Unlike the quiet and sweltering desert landscape in which it’s nestled, Temple Solel’s hallways are bustling with activity. The synagogue’s building is undergoing massive renovations, deep trenches dug in the hallways and new coats of paint drying on the walls. Yet, despite the chaos of the surrounding construction, April Goodman, Solel’s director of youth engagement, is still as excited as ever about the temple teen program’s recent “Through the Jewish Lens” photography workshop and culminating art exhibit.
The exhibit, due to the messy remodeling, was recently moved from the front hallway to the library, which has been temporarily reconfigured so that it holds the gift shop as well. The room is now an eclectic and wonderful assemblage of books, Judaic mementos and vibrant photographs hung on the front wall. Each of the workshop’s teen participants has his or her photos displayed on an individual board. It is difficult to believe that for many of them, this was their first photography course, one which started only a few weeks earlier.
“Through the Jewish Lens” began this past spring as part of Temple Solel’s Sunday Teen Scene Program for students in grades 8-12. The original framework for the workshop is part of a curriculum available to Jewish educators called “The Jewish Lens.” However, Don Usher and Dina Goldstein, who facilitated the program and who are both congregants of Temple Solel with experience in the arts, adapted the course to best engage the community’s teenagers.
“They were really able to bring the curriculum that was there to life,” explains Goodman. Goldstein and Usher met for hour-long sessions on Sundays over a six-week period. During these sessions, they taught not only the basic elements and principles of photography, but also how one can use photography as a tool to relate to Judaism and as a medium to express that relationship.
During the workshops, Goldstein and Usher also brought in members of the congregation who are familiar with photography to speak to the teens, such as Rabbi John Linder, who has had his own work hung in the temple’s hallways.
The teen photographers focused their final projects on Temple Solel’s building, experimenting with lighting, composition and emphasis. The course concluded in an art exhibit and a reception for which the teen participants chose their favorite photos and added an artist statement to be displayed to their parents and peers.
The course and exhibit were successful in accomplishing the ultimate goal, says Goodman: to turn the use of an everyday item like a camera on a smartphone into an opportunity for “introspection and Jewish connection.”
Temple Solel’s Teen Scene consists of two semesters of various workshops. The temple changes the program every year to offer the teen congregants the widest array of activities. However, Goodman assures that “Through the Jewish Lens” will be offered again in the future and recommends that other Valley synagogues also consider adopting the curriculum.
Phoenix native Michal Wilder recently graduated from Shearim Torah and is headed to Stanford University in the fall.