It all depends on the Depth of Field

May 6, 2014 by jewish journeys

Many, many years ago my late father bought me a camera, a very good camera. Why he bought me such a good camera, an Olympus, is no longer clear to me. I think that it had something to do with a crisis between us and the camera was some sort of a peace offering. I knew, and still know, very little about the theory of photography, but I recall something the size of the aperture and the depth of field being crucial elements in the taking of good pictures before the digital revolution turned us all into Bourke-Whites and Julian Camerons, even if we remain fools with respect to the science involved. The question was, back in the day, what did we want to focus on: the foreground or the background? Was the photographic statement an attempt to focus in on something very small and specific or was it an attempt to capture the “big picture”.

I often find myself dealing with this dilemma on my journeys at this time. Much of what I have shared over the past weeks on this long journey of mine to Central and South America has been about the big picture. It is true that my way to the big picture has often been via my tendency to notice a small detail and via that small detail which catches my attention I often move to a statement about the world, about memory, about socio-economic questions, about belonging and beyond. I am unsure as to what my depth of field should be; or is it that extraordinary experience we sometimes have when we focus in on something only to find out that once the photograph has been taken that there was actually something else in the top right hand corner that unknowingly we captured and that is really the important element to focus on?

I have just returned to Buenos Aires after four days in Uruguay, mainly in Montevideo and a day in Porto del Este. The four days were spent solely in the company of young people from Habonim Dror. Theirs is a very special reality. They are in a time warp. The rhythm of their lives, not only their Jewish lives, but their lives in general are determined by their belonging to a youth movement. It is not only their Shabbat, the day which is given over to the youth movement activities, but also the weekly visits to the Jewish schools, the meetings of the leadership to work on how to develop what they have, the weekly general meeting of the older age groups to both determine policy and deconstruct the activities to try and improve what they do. They of course suffer from what most youth movements suffer from these days, a lack of funding, as Jewish Leadership continues on its self destructive path of short term funding decisions putting money into quick fixes rather than investing in long term education which builds leadership.

I was impressed by their energy, by the determination as they put together a remarkable Yom Ha’atzmaut celebration for 120 children and their parents and for themselves another 40 leaders. Around 200 people filled the hall of the Habonim Dror Ken (clubhouse) in Montevideo for a celebration which probably cost no more than $400! Their love and commitment to Israel and their youth movement was tangible throughout the day of preparation and the evening of celebration. It made me feel very good to be connected to them, to have had the opportunity to talk to them the previous day about what makes good education. About the tension between ideological education and the commitment to diversity. About the commitment to both universal truths and the truths of each individual human being. About living with this tension, celebrating this tension so that they are part of those who are working for a better world which sees both the community and the individual at all times (a depth of field issue again?).

Beyond this big picture stuff there was something else which will remain with me from my time with the young people of Habonim Dror in Uruguay. One of the young people who comes every Shabbat to spend most of the afternoon in the movement Ken is a young boy with Asperger’s. He is a fairly high functioning young man  on the Autism spectrum, but he needs constant attention to get through the afternoon. What moved me more than anything else during my four days with these young people was the amount of love and care he gets when he spends his time in Habonim Dror. These young people get it. It must ultimately be about individual human beings. Nobody is ever just an extra on a big stage of history.

Thank you Habonim Dror Uruguay for reminding me of that.


Julian Resnick


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