For millennia, students have pored over the written word to study and reflect on Jewish life and values. Now almost everyone seems to have a digital camera, so why not use imagery to add a vivid dimension to those studies?
That was the thinking of Zion Ozeri six years ago when he founded Jewish Lens, a program to use photography to enhance the awareness of Israel, the Jewish community, and the environment.
The result of Ozeri’s insight can be sampled in the lobby of the Jewish Home at Rockleigh, where slices of Jewish life are depicted in photos by students in the Jewish Lens program at Solomon Schechter Day School of Bergen County and the Bergen County High School of Jewish studies.
There are somber scenes: Masada, a soldier’s grave. There are scenes from nature: trees, a dramatic skyscape. Scenes from Jewish life: a seder table. Each is accompanied by a bit of text, reflecting on the work.
“I hope to convey the beauty of nature and God’s power,” wrote Noah Pardes of BCHSJS to accompany his photo of a dramatic winter sky.
“This soldier, Ehud Goldwasser, fell defending our homeland, our Israel,” wrote Michal Karlin of Solomon Schechter, to accompany the photo of the soldier’s grave.
The interplay of words and images is key to the program, and the mixture “empowers students,” Ozeri said. “It asks what do you think, what do you feel?” he said in a telephone interview.
Although the digital revolution has made photography technically simpler for many, a photograph requires thought, Ozeri said. “We hone [the students’] ability to understand and think” before pressing the button.
The exhibit, titled “Through Our Eyes, a Reflection of Our Jewish Identity and Values,” was conceived by Leslie Teicher, a Solomon Schechter parent and former Jewish Lens educator at Manhattan Day School.
Teachers working with the program are Mashie Kopelowitz at Solomon Schechter and Margot Heda of BSHSJS. The exhibit was funded by Curt and Marion de Jonge of Fort Lee. It runs through the month.
Ozeri likened photography to a language. Text-based study sometimes doesn’t “grab students,” Ozeri said. “Photography is so accessible; everyone has a camera,” he said. “We should realize the power of the image.”
Jewish Lens provides the curriculum and teacher training, Ozeri said, and the not-for-profit organization relies on fundraising. The program has been used in 200 schools nationwide and 50 in Israel.
Ozeri described the curriculum as modular and flexible, so it can be used in day schools, supplementary schools, and community centers. “The students love it,” he said.
In the words of one of them, Josh Forman, an eighth-grader at Solomon Schechter, “For our trip to Israel, we took pictures of Jewish values, and in particular Jewish environmental issues. Jewish Lens helped me focus on the task. It is one thing to learn about Israel through books, but taking pictures is learning about Israel through Jewish eyes.”
The Israeli-born Ozeri has photographed Jewish life around the world – from South America to India to Eastern Europe to Central Asia. His work can be sampled at www.zionozeri.com.
He works to celebrate the “diversity of Jewish life, but also what is common to all of us,” he said.
For more photos, please visit the gallery, www.jstandard.com/photogallery.