 Fulbright trip were your comments and suggestions. Keep them coming! Stay tuned and stay safe…


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Straight Outta Tel Aviv!



Straight Outta Tel Aviv! 

Our 15-hour flight flew straight from Tel Aviv to San Francisco, non-stop. Surprisingly, the trip wasn’t as much of an ordeal as I expected. The eight-hour sleep along the way helped (thank you Ambien!). Between the two of us, Ellen and I only binged on watching five films during the trip which also helped.

Our last week in this part of the world was also non-stop and consequential. Because it was Saturday and most things were closed we decided to walk to the Old City and East Jerusalem. Along the Via Dolorosa we came upon the ancient Church of Saint Anne. The austere stone interior and extraordinary acoustics made it a fine example of medieval architecture. It was a fascinating place with holy sites built on top of each other going back to pre-Roman times. A Crusader church was built here on top of a Byzantine basilica which had been built on top of the Pools of Bethesda. The Crusaders thought this was the home of the Virgin Mary and the site of her birthplace. Here we saw a group of African-Americans sitting in a semi-circle signing beautiful hymns. We also saw a group of Russian pilgrims led by a priest with a long beard in Orthodox robes. It was a haunting and impressive place.

We then walked a few hundred yards to the foot of the Mount of Olives and the Garden of Gethsemane. This is where Christians believe Christ underwent his agony in the garden and was arrested the night before his crucifixion. The garden today contains several olive trees that are the oldest known to science. They have been carbon dated to at least 1,000 years old. They may be descended from trees dating back to the time of Christ. They certainly seemed ancient and were completely surrounded by a high fence to protect them from those darn pilgrims that want to break off a branch to take as a souvenir. Large groups of pilgrims came through while we visited. They seemed to mostly come from China, the Philippines and Russia. It was remarkable to be here and I understood why people come from all over the world to be in the presence of these extraordinary trees and stand in this sacred site.


We hiked up the Mount of Olives through various Palestinian olive groves. We could see how they were being squeezed out by new Israeli housing. It also contained a vast necropolis of Jewish grave sites. The mount had been used as a Jewish cemetery for over 3,000 years and had also been a site of Christian worship since ancient times. Recent tensions have arisen here because of vandalism of the Jewish grave sites. The conflict between Jews, Christians and Muslims is partly played out here. As we reached an open space near the top I made an image with my iPhone showing a panorama of Jerusalem. It showed the cemetery on the left, the Muslim Dome of the Rock in the center and a wall with barbed wire on the right. It was all under a gorgeous sunset which made this landscape of conflict even more striking and sad.


The next morning we took a long bus ride through the working-class neighborhoods of southern Jerusalem.  We arrived at the office of Mr. Machon Ott, the Torah Doctor. I realized last week while we were photographing at the Special Collections Department at the National Library of Israel that I had not photographed any Torahs while we had been here in Israel. The Library said that they didn’t have much of a collection and recommended that we visit Mr. Ott. He is the son of Holocaust survivors and possessed an intensity of spirit but also a warm, engaging personality that was delightful. He showed us the many Torahs that he had repaired. He told us many stories including one of a German Jewish WWI vet who lost a leg in the war and received an Iron Cross for his bravery. Thinking his war hero status would protect him from the Nazis he stayed in Germany and was eventually sent to a concentration camp. He was protecting a sacred Torah and hid it by using it to replace his wooden leg. Somehow, he survived the war and later moved to Israel. Mr. Ott showed us a picture of the veteran in his WWI uniform and then he showed a photo of the vet’s great grandson carrying the same Torah at the boy’s bar mitzvah. Needless to say, we were very moved.

The Torah Doctor, Jerusalem

We then headed off again to East Jerusalem. After a great lunch in an Arab café filled with women in hijabs we went to the Central Library of East Jerusalem. This is a library for the Arab speaking part of the City. Initially it had been difficult to get funding to get it built. In 1985 the popular Jerusalem Mayor Teddy Kollek set aside money from a peace prize he received from the German Publishers Association toward construction of the new facility. With additional help from the Jerusalem Foundation it opened in 1992 and had 20,000 books that were available to Jerusalem residents and Arabic speakers from all over Israel. It survived a terrorist bombing in 1993 and was thriving the day we visited.

Central Library, East JerusalemCentral Library, East JerusalemCentral Library, East Jerusalem

Central Library, East JerusalemCentral Library, East Jerusalem

There is a saying that there is no rest for the weary. To prove that point, we took a bus the next day to Tel Aviv. I had been trying to photograph the Yitzhak Rabin Center since we arrived in Israel. On this day we received a four-hour private tour of this amazing place dedicated to the memory of the former Prime Minister. We saw much, asked a lot of questions and had the unusual access to photograph Rabin’s private library that was set up exactly as it had been on the day he was assassinated. His murder by a right-wing, ultra-Orthodox nut job changed the course of Israeli history. It helped to usher in the current right-wing government that depends on conservative religious parties to stay in power. The Center also depicts the last 130 years of Jewish and Israeli history from a progressive, Jewish perspective.

We picked up a cab from a driver who was a spitting image of Dennis Hopper from the Apocalypse Now period. He had the same stoner looks, speech and mannerisms along with the greasy long hair. Surprisingly, he was the only person that we met on this whole Fulbright odyssey that liked Trump. He was actually a great character and drove us to the city of Jaffa (or Yafo, depending on who is doing the spelling). This is the ancient city and port that feels more Arab and has a different vibe than neighboring Tel Aviv. In a poor part of the Old City was an Arab-Jewish Community Center that contained a library. The Center and Library were relatively new and it was nice to see the government putting money into helping this poor area in the Arab section of town. The library contained many Arabic language books. I was somewhat surprised to see a children’s book in the Library by Lynn Cheney but I think at this point we had become a little jaded.

Library, Tel Aviv-Yaffo Community Center, Tel Aviv-Yaffo

We then hopped back into the taxi with Mr. Stoner and headed back to Tel Aviv to another memorial of sorts. Our friend and former Stanford colleague Joel Leivick long ago told me about his grandfather who was a famous Yiddish poet. There was a Leivick House established in Tel Aviv in the 1970s in his honor for writers and poets and this was where we briefly visited.


We ended the evening having dinner with our Fulbright colleague and now friend Noa Turgeman. She was the first person we met when we landed in Israel two months ago and she really impressed us then. She had done great work for us by helping to coordinate our Fulbright work in Israel. She will be missed along with several other new friends we have made over our time here. After dinner, we took the bus back to Jerusalem that night and I had to stand on the crowded bus for the hour-long ride. Again, no rest for the weary.

rob and ellen

Speaking of no rest, we then got up at the crack o’ dawn and took a very long bus ride to Bethlehem. We had been told that we shouldn’t go into the West Bank because of the danger but felt that on this last day of my photography we should visit some libraries in Palestine. We hired a wonderful driver named Alaa’a who drove us to the cities of Al-Bireh and Nablus. Alaa’a was a chatterbox and an intense Palestinian nationalist. He was also the “official driver” for the artist Banksky’s famous Walled Off Hotel in Bethlehem that we had visited earlier on this trip.

It was good to get the Palestinian perspective on the situation in Palestine. Alaa’a pointed out the Israeli settlements all over the West Bank. He showed us the Israeli Army working hand in hand with the settlers; the check points; the long and circuitous roads Palestinians must use and; of course, the never-ending Wall. Most of all he expressed the indignity that many Palestinians felt under occupation of their own country. As long and hard as it had been to achieve, the only answer seemed to be a two-state solution. Israeli policy seemed driven by fear and frustration and Netanyahu seemed to have expertly exploited that for his own political gain. I fear that the West Bank will blow up again someday and I was hoping it wouldn’t occur on the day we were there.

One very welcome counter-point to this gloomy picture was the Al-Bireh Public Library. Al-Bireh and neighboring Ramallah are basically one big city. Ramallah is the de facto capitol of Palestine and gets more attention. But Al-Bireh was larger and much older. We were greeted by the very well organized and professional staff of the library. Many people in Al-Bireh have lived in the United States including our main guide who lived for many years in Colorado. We got a grand tour of the new and very nice library and community center. Although the library has only six employees, it maintains six-days-a-week service. The history of the Al-Bireh Public Library is entwined with that of Palestinian resistance. In the past it has been hard for them to get books because of Israeli law. Even though they are struggling I felt this was an impressive, important and extremely well-run place.

After an hour-long drive north through the heart of the West Bank we arrived at the beautiful and fascinating city of Nablus. This city has been around since Roman times. The Roman name Flavia Neapolis (New City) was later pronounced by the Arabs as Nablus. It has been a hotbed of Palestinian activism not least because the surrounding hills are occupied by some of the West Bank’s most hard-core Israeli settlers. The Nablus Library was the oldest and largest public library in the West Bank. It was started with aid from the Jordanian government in the 1960s. It was housed in a 19th century Ottoman-era structure. Its collections included the Prisoner’s Section which was an archive of materials made and used by Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails between 1975 and 1995 as part of a Palestinian self-education movement.

Nablus Public Library, Nablus, Palestine

When we arrived at the library we met the director. Through an interpreter we learned that he planned for us to visit the Mayor of Nablus at that moment. I explained to him that we only had one hour left before the library closed.  I asked if we could meet with the Mayor after that hour but he was adamant and kept repeating that “the Mayor is waiting.” I realized this was the last library of our six-month Fulbright project and it may be a bust. I also realized we were walking a fine line here and I feared this could escalate into something of an international incident. After further pleading for a few minutes to photograph before we ran off to the Mayor I literally sprinted around the library photographing whatever I could on the fly. Fortunately, I made what I think were a few good images.

Nablus Public Library, Nablus, PalestineIMG_0502 copy

We then walked 20 minutes to the Mayor’s office with a guide who spoke no English. Ellen snapped this photo along the way.


When we arrived, of course, the Mayor was busy and kept us waiting for at least an hour. We had a wonderful chat with his younger assistant who spoke excellent English and told us all about Nablus. I began to feel that the Mayor didn’t really care about meeting us one way or another. I also thought the library director did this as a way of making himself look good to the Mayor. I have no idea of what the pressures of life must be like under an occupation but I really couldn’t understand the unprofessional actions of the Nablus library director. The last picture of the project was of us standing with the Mayor in front of large portraits of Mahmoud Abbas, the current Palestinian leader and Yasser Arafat, the former leader of Fatah and of Palestine. Abbas is considered corrupt by many Palestinians and Arafat is considered a terrorist by many Israelis and some Americans. Others consider Abbas is in a tough situation with an asymmetrical relationship with Israel. And others consider Arafat a great leader and a Nobel Peace Prize winner for signing the Oslo Peace Agreement. It all seemed quite surreal but a fascinating ending to a fascinating journey.

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As we took the long drive home through West Bank to Bethlehem we drove past many reminders of the current crisis in this part of the world. Alaa’a finally dropped us off to take a bus for the final leg of our journey into Jerusalem. Even though he has lived here his whole life he can’t drive into Jerusalem because he doesn’t have the right papers. At the border the bus stopped and all the passengers under 50 had to go outside into the freezing cold to have their passports inspected. After the machine gun toting Israeli guards inspect our passports and the under-50s are allowed back on the bus, we drive through the check point into the night and back to Jerusalem.


As with Greece and Italy, we found it difficult to leave Israel and Jerusalem. I have found this city hard to love but also found it one of the most fascinating places we have visited on a trip full of fascinating places. We were honored to have had the opportunity to get to know it and hope to come back many more times.

We spent our last full day shopping for gifts in the windy and freezing rain. I photographed Ellen with a broken umbrella in front of a trolley stop with Israeli soldiers carrying the ever-present machine guns.


On our last day we take a cab to the Ben Gurion airport and it starts to hail heavily. I remember the first time we drove into Jerusalem it snowed that night. That was the beginning of our Walk on the Wild Side. Abruptly the storm ended, the clouds parted and we saw the most beautiful sunset. At the airport Ellen photographed me with six-months-worth of luggage heading to the plane that will take us back to the City where we had left our hearts.

I have enjoyed doing this blog and I have heard that many of you have enjoyed it too. It certainly helped me to focus my thoughts and it also acted as a public diary of our trip. With so much happening over the last six months I am sure I would forget much of it without writing the blog. I will now have some time to make sense of this Fulbright odyssey and hope to continue an occasional blog with any insights I may discover. Thanks for sharing this remarkable journey with us. Until then…

Back to the Cool Gray City of Love.
















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All Kinds of Libraries and Two Trips to the Desert


All Kinds of Libraries and Two Trips to the Desert

The crazy variety of libraries in this part of the world speaks to the remarkable diversity of cultures that created them. Like biological mixing zones in the natural environment, I have always felt that the richest places are ones that contain a broad range of culture and perspectives.  Before the process of gentrification, San Francisco was one of those places. That’s why the Beats, Hippies and Gays all flocked there before it became too expensive and produced the increasingly economic monoculture we have today. Jerusalem is another remarkable mixing zone of culture that has produced a unique place that contains a diversity that stretches back over thousands of years. As we tiptoe through the political minefields of this part of the world, I try to stay focused on centers of learning and culture that reflect what is good about this place. But we have also tried to use this project to help us have a clear-eyed view of the reality of each country we have stayed in for the last six months.

One of the most contentious places in the universe is what the Jews call the Temple Mount and the Muslims call Haram esh-Sharif (the Noble Sanctuary).  Here are the famous Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa Mosque, both sacred to the Muslims. At this same site is the Western (or Wailing) Wall sacred to the Jews.  I heard that there was a library of religious books at the Western Wall. This was in the men’s section of the Wall, so Ellen had to cool her heels outside. I didn’t really expect that I would be able to photograph here but when I noticed others taking cell phone photos I did the same and no one seemed to mind. I then pulled out my Nikon to take a few more photos and again no one blinked an eye. Most everyone seemed intent on praying or reading from the sacred texts.

The Western Wall, Jerusalem

Much later in the day as we were walking home, we passed a large metal box in our neighborhood of Navol’ot (there are sometimes a million different spellings of the same thing in Israel. This is just one of many). We had passed by here many times during our stay in Jerusalem and we thought this was a colorful recycling container. It turned out to be a Geniza. In the Jewish faith the name of God is considered literally sacred. If it is written in a book, manuscript or even a letter it is considered important to ritually bury these objects after they are no longer needed. I was vaguely aware of this custom but was happy to photograph a visual expression of it.

Geniza, Navol'ot nerighborhood, Jerusalem

The Issaf Nashashibi Center for Culture and Literature is located across the border in East Jerusalem. It has a mission to promote Palestinian literary heritage and hosting cultural events for the local community. The delightful librarian Dua’a Kirresh explained to us that the Israelis make it very difficult for them to have cultural events in their space because they don’t allow any parking anywhere near the Center. Issaf Nashashibi was a famous Palestinian writer and poet who hosted many literary gatherings in his home when he was alive. His home is now the Center and his collection is the basis of the library’s current collection.

On the same day we went to the Library of the Yad Ben Zvi Institute. This is one of those little gem libraries that we have found throughout Jerusalem. Its mission is to study Jewish communities under Islam and other communities in the Middle East and Asia. Among their possessions are the Aleppo Codex (now housed at the Shrine of the Book) which is the oldest Hebrew codex of the Bible and also documents from the Cairo Geniza from the 12th-13th centuries. They recently produced a centennial exhibition of the controversial Balfour Declaration. I took a quick photo of a romanticized painting of Balfour speaking at the founding of Hebrew University in Jerusalem in the 1920s.

The Al-Aqsa Mosque is one of the most sacred places in Islam. It has also become a flashpoint in in the past that continues up to today. The Mosque itself is open only to Muslims but located right next door is the Al-Aqsa Mosque Library which is open to the public. It was not easy to get into the library both because of the Israelis and the Palestinians. While we were waiting in line to get in, we witnessed a screaming match between a Jewish settler (with an American accent) and the patient guards who were denying him access. I’m not sure what was happening but it was not pretty. After our second attempt we finally got into the Library. It contained several rare books they were scanning as well as a substantial number of people using the library. The Children’s Library was delightful and even included many well-used Harry Potter books. We were hustled out after a short time (because the area closes to non-Muslims) but I did manage to make a few good images of this fascinating and evocative place.

Religion seems to be in the air you breath in Jerusalem. And each faith seems to have their own library. One of our favorites was the École Biblique et Archeolique Francoise. This Dominican Monastery was located in East Jerusalem. They spoke highly of their Muslim neighbors but had little good to say about the heavy-handed policies of the Israeli government that made them feel like second-class citizens. After a wonderful tour we met Father Jean-Michel de Tarragon who is the head of their large photography archive. He was in the midst of scanning over 30,000 old photographs and showed us their first-class collection and equipment. He was very excited to speak with us because we all shared a great passion for the history of photography. He also showed us the latest edition of National Geographic which featured a photo of Fr. Jean-Michel dressed in his robes looking at a photograph. It was a rare treat to meet such an intelligent, gracious and enthusiastic man.

Occasionally, we have a day with no libraries and even no plans. These usually occur during Friday or Saturday Shabbat when most everything including public transportation is closed. On Saturday we decided to walk to the Israel Museum which was open. On the way through a park we see a very old looking building off the distance and discover the Monastery of the Holy Cross which part of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate. Jerusalem is filled with places like this which is why allowing ourselves time to wander the streets is important. Legend has it that the monastery was erected on the burial spot of Adam‘s head—though two other locations in Jerusalem also claim this honor—from which grew the tree that gave its wood to the cross on which Christ was crucified. The current monastery includes parts built by the Crusaders. Apparently, there has been tension here between the Greek and Georgian Orthodox churches over this site. It was a great, unexpected find for us. Few people were there which made the haunting, ancient quality even greater. Even the gift shop was awesome!




Because we lingered so long at the Church of the Holy Cross we had very little time left for the top-notch Israel Museum. After quickly viewing a huge model of Jerusalem set in the time of Christ we never made it out of the ancient history section of the Museum before it closed. Next time…


One of the things that the Fulbright encourages is for us to get out and interact with the local communities. Of course, we have been doing that throughout the Fellowship through the libraries. But a good way to interact with more people is for me to give slide lectures on my work. I gave another lecture at the small kibbutz town of Gezer. Because it is located in a famous wine growing area we were taken to a tour and wine tasting at a very fancy winery before my lecture. Later, during the lecture, I was actually able to keep all the names and facts straight but I noticed that I was very relaxed. I was even able to take a photo of the audience and it seems pretty sharp.

Gezer Public Library, Gezer, Israel

The early part of the next week was spent in the south in the town of Beer-Sheva and the Negev Desert. We were lucky to have a retired Israeli military officer, Ron Avni take us around the area for two days. He was an officer and a gentleman and a very interesting guy. After his long military career, he got a PhD in earthquakes and later become the Bursar for Ben Gurion University. We first went to David Ben Gurion’s hut and library in the small kibbutz of Sdeh Boker. Ben Gurion was Israel’s first Prime Minister and is called the George Washington of the nation. After he stepped down her retreated, Yoda-like, into this kibbutz in the desert. We also visited a Children’s Library in the kibbutz as well as the regular library and archive. Later still, we went to a campus of Ben Gurion University to visit Ben Guion’s archive.

We also visited a library in the community center of the Bedouin town of Tel Sheva. Although it was in a fairly new building in a nice-looking Center the library was completely empty with no books or even book shelves. Where there had once been a projector in the ceiling there were now dangling wires and what used to contain a screen was now an empty holder. Unfortunately, no one was around to ask about the fate of this library. I always feel sad when I see an empty library in a poor community that really needs it. Hopefully, we will find out what happened here in Tel Sheva.

Public Library of Tel Sheva (Bedouin town)

Very close to Tel Sheva was the up-scale suburban town of Omer. This contained one of the great, small libraries we have seen in Israel. We walked in to the library just as they were starting their wonderful children’s reading group. Ron showed us a room dedicated to the memory of the children of this community who had died in the military either in war or through accident. This is another example of how libraries are often the center of civic memory, especially in small towns. The librarians here were exceptional. I was happy to see Ellen riding a small horse in the library. It was great to see my 73 year-old wife still a kid at heart.

Public Library, Omer

We also visited the private library of Professor Zeev Zivan in his home near Beer Sheva. He is a scholar of Bedouin and the Negev and gave us some insight into Bedouin culture.

Private library of Zeev Zivan, Meitar (near Beer-Sheva) (Bedouin and Negev scholar) copy

At the end of this long day Ron had taken us to seven libraries including the restaurant in a shopping mall called The Library. Ron and his wife Chaya were exceptional people and meeting them was one of the highlights of our trip.

The next day we were given a tour of the Zalman Aranne Library at the Ben Gurion University in Beer Sheva. Designed in a Brutalist style it contained many beautiful surprises inside. The Medical School Library was a real gem that was designed to mimic a Bedouin tent. On our way into the library we encountered two different guards who were not going to let us into the library even though we were accompanied by the librarian and Ron who used to the Bursar for the University. Apparently, someone did not get the notice of our arrival and had their nose bent out of shape. Ron Avni is not the type of man who takes no for an answer. Several times I worried we were going to be involved with an international incident as Ron wound up in screaming matches with the very unprofessional guards. Eventually, we were allowed to proceed and I took what I think are some great images in this great library.

Medical Library, Ben Gurion University, Beer-ShevaMedical Library, Ben Gurion University, Beer-Sheva

Later that afternoon I gave a slide talk at BGU library to a packed house. I am always surprised when so many people come to hear my talk about libraries. In the audience were three young Fulbrighters. They are working here at BGU while they are on their Fulbright in Israel.

Ron took us on a quick tour of the old and new parts of Beer Sheva. Although not beautiful, it is a fascinating place in a beautiful desert environment. On a roundabout in the middle of the city was a statue of Ben Gurion doing a headstand on a pile of books. You gotta love this place!

Part of our stay here was to travel with Ron into the Negev. We saw the incredible view from Ben Gurion’s Tomb. We then traveled to Makhtesh Ramon which is called Israel’s Grand Canyon. It’s been great visiting libraries for the last six months but when we got here I realized how much I longed for the desert and big skies. We even saw a sign that stated “Beware of Camels Near the Road”. That made our day. But the poor Bedouin communities we saw by the side of the road reminded me of poor Native American and Hispanic communities in New Mexico and Arizona. Poverty in the desert has a similar look throughout the world.

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Bedouin sheepherder, Negev DesertBedouin community (and camels), Negev Desert

We spent a few days back in Jerusalem recovering from our trip and bus ride to and from Beer Sheva. On Saturday we took a tour led by an Armenian man of the Church of the Holy Sepulture. Unfortunately, we got separated from the group in the Old City and spend about an hour in the Church waiting for the group. While there I am fascinated by the endless stream of religious expression by people from all over the world. In this most important of Christian Churches I was moved by the faith of the pilgrims. Although I do not believe in a particular faith, I did feel the power of this place. For better and worse, faith such as this has played a fundamental part of the human condition. We never did find our group but I enjoyed the wait.

The National Library of Israel is our host during our two-month stay here. I gave a slide lecture at the National Library looking at the earlier work on libraries I had done in the US and now the current Fulbright work in Greece, Italy and Israel. The talk was co-hosted by the American Embassy’s American Center and by the Fulbright Israel office. Again, the audience was packed and again I was surprised. This was the first time that I showed the Israeli work and it was a challenge to make a coherent and compelling story. I appreciated being forced to make sense of this Fulbright experience as a whole and the Israel experience in particular.

IMG_9869Invitation to reception and lecture at NLI copy

The next morning at the un-Godly hour of 7:30 AM we went to the Shrine of the Book at the Israel Museum. When we first arrived in Jerusalem we visited this place and now I had permission to photograph the world-famous Dead Sea Scrolls. We are given one hour to work before the Shrine opened at 8:30. Because of our earlier visit I was better able to laser focus on just the parts of the display that were most important. This included the amazing Aleppo Codex. The Scrolls are some of the oldest surviving manuscripts that later became the Hebrew Bible canon. The second oldest is the Aleppo Codex by about 1,000 years. It was mind-boggling to be photographing these priceless objects but it was so appropriate for our project. Ellen and I worked together quickly and efficiently as the clock was ticking. We timed it well and we got out of the Shrine just as the crowds are surging to get in.

Dead Seas Scrolls +the Aleppo Codex, Israel Museum, Jerusalem

Dead Seas Scrolls +the Aleppo Codex, Israel Museum, JerusalemDead Seas Scrolls +the Aleppo Codex, Israel Museum, JerusalemDead Seas Scrolls +the Aleppo Codex, Israel Museum, Jerusalem

Dead Seas Scrolls +the Aleppo Codex, Israel Museum, JerusalemDead Seas Scrolls +the Aleppo Codex, Israel Museum, Jerusalem

As we are photographing the Scrolls we are asked to photograph the Museum’s Youth Wing Collection. It turns out to be fascinating and there is no rest for the weary. We then head out to the Old City to meet our friend MV. She is doing a digital mapping project of Jerusalem and wants me to photograph a 3D map of the city from 1854 that is housed in the archive of the monastery of the Franciscans. This was another interesting place in the heart of the old city. After lunch, we all head over the Library of the Armenian Patriarchate in the Armenian part of the Old City. The building was built in the 1920s just after the Armenian Genocide in Turkey. The collection is much older. Again, I feel the weight of history as I consider what we are seeing.

Dead Seas Scrolls +the Aleppo Codex, Israel Museum, Jerusalem

As we left, MV split but suggested we visit the Armenian Church.  It is truly an exceptional and mysterious place. Two groups of young priests seem to be singing back and forth to each other in a beautiful but ethereal way. I know little about the Armenian culture and I vowed that we must go there and photograph their libraries.

As Ellen and I left the church we stop at a wonderful tile and ceramics shop. We buy a few gifts and see this sign of the memory of the Genocide of the Armenians.


The National Library of Israel is huge. It contains 5 million books and owns the world’s largest collection of Hebraic and Judaica. We have photographed part of their collection but come back for more. The rare books that we photograph are astonishing. The maps in the map collection give us a deeper understanding of this place over a long period of time. However, the Photography collection really knocks us for a loop. Photo albums from WWI British soldiers, 19th century photo collections with flower collections included and stereo views were all terrific. What really amazed us were two burned pages that had been rescued from the 1930s Nazi book burning in Berlin by a passing Jewish man who later moved to Israel. Finally, we photographed a collection put together by an American office at the end of WWII. It contained photographs of ex libris stamps from thousands of books rescued by the Americans at the end of the war. These stamps were used to try to return the books to their owners after the Holocaust. It provided me with another way of trying to understand the scale of the Holocaust.

National Library of Israel, JerusalemNational Library of Israel, Jerusalem

National Library of Israel, Jerusalem

The Schocken Library was smuggled out of Nazi Germany in the 1930s by the wealthy bibliophile Zalman Schocken. It is one of the most important Judaic libraries in the world. Schocken felt that these books became the portable homeland of the Jewish people in exile – setting them apart as well as uniting them. During the Holocaust this library in Jerusalem served as a hideaway for Jewish writers and researchers on the run from Hitler. The building was designed for the library by famed architect Eric Mendelsohn and was gorgeous.

Schocken Library, Jerusalem

On a rare sunny day we left cold Jerusalem and headed east to the warm Dead Sea and a place called Qumran National Park. We took a bus there which was far less expensive than hiring a cab. Qumran is the site where it is believed the Dead Sea Scrolls were written and later buried in nearby caves to escape the Roman army. It was fascinating to see the spot where all this happened. It was also a good connection with the earlier work we did at the Shrine of the Book with the Scrolls themselves. And it was great to be out in the wide-open desert once again. Although the park was fascinating the tourist shop was pretty tacky. We were lucky not to be there during the high season. As we walked back down the road to the bus stop I couldn’t help but think of that great Israeli movie called The Band’s Visit. As we sat by the side of the empty road in the middle of the desert it seemed earily similar that that wonderful film. But the bus finally showed up and we enjoyed the hour ride back to Jerusalem.

Jerusalem is an entirely unique city with its own unique set of delights and problems. Here is a selection of a few photos from the street. We have less than a week before we fly back to the USA. I will do one more blog from the other side of the pond to wrap it up. Until then…









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Jerusalem – A Tale of Two Countries and a Trip Up North


Jerusalem – A Tale of Two Countries and a Trip Up North


One of the great things about Friday night and Saturday in Israel is Shabbat. In the ideal, this is a time to gather together with family and friends to count your blessings, renew your faith and have hearty discussions over good food and wine. We were lucky to be invited to a Shabbat dinner with Naomi Schacter who works at the National Library of Israel. The next day we were invited to Shabbat lunch with Lisa Wiseman who runs the American Center for the American Embassy in Israel. Both meals were home cooked and delicious. The conversations for both included a wide range of subjects and fortunately lasted for a long time. What a delightful way to enter into a new culture. The down side of Shabbat is that everything literally shuts down including cafes, pharmacies, public transportation and grocery stores. A few restaurants stay open, but they are the exception. It amazed me how completely Jewish Jerusalem observes Shabbat.


The trains come back to life on Sunday morning and we took one to the Ben Gurion airport near Tel Aviv. My replacement camera gear finally arrived from New York but was being held in customs until we jumped through their hoops, paid a huge Value Added Tax and then suffered some more. It all seemed quite silly but I really needed the equipment to continue our project. Needless to say, I was quite happy when I finally got the stuff.


Back in Jerusalem that night we had dinner with our friends MV and Michael at their apartment in the Palestinian section of eastern Jerusalem. Near their home we gazed out over the skyline of this fabled and troubled city. I marveled at the great faiths that consider this place sacred and the great suffering that has followed that religious passion.


The Al-Budeiri Family Library in the Old City was one of the top Palestinian libraries that I wanted to visit. Like the Khalidi Library, it is part of an old Palestinian family dating back to the Ottoman times. After getting lost several times in the maze of the old city with our friend MV we finally arrived at the old building that housed the library. It is also the home of Shaima Budeiri who is also the Librarian. It was amazing to be shown the tomb of the family patriarch which is located right in the library. Shaima showed us many wonderful old books, manuscripts and maps. She invited us to tea at her home and showed us the view of the Dome of the Rock from her rear window.

Afterwards, Ellen and I grabbed a falafel and watched the amazing world go by in this Arab section of the Old City. As we exited the Damascus Gate I realized how much I respected the depth of this culture and how comfortable I felt in this part of the city. Some people had told us it was very dangerous here but I didn’t feel danger, only a desire to know more.

The Fulbright really emphasizes “people to people” diplomacy. The idea is that the best way for people to understand each other is to talk with each other. One of the best ways I can do that is to give slide talks about my work. I gave another lecture to a group called the Public Libraries Managers Union of Israel. We traveled with two librarians to the little town of Matnas Mazkeret Baty near the larger town of Rehovot. Before my lecture I photographed two libraries in Rehovot. The small branch library was interesting because it contained almost no computers. The librarian explained that in this wealthy community the children are exposed to screens all the time. The library became a place where the kids could escape into the tactile world of books and games rather than a virtual world.

It was interesting to be in small-town Israel after spending so much time in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. After my lecture we went on a historical tour of this village when it was a pioneering kibbutz. There were many similarities between how the history of this area is told and the stories I grew up on about the settling of the American West.

Ellen and I felt it was important to understand the broader context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Before I could photograph more Palestinian libraries I wanted to better understand the world they live in. To do this we took a one-day tour with a group called Green Olive Tours. It is an “alternative tour” from the many Israeli and Christian tours that we see everywhere in Jerusalem. We traveled from the King David Hotel in Jerusalem to Bethlehem in Palestine. Our driver explained that he has permission to do this trip into Palestine but our guide did not and we have to pick him up in Bethlehem. We travel a bewildering series of small, twisty roads that the Palestinians have to use. It takes over an hour to travel a short distance to Ramallah. The Israelis can use a separate fast highway that takes about 20 minutes. This part of the West Bank seems like a country of walls and people selling gum by the side of the road.


Our guide Yemen takes us to the Palestinian Parliament and Yasser Arafat’s tomb in Ramallah. He briefly mentions the suspicions that Arafat was poisoned but then we move on into the remarkable city center. After seeing the fascinating open air market we head to the world-famous coffee shop called Stars and Bucks. I guess that American copyright law doesn’t apply here as we walked by Blooming Dales.

Our next stop is the Banksky inspired artist hotel called the Walled Off Hotel. It advertises as having the “world’s worst view” referring to the Israeli separation wall right across the street. The wall is big and ugly and like the Berlin Wall this side is covered with all kinds of graffiti. Some of it is inspired, some is stupid and the graffiti itself in controversial because some feel it makes something pretty out of a horrible situation. The hotel and wall are quite surreal but the humanity and wisdom in some of the graffiti gives me hope. Humor is sometimes the best resistance.

As we leave the West Bank Ellen and I have our photo taken in front of one of the most famous Banksky murals showing a young masked man throwing flowers instead of a bomb. As we drive out I see two young Palestinian men with a massive new Settlement in the background. I wonder how long peace will last in this contested part of the world.

The last place we visit in the West Bank was the little town of Bethlehem where according to Christian tradition Jesus was born. The Church of the Nativity is yet another powerful Christian shrine filled with tourist but nevertheless fascinating.

Not to waste any time, our next trip starts the next day as we head back to Tel Aviv for two nights. While we were about to take a cab to a small branch library a massive security lock-down began right in front of our hotel and stopped all traffic. Being resourceful, we decide to walk back to the Garden Library for Refugees and Migrant Workers that I had photographed at the beginning of our stay in Israel. The earlier photos that I made were during the day when it was closed. We hoped that it would be open this evening as we walked through the dark. Fortunately, it was open. While drug deals and prostitution were happening around us I was able to make images using my tripod of the library in this sketchy park while Ellen watched my back.

The Beit Ariela Public Library is the Central Library of Tel Aviv. It was housed in a brutalist style concrete building that contained all the elements of a well-run central library. I photographed a room containing the books and papers of one of the founders of Zionism. I also saw this modern library being used a lot. The library held great art and even a beautiful music library.

Its Children’s Library was a delight and contained beautiful examples of models of small rooms created by some very talented kids.

The Theater Library contained some fascinating set design mock-ups that traced some of the history of contemporary theater in Israel.

At the end of the day we took a taxi to the Beit Dani Library in a poor, mostly immigrant community in Tel Aviv. There was a lot of tutoring for the children here and I photographed an energetic group of Eritrean kids learning English. I also photographed a young med school student who was getting a break on the cost of his education by tutoring poor kids in this community. Good idea!

The next day we took a train up north to the coastal towns of Tirat Carmel and Haifa. This area is famous for its palm trees, beaches and Crusader and Roman history. Tirat Carmel had a modern library that incorporated the beautiful surrounding landscape into the library. It is located at the foot of the famous Mt Carmel. The fabulous librarian Lior gave a us an extended private tour after the library was closed.

Haifa is the big bustling city of the north. Beautifully located on hills overlooking the ocean it has a great cultural life as well as bad air from the refineries and near-by port. We spent only one night there and wished we had seen more of its attractions. The next morning we photographed the library at the wonderful University of Haifa. Perched high atop Mt. Carmel the campus was designed by famed architect Oscar Niedermeyer who also designed the Brazilian capitol of Brasilia. The austerity of Brasilia could be seen in the design of this campus. But somehow it seemed to work.

We then drove our Israeli rent-a-wreck car east for an hour to the amazing city of Nazareth. To avoid traffic in Nazareth Google sent us on a tortuous, circuitous route. Our car barely held together on the crazy streets but we finally arrived at what we thought was the library. We were surrounded by signs in two languages, Arabic and Hebrew. I realized why we should have learned these languages before we made this trip.


The library was no longer at this site but an older woman who spoke a little English took pity on us and gave us some very rough directions to the new location. On a wing and a prayer we headed back to the mean streets and finally came to the Abu Salma Public Library. My notes said that this was a “struggling library in the only majority Palestinian city in Israel.” What we discovered was a beautiful, modern library filled with a vibrant mix of young Arab students and really smart and engaged librarians. I photographed a young man who was just completing his medical degree and was about to become a doctor. This was the place he did much of years of study. The library ran counter to the popular narrative that young Arabs are poor, un-educated and dangerous. I realized that this library was an important part of our project because it broke the stereotypes.

Abu Salma Public Library, Nazareth, Israel


Nazareth is, of course, famous for being the home Jesus’ parents Mary and Joseph. It is also where Jesus grew up. We went to the church called the Basilica of the Annunciation founded on the spot where it is believed that Mary was told that she was going to become a teen-aged Mom. It was a modern building but really well done. I realized that Mary was a rock star here and that the Catholic church gives a lot of attention to venerating this woman. It was refreshing to see a woman being given this high regard in one of the major established religions.

We were enchanted by the Old City of Nazareth where we spent two nights in a charming pension. The 80 year- old owner explained that the city is 60% Arab and 30% Christian. He was a fourth generation Nazarethian and was Arab and Christian. I found the vibe here original and the blending of cultures and religions healthy and fascinating. One slogan on a wall said “Nazareth Brings Us Together.” Its stone-paved alleys lined with crumbling Ottoman-era buildings captured my heart. As well as a religious destination, it is a city trying to reinvent itself as a sophisticated culinary and cultural destination. The food was fabulous. Like its library, Nazareth broke the stereotypes.

The next day we headed over to the Sea of Galilee where that guy walked on the water. We photographed the library at Kinneret College on the Sea of Galilee. It was designed by the same Israeli architect that designed the Tirat Carmel library. It was fascinating to see how a similar design was used by a public library and an academic library. Kinneret College contained about 50% Jewish and 50% Arabs. It seemed to be a good model for the integration of the two cultures. The earliest kibbutz was founded nearby here. The Jordanian border and the Golan Heights are right next door. And don’t forget that Jesus was baptized at the mouth of the nearby River Jordan.

Kinneret College Library, Kinneret, Sea of Galilee, Israel

As we drove back to Nazareth I photographed the beautiful Sea of Galilee and its surrounding wetlands. We have been focused for so long on libraries and cities that I found myself longing to spend much more time in this beautiful space. I did photograph Ellen reading a book at an Israeli version of a Little Free Library on the edge of the Sea. In the last light I photographed the famous ancient Roman town of Tibereus. Sadly, it has become something of a religious theme park and tacky tourist trap. We quickly scooted through the town and happily headed back for our last night in Nazareth.


Tibereus, Sea of Galilee, Israel











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Israel and Palestine: A Walk on the Wild Side


Israel and Palestine: A Walk on the Wild Side

Flying from Naples to Tel Aviv via Frankfurt took all day and we arrived at the Ben Gurion airport late at night. It felt incredible to be at the beginning of the third and final country of our Fulbright library road trip odyssey. Going through customs was surprisingly quick. I think flying on New Years Day must be good because we really didn’t experience big crowds anywhere along the way.

After sleeping in a little, we encountered a very trendy and upbeat Tel Aviv. Our hotel was right out of Lonely Planet with all of the hipster amenities. The coffee shops and cafes were totally cool and really good. All the signs were in Hebrew but many of them had Arabic and English as well. I thought that more English would be spoken here but most people spoke at least some of it, often with an American accent. The central part of Tel Aviv where we were staying was mostly beautiful in an unusual Bauhausian kind of way. This area is called “The White City” because of the large number of Bauhus inspired architecture that was mostly painted white. Ellen and I walked down to the beautiful sunset on the beach and still couldn’t believe that we were in the Levant.

The next day we met our Fulbright contact Noa Turgeman in her office. She was totally organized, helpful and proactive. I immediately felt the energy different here than in Naples. Noa also had a lens that I had ordered waiting for me. As I wrote about earlier, all my camera gear was stolen in Sicily. Fortunately, I had a backup camera body in Naples. Now that I had a lens for my camera I could begin to do some serious photography again.  We immediately headed to a rough part of town that contained the Garden Library for Refugees and Migrant Workers. This was a small pop-up library in a park filled with mostly African men. The library had odd hours and wasn’t open on this day. It was located near Tel Aviv’s Central Bus Station which also seemed pretty run down. But it was a relief to begin to make images again. My old Nikon D800 worked perfectly and my new/used 50mm lens was nifty.

garden library, tel aviv

Lightroom (DSC_0556.NEF and 1 other)

We finally made it to Jerusalem in the evening of Shabbat with black clouds lowering and the temperature falling sharply. Just as our taxi reached the edge of the city we heard on the radio the voice of that famous Jewish American rock star Lou Reed. He was signing Walk on the Wild Side which somehow seemed perfectly appropriate. Later that night it snowed in the higher parts of the city.

The next day we headed straight to the Israel Museum. It is the national museum of Israel and one of the largest museums in the region. It contains a world-class art and archeology collection. We went to the Shrine of the Book which contains the famous Dead Sea Scrolls.


It was very appropriate for our project to come here and I made plans to get permission to come back later with my Nikon and tripod. The scrolls that are on display are rotated through over time to give them a chance to “rest”. It was mind-boggling to see them and another priceless artifact called the Aleppo Codex. I was also shocked to see a photo taken right after the discovery of the scrolls. It shows a photographer with a 4×5 film camera placing his light meter right on the scroll. I am sure that archeological technique would not allow that to happen today! It was a hair-raising experience for Ellen too!

We briefly visited the Israel Museum but will have to come back as we ran out of time.


On a very cold and foggy morning we visited the moving place called Yad Vashem. It is a museum and memorial park dedicated to the Holocaust. Somehow the lousy weather only added to this somber but brilliantly designed place. We quickly took the audio tour through the main exhibition space. I couldn’t help compare it to the Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC. Both are important, moving experiences but also very different.

We met the director of the Hall of Names which is a place intended to give a name and face to the Holocaust. Photographs and names are added to the collection as they are received for this ongoing project.

We were then given a private tour of the many different parts of the Museum and met several of the staff members. They were all top-notch professionals that helped deepen our understanding of the place. We saw a photo album by the contractors that built Auschwitz, IBM cards used by the Nazis and a collection of books in the library called Yizkor Books of the names of people of lost communities put together by the survivors.

We also saw an amazing exhibit on photography and the Holocaust called Flashes of Memory.

Like the National Libraries in Athens and in Naples, the National Library of Israel is our host in this country. We are committed to exploring this place with a camera. Hopefully, we can learn something about the essential nature of Israel through this national gem.

Our first tour is of the National Music and Sound Archive. It is an absolutely priceless collection that is focused on Israeli, Hebrew and Yiddish music and sound. The collection goes very deep and includes lots of old recordings and technology from the past. One surprising item was a record pressed into an old x-ray showing someone’s ribs.

I spent one cold morning photographing the construction site of the new National Library of Israel which should be completed in three years. The scale and ambition of this place was staggering.

As in the National Libraries of Greece and Italy, we are given an escort as we wander around the library. But as before, we are able to go pretty much where ever we wish.

National Library of Israel, Jerusalem

National Library of Israel, JerusalemNational Library of Israel, Jerusalem

Conservation Labs are always interesting because they have so much stuff. One surprising and disturbing display was of a young woman who had worked at the library and was killed in a suicide bomb attack a few years ago.

National Library of Israel, Jerusalem

The cartography department was amazing and we realize we could spend a whole day there and not run out of things to see. This is true of most of the library and we found ourselves having to pull out early from some departments because they were so full of interesting stories we would never leave the library.

National Library of Israel, Jerusalem