Zion Ozeri, globetrotting photographer who lives on the Upper East Side, packs a few camera bodies, several lenses and lots of film when he sets off on a working trip.
But that’s not the most vital part of his job.
“I have a big smile,” says Ozeri, whose pictures of Israeli families, with roots in native lands around the world, are featured in these pages. “People have to trust you. You have to convince them to allow you into their homes.”
And into their business, synagogues, schools and cemeteries. That’s where Ozeri took his photographs during the last two years.
A native of Israel, a son of immigrants from Yemen, Ozeri has worked as a professional photographer for nearly 30 years, including a brief stint as staff photographer for The Jewish Week, with five books and more than a dozen photo exhibitions to his credit.
“Almost every photograph packs a story,” he says.
Ozeri’s focus is always on people, sometimes on individuals, sometimes on families, as in these photographs, which will constitute an exhibition in Canada later this year.
“I try to show the diversity of the Jewish experience, to show how diverse Jewish life is in different places,” Ozeri says. “What is the common thread? It’s our common values and our tradition.”
The majority of Israel’s 5.5 million Jews have roots in the diaspora, having arrived in various waves of aliyah over the last century and a quarter.
Today’s Israelis, as reflected in Ozeri’s pictures, are a fulfillment of the prophesized Ingathering of the Exiles.
“All these families … who came from different places … are all in one place,” the State of Israel, Ozeri says.
He has visited many of the countries where these contemporary Israelis originate — Eastern and Western Europe, South America, India, the former Soviet Union, northern Africa and the former Soviet Union.
Such organizations as the Jewish Agency and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee frequently assist his work abroad.
Frequently an interpreter accompanies him. Ozeri speaks, of course, Hebrew, English and Arabic.
I know a few words.
In whatever language, Ozeri has entered the homes and lives of Jews in Israel and the wider Jewish world. So far, he says, they’re glad to let him, and his cameras, inside, to record their lives for posterity. “So far I’ve been blessed.”