Baltimore residents help put Orthodox women back in the picture

Miriam Marazin during her photoshoot
Miriam Marizan during her photoshoot (Dina Brookmyer)

A practice in some religious Jewish communities of removing women from photographs is facing pushback from the nonprofit Chochmat Nashim and its Jewish Life Photo Bank project, which aims to put Orthodox women back in the picture.

“It’s basically an initiative to make a database of stock photos of frum women doing ordinary, everyday things, because such a thing before this point did not exist,” said Miriam Marizan, a Baltimore resident who was photographed for the photo bank. “You’d go on the internet and you’d search for religious Jewish woman baking a cake, working out, conversing about serious matters, and you’d get a lot of Christian women, you’d get some Muslims, Hindu women, you’d get some frum religious men.

“You wouldn’t really see a lot of Jewish religious women in photos,” continued Marizan, a resident of Summit Park and member of Bais Dovid. “So this was an effort to change that.”

According to Marizan, the photo bank project was started by Shoshanna Keats Jaskoll, co-founder and director of Chochmat Nashim.

From left: Shoshanna Keats Jaskoll and Yona Openden
From left: Shoshanna Keats Jaskoll and Yona Openden (Courtesy of Yona Openden)

The idea came about when a publisher approached Chochmat Nashim with a request for photos. The publisher had wanted to use images of Orthodox Jewish women but found that their options were extremely limited, said Yona Openden, a Pikesville-based attorney who volunteered to help coordinate the project’s photoshoots in the Baltimore area.

“That kind of was the brainchild for this photo bank idea,” said Openden, a member of Suburban Orthodox Congregation Toras Chaim. “If there are folks out there who actually do want to do this, let’s give some really good content and appropriate pictures that they can use.”

So far, The Times of Israel, The Jewish Press and The Jewish Chronicle in the United Kingdom have all subscribed to the photo bank, said Openden in a text message.

The practice of removing women from photographs comes from an interpretation of tzniut, or modesty, that is common in certain communities, Openden explained.

“There’s been this ongoing concern about the lack of visual representation of Orthodox female role models in publications that seem to subscribe to this notion that images of women are inherently, to some degree, inappropriate, or not tzniut,” Openden said. “And when you look back at the halachah, it’s a pretty strong argument to make that the image of a female is not inherently not tzniut.”

In a text message, Marizan added that it is the obligation of a man to control his own thoughts.

“If he believes he is unable to while looking at an immodest woman, then it’s on him to look away,” Marizan said. “He has no right to force the woman to comply with his standards.”

Miriam Marizan with her daughter
Miriam Marizan with her daughter (Talya Miller)

Marizan first heard about the project on Facebook and signed up after learning there would be a photoshoot in Baltimore, she said.

Her photoshoot was on Nov. 7. As she is an avid gardener, Marizan chose a gardening setting, bringing her own props to use such as a trowel, a watering can and tulip bulbs.

“A lot of these publications will say, ‘Oh, we made this decision because of extremist Jews who make up a large customer base,’ they don’t want to lose their money,” Marizan said. “That’s well and good for them, but for women, we’re going to be slowly disappearing if we don’t do something to stop that.”

Marizan hopes that this photo bank of religious women doing everyday activities will help inspire younger generations, including her own two daughters.

“We just need images of us everywhere, to make sure that we can show our children that we’re here, we exist; there are actual images of us, of religious women, that young religious girls can look up to,” Marizan said. “That was one of my motivations.”

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