Unit III. Exploring Peoplehood and Community - Lesson 14: Documenting your community



50 minutes


White paper and markers, crayons, or colored pencils
Worksheet V: Photography Checklist
Subject Release Form


Before this session, you will need to decide how best to frame the photography project for your students. See below for suggestions.


In this lesson, students explore the meaning of community and begin to take photographs that depict their own communities.

Big Idea:

Through their own photographs, students can reflect the values, customs, and traditions of their local communities.

Introduction (5 minutes):

  1. Hand out a sheet of paper and markers, crayons, or colored pencils to each student.
  2. Ask each student to take a few minutes to draw a picture or diagram that shows “you in relation to your community.”


The Meaning of Community (15 minutes):

  1. Have some students share their drawings and explain what they signify.
  2. In Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers), the great sage Hillel said, “Don’t separate yourself from the community.”
    • What is your community?
    • Are you part of more than one community?
    • What makes a community? What is the role of community?
    • Why shouldn’t you “separate yourself from the community”?
    • What might be the effects of separating yourself from the community?


Introduce the Community Photography Project (30 minutes):

You might decide ahead of time which community or communities you want your students to photograph (for example, the school community, the synagogue community, the local Jewish community, the neighborhood community, etc.). Or you can raise this question with the students and have them discuss it.

  1. Remind students that Zion Ozeri’s photographs depict the Jewish values that connect diverse Jewish communities around the world but that they also reflect the uniqueness of each of these communities. Explain that now, after having studied Ozeri’s photographs, explored the concept of values, and discussed the meaning of community, students will turn their cameras on themselves and their own community. They will be taking pictures that reveal the values and uniqueness of their community.
  2. Based on your curriculum, your students’ interests, time constraints, and other needs, you will need to decide how best to frame the assignment for your students. Here are some suggestions:
    • Have each student choose one value from the class’s list to depict in a photograph. Students must consider not only what value to present in their work but how best to communicate it through the photographic medium. How will students capture abstract concepts in concrete images? How will they use the formal elements of photography to create a narrative, convey an idea, or evoke an emotion? How can they express the uniqueness of their individual community while reflecting the universality of its values?
      Discuss with students the people, places, events, or institutions in their community they could look to for examples of these Jewish values in practice. For example, tzedakah or g’milut hasadim could be depicted in a photo of volunteers at a synagogue homeless shelter, caring for the sick or elderly could be photographed at an old-age home, and the teachers and students at school would provide many opportunities for expressing the value of Talmud Torah. Images of values can also be literary, symbolic, or metaphorical; students might, for example, be inspired by some of the texts they’ve studied. Point out that some of Ozeri’s photos are candid and others are posed; some are portraits and some are landscapes. Students can similarly choose from a range of styles and approaches in their work.
    • Have students investigate their community by interviewing and photographing people who play important roles in the community—from community leaders to individuals who contribute in smaller, but equally important, ways. The values of the community will be reflected in the photos they take.
    • Have students explore the history and development of their school or synagogue community by interviewing and photographing elders and leaders of the community. Excerpts from the interviews (along with the photographs) can become part of a student exhibition.
    • Have students document a community-wide event, such as a rally, a memorial, or a holiday celebration.
    • Have students set out with a more general task—simply to capture the “essence” of their community. Afterward, they can go back and identify the values reflected in the photos, as they did with Zion Ozeri’s work.
    • Have your students engage in a social-action project (reflecting some of the key values they’ve identified) and record their activities by photographing the project.
    • Link the students’ photography project to curriculum areas being covered in their other studies. If, for example, the curriculum covers prayer, Israel, or tzedakah, have students take photographs that reflect the role these play within the community.
    • The students’ photography does not need to be confined to reflecting the positive values in their community. Some photographers have used their cameras to show us what is wrong with the world. They hope their images will inspire people to action—to tikkun olam (fixing the world). In his book How the Other Half Lives, photographer Jacob Riis shed light on the horrible living conditions of immigrants on New York’s Lower East Side at the beginning of the 20th century. Similarly, Ben Shahn, Dorothea Lange, Walker Evans, and many others documented conditions in rural America during the Great Depression as photographers for the Farm Security Administration. In order to justify and support the government’s “New Deal” social service programs of the 1930s, these photographers recorded the suffering endured by ordinary Americans.
      Share the work of these photographers with your students and discuss the role photography can play in social change. Then have students seek out and photograph aspects of their community that they believe are in need of change.
  3. Before students set out to take their photos, remind them to think about what makes an interesting photograph. They’ll need to consider who or what the subjects will be, whether to pose the subjects or take a candid shot, how to make the composition interesting, how to capture the specific moods they want, how to frame the shot, what angle to shoot from, etc. Students should feel free to take a number of photographs in order to try out different ideas, compositions, and camera angles.
  4. Photocopy and distribute Worksheet V (Photography Checklist) to help students organize their picture-taking efforts. If there’s time left in the session, let students begin to take pictures. They will finish taking pictures for homework (and/or during additional class periods).

Students may need to get permission from the individuals who will be featured in their pictures. Click for Subject Release Form

Many teachers have their students take photographs at home. Others have made the photography project part of a class trip or an in-class assignment. If your students take their photographs at school, they will be somewhat limited in their choice of content, but with a little creativity, there is still a lot they can do. Just remind students that their photographs can be candid, posed, or staged and need not be literal in the way they communicate their message.
Before sending your students out to take pictures, you may also want to discuss with them the relationship between photography and Jewish values.
Taking pictures of their community provides students with an opportunity to act in accordance with the Jewish values they may have identified. For example, one must show respect to his or her subjects and their property. Students must get permission to take and use people’s pictures or to enter private property that belongs to others. Students also have a responsibility not to depict their subjects in an unflattering manner. Embarrassing others is considered a sin in the Jewish tradition; students must be careful not to photograph their subjects in a manner that will embarrass them. In addition, photographers often have to wait for just the right moment to get the perfect shot. Students may therefore have to apply the value of patience in their work.


 For Homework:

Students will need additional time to finish taking their pictures. Have them continue to take photographs for homework and/or during additional class sessions. 

Once students have finished taking their photos, have each of them select one photograph that will be part of the class exhibition or presentation and bring a print of it into class. If students have taken other photographs as part of The Jewish Lens course, you can ask them to choose from their entire portfolio in selecting works for presentation. (See note in Unit Introduction about choosing works.)