Beyond the latest headlines on Israel is an unseen world of people who make up the country, now celebrating its 70th birthday.
In time for that anniversary and building on the passions and enthusiasm of a dozen photographers, HOME: Lens on Israel, a new JDC exhibit opened on April 25th. The not-to-miss photographic exploration, now open at Temple Emanu-El’s Herbert & Eileen Bernard Museum of Judaica in New York City, showcases seven communities in Israel empowered by JDC’s social impact work.
On April 24th, the exhibit’s grand opening drew in more than 350 attendees to the historic landmark synagogue and featured JDC CEO David Schizer, renowned Israeli-American illustrator Maira Kalman who spoke about “home” as a concept for art and life, and Rabbi Joshua Davidson, the senior rabbi of the congregation.
The exhibit showcases portraits reflecting stunning candor and emotional impact taken by photographers including JDC Board members Gary O. Aidekman, Annie Sandler, and Amir Halevy; as well as Elaine Goldman; Elizabeth Ann Kahane, who together with her husband William, provided lead support for the exhibit; Dr. Ruth Oratz, Hollis Rafkin-Sax, Orna Stern, Eli Atias (the photo instructor on the trip), Ilan Cohen, and Joel Katz.
“Experiencing JDC clients in the field or in their homes for me is the most powerful example of Jewish values imaginable. Having the ability to witness the work of JDC and share the personal stories with the world is a true honor. I can’t imagine telling a more important story of life saving work to the world,” said Annie Sandler.
The exhibit is the result of an unforgettable journey the photographers embarked on in November 2016. They visited Dimona, where they stopped at a residential center for seniors. As one in three Israeli seniors say they feel lonely sometimes or often, and 100,000 elderly people live under the poverty line, JDC has created a nationwide network of day centers and micro-communities to combat these feelings and provide a sense of belonging.
This stop in Dimona is currently the main focus of one of the two-room exhibit, with the first room rotating seven times over seven months to feature different photos from the multi stop trip and images from the JDC Global Archival collection.
“The HOME: Lens on Israel exhibit celebrates a specific aspect of Israel – Israel as home. In many ways, Israel is JDC’s home as well. In fact, JDC was established to help needy Jews in Palestine in 1914 at the beginning of the First World War. Over a century later, JDC is still pursuing the same mission: helping the world’s neediest Jews. Although we now work in over 70 countries throughout the world, our mission is inextricably tied to Israel in two fundamental ways including helping vulnerable Jews in Israel, and through partnering with the Israeli government to develop new ways to assist elderly people, children at-risk, disabled Israelis, and unemployed Israelis – Jews and Arabs alike,” said JDC CEO David Schizer.
Central to JDC’s work has been its key role in supporting the most vulnerable in the land of Israel since 1914. Today, JDC serves as the country’s social innovation hub, creating pioneering social service solutions, in partnership with the government and local NGOs, to empower hundreds of thousands of Israelis living on the margins.
The photographers visited the Negev region to interact with Bedouin communities and meet Arab-Israeli families, as well as stopped at an Arab Employment center. The group also stopped at Kiryat Gat to spend time at an elementary school to witness staff teaching children about essential life skills and science through an outdoor learning experience.
In Bnei Brak, they got a firsthand view of the JDC-created employment programs developed for the ultra-Orthodox community, headed to Druze villages to explore the key role of women living in traditional communities, and visited Haifa to view JDC’s Israel Unlimited program, an initiative advancing the independence of Israelis with disabilities, as well as advocating for a more inclusive society that is run in partnership with the Ruderman Family Foundation and Israeli government.
In Kiryat Bialik, the group participated in a Moroccan Jewish henna celebration.
“Seeing JDC’s work in Israel, and how it changes lives in the most diverse communities – and in a way that is so sensitive to local needs, and yet so impactful – was a deeply memorable experience. We had the chance to capture those moments of human connection in photographs and to tell the continuing JDC story,” said Hollis Rafkin-Sax, one of the HOME: Lens on Israel photographers.
The HOME: Lens on Israel exhibit will run until November 2018, and a special promotional passport will be given to people who visit the exhibit as well. Each time they tour the exhibit, they will be given a passport stamp, and the person with the most stamps on their passport will receive a free trip to Israel.
Temple Emanu-El’s Herbert & Eileen Bernard Museum of Judaica is open Sunday through Thursday, from 10am to 4:30pm. Please call (212) 744-1400, ext. 313 to arrange a tour.