The Faces of War From Israel to Africa

If Steven Spielberg’s “Munich” has shown that even Israeli commandos, some of the most battle-hardened warriors on the planet, ruminate over their roles, photographer Rachel Papo, a former member of the Israel Defense Forces, demonstrates in a new exhibition of her photographs that such pensiveness is not limited to male soldiers. Papo’s show, “Serial No. 3817131,” opens at the Paul Kopeikin Gallery on March 18 and focuses on young Israeli women in uniform.

These are women of all ethnic backgrounds — light-skinned Ashkenazis, as well as Sephardics hailing from Arab countries and East Africa. Some wear spectacles, others retain youthful red splotches on their faces, yet they all don the green attire of the military in their caps, shirts, sweaters and jackets. Even their jerrycans, or canteens, are green. But the women are not.

True, there is one freckle-faced, blue-eyed redhead, her body curled toward the camera, her hands cupped in the manner of a cat relaxing its paws. With an innocent yet seductive smile on her feline features, she almost seems to purr. Yet, like all the other women, she has an M-16 slung over her shoulder.

Another young soldier named Dana, her name painted on a door, smokes a cigarette, dangling it in a pose reminiscent of James Dean. Her curly russet locks, almost as long as Rapunzel’s, come down close to her waist in the illuminated portion of the photo on the right side of the frame. On the left, there is an arbor, completely dark except for a light in the distance, while in front of Dana the cigarette ashes merge indecipherably with wood scraps on the ground. A tall, spindly wooden pole frames the left side of the picture at an angle, while the green door to the right is also askew. Only Dana, in the middle, seems balanced.

Papo, in a phone call from Brooklyn, says that the point of her exhibition is “to show a side about the Israeli military that is less obvious and not about politics, but about the human condition.”

When Papo was in the military back in the late 1980s and early 1990s she was depressed.

“You’re 18 years old, and you have dreams and friends and boyfriends, and that is totally cut off and restricted,” she says, adding that in the military, “You sleep where you don’t want to sleep and eat what you don’t want to eat.”

The response she has gotten to her photos has been quite emotional, particularly from women. Many Americans, male and female, have told Papo that they were not aware that military service is mandatory for women in Israel.

If they had any doubt, there is a photo of two soldiers, standing almost at attention several yards apart, as if on guard duty. Their faces obscured by the brim of their caps, they bow slightly so they can read the Torah. We are reminded that this is a Jewish state, and that, with rare exception, even the religious must serve in the military.

“Serial No. 3817131” opens Saturday, March 18, at the Paul Kopeikin Gallery. Reception from 6-8 p.m. on March 18. The exhibition runs through April 15. 6150 Wilshire Blvd., just west of Fairfax Avenue, (323) 937-0765.

The women of Darfur do almost everything except serve as soldiers. According to Ron Haviv, a war photographer who first made his name in 1989 when he photographed a Noriega rival being tortured in the streets of Panama, the African women in the Sudan farm, gather food, collect firewood and take care of the children. In venturing out for firewood, a journey often lasting several days, they risk being raped. If the men go out, they will be murdered.

Haviv’s exhibition, “The Children of Darfur,” opening at UCLA Hillel on March 12, was commissioned by UNICEF to document the plight of children in a part of the world plagued not only by drought, malnutrition and infectious disease, but also genocide. Arab militias, known as janjaweed, have killed thousands and displaced more than a million Darfurians, roughly half of them children under 18, Haviv says.

One photo reveals only the right eye of a young girl who is telling Haviv that she has been raped; the rest of her body and face is occluded by a striped scarf and the cropping of the photo. This shattered image reflects how much she has lost.

In an interview in a Hancock Park office, the photographer explains that the girl is 12 years old. He utters these words softly, with a great deal of restraint.

His garb is eclectic — a faded Chicago Cubs baseball cap, an old black vest and a green scarf so discolored and battered it looks as if it has been riddled with bullets; the image is fitting, since Haviv says he has been shot at more times than he can remember. He says that he has been jailed on several occasions, beaten by captors, and even put on a death list by a Bosnian Serb warlord.

Yet despite the harshness of his life, he uses a warm, red filter in many of his images of these young African women and boys living in internal displaced persons (IDP) camps. One striking girl holds the cap to a bottle in her hand. Statuesque and beautiful, with a pink abaya (scarf) wrapped around her body and head, she has just gotten water at an IDP camp. Her huge, black eyes stand out amidst the blurry background.

Haviv, 40, is part of a group of war photographers known as Seven, based on the original membership of seven photojournalists who formed the unit within days of Sept. 11. He says he learned from his work in Panama in the late 1980s that photography can play a role in “the process.” He bemoans the clich├ęs of politicians who proclaimed, “Never Again,” after the Rwanda genocide 12 years ago. He hopes that students in high school and college come to see his exhibition. “As they move into positions of power, they can help and confront and influence policy whether in government or business.”

Photography, he says, “remains as a piece of evidence, a document, a historical record” for holding people accountable. “No one can say that they didn’t know.”

“The Children of Darfur” will be exhibited at UCLA Hillel from March 12 to April 23. Reception March 12, 4-6 p.m. 574 Hilgard Ave., (310) 208-3081.

Haviv and four of his colleagues from Seven also traveled with members of Doctors Without Borders to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), another African republic at war. The result is a group show opening March 16 at the Stephen Cohen Gallery titled, “Democratic Republic of Congo: Forgotten War,” featuring photos from the five photojournalists of the victims of the largely invisible and unknown war taking place in the DRC, known formerly as Zaire. Haviv, who conceived the project, notes that “more people are dying in the DRC than at any time since World War II. Almost 4 million people have died in seven years.” He says that translates presently into about 38,000 deaths per month from hunger, AIDS and other diseases, as well as bullets — despite what he calls “the largest U.N. peacekeeping effort” in the world.

Haviv believes that where Darfur’s problems could be ameliorated by economic sanctions against the Sudanese, who would be forced to stop aiding the janjaweed, the Congo’s situation is much more complicated. For one, militias from all over the region have entered the Congo to fight for gold and other minerals. Secondly, AIDS, not a major factor in Darfur, has decimated the Congolese. A black-and-white picture by Antonin Kratochil shows the emptiness in the wide pupils of a woman living with the disease. Her dark eyes blend in with her skin and form an abyss of despair.

A number of photos that are both starker and bleaker than the Darfur images show the scourge of AIDS and of the sex trade. Many are shot in black and white, without the warm, red filters used for Haviv’s other project, though there is one color photo by Joachim Ladefoged, a Seven photographer, that recalls Haviv’s image of the raped Darfurian girl — this one shows only the right side of a 25-year-old sex worker’s face, visible through a gauzy, green curtain behind which she services men. It, like the other photos, reveals the hidden and hopeless nature of this war.

Still, as Beverly Feldman, who along with Haviv organized the exhibition for the gallery, says, “The body of work is not a group of horrific photos. It’s not full of decapitated bodies. It’s disease and neglect, other kinds of man’s inhumanity” that is on display in these photos.

Feldman was particularly drawn to this project because “not a lot of attention has been paid” to the Congo and its “particular blight on the face of Africa.”

“It’s such an unknown, forgotten place, that its [lack of attention] is very insidious.”

“Democratic Republic of Congo: Forgotten War” opens at the Stephen Cohen Gallery on March 16. Reception on April 6 from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. with a talk by photographer Ron Haviv and Doctors Without Borders at 7 p.m. Exhibition runs through May 6. 7358 Beverly Blvd. (323) 937-5525.


Crossing the Line

In addition to the usual bathing suits, socks and shorts, as suggested by Camp Hess Kramer on its inventory list, my daughter, Samantha, needed an orange sweat shirt with blue (preferably royal) lettering spelling out the words “Leadership ’97” on the front and her name on the back. Right away, I could foresee trouble.

Leadership is a big deal at Wilshire Boulevard Temple camps, which, after 45 years and 50,000 campers, are a big part of Los Angeles Jewish life. For those 1,100 campers who will attend either Hess Kramer or its sister, Gindling Hilltop, this summer, Leadership walks on hallowed ground. Coming a stage before CIT, two steps below counselor, Leadership is the crowning achievement of camper life; part in-crowd, part initiation into real authority.

“We sit with Administration!!!” Samantha reminded me, nervously. Or, as Howard Kaplan, camp director, wrote Samantha last February in his letter of congratulations: “You become the bearer of a tradition at Camp Hess Kramer, and you become a role model for hundreds of younger campers who look up to you.”

Mostly, it’s a lot of fun, marked by a three-day hike, lots of singing, cheering and in-jokes, and, of course, the distinguishing sweat shirt, a form of group of cohesion. It all adds up to what most Leadership alumni still recognize as “the time of their lives.”

“It comes at exactly the right moment, when they’re most idealistic,” Steve Breuer, executive director of Wilshire Boulevard Temple, told me. He created the Leadership program when he was camp director a generation ago. “But because campers expect it to be wonderful, it is.”

As a parent, I say it’s wonderful for me too. Jewish summer camp is a 20th-century American innovation, and not enough can be said in its favor. Through camp life, we see contemporary Judaism in its three eternal verities: Zionism, spiritual effusion, American idealism. Camp builds all three into our children, hora and all, and, if this is indoctrination, it works. There’s a suggestion that Jewish camps begin an Israel component, taking high school juniors to visit the Jewish state. Let me lobby strongly for this worthwhile idea. In addition to locking in Jewish values, camp may provide the only positive Jewish experience, and the only Jewish community, a child ever knows. Camp administrators would be more than great tour guides; they’d know how to make the Zionistic link explicit.

Certainly, if they could bottle camp, and the feelings of purpose and joy a happy camper brings into my family life, I’d be the first to buy.

As for Leadership ’97, my daughter has been looking forward to this special summer since her first 10- day session at Hess Kramer seven years ago. From the very beginning, camp has been the True North; its songs, rituals and values provide the markers of real life, making much of what we do at home seem like filling time.

That is to say, if Howard Kaplan and Craig Marantz, God’s surrogate as Leadership Unit Leader, want orange-and-blue sweat shirts this summer, well, who are we to judge?

A week before camp’s opening day, we began the search. Let me tell you, sweat shirts come in 3,000 shades of gold, yellow, peach and red. Likewise, there are 12 brands of orange T-shirts — long sleeves, short sleeves, T-shirts with blue logos (Nike, Russell Athletic, Ralph Lauren). We’ve gone from Oshman’s to Macy’s to Sportmart: In all Los Angeles, not one sweat shirt in naranja.

We were dismayed but resolute. Having failed at finding the perfect orange sweat shirt, we would make one ourselves. What could there be to it?

“We’ll dye a white one,” I said, as if coloring apparel is an everyday affair in my home. But after visiting a dozen stores, and finding dyes mostly in black and brown, I was turning pale.

“Do you think we can use food coloring?” I asked the checkout clerk at Vons. I described my plan to mix 12 drops of red with 24 drops of yellow. An elderly gentleman shook his head.

“A sweat shirt is not a hard-boiled egg,” he said.

And, so, we kept searching store to store until, the day before she was to leave for camp, we came upon a bottle of RIT labeled “Tangerine” in a market close to home.

“That’s it!” said Samantha.

“It’s Tangerine,” I said.

“It will be orange enough for me.”

We still had to acquire the letters, royal blue. The House of Fabrics had a white iron- on cut-out alphabet, or large pieces of blue iron-on felt — no pre-cut letters in blue.

So we bought white letters and royal blue paint and stayed up all night, coloring every single character of “Leadership ’97.”

In a wild, manic way, it turned out to be fun. The camp officials, in their wisdom, had not sent us on a wild-goose chase after all. The sweat shirt was simply a form of karma yoga, forging spirit and responsibility in campers by purposely making them (and their parents) create the sweat shirts themselves.

Then the big day was upon us, and we packed the orange/tangerine sweat shirt, bathing suits and all into the car.

I drove my daughter up to camp; Samantha ran to Craig Marantz as if he were a long-lost cousin. I could only stand and stare.

“Your sweat shirt!” I said to Craig. “Why is your sweat shirt red?” Moreover, why was his lettering in white?

“Didn’t anyone tell you?” he asked benignly. “The parents all complained, so they changed the color to red.”

My face, in the car mirror, was a perfect orange.

Marlene Adler Marks is editor-at-large of The Jewish Journal. Her e-mail address is

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Read a previous week’s column by Marlene Adler Marks:

July 18, 1997 — News of Our Own

July 11, 1997 — Celluloid Heroes

July 4, 1997 — Meet the Seekowitzes

June 27, 1997 — The Facts of Life

June 20, 1997 — Reality Bites

June 13, 1997 — The Family Man