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Getting the Picture

David Damen

For decades, Reb Moshe Gombo of Boro Park has been engaged in finding and preserving pictures of pre-war Jews. Whether a rare picture of a great Tzaddik surrounded by his chassidim in the streets of Warsaw or a chilling photo of a Rebbe minutes before being executed by the Nazis, Reb Moshe will go any distance to locate and purchase it. Although his collection is rarely open to the public, he gives Mishpacha readers an exclusive glimpse into the childhood hobby that has turned into a lifelong passion.

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

reb moshe gombo with picturesThere are two keys to Reb Moshe Gombo’s heart: a donation to his beloved pet project, Bayit Lepletot, a Jerusalem home of refuge for orphans and other disadvantaged girls, and offering a unique vintage photograph to add to his collection.

But in reality, you’d be better off settling for a donation to his organization, because it’s unlikely that you have a picture that’s not already part of his 50,000 picture collection — perhaps the largest private collection of Jewish portraits in the entire world. There is hardly a Jew of renown since the invention of the camera who does not already occupy a place of honor in Reb Moshe’s collection. Some photographs may be clearer and some more faded, but what can you expect to find in a collection as old as the individuals who appear in it?

For decades, day after day and picture after picture, Reb Moshe Gombo, a prominent member of the Boyan community in Boro Park, has been amassing his impressive collection, turning his home into a magnet for chassidic sects and other communities searching for a vintage photograph of their rebbe or rosh yeshivah. Individuals come as well, hoping to find a candid shot of their grandfather sprawled out on a bench in the alleyways of Charkov or leaning on his cane in the streets of Warsaw. In many instances, Reb Moshe even has the original photograph.

Unfortunately, Reb Moshe cannot allow others to sift through his treasures, because he has been burned more than once by visitors who generously helped themselves to some of his precious pictures. But in a rare move, Reb Moshe allowed me to view his full collection and to do as I pleased. Well, perhaps that is not the most accurate statement. In actuality, he expressed his willingness to “tour” his archives along with me, to share the background of his collection, and to offer a glimpse of his endless collection of photographs.

I couldn’t possibly peruse 50,000 pictures and still make it to the Seder on time, so Reb Moshe, who knows his pictures as well as he knows the back of his hand, volunteered to sort through his collections and to share some of his most fascinating specimens.



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