Seeing the pandemic through a new lens!
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Seeing the pandemic through a new lens!

When snapper Marc Morris saw his own daughter struggling with lockdown, he came up with a unique postcard project linking youngsters from Israel and the UK

Francine Wolfisz is the Features Editor for Jewish News.

  • Tiny World
    Tiny World

Kate Middleton, it seems, is in good company. Before the Duchess of Cambridge started curating her pandemic photo exhibition, budding photographers at one north London synagogue were staving off the monotony of the “new normal” by learning new skills and making vibrant postcards for new friends – even the ones who live thousands of miles away. 

The innovative project, called Hands Across The Lands, was conceived by photographer Marc Morris, who teamed up with Kol Nefesh Masorti Synagogue in Edgware and UJIA, after noticing his own daughter, Elisheva, struggling with not being able to go to school or see her friends in person during the UK lockdown. 

Instead, Morris came up with a scheme that taught more than 30 youngsters aged eight to 17 the basics of photography and designing personalised postcards, which could then be sent out to family and friends.

Rabbi Joel Levy, the part-time rabbi of Kol Nefesh Masorti, suggested the postcards were also sent to children at Ma’ayanot Masorti in South Jerusalem, where he is an active member, resulting in new links being forged between the two communities.

The scheme was funded by UJIA, which provided more than £100,000 in grants to projects across the country through the charity’s Summer Engagement Fund, in lieu of the regular camps and activities that would have run before the pandemic struck.

“It’s a positive Covid story,” reflects Morris. “I wanted the voices of our young people to express these extraordinary times through photography and the written word. 

“It was a joy to see all these budding photographers take some amazing images and I’m looking forward to seeing where this project will go next.”

Liz Preter, co-convenor of Kol Nefesh Masorti, says the project helped children “reconnect with each other after spending such a long time not seeing friends”, and youngsters from outside the community were also welcomed.

She adds: “It has been lovely to see how creative the postcards have been and was a great way of helping them think about what other young people are going through in different countries.”

Rabbi Levy agrees that the Hands Across The Lands project has certainly brought the two communities closer together, with members from both joining recent shofar-blowing sessions over Zoom. 

He adds: “Normally the lives of the kids in those two shuls are totally distinct and there is no contact between them at all, but ironically the total
lockdowns in Israel and the UK meant they shared a common reality for a little while and Marc has translated that shared experience into a shared
visual language. 

“It was a simple and really clever way of bringing children in the UK and Israel closer.” 

For parents, the project helped give their children something to focus on other than the pandemic or, as one describes it, “a meaningful purpose”.

One mother called Sarah says: “Lockdown meant it was very easy, over the summer, for teens to just drift through the days and spend much of their time being insular and inward-looking.  

“This project encouraged children to think about how lockdown really impacted on their use of time, both positively or negatively and encouraged them to consider how teens in another culture might have experienced lockdown very differently.”

As for 11-year-old Leah Greenfield, the project has even inspired her to take up photography. She says the “inspiring” project will be “a memory I’ll keep for a very long time”.

Eli Gaventa, head of youth and students at UJIA, described the project as “a great example of innovation”. 

He says: “We know a thriving British Jewry with a lifelong connection to Israel starts with our young people. The Kol Nefesh Hands Across the Lands programme is a great example of the innovative work that was done across the community, bringing together young people in the UK with their peers in Israel.”

A short documentary telling the story behind Hands Across The Lands is available to view here:

 

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