Sarah Goldblatt’s father, Yossi Melamed, was a huge admirer of the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory. So much so that he made a career out of taking pictures of the Jewish leader. Now, as the 18th anniversary of the Rebbe’s passing approaches, Melamed’s work – in 2010, the photographer, who passed away six weeks ago, sold 150,000 pictures to Jewish Educational Media – is on display in a 150-image exhibit called “770 Through Yossi’s Lens.”

The exhibit gets its name from the famous Brooklyn, N.Y., address of Lubavitch World Headquarters, 770 Eastern Parkway, the location from where the Rebbe influenced generations of Chasidim, college students, Israeli backpackers and more, presiding over a global revolution in Jewish life.

On display at 349 Albany Avenue are photos Melamed took of the Rebbe, his followers, and the many who came to him for advice and blessings from the mid-1970s through the early 1990s. The entire collection of more than 25,000 770-related photos is also available for perusal at kiosk stations. The exhibit, which was curated by a team of archivists and historians at JEM’s Living Archive, also includes a biographical section on Melamed’s work and selected non-Chabad photographs.

“They did an incredible job; it looks like a high-end gallery,” said Goldblatt, explaining that this is the first time the collection, which was her father’s pride and joy, is on display. “The way they hung it up, it’s almost like the pictures are jumping out at you.”

The archive team decided to display the photos up in conjunction with commemorations of the third day of the Hebrew month of Tammuz, the day on which the Rebbe passed away in 1994. This year, the anniversary begins the night of Friday, June 22.

“Here they will have the opportunity to connect and get closer to the Rebbe with these mostly never before seen pictures of the Rebbe,” said project manager Shloime Morosow.

He added that he hopes people come away with a connection to the photos and events presented, especially given the exhibit’s timing.

Taking the collection from a series of negatives to scanned and restored photos makes this fresh perspective of the Rebbe, 770 and the Chabad-Lubavitch movement accessible, and also helps preserve a unique era in Jewish history, he said.

This is JEM’s first exhibition of this sort, and Morosow said the feedback could foretell similar collections being opened up for public consumption.

“Our goal is to give the public an opportunity to connect to and get an idea of the spirit and vibe at 770 the way Yossi saw it,” he said of the current exhibit.

The exhibition, which opened Sunday, runs through July 1.
The exhibition, which opened Sunday, runs through July 1.

Goldblatt said she hopes people come away having seen her father’s dedication to the art.

“He didn’t take the picture like every other photographer,” she said. “He enjoyed the real life effect, not necessarily the pose. He had his own unique take on how to take a picture, so you look at his pictures and you want to say ‘What happened there? Does anybody know the story behind this picture?’ ”

Her father, an Israeli expatriate who lived in Brooklyn’s Borough Park neighborhood loved the Rebbe, she said, and loved being close to him and taking pictures of everything that he did. Going to the exhibit Sunday when it opened, Goldblatt said she felt her father was there among the images.

“I felt it was a tremendous tribute to my father and his work,” she said.

Admission to the exhibit, which runs until July 1, is free, and all small photos are available for order. Estimated review time is 20 to 30 minutes.

Rabbi Elkanah Shmotkin, JEM’s executive director, said that while many people study the Rebbe’s teachings, the visual display helps people connect in a popular medium of today.

“We live in a visual society,” he said, adding that this exhibition is part of the organization’s ongoing goal of providing access to all kinds of documentation. “It’s an opportunity to open a window, to view and experience in some way a life which is without parallel in our times.”

Since 2004, JEM has been building its archive, with a goal to “gather, restore, preserve, and provide access to its motion picture, audio, and photographic records” via its Living Archive Restoration and Preservation Project.

“With every passing year, we are seeing increased interest in learning from and about the Rebbe, and the recordings of his lifetime,” said Shmotkin.