The Jewish Lens curriculum uses the art of photography to help young people connect intellectually and emotionally with Jewish community, values, and traditions. It’s specially designed for use with middle- and high-school students in day school, congregational school, and community settings.
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Using the Jewish Lens Curriculum
The Jewish Lens curriculum can be taught as a self-contained curriculum (offered, for example, as a semester-long elective) or integrated into other subject areas. You may choose to implement the full curriculum (or select units from the full curriculum), the more focused 4-session Mini Course, or stand-alone lessons and activities as appropriate to your needs and time constraints.
While the curriculum materials are designed primarily to examine Jewish values, community, and peoplehood, Ozeri’s photographs relate to a range of topic areas, including holidays, lifecycle, and Israel. Teachers over the years have incorporated The Jewish Lens into classes on Zionism, genealogy, world Jewry, Jewish values and the Hebrew language. We encourage you to make connections to relevant topics wherever possible, in order to help students place their learning in a broader context.
We hope you will make the curriculum your own, and we encourage you to work with the materials in whatever ways are most comfortable for you. You can follow the lesson plans as written or use them as a starting point from which to craft your own program. We only ask that you share your ideas with us so they can benefit all the teachers who use the curriculum.
Through their participation in The Jewish Lens curriculum, students:
explore values that are central to Judaism and investigate the diversity of the Jewish communities around the world
analyze Jewish texts and make connections with contemporary Jewish life
cultivate their visual literacy skills
develop beginning competence in the art of photography
Jewish Values, Community, and Peoplehood
The Jewish Lens curriculum uses the work of renowned photographer Zion Ozeri as a stimulus to investigate Jewish values, community, and other topics. Ozeri’s photographs capture the unity and diversity of the world Jewish community—reflecting the values and traditions that have defined Jewish existence across the globe for centuries. His work is a natural springboard for student explorations into these important topics.
Through student-centered activities, participants examine the role Jewish values play in connecting the diverse Jewish communities of the world and in defining their own communities. Students come to see photographs as rich documents of Jewish life and learn to make connections among these images, written texts, and Jewish practice. Students not only develop their skills in “reading” these photographic texts but ultimately create their own visual documents reflecting Jewish life and community.
Every day, our students are bombarded with visual stimulation—on the Internet, on TV and movie screens, even on their phones. How do we help them make sense of the images they see? How do we enable them to become critical consumers of visual culture?
One way is by slowing down their looking—getting students to think about the images they observe; the inferences, assumptions, and interpretations they make; the context and medium of the messages; and the author’s point of view.
Like written documents, photographs (and other visual media) can be thought of as “texts” to be read. And as is the case with written texts, one must first identify the surface meaning of an image in order to get at the deeper understandings and interpretations. This is similar to the difference between p’shat and drash in the study of traditional Jewish texts. The p’shat is the simple meaning of a text; drash refers to its interpretation. The ability to discern fact from interpretation and the ability to draw inferences based on what is observable are important skills that have relevance beyond the realm of the visual arts.
Written texts have always been central to Jewish life and Jewish education, and we’re certainly not suggesting that photographs are a replacement for traditional Jewish texts. Rather, photography is introduced as a complementary medium, enhancing students’ ongoing study of Jewish values, community, and text. Photography and other artistic modes have the power to shine new light on traditional sources and create rich opportunities for personal connection and expression. It is hoped that the materials in this packet will foster such connections for students.
Students may discover that the skills they have learned in connection with looking at images (for example, developing interpretations based on evidence and recognizing different perspectives) can also be applied to reading written texts. Ultimately, seeing the connection between text and image can help to illuminate both.
The Jewish Lens offers students a chance to consider and experiment with the formal elements of photography. Photography is an art form—a creative medium through which we communicate ideas, emotions, and experiences. Choice of subject matter is only one aspect of photography. Just as important are the choices a photographer makes about what details to include, what to leave out, what angle to shoot from, what kind of light to use, how to arrange the elements of the picture, etc. Once students have had a chance to explore these kinds of choices, they will be able to express themselves more creatively and thoughtfully.
Although students probably have experience taking pictures, the process of editing and critiquing their photography may be new to them. It is a skill that will enable them to take their work in all areas to the next level.
Because student photography is a fundamental component of The Jewish Lens program, your students will need access to cameras—ideally cameras they can use both at school and at home. Most of your students probably have cameras on their cell phones that are perfectly acceptable. Just make sure students are able to take pictures at a high enough resolution so that their images can be enlarged and printed for the culminating student exhibition. You’ll also want to have access to a digital projector or monitor so that you can view photographs together in the classroom.