Israel Lens: Current Events in Israel

The Israel Lens is a unique method of looking at photographs as entry points into understanding Israeli history and collection. This session primarily uses photographs of current events in Israeli politics.

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Core Learnings: 

On August 15, 2005, tens of thousands of unarmed soldiers dismantled settlements in the Gaza Strip.
Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, was captured by Hamas militants in 2006. Five years later, on October 18, 2011, Israelis celebrated his safe arrival home.
Woodley Elysee is a young Haitian boy who was born with multiple fatal heart defects. He was brought to Israel by the aid mission and Israeli humanitarian organization Save A Child's Heart for life-saving open heart surgery.


Step 1: Introducing the Technique

  • Start by engaging your campers in the topic of the importance of photography in their lives. You can ask them questions like:
    • Do they like taking pictures?
    • Do they find that photographs properly "tell" the story of what happened?
    • Have they had the experience of someone seeing one of their pictures and seeing things in the photograph that they as the photographer hadn't seen?

Step 2: Honorable Discharge

  • Split campers in small groups of 10-12. Show them the photograph Honorable Discharge.
  • Ask the campers to take a few minutes to write down 10 observations about the photograph: 5 objective observations and 5 subjective observations.
  • Explain that an objective observation is something that doesn't change from person to person – it is something you can all agree on. For example, there are two men in the photograph, the photograph is in black and white, etc.
  • Explain that a subjective observation is an opinion, a feeling, or an interpretation based on what you see. Such as, “it reminds me of the time I did x”, or, “I think that man might feel sad,” or “I think he looks poor.”
  • Ask for the campers to share their observations -- be sure to point out when someone makes a subjective observation instead of an objective one.
  • Next, have the campers share their subjective observations. Ask the campers:
    • What do you think the photographer was trying to capture with this photograph? Why?
    • What do you think this picture is actually of – what historic event is it actually documenting?
  • Explain that the photograph was taken by an Israeli photographer named Zion Ozeri and share with the campers the title and story of the photograph:

Honorable Discharge, Ben-Gurion Airport, Israel, 1992

Look at the expression on this man's face. How would you describe it -- fear, sadness, confusion, joy? He has just arrived in Israel from the former Soviet Union. Under communism, Soviet Jews were not allowed to practice their religion openly and were often denied the right to immigrate to the U.S. or Israel. But after Gorbachev (the Soviet president) opened the doors to emigration in 1989, hundreds of thousands of Jews from the former Soviet Union flocked to Israel, with the help of Jews around the world.

These immigrants often arrived with very little and faced many challenges in their new homes. But the man in this picture had brought something very precious with him: the military medals he wears with pride. They serve as a reminder of his previous life, of the risks he took fighting for his country. They might not mean much in his new life in Israel, but these medals clearly have a very personal significance to him.

The photographer, Zion Ozeri, explains: "I call it honorable discharge. He was obviously discharged from the Russian army. And many Jews, by the way, either sacrificed their lives or fought heroically during World War II... I always look for the image that would define the moment. I sort of saw it in his face... You see the flag, you see EL-AL, and that look."

  • Ask the campers:
    • Have you ever heard of the phrase, “A picture’s worth a thousand words?” When someone uses that phrase, what do you think they mean?
    • Do you see how Zion Ozeri constructed this photograph to tell a powerful story?
  • Note: The idea that we are trying to reveal is that photographs or other primary sources are less important as objective fact pieces, and more important as vehicles for stories and connection. Every photograph is created with a certain degree of intention: the photographer picked the angles, set-up, subjects, and finally, to release the photograph. As a viewer, we see the photographs through the lens of our own experiences with the elements in the photograph.

Step 3: Photographs from Moments in Recent History

  • Split the campers into small groups and ask them to choose from one of the pictures that we provided (printed on cardstock). All of the photos are depicting events from within the last twenty years.
  • Once the groups have selected their cardstock photo, hand them a packet that includes all the photos with contextual information about each. Groups should also take an envelope consisting of different possible captions for the photo.
  • Instruct the groups to spend 5-10 minutes looking at the cardstock photo, reading the contextual information about it, and picking a caption to go with the photo.
  • Come back together and share.
  • During the sharing, have each group describe why they chose their picture, what they saw in the photograph and why the chose the caption they chose.

Step 4: Wrap-Up

  • Explain to the campers: photographs or other primary sources are less important as objective fact pieces, and more important as vehicles for stories and connection.
  • Reinforce the idea that in storytelling, especially Israel storytelling, there is no such thing as objectivity; and, in fact, there is power in embracing and owning your own personal, subjective story.
  • Every photograph is created with a certain degree of intention: the photographer picked the angles, set-up, subjects, and finally, to release the photograph.
  • As a viewer, we see the photographs through the lens of our own experiences with the elements in the photograph.


Variations in Content:

  • The entire second part of this activity (after looking at the Honorable Discharge photograph) can also be done with other collections of photographs. Ask your Israelis on staff, or Americans, if they have photographs that particularly speak to them about events in recent Israeli history. Keep in mind the type of story that the photograph is telling and make sure it is appropriate!
  • You can also do this activity with photographs from other periods in Israeli history.

Variations in Format:

  • If your campers are really into storytelling, let them construct stories for the people in the photographs, imagine lives for them out of the flat black-and-white images. When they imagine these stories, they are engaging more fully in the photograph and analyzing it more closely. They are also putting themselves into the story of Israeli history: how would they have felt in that moment, in that time?
  • If your campers have already done the subjective/objective exercise, you can try another introduction to the photographs, or just refer to that program before starting with the new pictures.
  • If you are doing this activity through a photography class at camp, there are many follow-up activities that you can create, including having campers:
    • Take self portraits
    • Take pictures of Israeli symbols or elements of camp and bring them back to discuss

Background Cards: 

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Zion Ozeri


Israel through a Lens

Interesting idea. Maybe we could do something with photos of our Israeli staff too?

Israel through a lens feedback

Really like the idea.  

Think that perhaps there is a way to also show the more mundane parts of the Israeli life experience...that way they could compare and contrast a bar/bat mitzvah photo of their own with the one from Israel... how WHERE you are makes a difference... does it feel more "something" with the background being massada or the local banquet hall.  this way perhaps connecting Israel to the Jewish piece.

Also like the idea with other senses besides sight (photography)- perhaps a recording of an event in history, or people speaking about something what do you hear.. what can you infer, 

Even using smells from Israel; falafel, spices, see if they invoke "feelings" 




Esther Katz's picture

The Early Lens

I have always loved the idea of using photos.

Show how you can crop photos differently to show a different picture/different effect.

How to tell a story through photos

Would love to use a whole host of pics of immigrants-

Also, if we could get photos of people/places in Israel "then" and "now"- that could lead to great discussions. What has changed? What has remained the same? etc...

Bringing the pictures to life

Many of the photos are incredibly dramatic .An idea that will add to the ability to empathize with the characters. The Photo can be superimposed with real life characters. Have the campers dress up like those in the photo ,if possible have it screened as an overhead and have your camprs walk out of the photo. As preparation the campers can receive additional backgrond materials to enable them to role play the person they are representing. Posing as a still and then walking out of the photo will add drama, it is a nice technique .