Understanding Israel

PhotographerSusan R. Ressler
PrizeBronze in Book (series Only) / Documentary
Entry Description

Part memoir and part spiritual journey, Understanding Israel asks, “Who am I, and What does Israel mean to me?” But for most, my photos spark one burning question: "In what ways can we understand Israel today?" This book project includes 65 photographs designed to convey the paradoxes and contradictions of the Jewish state: a homeland for the Jewish people, and yet an occupier of contested territory. The book shares my personal story, my quest, my grief and my wonder, but is most of all a plea for peace. Simultaneously, I raise global issues of grave importance. Prompted by the not unexpected yet untimely death of my parents, I joined a group of Jews en route to the "holy land." I was on a quest, and the quest led me to question everything. My parents had visited Israel, and they had a deep and abiding love for the place and the Jewish people. I felt as if this trip was for them; I would carry their spirit to our Jewish homeland. If possible, I would plant a tree. Our tour had a Zionist flavor: we visited settlements, kibbutzim, and memorials; we talked with analysts, government officials, and visionaries; we learned about agriculture, idealism, and sacrifice. We saw soldiers stage a battle; we saw Jerusalem's Western Wall. We walked; we prayed; we saw birds fly through the Syria-African rift. And we ate the fruits of a reclaimed Negev desert. We were sated and full. We were welcomed. So many challenges; so many conflicts. So much progress; so much pain. I was moved by many poignant stories. I was moved by the people I met. I did plant a tree for my parents. And I did learn so much on the way. The spirit of Israel has touched me, and these photographs are my witness.