A mother and her two daughthers buys flowers before the beginning of Shabbat on Kingston Avenue, Crown Heights, Brooklyn. October 2010.
A mother and her two daughthers buys flowers before the beginning of Shabbat on Kingston Avenue, Crown Heights, Brooklyn. Oct. 2010.Federica Valabrega
A mother and her two daughthers buys flowers before the beginning of Shabbat on Kingston Avenue, Crown Heights, Brooklyn. October 2010.
A crowded street on a Friday evening. Women rush home before the beginnig of Shabbat. Crown Heights, Brooklyn. October 2010.
Nuchie Zirkind and her daughter, Mushka, are lighting candles to welcome the angels of Shabbat into their house before the festivities begin. This is one of the most important mitzvot, duties, a Jewish woman must honor. Usually, mothers teach their daughters about this highly spiritual moment in which women can ask G-d for whatever they may choose for themselves and others. The teaching starts at three years old because, according to the Torah, this is the time when a child first begins consciously observing orthodox traditions and is capable of understanding the meaning of certain gestures.
A young lady prays right before havdala, the ending cerimony of Shabbat, which welcomes back the new week in a synagogue in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. June 2013.
A woman brushes her wig before a wedding celebration. Crown Heights, Brooklyn, February 2013.
It is said that during holy matrimony, the Shkhina or the spiritual force of God comes down under the Kuppa, the nuptial tent, and sits under the veil between the Kallah, wife, and the Katan, husband, infusing its energy between them. So, when husband and wife emerge from the nuptial ceremony, if they want to maintain their holiness, they place a covering of some sort on their heads. Crown Heights, Brooklyn. Feb. 2013.
Chaya Adelstein is 20 years old; she is the second daughter among five siblings. Today is her big day. Chaya’s story is an unusual one: Her parents were not originally religious; they were hippies, who, later in life, decided to “come back to religion.” Brooklyn, New York, October 2010.
Orthodox women cover their heads after marriage. Crown Heights, Brooklyn, July 2010.
Ayallah Greenberg is from Brooklyn, but she and works in Jerusalem, Israel where she helps women of her religious communities to deal with domestic abuse. Crown Heights, Brooklyn. October 2010.
During Purim, the Jewish carnival, inCrown Heights, Brooklyn, April 2013.
Women pray aroud the holy grave of the Lubavitch Rebbe Menechem Shneerson in Queens, New York. July 2011.
A young woman dresses up like an angle for Purim, the Jewish Carnival in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. February 2013.
The henna is a pre-nuptial cerimony celebrated in Moroccan or Yemenite families where the soon-to-be bride is dressed-up as a Queen with flowers and jewels and she is inivited to dance with her girl friends to say good-bye to celibacy and life as a single young girl. During the dance cerimony, the Kallah, the bride-to-be's hands and feet are painted with henne`, the red pouder from India. This welcomes fertility and happinesses within the marriage. Meah Shearim, Jerusalem, Israel. July 2012.
Little kids play outside their homes in the Jewish neighborhood of Hara Kbira in the Tunisian island of Djerba. September 2013.
“As long as you are in this world, your soul accompanies the drama of your life, yet its whole journey is to rewrite your story amid that drama until you remember who you truly are. You may not know it now, but your journey in life is to look for your Bat Melech, when you do, you connect to a bigger story,” Tamar Kimche, 10 Bet Meir, Israel, June 2012.
Mayan is a Dati Lumi, a conservative, Zionist Jew. She lives in a portable home in the mountains outside of Jerusalem, on land considered by many as occupied territory. But her children attend a co-ed school for Jews and Arabs in this territory. Tekoa, Israel, June 2012.
Mayan at her family's portable home in the mountains outside of Jerusalem, on land considered by many as occupied territory. Tekoa, Israel, June 2012.
Two sisters bathe in the Dead sea or what they like to call "their natural mikve," a purifing pool. Dead Sea, Israel, June 2012.
A mother and her two daughthers buys flowers before the beginning of Shabbat on Kingston Avenue, Crown Heights, Brooklyn

Federica Valabrega
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Finding Faith and Beauty in the Lives of Orthodox Jewish Women

Nov 26, 2014

“For some people, if you’re religious, you’re ugly,” says Federica Valabrega, an Italian photographer who for the past four years has been documenting Jewish women across the world. Her fascination with these “Daughters of the King,” as she calls them, comes from her own religious background. “My mother isn’t Jewish, but my dad is and so is his mother and all of his family. When I was born in Rome, the chief rabbi back in 1983 accepted to convert [to Judaism] kids from mixed [religious] marriages, so my sisters and I did it.”

While Valabrega was raised in a liberal, non-religious Jewish home, her fascination with her adopted religion grew over time. “I was attending a workshop with Magnum photographer David Alan Harvey in Brooklyn in 2010 when I started my 'Daughters of the King' project,” she says. “The workshop lasted one week, which meant that we had to shoot something during that time.”

Valabrega started walking the streets of Crown Heights in Brooklyn, and slowly, she met Jewish women of the Chabad Lubavitch community. “I really think I was lucky throughout the whole project,” she says. “I would stand at a corner of the street and meet people -- just like that. I think people quickly realized that I wasn’t judgmental. I was curious and humble.”

This humility is on display in Valabrega’s photographs, as her subjects are seen engaging in mundane activities that seem to explode what Valabrega considers the patriarchal clichés around orthodox families, and women in particular. “I don’t find these women to be fanatics. They are open-minded, even though they are attached to religion. For a lot of people, there’s something wrong with a woman who shaves her head as a sign of respect for her husband, but if you talk to that woman and photograph her in her everyday life, you realize that it’s a choice she’s made. You see her beauty come out.”

Since 2010, Valabrega’s project has expanded beyond Brooklyn to France, Morocco, Tunisia and Israel. In 2013, she published a book with Burn Books, David Alan Harvey’s imprint, but, she says, this doesn’t mark the end of the road for "Daughters of the King." The photographer plans to shoot in Poland and Russia, as well, creating a larger survey of what it means to be an Orthodox Jewish woman.

“As long as they continue to open the doors to their homes for me," she says, "I don’t see this work as finished.”

Federica Valabrega is an Italian freelance photographer based in New York City and Rome, Italy.

Mikko Takkunen, who edited this photo essay, is an Associate Photo Editor at TIME. Follow him on Twitter @photojournalism.

Olivier Laurent is the editor of TIME LightBox. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @olivierclaurent

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