Photography exhibit tells about Israel in pictures |

Photography exhibit tells about Israel in pictures

Molly Nitka, 21, traveled to Israel for the first time in May as part of the Birthright Israel program that provides educational, first-time trips to Israel for Jewish adults 18 to 26.

For 10 days, Molly Nitka hiked Masada, toured ancient palaces in Southern Jerusalem, swam in the Dead Sea, walked along the Wailing Wall and hung out with seven Israel soldiers.

Today, Nitka said she still finds the similarities between the 50 or so American 20-somethings she trekked with and the military conscripts who live half a world away.

"It was cool how normal they were," she said, adding that the Israeli natives listened to ’80s rock bands. "They’ve heard and seen a lot more than we have as Americans," she said. "They’re similar but also really different."

Sunday, July 27, about a month after returning from Israel, the birthplace of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, Molly Nitka attended the opening of a photo exhibit at Temple Har Shalom, Park City’s new synagogue, that celebrates Israel as it turns 60 years old. The display features 60 photographs in both black-and-white and color chronicling the country bordered by Egypt, Lebanon and Syria.

The photos will be on display in Park City until November. Then they will move to a location in Salt Lake City, organizers say. The show is free and open to the public until 5 p.m.

Israel became the world’s only Jewish state in 1948.

The United Nations approved the partition of Palestine into two states, one Jewish and one Arab, in 1947, according to the Central Intelligence Agency’s online World Fact Book.

The Arabs rejected the plan, but on May 14, 1948, the Jewish provisional government declared Israel’s independence. The new country’s victory in the subsequent Arab-Israeli War expanded the borders of the Jewish state beyond those in the United Nations plan. Since then, Israel has been in conflict with many of the neighboring Arab countries, resulting in several major wars and years of violence.

Today, Israel is roughly the size of New Jersey and home to nearly eight million Jews, Muslims and Christians. It has one of the largest technology sectors and has alos established well-developed agriculture and industry economics.

Molly’s mom, Hilary Nitka, is a member of Temple Har Shalom and one of the coordinators responsible for bringing the exhibit Israel: 60 Years, to Park City.

The photographs range from intimate portraits to political images and show off the diversity of the Middle-Eastern nation.

Some of the photographs picture Jewish refugees. One photo shows an Israeli family in gas masks during the First Gulf War.

Still others show the agricultural, rural and social sides of Israel.

"We wanted to do something to celebrate Israel as a state," Hilary Nitka said at Sunday’s opening. "Life goes on in Israel despite the tumult." She later added, "Israel is very welcoming. It’s a melting pot, just like Chicago. It’s very relaxed and casual but it’s got these undertones of tension. We wanted people to see Israel the way it’s lived."

Ron Zamir, 43, grew up in New York City and spent many of his summers in Israel. When he turned 18, he decided to move there to serve in the Israeli military.

Zamir moved back to the United States, and subsequently settled in Utah, in 2003 when the technology firm he worked for purchased a Salt Lake City-based company.

One of the things Zamir says he gained from 16 years of living in Israel was the chance to see a young democracy develop.

"If you listen to the news you would expect to see fighting and conflict," he said. "Instead you see people having regular lives in an unusual place."

Zamir described viewing the photo exhibit as "very emotional."

"The reality is that for 60 years Israel has been developing schools and universities," he said. You develop as a country and a place. [The photos] kind of give you a peek into a reality you don’t see on TV."

What is unique about Israel, Zamir said, is that it has a western outlook but is in the heart of the Middle East. "A lot hasn’t changed," he said. "It’s still a struggle over a land that is important to many."

Hilary Nitka said the exhibit was a good chance for people, Jewish and non-Jewish, to learn about Israel. "We want [the synagogue] to be a community center," she said. "We feel like it’s a real art center as well as a religious center. Education is huge and it’s a big part of our faith."

Hilary Nitka added that the synagogue is working on instructional information to give to teachers who might be interested in taking their classes to the exhibit. She said that a docent is available with an appointment.

Molly Nitka, who is entering her senior year at the University of Colorado at Boulder, said "Israel: 60 years" would be good for anyone in Summit County to see. "It was cool to see Israel in the past and then see it today," she said.

"Israel: 60 years" is on display at Temple Har Shalom until November. For more information, visit The exhibit is free and open to the public Monday through Friday 11 a.m.-4 p.m.

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