Framing Jewish Identity


At first glance, a photograph of a supermarket shelf full of vegetables, or one of a single tulip at the base of a tree in a snowy field would seem to have no Jewish content. To eighth-grade students at the Hebrew schools of Temple Isaiah in Stony Brook, L.I., and at the Park Avenue Synagogue, who took part last year in the Jewish Lens curriculum developed by Israeli-born photographer Zion Ozeri, the photographs are full of Jewish content.

Those photographs, and others on these pages, were taken as part of an assignment to capture an image of “seasons” — the symbolism of the change of seasons in Jewish thought. Paired with verses from Jewish scripture, and with photographs taken by students at Israeli schools with which the local schools — and scores more across the U.S. — were paired, the students’ work offered an unconventional way to explore Jewish identity.

Photography “can create an immediate connection between the students and the world that he is studying,” says Ozeri, who created The Jewish Lens in 2006 and earlier this year was named a recipient of a Covenant Foundation Award in the field of Jewish education.

Ozeri, an Israeli army tank commander in the Yom Kippur War, calls his photographic approach to Jewish tradition a means to give students “a language with which to express themselves.”

His project, which had received support from UJA-Federation and private donors, also includes a nonsectarian offshoot, Diversity Lens, which will resume this fall at a half-dozen area public schools.

Jewish Lens will expand in Israel this year, with the establishment of a bilingual “holistic and interactive platform,” established by the Israel Center for Educational Technology, which will make the project available to schools across the country.