Borough Park, NY - The Shomrei Hachomos Chapel in Borough Park was filled with people who came to pay their respects to Yossi Melamed, the renowned photographer whose works captured events and personalities in modern day Jewish history in both New York and Israel. Melamed died last night at age 75, several months ago after falling at his Borough Park apartment and lapsing into a coma.
While Melamed, who began his career working for the Algemeiner Journal, photographed many gedolim including Reb Moshe Feinstein and the Satmar, Belzer, Munkatcher, Bobover and Gerrer Rebbes, there is no doubt that he will forever be remembered for the countless photographs he took of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
Melamed was born in Tel Aviv in 1937 and personally witnessed historical events unfolding before his very eyes, including seeing the wreckage of the cargo ship Altalena in 1946, following a violent battle between the Irgun and the newly created Israeli Defense Forces which left sixteen dead and countless others swimming to safety on the shores of Tel Aviv.
“These events shaped his life,” said Ezra Friedlander, CEO of The Friedlander Group, whose family had a long standing relationship with Melamed. “He had a very profound sense of history and what made him unique as a photographer was his ability to capture not just an image but also a strong sense of the atmosphere and what was actually transpiring at the time. In a sense, he wasn’t a photographer as much as photojournalist.”
Melamed’s camera lens recorded many significant events in both New York and Israel from visits of Israel’s chief rabbis to community events and even private simchas. The son of distinguished chasidic Polish immigrants to Israel, Melamed spoke a rich Yiddish and was fascinated by chasidus of all types. Ultimately it was 770 that drew him in and he soon developed a warm relationship with the Lubavitcher Rebbe. There were many occasions where Melamed was the only photographer in attendance including an audience with a room full of injured Israeli soliders, the Rebbe’s first farbrengen after suffering a heart attack and, most notably, the Rebbe’s audience with Menachem Begin in 1977.
“He never missed an opportunity to receive Kos Shel Bracha from the Rebbe with whom he had an extremely warm rapport,” said Friedlander, who recalled that Melamed was the photographer at his own Bar Mitzvah. “One time the Rebbe actually gestured to Yossi, indicating that he wanted to give Kos Shel Bracha to his camera lens. Dumbfounded, Yossi had no idea how to respond but he remembered chasidim all around him telling him in Hebrew to let the Rebbe give Kos Shel Bracha to the lens.”
In his later years, Melamed was a driver for a limousine service, but Melamed, a grandfather of five, will always be remembered for the legacy he left behind – thousands of pictures that provide priceless glimpses into moments of Jewish history.