Jewish learning Photographs and Parshiyot: Glimpses of Ourselves in the Book of Genesis

By Randi Stein
birds photo by Randi Stein

Leann Shamash’s Hebrew College Open Circle Jewish Learning class, “Glimpses of Light and Darkness: The Book of Genesis Through a Photographic Lens,” combined two things I love best—studying Torah and taking photographs. You may wonder, “how do these two things connect?” For me, they both connect to the third thing I love best:  pondering and asking questions about the meaning of what I hear and see. I always seem to be asking: What’s the story behind this? As an artist and a dance/movement therapist, I am always observing light, darkness, color, shape, and most of all, movement. When I am with a client, whether as a therapist or as a painter, I am noticing and discovering these elements. I then “find” a story which is chronicled through painting or helping to support a person’s own unfolding self-knowing.

Leann’s class has offered a new and surprising look at both the stories in Genesis, and my own stories, which are being revealed to me in a new way through the lens of Torah study. Each week, Leann would ask us to find themes in the parasha (Torah portion), and then to select or take photographs which reflect those themes. In my case, I can choose from a collection of many hundreds of photos. I have always taken my camera with me wherever I go, but I don’t always know why I am drawn to take a particular photograph. And when I read these Torah stories, I don’t always know why I am interested, or annoyed, or outraged, or happy about what I am reading. But by putting the two things together—the text of Torah and my photograp—a new door of understanding opens.

The photo above is one that I took to reflect the Torah portion, Lech Le’cha (“Go Forth”), and its accompanying theme of “Journeys”. These birds are on their way—as Abraham was—to a new landing place. It has been a remarkable personal journey for me to comb through the many photographs I have taken and to search each week for those that reflect the universal experiences we confront in the stories of the Torah.

I am very grateful to Leann for conceiving of such a class and conducting it with such generosity, humility, and sensitivity. Thank you, Leann, for leading the way!

Randi Stein is a visual artist and dance/movement therapist who begins every day in her studio with some improvisational dance. She is currently working on a series of collages related to Breisheet (the Book of Genesis) and specifically, the mystical stories of creation.

To learn more about Hebrew College’s Open Circle Jewish Learning and other Adult Learning offerings, visit

Leann Shamash’s upcoming Open Circle Jewish Learning class, Feasts, Fasts and Fakeries: The Scroll of Esther through a Photographic Lens, begins February 6th. To learn more and to register, click hereQuestions? Contact

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