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Ramona Brand, 2015 Twersky Award Winner

Ramona L. Brand, Director of Education at Congregation Beth Ahabah in Richmond, Virginia, has been an educator since 1983, working in theater-arts education, public schools, day schools, and supplemental religious schools. Ramona received a B.A in Theater and English from Hamilton College in 1981,  and a Masters of Education degree from Lesley University in 1983. She began her career teaching in the Boston Public Schools, and day schools in Marblehead, MA and Ann Arbor, MI. Ramona directed a theater program at the University of Michigan (1992–1996); taught in religious schools; served as the Director of Programs at Temple Beth Emeth (1999–2001); and as both the Director of Education at Wild Swan Theater and Principal for the Jewish Cultural School in Ann Arbor (2001–2008). In 2008, she joined Congregation Beth Ahabah in Richmond. Ramona believes that Jewish education for the 21st century needs to connect students to the world outside the Jewish classroom in ways that are both relevant and authentic. “We want them to know how to live Jewishly when they are in their sports clubs, their Jewish youth groups, their secular classrooms, at home, and when they are shopping! They need to feel their Jewishness as something intrinsic to the whole package of life,” she says.

Ramona Brand is a member of the Association of Reform Jewish Educators and serves as the current chair of the Richmond Council of Jewish Educators. She and her husband, Harlan Loebman, happily parent their combined six children, Alan, Miriam, Hannah, David, Ryan and Sofie.

Lesson Plan: Our World Through a Jewish Lens

Elective Lesson Plan for students in grades 8–10, using original source materials

This lesson plan is designed as a 5- to 6-week elective class series. Each class is designed to be 45 minutes to 1 hour in duration.

Goals:

  • Students will be introduced to the medium of photography and how it can be used as an expression of Jewish storytelling, personal and social values, and a creative outlet.
  • Students will be introduced to Ruth Gruber as a ground-breaking photojournalist. They will learn about her life, her work, and how her Jewish background and values influenced her work as a photojournalist with historical impact.
  • Students will ask the questions:
    1. Is there such thing as a Jewish picture?
    2. What makes a picture “Jewish”? The subject; the photographer; the scene?
    3. Can I express a Jewish point of view through my photography?
    4. What makes an interesting photograph?
  • Students will be challenged to use their cameras or cell phones to take pictures that embody personal Jewish connections.
  • This project will help bridge the school–home connection and strengthen the students’ Jewish identities as they view their world through a Jewish lens.
  • Students will engage in weekly peer review of submitted photos and will choose two final pictures to be framed and exhibited.

Lesson 1

Materials:

Laptop, projector, or handouts of pictures listed below, if not using internet

  • Photo 1
    Source: Camera Famosa Photography
  • Photo 2
    Source: Little Brothers–Friends of the Elderly Chicago
  • Photo 3
    Source: Alfred Eisenstaedt, Giant oak tree in N’Tisbury, Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, 1968
  • Photo 4
    Source: Reuters

Set Induction:

Write the phrase “A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words.” on the board before the students enter.

Methods:

    Direct students’ attention to phrase on board and ask them for suggestions about its meaning. Answers and discussion may vary but should eventually lead to defining the phrase closely as such:

    The adageA picture is worth a thousand words” refers to the notion that a complex idea can be conveyed with just a single still image. It also aptly characterizes one of the main goals of visualization, namely making it possible to absorb large amounts of data quickly.
  1. How can this definition apply to the art of photography? Discuss; answers will vary

    (steps a & b: 10–12 minutes)

  2. Show students the four images listed above. Ask the students to verbalize what each image shows. Is there a story or message being related by each picture? Record answers on the board. Ask students if they would describe any of the pictures as “Jewish” and why or why not. Record answers on board. Possible answers: celebrating a Jewish life cycle event; performing Mitzvah by assisting the elderly; tree can represent Torah, tree of life etc.; Holocaust; Jewish history; survival; righteous gentiles (note nuns in the picture). Discussion: can a picture be Jewish? Who took these pictures, why and for what purpose? (Photo 1 taken by studio for business; photo 2 is a stock photo for non-profit service organization; photo 3 is by photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt, a professional photographer whose work frequently appeared in Life Magazine; photo 4 taken by news agency Reuters to document Holocaust survivors.)

    Ask students “Can a picture be “Jewish” if not taken by a Jewish photographer?” (Note: only photo 3, taken by Alfred Eisenstaedt, is by a photographer who was Jewish.) Answers may vary, but should concede that Jewish themes can be present in photos taken by non-Jews. Which picture is most artistically compelling and why? (Possible answers: photo 1 for movement, expresses happiness and has excitement; photo 3 for composition, peaceful, timeless quality; photo 4 for emotion, composition, interest.) Photo 2 is usually considered least interesting and artistic.

  3. Review answers to questions 1–4 listed in Goals. Conclude that while a picture in and of itself is not “Jewish,” photography can be used to express Jewish ideas, point of view, reflect values, and influence emotions. Photographers of such photos can be both Jewish and non-Jewish.

    (steps c & d: 20–25 minutes)

  4. Present students with definition of the word photojournalism. Photojournalism: journalism in which written copy is subordinate to pictorial, usually photographic, presentation of news stories or in which a high proportion of pictorial presentation is used

    Ask students: which of the four photos we have seen may constitute photojournalism? (Usual answer: photo 4)

    Inform students that they will be learning about a respected photojournalist who was both a woman and Jewish.

    Divide students into 3 groups and direct them to http://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/gruber-ruth

    Instruct group 1 to read paragraphs 1–6 in article, group 2 to read paragraphs 7–12, and group 3 to read paragraphs 13–18. Each group is to find five facts about Ruth Gruber in their assigned paragraphs to share with the larger group.

    When all of the groups are done reading, have each group share their five facts starting with group 1. Have one student record the 15 facts to save for next class.

    (step e: 15–20 minutes)

Lesson 2

Preparation: Write on board or have as handout the following:

Ruth Gruber is an American journalist, photographer, writer, humanitarian and a former United States government official.

Ruth Gruber was born on September 30, 1911 in Brooklyn. Her parents were Russian Jewish immigrants. She dreamed of becoming a writer and was encouraged by her parents to obtain higher education. She graduated from college at the age of 18 and was the youngest person to earn a Ph.D at age 20. She traveled extensively taking photos in places such as the Arctic Circle and Alaska. Ruth Gruber worked for Harold Ickes the Secretary of the Interior under Franklin D. Roosevelt. In 1944, she was assigned a secret mission to Europe to bring one thousand Jewish refugees and wounded American soldiers from Italy to the US. Ickes made her “a simulated general” so in case the military aircraft she flew in was shot down and she was caught by the Nazis, she would be kept alive according to the Geneva Convention. In 1947 she documented the plight of Jewish refugees after WWII and the treatment they suffered in British DP camps and on ships trying to get to Palestine. In 1985 (at the age of 74) she traveled to Ethiopia to document the rescue and exodus of the Ethiopian Jews to Israel. She has written numerous books and has received many prestigious awards.

Materials:

Laptop, projector, or handouts of pictures and website listed below, if not using internet

  • Photo 1
    Source: npr.org
  • Photo 2
    Source: Jewish Women’s Archive, jwa.org
  • Photo 3
    Source: New York Times, May 20, 2011, Ruth Gruber from Exodus to Ethiopia
  • Photo 4
    Source: New York Times, May 20, 2011, Ruth Gruber from Exodus to Ethiopia
  • Online article

Methods:

  1. Review from previous week’s lesson: ask students to recall what was discussed in lesson 1—refer to saved notes (step a: 7–10 minutes)
  2. Show selected Ruth Gruber photos above. With each picture ask the students to describe the story they see in the pictures. (Answers will vary.). What emotions do the pictures elicit? What may be the purpose of taking those pictures? (Open-ended discussion) Which picture has the most powerful effect on you? (Answers will vary.) Direct students’ attention to the short bio of Ruth Gruber. Inform them that photo 2 is a picture of Ruth Gruber. What can they tell about her from the biographical facts and the picture? (Students may note that she is intelligent, adventurous, independent, strong minded, has strong values etc. ) (step b: 35–45 minutes)

Instruct students to bring in personal laptops for next week, or smart phones, if they own them.

Lesson 3

Materials:

Laptop, projector and/or student personal lap-tops/smart phones. Also have handout of “Witness for the World” available.

  1. Review from previous week’s lesson: ask students to recall what was discussed in lesson 2—refer to saved notes (step a: 7–10 minutes)
  2. Direct students to find a partner and to go to : http://www.americanphotomag.com/ruth-gruber-witness-world. Provide hand-out to students who do not have electronic devices. Distribute handout. Instruct students to follow the directions on the handout as they read the article online. Let them know that they will be discussing their findings as a class after they complete the work with their partner. (step b: 30-40 minutes)
  3. Tell students that they will now become photojournalists, like Ruth Gruber. Instruct them to take pictures during their week, at home, at school (when allowed), during time with friends, at services (when appropriate) etc. Tell them to think about taking photos that are overtly “Jewish” and those that may not be. Students should email their favorite pictures (no more than five) of that week to the instructor BEFORE the next class. Give students an email address. Tell them to be creative and open to lots of photographic opportunities and that they can use filters or other effects if desired. (step c. 10-15 minutes)

(Note: instructor will save photos as they come in; I found it best to create sub-folders with each student’s name and to save directly to that sub-folder. I also sent reminder emails to the kids and the parents on each Thursday BEFORE the following Monday night’s class. I also saved their pictures to a thumb-drive as a back-up.)

Lesson 4

Materials:

Laptop, projector, student pictures

  1. Review from previous week’s lesson: ask students to recall what was discussed in lesson 3—refer to saved notes and handouts. (step a: 7–10 minutes)
  2. Peer-editing and sharing. Instructor will begin to show the pictures that students have sent during the week. Remind students that while they will be peer-editing and sharing with each other, the purpose is to discuss the photos artistically, but we are not judging other student’s ability to take photos or to choose subject matter. (Most students are very respectful and supportive of their friends’ work.)
    • Ask the students to tell the story behind each photo and if, why and how it constitutes “looking at the world through a Jewish Lens”. The instructor can direct the conversation and comments toward effectiveness of picture to tell the story, color, balance, perspective etc.
    • Encourage students to discuss the pictures as they are viewed.
    • Have each student vet their photos and par them down to 2 or 3 of their 5 (or 1-2 of 3 photos) etc. Instructor will make note of the photos each student wishes to keep in the “gallery”.

      (step b: 20–30 minutes)

  3. I end this class session by taking my students in to our sanctuary and around our school and building with the lights off or dimmed. This is really exciting for the kids and they don’t see the Sanctuary lit in this manner. This gives them an opportunity for getting interesting pictures with different lighting elements and they see the Sanctuary with fresh eyes. (step. c. as remaining class time allows)
  4. Remind students to email these pictures and any more that they take during the week. Again—it is always good to send an email reminder the students during the week to send their pictures in before the next class.

Lesson 5

Materials:

Laptop, projector, student pictures

  1. Peer-editing and sharing. Instructor will show the second set of pictures that students have sent during the week. Remind students that while they will be peer-editing and sharing with each other, the purpose is to discuss the photos artistically, but we are not judging other student’s ability to take photos or to choose subject matter. (Most students are very respectful and supportive of their friends’ work.)
    • Ask the students to tell the story behind each photo and if, why and how it constitutes “looking at the world through a Jewish Lens”. The instructor can direct the conversation and comments toward effectiveness of picture to tell the story, color, balance, perspective etc.
    • Encourage students to discuss the pictures as they are viewed.
    • Have each student vet their photos and par them down to 2 or 3 of their 5 (or 1-2 of 3 photos) etc. Instructor will make note of the photos each student wishes to keep in the “gallery.”
    • Now have students compare with the pictures from the previous week and choose their final 2 pictures. Encourage students to pick two different types of photos for their final “gallery.” (step a: 30–45 minutes)
  2. Journaling: Students will write descriptions for their final picture choices. The descriptions should explain the story, mood or reason for taking the picture. Students should be able to express the Jewish ‘view-point” behind the picture. Instructor will collect descriptions and make note of which final photos have “made the cut.” (step b: 15 minutes)
    • *During the week, the instructor will have the final pictures printed in 5X7 size. Instructor will also purchase inexpensive mats and frames (found at local craft and dollar stores). I get a variety of mat colors and frame colors from which the students can choose. It is advisable to have several more frames and mats than photos, so that there is some extras just in case of glass breakage and extra color choice.

Lesson 6

Materials:

5X7 prints of the final photos, frames and mats, paper towel, Windex or other glass cleaner, acid free tape.

  1. Distribute photos to students. Instruct students to sample their pictures behind various colors of mats before choosing, can discuss how mat color enhances/highlight aspects of photos. Encourage students to “peer edit” mat choices with classmates.
  2. Do the same with the frames. (steps a.& b: 25–40 minutes)
  3. Have students clean glass and dry thoroughly before mounting the picture. Use the acid free tape to adhere photos to back of mat. Share framed pictures with each other.  Instructor will collect finished pictures for exhibit in school or synagogue space. (step c: 20 minutes)
  4. Final follow-up – Invite parents to “Opening” of exhibit and have students present their work.

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Ramona Brand
Full image
Ramona Brand, winner of JWA's 2015 Natalia Twersky Prize for Educators.
Courtesy of Ramona Brand

How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Ramona Brand, 2015 Twersky Award Winner." (Viewed on December 11, 2017) <https://jwa.org/twersky/ramona-brand>.

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