The faces of 120 young adults grace the walls of the Anne Loeb Bronfman Arts Pavilion in Hillel's Charles and Lynn Schusterman International Center. They come from different backgrounds and go to different schools or workplaces, but they all have one thing in common: they are young, Jewish New Yorkers, ages 18-36, whose photographs collectively represent a Jewish generation.
The photographs of these young Jewish adults, along with 60 additional pictures reflecting Jews' contributions to American life, have together formed a mosaic artwork entitled "Chai: Picturing a Jewish Generation." Created by Baruch College student Joel Ney, the project is the result of a grant from Partnership 2000 Jerusalem-New York, a Jewish Agency for Israel program that links Jewish communities in Israel and abroad, and was also co-sponsored by the Baruch College Hillel's Student Initiative Committee.
A Brooklyn native, Ney is a rising senior at Baruch, studying business management, but artistic pursuits take up much of his free time. In addition to photography, Ney also enjoys writing for the school newspaper and drawing comic strips.
"My passion is really the arts," he said. "I'm a good listener, and I like observing life and listening to others."
Those qualities were invaluable to the "Chai" project, which took him three months to complete this past spring. His search for subjects took him all over New York, from his own campus, to the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn to New York University's Edgar M. Bronfman Center for Jewish Student Life, and not everyone was eager to participate, Ney said.
"People, even if they appear very assertive, are self-conscious if they are asked to be photographer," he said. "As an incentive to participate, I gave each person a copy of their portrait, and they loved the finished project."
Along with the black-and-white headshots, Ney included color photographs of 60 examples of Jewish heritage, ranging from portraits of famous Jews like Dustin Hoffman and Bob Dylan, to New York Jewish institutions like local synagogues, to Jewish-owned and founded businesses like the Loews movie theater chain. The color photographs in the center of the mosaic form the Hebrew letters chet and yud, which together spell the word chai, or "life" in Hebrew.
"Creating the mosaic was an opportunity to show that together Jews create a positive contribution to the world," Ney said.
Ney unveiled "Chai" at the final Baruch College Hillel meeting of the spring semester, and it was displayed in a prominent location on the Baruch campus for the 15,000 students to enjoy. It moved to Washington, D.C., early this summer to be exhibited at Hillel's Schusterman International Center, where it will remain through September. If you are interested in bringing "Chai" to your city, contact Ney at firstname.lastname@example.org.