Through the Lens: A Taglit-Birthright Israel Photography Exhibition

Through the Lens
the first, formal exhibition to show the
breadth of Taglit-Birthright Israel’s impact on the Jewish world

The Taglit-Birthright Israel Photography Competition was open for a two month period during the summer of 2013. All past alumni, now a pool of more than 350,000 participants, from 64 countries, were eligible to enter. Taglit received 3,583 photographic submissions from across Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Greece, Hungary, Israel, Peru, Serbia, United States of America and the United Kingdom.

Traditionally, people associate very specific imagery with the holy land; the exhibition curators felt that those postcard photographs became repetitive and detracted from the myriad ways in which people can experience modern Israel. The country is a vibrant and contemporary place for young people, artists, and professionals. In the exhibition, Taglit’s alumni illustrate how truly special the experience is, in the most authentic version – through the lens of our participants!

Ranging from the salt forms of the Dead Sea to the vast expanse of the Judean Desert and beyond the hills of a Kibbutz, Through the Lens hearkens to the variegated backdrops and experiences a traveler can feel during their first 10 days in Israel.  The winning pictures show everything from quiet landscapes to surprising moments of contemplation and familiarity.

Over 66 years since the founding of the State of Israel, and 14 years since the inception of Taglit-Birthright Israel, many people still view the country as a place of controversy, contested ideologies and tumult. Comprised of 31 works Through the Lens evokes an emotional reaction to candid moments, glimpses of daily life, national pride and group dynamics.

As former participants, the alumni are simultaneously tourists yet brethren. This obscures the idea of home and identity. In many ways, the Israel shown throughout the exhibition is faceless, literally, as the only distinguishing features shown are of Taglit-Birthright Israel alumni. What face will you put on Israel?

In celebration of Yom Ha’atzmaut, and in cooperation with Taglit-Birthright Israel, eJewish Philanthropy brings you a selection of photographs from the competition.

Light & Shadow (Star of David)
Gabrielle Kennedy (Boulder, CO): The photo was taken outside of Yad Vashem. Even though it was a sad atmosphere and setting something told me to look up to the light. I was inspired by the natural shape of the light that looks like the Star of David.
Shannon Komisarchik (Miami Beach, FL): It was a spontaneous moment: I was sightseeing in Akko when I saw a few young boys standing on a ledge separating them from the sea far below. We caught each other’s attention just as one of the boys was beginning to run to jump off the ledge into the sparkling water. I quickly adjusted my camera, I knew this would be a memorable shot.
Haley Seppa (Berkeley, CA): By the time we reached the top of Mount Masada we were exhausted (in a fulfilled and great way,) which allowed us to just be present and in the moment with each other. It was like being able to be a kid again; trouble-free, innocent, playful, blowing bubbles and just enjoying the time. In the reflection of the bubbles you can see the sun beginning to rise over the horizon, representing this idea of being able to start over every day, to reclaim who you are and how you are going to interact with the world, while still embracing your roots. I took this photo because it represented a moment I never want to forget. A moment in which I realized that no matter how small we are in size compared to the universe, the impact we have on the people around us is infinite. It is a reflection of how we are all inhaling and exhaling the same air, climbing the same earth, and how regardless of where we come from, we are all living in the same world. I hope that people will see that what it “means” to be Jewish looks different to each individual person. It runs on a spectrum, much like the LGBTQ community, and you get to decide where you want to live on that spectrum. And regardless of where that is, you will always have a community around you.
Linneah Anders (Savannah, GA): I am a photographer, and am naturally inclined to take photographs at places or of people that intrigue me. I took this particular photograph because I was inspired to try and share the intimacy that comes with being at this holy place. The feeling I that I got from being at the Western Wall was like an intrusion upon private prayer. I grew up hearing about the wall in Hebrew school and to be there in person was surreal. As a photographer, I am naturally an observer, and it is because of this that I felt like and intruder upon private prayer. I wanted to capture the feeling of this intrusion upon privacy to give the viewer a voyeuristic perspective upon a special, private moment of prayer amongst the women, or this one particular woman, at the wall.
Rachel Alexander (Chicago, IL): This photo was taken at Ein Avdat Canyon. I captured this moment in a flurry of shots. I was inspired by these girls, their headscarves, and my inability to see their faces. I hope people take away the multitude of identities that constitute Israeli society and a new appreciation for who Israel is.
Rachel Shulman: This photo was taken from one of the top terraces of the Baha’i Gardens in Haifa.
Ellen Ross (Burlington, VT): This photo was taken in the Jerusalem Market, known as ‘The Shuk’. The bright colors of the spices are a wonderful representation of the diverse, loud, and colorful life that makes up Israel.
Kelsey Kleidman (New York, NY): My inspiration for these photographs stemmed from the unity that I shared with the 46 other unique individuals I met and traveled with, as well as the beauty of the culture that I was experiencing. With a photographic eye, I was able to capture the individual pieces coming together as a whole, just as the members on this trip came together as one. My hope is that the observer shares my vision of individuals coming together and creating beauty as one.
Garin Bulger (New York, NY): The different textures the salt took all within one small area [at the Dead Sea Salt Flats] were incredible. I set out to capture all of the various forms and paid for it with many cuts as I knelt down in some razor sharp salt to get this photo. Regardless of politics or religion or anything, the land of Israel is beauty beyond comparison.
Jaffa at Dusk
Samuel Tarrel (AZ): This is the view when standing at Ben Gurion’s grave site. The southern region of Israel had a special place in his heart, which is why Ben Gurion settled there.
Greg Birman
Jennifer Schreiber (Hawthorn Woods, IL): The photo was taken in a Bedouin Tent in the Negev Dessert. I was inspired to take this photo because of the coloring in the tent.  The lighting was beautiful.  Also, I was captivated by the gold of the coffee pot and how engaged everyone was. I hope people take away the beauty in the small things.  When I look at the photo I focus on the warmth of the lighting.  I feel like it really depicts the atmosphere of community and togetherness.
29_Laurel _Dunay
Laurel Dunay (Boca Raton, FL): This photo was taken at Masada during our 4 am early morning hike to watch the sunrise. The beauty of this photo is because it all happened spontaneously. A guy in my group started waving his Israeli flag just as we were regrouping to leave Masada and I caught the flag in the midst of waving just before the sun had fully risen. I hope people see the beauty and more importantly, the power of Israel.