Born in Israel to immigrants from Yemen, and currently living in New York City, Zion Ozeri is one of the world’s leading photographers exploring the Jewish experience. Zion is the founder and Artistic Director of The Jewish Lens (www.JewishLens.org). Zion can be reached at Zion@ZionOzeri.com
I never imagined how my long association with The Wexner Foundation would affect the work I do. As some of you may know I am a professional photographer focusing my lens on Jewish communities around the world, searching for a connection in a world that at times is impacted by exile and loss, trying to find a sense of home, familiar customs and shared experiences. As I was listening to many of the great Wexner scholars and the conversations that ensued, I realized that education was at the core of who we are, and also what will ultimately sustain us. The only problem I thought was that traditional Jewish learning, as a pure intellectual exercise, did not speak to all of us, especially to young adults.
The arts on the other hand, engage not only the cerebral but also the emotional. As the world is changing and the digital revolution is evident everywhere, new complexities of Jewish identity and social structures are being built around a different flow of information. Realizing the power and easy access to photography, thanks to the digital age, I thought that by using my photography as a tool in teaching Jewish values, identity and about our diverse Jewish world, it would lead to meaningful and more engaging learning. At the same time, I felt that students as well as adults should have a better and more critical understanding of the language of photography, so they could use the medium in a more coherent way to express themselves.
I had the opportunity to experiment with one school in California and the results were great beyond anything I expected. Following that, I decided to hire, a professional curriculum writer, Josh Feinberg, who had worked with museums and also had a deep knowledge of Jewish text. And so, The Jewish Lens curriculum and program was born as a dynamic, substantive and interactive program that uses photography as a stimulus for exploring Jewish values, identity and tradition.
Through the universal medium of photography, The Jewish Lens engages the next generation of Jews in an exploration of Jewish identity, values and peoplehood. Our theory and application to Jewish learning enables Jewish youth to see with their own eyes the wonder of Jewish life in its extraordinary diversity and unity. It also empowers them to reflect and craft, (using photography), their own narrative that links them to it. This culminates with a year end school exhibit that combines student’s photographs and text for the whole school community to see.
To date we have 135 schools in the United States, across the denominational spectrum, which have “adopted” The Jewish Lens curriculum. Of those, 85 are congregational schools, 32 are Day Schools and 18 use the curriculum in other settings including: summer camps, community outreach organizations, youth groups, Hebrew High Schools, and Resource Centers. The Jewish Lens has recently reached Israel with more than 40 schools implementing the curriculum and taking advantage of our resources to connect with Jews in North America – advancing the Jewish value of Klal Yisrael.
Based on the Jewish Lens platform and responding to demand, new educational tracks are now being added — Israel Education track for schools and another one for Israel bound trips such as Taglit and high school groups. This initiative is under development and is being supported through a grant from the ICenter. www.theicenter.org. In addition, “The Diversity Lens”, a curriculum & program for public & private schools was recently launched and is currently being piloted by NY City Department of Education & the JCRC.
The Jewish Lens (www.JewishLens.org) was once a dream, and it has become a reality.
For more information, please contact Rabbi Leor Sinai, 917-558-9021 or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org