Federica Valabrega

Photographer
Bat Melech
Biography: Bio: Federica was born in Rome, Italy in 1983, but spent most of her adult life between Boulder, Co., Washington, D.C. and since 2010 Brooklyn, New York. During a family trip to Peru in 2005, she picked up her father’s Minolta and spent... read on
Public Story
Bat Melech
Copyright federica valabrega 2021
Updated 10/27/10

"Bat Melech" or "Daughters of the King" is my long-time photography project on the women of G-d, the ones “who bare the children of the Torah,” the pillars of the Jewish traditions.

Bat Melech is a journey through the voices of orthodox Jewish women from Brooklyn to Jerusalem to Paris *(for now).

Bat Melech is a journey that started three years ago as a photography workshop assignment and turned into a self-discovery tale to find my voice as a Jewish woman through the nashamas of these religious women.

I do not choose the women I end up photographing. They choose me. It feels like a magnetic force attracts me to them and lets them open up to me as if they had been waiting for me all along. While it is mysteriously quite the opposite.

Every encounter, every chat, every photo shoot, is a chance for me to challenge myself in the face of their belief and see where my soul ends and where theirs begins.

This magnetism is my way inside the Torah. These women have not only lent me their stories, they have also opened my heart to my own spirituality showing me what it means to be a real "Bat Melech" above and beyond the limits of religion. 

Since I was a little girl I have always been curious why Jewish women have to pray separately from the men. Having to look down while the men read and carried the Torah around the temple often made me feel as an external presence in this spiritual experience.

Why are women not 'called up' to the Teva`? Why are they to braid the Challah and why are they the ones who have to light the candles on Shabbat, but they cannot be more involved in the tradition of Jewish learning?

Are those differences a big enough reason to consider Orthodox Jewish women inferior to their husbands?

For years I left those questions unanswered. I rebelled against my Jewish roots because I feared the answered I was going to get were never going to convince me that it was right for women to be considered different than men.

Having moved to Brooklyn, where every other person I meet around is an Orthodox Jew, I felt compelled to explore the Jewish woman identity further. And what better way to do so if not by getting to know orthodox Jewish women, share their stories of spiritual growth and photograph them? After two years I was photographing religious women in Brooklyn, I decided my project needed more depth. It necessitated more variety, so I raised money via kickstarter and left for Israel because I wanted to see beyond the diaspora religious Jews. I wanted to go to "the source" of their spiritual growth.  There I spent four months getting lost among all sorts of Orthodox Jewish communities, more than I ever imagined existed gathering stories, photos, and spiritual wisdom. 

Israel brought my photography project to a whole different level. But I still felt I need to look more. So, on  my back back to New York City, I stopped in Paris to visit with the Sefardi and Mizrahi Jewish women and I felt in love with the community of Gerbian women, Tunisian Jews who came across the sea to France to find independence, to learn how to read and write and to become free from their "house-wives identity."

The idea was always be the one of spending time with these women in their homes, praying with them, and getting closer to their spiritual beauty so to show, using photographs of daily chores, prayers and touchy every-day-life moments, what being a woman in the Jewish Orthodox faith actually means. Behind my camera lens I have tried to show if there was really a need for others to judge these women as inferior to their husbands or if this belief was only mere imagination.

In these years of research, I have only noticed that these Orthodox women are not at all inferior; they  are “machines” oiled to perfection. They are the “pillars of a secular tradition” of incredibly rigorous laws and regulations (inside and outside the synagogue) that today stand by only thanks to them who teach them to their children and their children’s children…They feed a family of 13 while finding time to have a full-time job and sometimes even go for a jog in the park. 

According to Kabbala women do not have to pray because they have G-d built into them. While men have to be reminded of his presence three times a day when they are called to prayer. Women sit separately from the men in the synagogue because this way they are closer to G-d above them.  Still, according to Kabbala, when moshiach comes, the world will run according to the feminine presence, the malchus. 

Although I have started my photography project here in Brooklyn, and carried it to Israel and Paris, I intend to publish a book on the topic soon and for this I feel the need to carry it on world-wide.  My next step will be Gerba, Tunisia in May and then Casablanca, Morocco in June. And who knows Russia, Poland or Hungary next?

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