Zion Ozeri - 2013 Award Recipient
Zion Ozeri, Founder and Creative Director of The Jewish Lens, combined his longtime occupation as a photographer and documentarian of Jewish life around the world with a new role as Jewish educator, creating a unique blend of experiential and traditional Jewish education pulsating with the promise of 21st century media.
“Jewish education is at the core of who we are as a people, and ultimately what will sustain us. I believe that we must incorporate new technologies into our ancient traditions and values that can better connect us to the heart of Judaism. Using photography as a tool in teaching Jewish values, identity and diversity, can lead to more meaningful and engaging learning.”
Zion Ozeri founded The Jewish Lens (TJL) in 2004 to engage youth and young adults in the exploration of Jewish values, identity, and tradition while discovering the diversity and unity of the Jewish people. The methodology of TJL couples the emotional impact of photography with more traditional text-based learning, enabling participants to express themselves through their own photographs and commentary. TJL has involved thousands of students in hundreds of Jewish schools, camps, and other educational settings in the United States. More than 50 schools use the program in Israel, the curriculum itself is in its third edition, and a recently announced partnership with The Center for Educational Technology will lead to creation of a new online, interactive platform. “Communicating using imagery, not only text, has gone through a revolution. This changing world, pushed me, step-by-step, to start using photography as a springboard for education.”
Zion was born and raised in Israel, and his relationship with his homeland has shaped his Jewish educational experience. “I was the first to be born in Israel to parents who emigrated from Yemen: hence my name, Zion. My early memories are of living in a Ma’abara, a refugee absorption center made up of row upon row of huts and tents. Within these parameters, I, like many of my generation, had to form an identity that enabled us to fit in and be a legitimate part of the larger Israeli society. On the one hand, I gravitated to the Israeli, predominantly European, ‘inner circle.’ At the same time, I felt attached to the Israeli Sephardi margins from which I came. Experiencing this dichotomy and tension formed the basis and motivation of my work today.”
After serving as an Israeli Defense Force tank commander, attending Bar-Ilan University, and graduating from the Fashion Institute of Technology and the Pratt Institute, Zion began to travel, first to Yemen, and then other locations documenting through photography often remote and little noticed Jewish populations. “I realized that it was not only my own close, ancient Yemenite family that needed to be cherished and documented, but also many other Jewish communities. I started a long journey, to see what binds people, in spite of what separates them.”
Zion’s work has been published and exhibited around the world, from The Israel Museum in Jerusalem to the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles. He has lectured for Israel Bonds, UJA-Federation of New York, and at universities across the country. He is currently planning to team teach a course focused on the Jewish community of Miami through the Art and Photography Department at the University of Miami. Through this partnership, he is also developing a college-credit Jewish Lens course for high school students.
From His Letters of Nomination and Support
“Ozeri has used his camera to capture and illuminate Jewish life, demonstrating the differences between communities, as well as the profound similarities of values that have endured across time and place. Through many other articles, books, and exhibits, he has taught thousands of Jews enduring lessons about what makes us a people.”
Alisa R. Doctoroff
The Jewish Lens
“Students come alive when they work on the program and especially when they interact with
Zion. They see in him someone who does not aim to tell them what to believe or what to think. They see someone who is giving them the tools to explore their place in the Jewish world and to get in touch with their core Jewish values.”
Professor Deborah E. Lipstadt
Dorot Professor of Modern Jewish and Holocaust Studies