|Lining up for a group picture in Old Jerusalem Rachel Banai|
When Teaneck photographer Rachel Banai told her Puffin Camera Club students that she was planning her annual trip to visit family at Kibbutz Samar, near Eilat, 11 of them asked to come along.
Banai was surprised, but pleased to have the opportunity to accomplish two aims: “I wanted to improve their photography but also to show them the side of Israel that usually people don’t see.”
The Jewish Standard found the Puffin Camera Club Grand Tour to Israel in grand spirits as they arrived for a night at a Finnish-run bed-and-breakfast northwest of Jerusalem during one leg of the early January trip.
“I thought it was a trip of a lifetime,” said Teaneck resident Gisela Schroeder, a four-year member of the club. She had brought along a Nikon D90 and a Canon S95, explaining that “you never go on a trip with just one camera.”
Banai introduced the group to her extended Samar family during five days at the kibbutz. Each of the participants, nine Jewish and two gentile, had seen Samar’s faces often in Banai’s photos, and now they were able to get acquainted with the people behind the faces.
“The goal was to offer them a grand tour to get to know the people of the south,” Banai said. “Our people had a chance to get to know the members of the kibbutz in their homes and with their children. You had to see them – they didn’t want to leave.”
Franklin Lakes resident Rachelle LaCava, who’d been to Israel 30 years ago, was fascinated by kibbutz life. “It’s hard to understand how you don’t have your own money, and you share everything – what a concept!”
Jane Dineen of Hackensack said the days at Samar with Banai presented “a rare opportunity to experience the culture of a country with a native of that country. Seeing the extent of communal life was extremely interesting.”
Banai planned additional stops of photographic and cultural significance. The group met with a Bedouin woman in the Negev who grows medicinal herbs; marveled at archeological wonders in Petra, Jordan; picked dates at a plantation; visited a lighthouse beach at Eilat; and experienced the Dead Sea, Masada, and Tel Aviv. They explored the natural crater Mitzpe Ramon, ancient copper mines at Timna, and Jerusalem’s Arab marketplace and Old City Jewish and Christian sites.
Their shutters clicked incessantly. Strolling along the Ben Yehuda pedestrian promenade in downtown Jerusalem one evening at dusk, Banai taught the group how best to use available light to take pictures after dark.
“I arranged a trip that would be geared to Jewish and non-Jewish people, not based on tourist places but mostly places to photograph,” she explained. She has been teaching the weekend photography classes for eight years, drawing 35 people from as far as Staten Island and Orangeburg, N.Y.
“I knew it could be very overwhelming for them, but I prepared carefully for this beautiful group of people who, until a while ago, had nothing in common but their interest in photography.”
To survive 10 days together, Banai invented a concept called “purple days,” a code name for times when participants might prefer to be alone. “I told them to say, ‘Today’s my purple day and I don’t feel up to being with the group.’ But nobody had a purple day.”
If anything, purple was just one of the spectacular hues they tried to capture digitally.
Harrington Park resident Rina Goldman remarked that she was highly attuned to light and color during the entire journey. “The mountains, in a matter of an hour, go through wonderful changes. The colors and striations reminded me of Colorado,” said the retired Teaneck High School special education teacher. “I loved the physical beauty of the desert.”
“I’m always seeing light and shadow,” remarked Barbara Jacoby of Teaneck. “On the kibbutz, I saw kids playing on the basketball court and asked if they’d mind if I photographed them, and I ended up taking a video of them on my cell phone to capture their movements.”
“We’re such a great group of talented men and women who enjoy photography,” concluded River Vale resident Debra Davidson. “Taking pictures together was fantastic.”