Israel Lens: The Many Faces of Israel

The Israel Lens is a unique method of looking at photographs as entry points into understanding Israeli history and culture. This session primarily uses photographs of people of Israel who came from various countries and periods in history and is an excellent program for a photography specialty.

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Immigration to Israel has taken place in many waves over time with several different groups of people including: a) Illegal immigration to Palestine before the creation of the Jewish State b) Immigration of Yemenite Jews c) Immigration of Ethiopian Jews d) Immigration of Soviet and Post-Soviet Jews e) Immigration from the B'nei Menashe community in India f) Immigration from North America
We can learn about the stories and emotions of these immigrants through pictures of their travels and arrival in Israel


Part One: Setting the Stage

  • Ask your campers about their own relationship to photographs:
    • 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?

Part Two: 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.

Part Three: Photographs from Around the World, in Israel

  • Pin or post the photographs provided and divide the campers in small groups of 2-3 people. (With younger kids, you may want to do this in a slightly larger group with a staff person).
  • Have the groups go around and all look at the photographs, deciding together which one they want to choose. Once they make their choice, have them sit for a while with their picture and talk about the subjective/ objective elements. What do they see in the photograph? What attracted them to it? When do they think it took place? Who do they think is in the photograph?
  • Pass out the explanation sheets for each photograph and have each group read it together and discuss it. What do they now see in the picture?
  • Bring the group back together with a staff person/educator. Have each group present their photograph, explaining what they learned both from the information sheet and from their observations. The staff person should also present a photograph if there's one that hasn't been talked about.
  • As a group, discuss:
    • Have you ever moved from one home to another? Did you need to leave your community?
    • Do you have family stories about people needing to move?
    • Almost all people who moved to Israel had to learn a new language and get used to a new culture, even a new way of dressing. What do you think that was like? What would you think was the hardest part?
    • Do you imagine it would be harder to do it as a young person, an adult, or an old person?


Variations in Format:

  • 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
  • If you have a camp newspaper, you can also ask campers to find people at camp who've had to move from one place to another, especially one country to another. This could even include Israelis who had to "move" to the United States for camp -- what challenges did they face? What do they think about people who made the big move to settle in a new country?

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Zion Ozeri