When the pandemic started, Chet Stein was on a ship in Antarctica.
Stein, who lives in Bethesda, travels frequently for both business and pleasure. He delights in seeing the natural world – and capturing it with his camera.
“I’m an amateur,” Stein said of his photography skill. “But there’s a lot of folks who are good amateurs.”
When Stein returned from his National Geographic voyage to Antarctica, he presented his photos to the Men’s Club and Sisterhood at B’nai Israel Congregation in Rockville, over Zoom. He and his wife are members of the synagogue. On occasion, Stein has taken photos for other members.
When asked what it is that drives his photography, Stein, who introduced himself as someone who has been on all the continents, said he simply loves being outside.
“I love being able to see things myself, to see things in the wild,” Stein said. “You’re looking at somebody who once took a trip to Uganda to photograph one bird.”
Stein is the president for the Mid-Atlantic Region of JNF-USA, a nonprofit organization with the goal of giving all generations of Jews a voice in building a prosperous future for Israel and its people.
Stein has served with many Jewish organizations in the past, including on the boards of the Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School, Hillel of Greater Washington and the Partnership of Jewish Life and Learning.
Stein has used his skill to take photos for LOTEM’s brochures (LOTEM is one of JNF-USA’s partners) and has led photography and birdwatching missions to Israel for JNF-USA.
Multisensory engagement is critical for kids who are on the autism spectrum or kids who have other disabilities, Stein said. His wife, Rita Stein, has a background in education for children with disabilities. Chet Stein also served on the board for Treatment and Learning Centers in Montgomery County.
“I’ve had a good life, I’m fortunate to have a good life, but you realize people, you want people to have every opportunity they can,” Stein said.
Stein credited the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies, where his son, Jonathan, studied, as his first steps to being more involved abroad.
His work with children who have disabilities and his love for the environment come together with LOTEM.
“Their mission is to improve the quality of life of the people in Israel and that means all the people in Israel,” Stein said. “I was brought up with a love of Israel. If I can do more to help there, I do.”
LOTEM, as Stein explained it, facilitates the accessibility of nature in Israel. The organization provides children and adults who have disabilities with accessible hikes, education programs, nature clubs and other outdoors connection opportunities. Families who need wheelchairs are provided with all-terrain wheelchairs so they can enjoy nature together.
“Accessibility to nature is important simply for the reason that these are children that don’t necessarily get that opportunity,” Stein said. “Kids in the school room, they’re sheltered, they’re never going to have those experiences to intermingle and see what’s there.”
JNF-USA, Stein said, is trying to do as much as they can to build up the periphery or Israel.
“When you look at Israel, most of it is focused on the center. Their projects are typically aimed at the periphery and bringing jobs to the outer areas,” Stein said.
All four of JNF-USA’s partner organizations work to develop and improve access in Israel’s periphery.
“This is all about getting to the periphery, getting people in the periphery to have jobs, school systems and proper support,” Stein said. “You can get services in Jerusalem or Tel Aviv, but in the periphery, you might have to go two or three hours to get services.”
Looking forward, Stein is looking forward to his next visit to Israel in October, where he hopes to photograph the fall migration of more than 500 million birds.
“We all have our things, and this is my thing,” Stein said.
More of Stein’s photos can be found online at chetsteinphotography.com.