Ramona Brand

Ramona is Director of Education at Congregation Beth Ahabah in Richmond, VA. Her winning lesson plan, “Our World Through a Jewish Lens,” introduces students in grades 8–10 to photojournalist Ruth Gruber, whose work was influenced by her Jewish identity, and asks how they might express a Jewish point of view through photography.

Our World Through a Jewish Lens

By exploring the life and work of ground-breaking photo-journalist Ruth Gruber, 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.


Enduring Understandings

  • Photography can be used as a tool for storytelling, as an expression of personal and social values, and as a creative outlet.
  • Our unique perspectives influence how we see and interact with the world around us.  

Essential Questions

  • Can photography be used as a medium to express a Jewish point of view?
  • What makes a picture “Jewish”?
  • What makes a photograph interesting?
  • How can our own perspectives and identities influence the lens through which we see the world?

Materials Required

  • Laptop and projector, or handouts of provided materials
  • Picture frames and mats
  • Paper towels and Windex
  • Acid-free tape

Notes to Teacher

  • The full unit consists of six lessons (correlating to parts 1-6 in the lesson plan below), each of which can be taught in sessions of 45 minutes to an hour over the course of 5-6 weeks.
  • Feel free to teach the unit in it’s entirety, or pick and choose what you’d like to include based on your individual goals and/or time constraints.
  • 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 plan

Part 1

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  • Write the phrase “A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words” on the board before the students enter
  • Direct students’ attention to the phrase and ask them to share what they think it means.
    • Explain: 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
    • Discuss: How can this definition apply to the art of photography?
  • Show students photographs 1-4 (see “Document Studies” below). Ask the students to verbalize what each image shows. Record their answers on the board
  • Discuss: Is there a story or message being related by each picture? Ask students if they would describe any of the pictures as “Jewish,” and why or why not.
  • Discuss: Can a picture be Jewish? Who took these pictures, why and for what purpose? Can a picture be “Jewish” if it wasn’t taken by a Jewish photographer?
  • Discuss: Which picture is most artistically compelling and why?
  • Explain: Conclude that while a picture in and of itself is not “Jewish,” photography can be used to express Jewish ideas and points of view, reflect values, and influence emotions. Photographers of such photos can be both Jewish and non-Jewish (20-25 minutes)
  • Explain: 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
  • Discuss: Which of the four photos we have seen may constitute photojournalism?
  • Instruct group 1 to read paragraphs 1–6, group 2 to read paragraphs 7–12, and group 3 to read paragraphs 13–18. Tell each group to find five facts about Ruth Gruber to share with the larger group
  • Present students with definition of the word photojournalism
  • Divide students into 3 groups and pass out copies of Ruth Gruber’s biography.

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

Part 2

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  • Ask students to recall what was discussed in Part 1
  • Show selected Ruth Gruber photos to the students (photo 5-17 in “Document Studies”)
    • Discuss: What story do you see in the pictures? What emotions do the pictures elicit? What may have been the purpose of taking these pictures? Which picture has the most powerful effect on you?
    • Direct students’ attention to the short bio of Ruth Gruber, and also have them look at photo 2.
    • Discuss: What can you tell about Gruber from the biographical facts and the picture?

Part 3

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  • Ask students to recall what was discussed in Part 2
  • Ask students to read the American Photo Mag article in pairs and complete the “Witness for the World” handout as they read. Provide handouts of the article, or have students read it on their computers and/or phones.
  • Assignment:Tell students that they will now become photojournalists, like Ruth Gruber. Instruct them to take pictures during the 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” as well as 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.

Tell them to be creative and open to lots of photographic opportunities and that they can use filters or other effects if desired

Part 4

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  • Ask students to recall what was discussed in Part 3
  • Show 2-3 of each student’s submitted photos.
    • Remind students that the purpose of this activity is to discuss the photos artistically, but not to judge other students’ photo-taking abilities.
    • For each photo: Ask the students (not the one who took the photo being shown) to tell the story behind each photo and if, why and how it constitutes “looking at the world through a Jewish Lens”.
  • Assignment. Tell students to email a second set of photos (no more than 5) before the next class.

Part 5

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  • Show the second set of pictures (Like in part 4, choose 2-3 pictures from each student)
    • Remind students that the purpose of this activity is to discuss the photos artistically, but not to judge other students’ photo-taking abilities.
    • For each photo: Ask the students (not the one who took the photo being shown) to tell the story behind each photo and if, why and how it constitutes “looking at the world through a Jewish Lens”
    • Have students look at all of their photos that they submitted, and pick their  2 favorites. Encourage students to pick two photos that are different from one another.

Assignment: Journaling. Have students write descriptions for their 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.  Collect descriptions.

Part 6

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  • Print out copies of each student's 2 chosen photos and distribute them.
  • Lay out picture frames and mats, windex and paper towels, and acid-free tape.
  • Instruct students to sample their pictures behind various mat colors before choosing which one(s) to use Encourage students to “peer edit” mat choices with classmates
  • Do the same with the frames
  • Have students clean glass and dry thoroughly before mounting the picture. Use the acid free tape to adhere photos to back of mat. Allow students to share framed pictures with each other
  • Collect finished pictures for exhibit in school or synagogue space

Final follow-up. Invite parents to “Opening” of exhibit and have students present their work

Document studies


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Modern Jewish Wedding Hora

Photo of the hora at a modern Jewish Wedding

Helping the Elderly

Young girl helping an elderly woman.

Giant Oak Tree in N'Tisbury

Photo taken by photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt, a professional photographer whose work frequently appeared in Life Magazine. Oak tree in 1968 Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts.

Ruth Gruber

Photo of Ruth Gruber in 2011 at her home in Manhattan. Photo was taken by news agency Reuters to document Holocaust survivors.

Ruth Gruber Biography

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Ruth Gruber Biography

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. (Written by Ramona Brand for this lesson plan)

American Photo Mag Article

Ruth Gruber Photos

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1951 Romanian Family Reunited in Haifa

Photo taken by Ruth Gruber in 1951. A Romanian family embraces as they are reunited for the first time since the beginning of the war in Haifa.

Ruth Gruber, circa 1944

Journalist and writer Ruth Gruber, photographed circa 1944 when she escorted Jewish refugees to the United States.

Courtesy of Ruth Gruber

JWA Ruth Gruber Encyclopedia Article

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JWA Ruth Gruber Encyclopedia Article


Witness for the World Handout (Teacher Version)

Witness for the World Handout (Student Version)


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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." (Viewed on October 23, 2019) <https://jwa.org/twersky/ramona-brand>.


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