Israel’s lone soldiers on view

Lone soldier Marissa Krasner hugging her host family’s daughter is one of the photos in Sarah Schecker’s exhibit, “Be Strong and Courageous” Photo by Sarah Schecker
Sarah Schecker

Sarah Schecker, a Montgomery County native and a senior at New York University’s Tisch School of Arts, wanted to find a way to make Israel more relatable to her peers. So for her senior thesis, the 22-year-old photography major decided to focus on Israel’s lone soldiers, members of the Israel Defense Forces who have no immediate family members in the country.

Many lone soldiers are citizens of other countries, including the United States.

“Moving halfway across the world to defend the Jewish state and I think the most honorable form of bravery I could most possibly find,” she said.

With Israel’s 71st Independence Day falling at sunset on May 8, Schecker’s project is up just in time at the art gallery at Tisch. It will be on display until May 24, the same day she graduates. It can also be viewed at
Joel is one of 11 soldiers photographed by Sarah Schecker. Photo by Sarah Schecker

The project, called “Be Strong and Courageous,” features 11 soldiers in their daily lives. The project’s title is from Deuteronomy 31:6: “Be strong and courageous! Neither fear, nor be dismayed of them, for the Lord, your God He is the One Who goes with you.”

Schecker said that photographing these particular soldiers was her way of bringing the Israel-Palestinian conflict to her peers.

“I knew my audience is predominately American,” she said in a phone interview from New York, “and with so much discussion about the State of Israel, I thought it would be easy for people to relate to people like them, coming from the same place. It gets a discussion going about Israel. And they get to see young men and women putting their lives on the line fighting for the State of Israel.”

Israel has always been important to Schecker. She grew up in Silver Spring and attended Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School and Walter Johnson High School.

She had visited the country several times before and considers it integral to her Jewish identity.
She began looking for the soldiers she would photograph during her junior year. She first turned to social media.

“It started with a Facebook post: ‘Hey, who knows any lone soldiers who want to be in a project?’ and from there [it was] this person knows this person knows this person who knows this person,” she said.

In March and August 2018 she went to Israel for 10 days each to photograph her subjects.

Her most memorable day was with a soldier named Marissa Krasner, who lives on Kibbutz Erez on the border of Gaza. Schecker followed Marissa to the supermarket off the kibbutz.

“She was carrying her gun with her, just going shopping,” Schecker said. “The reality of having that gun with her was shocking to me. It was a great start to the project. After shopping, she did laundry, packed up to go to the base — all the small, simple things that seem so mundane that are part of the reality of being there is complicated in the lives of the soldiers.”

She took hundreds of pictures a day. In the process, she became close to many of her subjects and was able to explore Israel in a way she never had before.

“Before, I was always on an organized trip to Israel. This was the first time on my own. I got a real taste of what living there is like, how beautiful it is. I got to see things I wouldn’t have otherwise,” she said.

Once she had her photos, the hard part began. Back in New York, she worked with her professor to pare down the several thousand photographs to just 45 for her final display.

While Schecker shoots on film, she does edit the photos digitally, but doesn’t manipulate them. Her photographs haven’t led to a dialogue with NYU students who support the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel — about why Israel has a right to exist. Instead it has met with silence or anonymous comments. But she is happy that the display is up for Yom Ha’atzmaut.

“[The photos are] a reminder that we’re still fighting for that freedom. People just like us are fighting for that freedom and embodying the bravery of the State of Israel,” she said. “Some people obviously
love [the project.] Others have a problem.”

Photos are the best way to reach others, she said, because they don’t require people to read to understand.
“Photos are the best vehicle to reach the widest audience,” she said. “[Photography] is a language of its own and I feel like anyone can understand it.”

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  1. I was this person in 1971 when a bunch of my American friends joined the army together. I proudly served my country and continued to serve during the Yom Kippur War. I was very lucky to live on a kibbutz where I had an adopted family . I would do I to again in a heartbeat


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