J. Jay Garfinkel, "Heirlooms : Memory and Cherished Objects" (One Family Foundation, 2020)


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Everyone will lose someone they love at some point in their life; a spouse, a parent, or a child. Having to deal with the clothes or personal effects that remain can be a heartbreaking experience. It is a challenge: what is one to do with all the small and large items that made up the material life of the one who’s gone - store them in the attic? Discard them? Donate them to charity or call the junkman?

In his recently released book, Heirlooms: Memory and Cherished Objects, artist and writer Jay Garfinkel found another way. His unique book contains photographs of the personal effects of victims of terror attacks in Israel. He gave the families a way to preserve a piece of their legacy through a fine art photograph of their cherished object.

The subtitle of the book, Memory and Cherished Objects, was selected, says Garfinkel, because "the person we have lost will not make any new memories, so we need to create a space for them in our life. Heirlooms create a space where memory happens.”

The American-Israeli artist Jay Garfinkel tragically lost his son in middle age. His response was to create a dozen fine art photographs of his son's most treasured possessions that stirred memories. His exhibit-sized prints freed him to throw away everything else. It gave him some comfort. But real comfort came after he agreed to work with OneFamily, an Israeli NGO that assists families affected by terror and war. Over a period of 14 months, he met with 33 Israel families whose loved ones were murdered in terror attacks—and with their cooperation, he selected an object of the deceased, which he then documented as a still life photograph.

Heirlooms: Memory and Cherished Objects describes his journey meeting families of diverse religious and ethnic backgrounds in different parts of the country. Garfinkel recorded intimate conversations about love, loss, and finding one's equilibrium by helping others find their way.

Renee Garfinkel, Ph.D. is a psychologist, writer, Middle East television commentator and host of The New Books Network’s Van Leer Jerusalem Series on Ideas. Write her at r.garfinkel@yahoo.com.

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