And the Waters were a Wall
Project info

About the Jewish eruv of Amsterdam, a 75km long border mainly consisting of water.

As soon as my partner Richard Bank and I learned of the existence of an eruv in Amsterdam, we felt compelled to document it. The aim of this particular boundary is to allow the small orthodox Jewish community in Amsterdam to carry objects on the Sabbath, the day of rest. In line with the story in the Book of Exodus, when Moses parts the sea to rescue the Israelites, Jewish law says that water can serve as a boundary to demarcate an eruv.

Delving more deeply into the subject, we were transfixed by the image of water that had always flowed freely through the landscape, suddenly taking on a deeper significance when rabbis reassigned the landscape. The people who lay down boundaries have been doing this for centuries: drawing imaginary lines on a map, which you cannot see on the ground. We were moved by the time and effort that the rabbis had obviously put into creating this boundary, and the good will of the government bodies that had agreed to their highly unusual requests.

As well as feeling admiration, we were also intrigued: a boundary steeped in ancient, but largely unknown, tradition – with all the fictive and practical elements this entails. Photographing a 75-kilometre boundary felt like a treasure hunt: if you bow your head and look over the edge of the Amsterdam quays, you see micro-landscapes emerging before your eyes. And the dark water appears to rise up to form a wall.

Saskia Aukema: photography
Richard Bank: website (Dutch language only)
Commissioned by: the Amsterdam City Archives.