Senior brings Israel to Williams

A Star of David drawn on an exhaust pipe, a picture of Arab children smiling and magnificent views of the Dome of the Rock take turns flashing before the viewers’ eyes as Jason Pack ’02 took viewers through a kaleidoscope of pictures, entitled “Images of the Holy Land,” which he presented in TBL 112 on Feb. 7. A picture of a Jewish religious school gives way to that of skyscrapers and nuclear power plants in Tel Aviv and then a picture of an Armenian priest holding an icon.

Pack supplemented his lecture with picturesque stories about his 11-day trip to Israel. He told of an argument between a Russian and a Greek priest over which icon should be placed in a certain place in a church. The argument was resolved when they consulted a manual, written in English. He spoke about the Israeli army officers who interrogated him and about the children who threw stones at him on one of the streets where he took pictures.

The talk may have been named “Images and Sounds of the Holy Land,” as Pack’s flawless imitation of a Jewish accent in English was authentic and amusing. Pack imitated a Jewish shopkeeper blurting out “Give you my film!” when the merchant realized that Pack had taken a picture of his shop without his consent. Listening to Pack, one could not only picture the shop itself but the man as well, standing there asking for the film in helpless anger.

A series of photographs illustrated the lives of Palestinians and Jews during the intifada. Pack commented that people share the reality of the conflict, and that they share this reality with “numbness, cynicism and resilience” – but not with fear. As Pack walked his audience through the empty streets of Bethlehem and Jerusalem, he reminded them that these same streets were once colored with crowds of tourists from all over the world. He showed graffiti scrawled in Hebrew and translated their meaning for his listeners. He showed the men playing cards and drinking coffee on the street.

The audience was submerged in what might at first seem a dream reality, soaked with beauty and with irony that borders on absurd. “Life continues in Israel despite the intifada,” Pack commented while projecting a slide of a man who pushed him away from the entrance to a Sbarro pizza place – the same Sbarro where a bomb had recently exploded. In the photograph, Arab men and women meander through a big bazaar, children smile at Pack’s camera and an old man, leaning on a fence in the street, resembles a shepherd from the Bible. Another slide showed a Jewish library where the works of Decartes, Rousseau, Kant and Sartre stand on the shelves with a dignity akin to that of the old Arab men whose pictures Pack snapped.

The contrast and the diversity of those images was so powerful, it would have been overwhelming had Pack not constantly shown us the subtle connections between them. He succeeded in making the audience members feel almost as if they had accompanied him on his 11-day quest for images; he conveyed the beauty and the power of this land with attention to its past, its present and, perhaps, its future in images of beauty and irony.

Pack’s voice changed tone and pitch as he told us about this land. “Breath-taking!” he exclaimed while displaying a grandiose sunset falling upon the old town of Jerusalem. Then, as he projected the slide of a blossoming lemon tree on an incongruous sunny day which followed the snow of the previous days, he added, “One can see how this is a holy land.” Perhaps some could say that Pack’s kaleidoscope of images was born through the prism of his bias. However, he convinced the audience that they could not have been otherwise.

Pack concluded his talk by recounting the words of an Arab man he met: “Don’t the Palestinians and the Israelis know that they have to live next to each other? There is no other way.”

Pack shared in the wisdom of these words of difficult acceptance. “It is not possible to live in and care about Israel without developing a deep appreciation for the bitter ironies of this land,” Pack commented.

However, Pack’s talk was not just a biased rendition of Israeli reality. He marveled at the number of funny, wise words he heard during those 11 days. He welcomed Israel not only through the lenses of his camera, but also in those mechanisms of the human mind that seek the truth behind a simple image like one of an abandoned oil tank in a suburban area of Jerusalem.